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FKA Twigs pole dancing cellophane
FKA twigs – cellophane

I tried pole dancing like FKA twigs and tapped into repressed emotions


TextLexi Manatakis

London-based pole fitness company Polepeople six-week beginner course helps attendees strengthen their mind, body, and souls

In an Instagram post in January, I read FKA twigs describe pole dancing as akin to having wings. Her mythical attribution to the physicality of pole really struck me, especially on seeing the magnetism of “cellophane”, where it feels like twigs’ body is a magnet generating static energy with the pole. After years of wanting to try it out, I found pole making its way more and more into popular culture. Twigs was slaying it in the music world, while Jennifer Lopez took it to cinema’s centre-stage in Hustlers, both of which I took as signs to finally give it a try.

Before I even attempted it, however, I had to confront the fact that I was the world’s greatest exercise hater. For a while, the only movement I prided myself on was going out on the weekend and standing or dancing for hours on end (which is actually great exercise, minus the booze). But my rotation of sitting at an office desk, watching Netflix in bed, and partying all weekend was, of course, simply not working for my health – especially my lungs. I stopped counting the number of gyms I signed up to and classes I tried because they would always bring me back to the same place mentally, forcing me to give up. That lactic acid feeling, the exhaustion, and the lack of mental endurance were things I really struggled with – I needed something that I could actually enjoy to distract me from these feelings. 

Swinging into 2020 with a determination to find it, I finally decided to try out pole. Based in London, I jumped on Google to research for local pole courses and discovered Polepeople – London’s leading pole fitness company. Launched in 2003, Polepeople offers beginners, intermediate, and advanced courses with teachers with decades-long expertise. “In 2003, there was nowhere you could learn pole away from the adult entertainment industry,” explains Polepeople founder Alison Hudd. “Although there’s nothing wrong with pole as a form of adult entertainment, there just wasn't a space for people who wouldn't have felt comfortable learning there. I thought hang on, this is such an amazingly cool, fun, form of expression that intersects so many different things – from sensuality, to dance, and fitness – it needs a platform where people could learn pole without its original connotations. So I launched Polepeople, with an aim to change the context of pole.” 

I booked a taster session and a six-week beginners pole course which totals at around £150. Before I began, I noted the things I wanted to work on and improve. Generally, I am quite weak. I struggle to lift heavy things, and I also have really weak knees and quite a weak core which contributes to my back pain. In all other parts of life, I am great with endurance and pushing through pain, but with exercise it’s something I just can’t do. With these issues in mind, I started my six week course with the objective to find out if combining exercise and dance was something enjoyable enough that it could distract me from the fact I was actually exercising, and make me all round healthier. Here, I reflect on what I learned from trying out pole dancing. 

IT’S AN ART FORM, NOT EXERCISE 

Before I started the course, I attended a taster session to see first what it would entail and if I was even physically capable of doing it. The class was an hour long, one person per pole and the teacher was utterly incredible in her flexibility, confidence in commanding the pole, and choreography skills. We began by doing 10 minutes worth of stretching, but not like normal stretching, like really feeling yourself stretching which, in hindsight, really set the tone for what my seven weeks would entail. 

Over the following hour, we learned three tricks. After watching the teacher doing the first trick, and trying myself, I thought there would be no way I could do it. But with a bit of practise, I picked the trick up. I learned how to swing around the pole, how to hook my leg, pull the weight of my body forward only using my abs, and furthered this with a total swing around the pole. After half an hour of learning new tricks, we stitched them all together into a routine. 

It was this first routine that showed me that creativity can make exercise enjoyable. Pole is highly creative in the sense that it’s an expression of movement that combines making shapes with the body that flow seamlessly with the rhythm of the music, and overall fitness and strength. It feels like working all sides of your brain rather than just your body. “Pole is creative expression,” says my teacher Kelly Rose. “Of course there are technical aspects to each move but when you dance out a combo or full routine and add your own personality that is when pole is really electrifying. You can explore and develop your own style.” 

IT MAKES YOU STRONGER, PHYSICALLY

Letting go of pain that has plagued you for a very long time is liberating. It was a no brainer that pole was going to make me stronger, but the onflow effect of this strength really allowed me to reconnect with my body and change the way I feel physically. 

