Linguistic differences aside, the women and men polers I’ve met in my international travels aren’t so different than us Americans. We share an obsessive love for our apparatus, and we all know the elation of nailing our nemesis trick. The topics of conversation over a pint are easy — pole crushes (everyone has one regardless of sexual orientation!), preferred brands of pole shorts, the stress and excitement of training for a competition. We all belong to a global community of polers who probably get way more excited about the prospects of attaining 38 or 40mm hardware than the latest ‘it bag.’
It’s these things that have made traveling around the world teaching and performing so incredible. Yes, there’s the thrill of being in a foreign land, sometimes a new one every other day. But it’s meeting the studio owners, students and my own personal pole idols that has been the most rewarding experience for me.
My recent X-Pole tour started in London (aka, ‘home base’) and stomping grounds of my tour manager, Stacey Pope from X-Pole UK. In addition to being tour manager to the pole stars, Stacey handles sales at X-Pole UK, runs her own pole studio Stacey Pole, co-runs the competition UKAPP (UK Amateur Pole Performer), AND is a full-time mommy. Now THAT is what being a career woman is all about!
First stop, Sweden. Not just the home of IKEA, but Dinali Center.
Upon arriving to London, I had nary a day of rest before I’m shipped off to Gavle, Sweden, where the lovely Diana Garneij hosted me at her studio Dinali Center. A little history about Diana — she and I began our pole journeys at the same LA studio years ago. She returned to Sweden with a new love for pole, started a family, and bought a home — a turn of the century former school house in nearby Ljusne village (pop. 2155). The building itself bursts with ambiance and history, with lots of relics of its former life — coat hooks installed at the entrance at child’s height, original floors and wallpaper. Diana would eventually convert the former gymnasium into the first Dinali Center pole studio!
I taught workshops at her second location in Gavle proper, in a beautifully airy, spacious studio with lots of natural sunlight. Because pole fitness has only recently hit Sweden, her students were relatively new to pole, but talented and hungry to learn. An added bonus to my Sweden trip — Dinali Center had hosted Miss Pole Dance Universe and USPDF Amateur Champ Michelle Stanek just a few weeks prior, who left me a present by my bedside – Swedish chocolates and a bit of home – US Magazine
I returned to London just in time to judge and perform at the Hertford heat of UKAPP, an incredibly well-oiled amateur pole competition machine that hosts several heats culminating in the UKAPP Grand Final held Sept. 24. What made UKAPP so great to watch — and judge — was its emphasis on entertainment value in addition to tricks. English polers love costumes and themes and their doubles acts are some of the most creative I’ve ever seen. The US, still relative nubes when it comes to doubles acts, could learn a two from the Brits. I elaborate more about UKAPP Hertford in an earlier post on my blog, which you can read here: http://natashawang.com/?p=649
Back to Greece I Go!
Back in June, I performed as part of an art-theater-performance piece called “Black Mirror” for artist Doug Aitken and shared the stage with Antigone Cois of Athens Pole Dance/Venus Privé. Somewhere during our eight-hour rehearsals, we became fast friends, so when I returned to Europe in August for my X-Pole tour, I insisted on paying Antigone a visit. Her studio was one of the first in Greece, and her students — also relatively new to pole fitness — were an incredible amount of fun, hungry to learn and so warm and welcoming, who treated me as one of their own. Antigone threw me a sunset beach pole party to bid me farewell. An X-Stage, the Mediterranean Ocean, a few cocktails and a group of polers — that’s pretty much all you need.
The Hippest Studio, BodyBarre Manchester
Once back from Greece I headed to Manchester. Fellow UKAPP Hertford judge Karen Chaundy (2nd Runner Up Miss Pole Dance UK 2011) runs BodyBarre, located in a teaming and totally hip part of the city. I was particularly excited to visit her studio after seeing her rousing and athletic performance at UKAPP Hertford. I remember thinking she was a kindred pole spirit. Her transitions are some of the most interesting and unusual I’ve ever seen. (if you’re not familiar with her work, I encourage you to YouTube her now). That sense of creativity and artistry extends to her studio — sleek and girly, BodyBarre also breeds competitive-level polers, like instructor Penny Howarth.
