The art, sport, and fitness of pole dancing
By Julia Siedlanowska, Staff Writer
Just look at Anastasia Sokolova, made famous when she appeared on Ukraine’s Got Talent in 2012, and you’ll know that pole dancing is an art. Sokolova’s performance almost made me cry—and that was just through YouTube. The strength, flexibility, coordination, and training required to be a professional pole dancer are the same as with any other dance or sport. Jessica Lyn, founder, director, and head instructor at AVA Fitness in New Westminster, offers high-level training, both for those looking to have fun or those looking to be BC’s Pole Fitness Champion.
Driving by 6th Street one day, a pole dance studio caught my eye. Intrigued, I called, made an appointment, and ended up in a small class with an enthusiastic and talented instructor. Lyn has been pole dancing since 2007, and now it’s pretty much her life.
“Right now I’m teaching about 16 hours a week, and then I have my own training on top of that which varies,” says Lyn. “It can go from about four hours a week to 20 hours of extra training when I’m booked for a performance where I have to come up with my routines and things like that.”
When she’s not in the studio, she’s working on programs, new classes, her website, and anything else involved in running a business. Designing all her own marketing materials, Lyn says the job is more than full-time. “But no complaints,” she adds.
Lyn got her start taking pole dancing classes while living in the UK. “I was one of those students that was, like, once a week, probably for a year and a half. I took breaks here and there as well so I wasn’t fully, fully committed, but it was something that I loved,” says Lyn.
While on vacation in Vancouver, she missed her training routine and decided to take a class. “I went to a local studio and I was really shocked at the level that they were teaching. For someone like me who had been doing it for a year and a half, almost two years at that point, I was wanting to go to a more advanced class and it really wasn’t, so I was kind of disappointed with it.” Lyn asked the instructor if she could play on the poles for an hour. “So I stayed and one by one all the instructors came into the studio and they [had their] jaws on the floor, eyes bulging out of their head, they were like ‘Oh my god, you could totally teach us.’ … and that is what kind of made me think, ‘Oh, I probably could.’”
When she went back to the UK, Lyn got certified and started teaching the next week. “In the UK it’s very regulated… even to teach basic classes you have to have your certification. It was never like that [in Canada], but it is now.”
Three months after getting certified, Lyn moved to Canada. “I ordered my poles, they arrived even before I did… I just knew when I came back that this is what I want to do—this is all I want to do. So I moved here in December 2009 and in February I started classes.”
Renting spaces in local gyms, Lyn began teaching on her own. “I had two poles and I’d go into the gym, I’d set them up, I’d do the class, I’d take them down, I’d pack them away, I’d put them in my car, and I’d be on my way. And I did that for, I’d say the first eight months.”
Lyn then settled for a while in a small personal training gym in Port Moody until her classes got too full. “We were having wait-lists for classes and we were saying no to people—and I hate saying no to people… it was at that point that I really knew it’s time to open our own space.”
“We opened up here in October 2012, so we’ve been here just over a year and we’re already looking to expand. We’re outgrowing this very quickly,” says Lyn.
The curriculum is expanding along with the clientele. Lyn and her fellow instructors are developing a curriculum for aerial hoop, to start in spring. AVA Fitness also offers boot camps, aerial yoga, flexibility training, core conditioning, spinning pole classes, and dance classes. “Because we don’t do a lot of ‘sexy’ in class—we focus mainly on the skill and the form and the tricks… that’s really all we have time for… people that want to do the sexy stuff, we do separate [dance] classes for.”
Lyn and the studio also host fundraisers: they raise money for Breast Cancer Awareness month every October, and have also done a fundraiser for Heart and Stroke. The fundraisers are often done in studio, with the bigger events hosted at Status Nightclub. “Their team is really good so we end up packing the place.” says Lyn. “And we’ve gotten a lot of business off of it—men too. Men that go and say ‘We saw this guy on a pole and he was awesome.’ And we’re like ‘Men can totally do it too!’”
AVA Fitness dancers also perform at corporate events, most recently showcasing their work at the Taboo Naughty but Nice Sex Show. “It’s a sex show, but we really sold it as fitness,” says Lyn. “One of our big things this year is our 2014 fitness championships being held in September.”
Competitors from all over British Columbia gather in the host city to compete for BC Pole Fitness Champion. “They compete per division. We’ve got an amateur division, semi-pro, pro, men’s, master’s (which is over 40), and doubles so that’s double pole, two people on the pole… The winner from the competition we send to Nationals. This year they’re being held at Niagara Falls,” explains Lyn. “We give them a ticket to go and they represent our province against all the other ones and the winner of that goes to the Worlds. It’s really fun,” she says.
“It’s becoming a real mainstream sport and art now. I’m excited and I’m happy to be a part of it. I’m so excited I got in at the early stages. Although I’ve been doing it for a long time now it’s just starting to get really popular.”
While there was once a stigma attached to pole dancing, Lyn says this is changing. “There used to be more so than there is now. I’m sure you didn’t think it would just be like stripper class one on one,” Lyn laughs. “Some girls come in, or guys, and they don’t know what to expect. They think it’s going to be a class full of hot women in bikinis and heels and it really isn’t—it’s so the opposite of that. Especially when you get into the upper level where we’re lifting ourselves up and flipping, and we’re sweating and we’re swearing, and we’re getting injuries.”
It’s not incidental that pole dancing has gained rapid popularity over the years. “We still want to keep the sexy because it totally is, but there’s a time and place for it. In our performances when we do them outside of the studio generally are always more gymnastic-based and lyrical dance-based than sexy style.”
With its portrayal in film and television as an art that anyone can get into, the stigma is quickly washing away.
When I entered the studio, I was welcomed by Lyn and shown to a cozy dressing room in the back, where I met some fellow students. As we started the class, Lyn knew what level each of her students were at, and she catered to all. We started with a brief warm-up, then some pole moves, and then conditioning at the end. As I learned the moves, I felt encouragement from all. At the end of the class, my new fitness friends asked “Will you be back next week?”
For women and men of any skill-level or age, this is a fun way to get in touch with your sexy—or silly—side. For dancers, it’s just another medium of self-expression. For those looking to exercise, it’s a great workout that can get hardcore. I know from my own shins and the bruises that developed on them that pole dancing can be intense, but Lyn was always right there to correct me before I did any permanent damage. What I saw from Lyn’s studio was a small class size and an attentive instructor. Close by and a great way to have fun, meet new people, and gain strength and flexibility, I may just be back next week.