After the first few weeks of the course, I found the aches and pains of the initial exercise shock converting into strength. I felt this particularly in my knees where I noticed that for the first time in a very long time they didn’t hurt or ache when I put weight on them. As someone who has long suffered from chronic knee pain, I began to see the power pole has in strengthening your body: this alleviation of pain came from not only flexing my knees more, but from building my core strength. “The effect of pole on your physical strength leaves you with stronger shoulders, stronger abs, stronger arms, stronger legs, stronger everything”, says Rose. “Making yourself physically strong is revolutionary, and it changes how you carry and feel about yourself. If you can turn your body upside down in the air then you can do anything.”

“Making yourself physically strong is revolutionary, and it changes how you carry and feel about yourself. If you can turn your body upside down in the air then you can do anything” – Kelly Rose, teacher, Polepeople 

So how does pole work to strengthen the body? “Physically, pole builds a lot of strength because you’re holding your whole body weight as you spin,” explains Hudd. “It’s a way to gradually increase your strength – it’s not like you have to start with climbing the pole, there are many things you can do to build up the strength slowly, which opens it up to all levels of ability.” To work on building your strength, each class begins with 10-15 minutes of stretching and strength building exercise, working on sets of planks, sit ups, squats, and push ups.

The remainder 45 minutes is spent learning new tricks, which you stitch together at the end of each class, with the expectation that you’ll know a full routine by the end of the course. The trick I found that demonstrated growth in physical strength the most was climbing the pole – using only your abs and your arm muscles to pull your entire weight up. “Pole is a whole body workout – and it’s great because you’re using your own weight, so you don’t bulk up,” says Hudd.

IT CONNECTS YOU TO YOUR OWN PHYSICALITY

It fascinates me that after 26 years in my own skin, I can still learn new things about my body. Building physical strength is one thing, but learning the ins and outs of your own figure and how to really connect to your physicality is one of the most empowering things about pole. With the ways in which pole pushes your physicality to new limits, you learn that your body can move and flex in ways you’ve never known before. “Pole transforms your body,” says Rose. “Not only do you get stronger and more flexible but you learn to understand your body better. It teaches you coordination, balance, and how to get your body to do what you want it to do.”

I will never forget the first time I mastered the ‘swan’ trick. The trick involves you swinging around the pole with your legs angled into a backwards triangle shape. I never knew I could push my body into that shape, let alone do it in motion around a pole. I had never felt my body feel so weightless as it glided around the pole effortlessly. When you master a trick like this, there’s an indescribable magnetism you feel between your body and the pole that makes you feel exactly how twigs described it; like you’re flying at the force of something purely magical – but in fact, it’s your own body doing the work. 



IT FORTIFIES YOUR CONFIDENCE AND SELF-LOVE

For me, the confidence-boosting nature of pole comes from the feeling you get when you learn a new trick. “It’s very rare to nail a trick the first time you try it, and of course if you give up you will never master it,” explains Rose. “Pole requires you to motivate yourself and believe in your capabilities. And then you have the tangible pay off when you finally get the move. It trains you to carry this into other life scenarios where you need to be mentally strong.”

Nailing a new trick is not only so satisfying for your confidence, but combining that with your new sense of physicality has a very powerful effect on how you love yourself and your body. Pole’s mental boosts force you to challenge yourself and allows you to succeed in doing things you never thought you could, making you break down both your physical and mental barriers, to question new possibilities of the mind and body. With my newfound sense of self, I found myself loving my body more and more each week.

“During pole, I started a new relationship where I could really feel the mental effects of the course coming to life. I have never felt so connected to my body before, nor loved it in this way. For the first time in my life, I felt stable and secure enough in myself while in a relationship – letting go of past trauma with trust and co-dependency issues”

OVERVIEW

If like me you hate exercise, I can’t recommend pole enough because the dance element totally overrides the feeling of exercising. Mentally, I walked away from the course not only with the feeling of having achieved something, and of having let go of my predisposition towards exercise, but I could feel my fortified confidence and stronger self love seeping into all aspects of life.

During pole, I started a new relationship where I could really feel the mental effects of the course coming to life. I have never felt so connected to my body before, nor loved it in this way. For the first time in my life I felt stable and secure enough in myself while in a relationship – letting go of past trauma with trust and co-dependency issues. This is something I’ve worked my whole dating life to find.

Even though I only witnessed a micro-insight into the world of pole, from the course alone and the way it allowed me to reconnect with my mind and body, I’ve learned that pole is my ultimate form of exercise and the sense of community it created for me in just seven weeks has been invaluable. 

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