UKAPP Dublin and PoleKix!
I departed Manchester and was off to Dublin, Ireland. Now THIS is a city I could spend some time in. Unfortunately our schedule only afforded an overnight stay, but I was so taken by the graciousness and warm hospitality of the Irish. I judged and performed at the UKAPP Dublin heat, and had the pleasure of watching guest performers Miss Pole Dance Ireland Katherine White and the legendary Sally-Ann Giles. Katherine, who in addition to being a gorgeous pole dancer (she’s like the Irish/Australian Amber Richards) is also a super whip-smart career lady. Brains and pole skills – nothing is sexier! Sally-Ann, who has more pole dancing awards than is possible for someone her age (which is er…my age), is one of the most heartfelt, generous and sexy performers I’ve ever seen. She’s also a fantastic emcee with a killer sense of humor to boot.
We had a jam-packed day of workshops at Pole Kix the morning after the competition. Bless those brave souls, all of whom were at the competition the night prior, including fellow judges Katherine and Irish Pole Champion Arlene Caffrey, as well as several of UKAPP Dublin’s competitors. To choose to voluntarily pole after a late night of intense pole, a smidge too many cocktails and few hours of sleep — THAT’s dedication!
The Good Life in Bristol
Upon flying back to London, I was picked up from the airport by the lovely Bex Brady, aka one-half of the pole duo that went viral after their winning UKAPP Bristol “Tomb Raider” doubles routine made it on just about every gamer blog known to man (they performed as twin Lara Crofts – it’s a must-watch: http://kotaku.com/5817379/two-lara-crofts-both-pole-dancers). Before my workshops the next afternoon at Spin City Pole Fitness, Bex offered to take me on a Bristol walking tour. After hunting for Banksy street art (he’s supposedly from Bristol) we gorged on a Sunday roast because, you know, overeating and pole dancing go so well together. Spin City is a bustling studio that attracts a lot of university students. Matter of fact, it’s the sponsor studio for University of Bristol’s Pole Dancing Club…yes, pole fitness is endorsed by higher education in England! One of the many pleasant surprises I discovered about pole fitness acceptance in the UK.
In Roma with the Vertical Dolls Familia
Ah, Rome. Passionate people, good food, beautiful weather, monuments everywhere you turn. Vertical Dolls is a family-run studio headed by Simona Nocco, president of the Italian Pole Dance Federation, and her partner, Bernardo Valente. Vertical Dolls is home to the Italian Pole Champion Valeria Parsi (Pole2Pole magazine’s latest cover girl) and new Italian Doubles Champs Marzia Blu and Eva Berrettini, who I got to coach through a few doubles moves before they snatched the title this past Sept. 25th. I also taught a private to the super talented Valeria Ludione just before she went to Rio to compete in the finals of the Pole World Cup.
The sense of ‘familia’ – a rather clichéd stereotype given to how Italians interact with each other socially – kind of held true here. I was treated like a member of their extended clan, and it wasn’t just me, the visiting pole celebrity — Simona and Ben interacted with their instructors and students in very much the same way. The sense was, you train at Vertical Dolls, you’re part of the family. I love that and feel like it’s a model more pole studios here in the U.S. should adopt.
Back in Londontown at Ecole de Pole
If I were ever to open a pole studio, it would be like Ecole de Pole. Run by champion pole dancer Justine McLucas, her studio is massive, with tall ceilings, natural sunlight spilling through sunroofs, every kind of X-Pole known to man (including a 40mm the studio was beta testing) — it’s a pole dancer’s paradise. Justine was a fellow judge at UKAPP Hertford, where I had the privilege of watching her perform. She’s a divine artist – impeccable balletic lines, incredible poise and is the epitome of feminine movement. Her style is very indicative of where a certain camp of pole dancer/pole dancing is going – combining contemporary or classical dance and bringing emotion and storytelling into a performance. As many of us U.S. polers embark on our international tours, I wonder when we can start bringing these talents stateside. The old world can definitely teach us Yanks a few new tricks.
Read my next blog to hear about my experiences at Miss Pole Dance Canada and why Jamilla Deville is the human calculator!
Special thanks to X-Pole and Stacey Pope for making this tour happen!