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History of Pole: Influential Studios

By on April 5, 2018

Pondering the origins of pole might not be the first thing that comes to mind when attending your pole class. However, every sport has to start somewhere.  Our sport started with innovative people who dedicated themselves to the art of trying something new. If you haven’t been living under a rock, you know that most of pole came from strip clubs. However, it’s likely that a google search of “pole dancing” you may have done ended in reading about the history of pole on Wikipedia. And for the most part, articles on the history of pole explain the ties into sister circus arts like Chinese pole, Indian pole and circus apparatus. Some articles dip into the kinship of pole with burlesque, modern dance and contortion. However, what is less discussed is the role that studios and studio founders have played in the history of pole. Knowing the history of a sport deepens your connection to the pioneers of the sport, nd helps you to better understand the journey pole has been through. What follows is brief list of early pole studios that have helped shape pole to the art and sport it is now. Although there are many studios that could be on this list, we decided to focus on these studios as they are early adopters and their impact on pole is still being felt today.

Las Vegas

Photo by Nina Reed Photography

 

In the Western hemisphere, we start with Fawnia Mondey, who started teaching pole in 1994 and opened the first pole dancing school in Canada. After she moved to Las Vegas, she opened The Pole Fitness Studio in the early 2000s. Mondey designed some of the first instructor certifications and co-founded the Pole Sport Association which offered the first official trainings and certifications for pole instructors. The PFA was one of the first organized bodies in pole that tried to collect ideas from the sport, teach safety and create a common language of moves. The PFA put on some of the first competitions in the United States. The PFA visual dictionary flash cards are collectors’ items in the pole world, so if you find them, hold on to them. Mondey also developed one of the first DVD workout series specific to pole. The first video came out in 1998 and is titled Pole Work. On top of all this, she co-founded Pole Expo in 2011.

California

The S Factor Studio was one of the first pole studios in California and was founded in mid-2000s. Sheila Kelly, who founded S Factor studio, had acted in the movie, Dancing at the Blue Iguana and found herself inspired by the sensual movement of the stripper she played in the film. She loved the workout and initially had friends over to her home to pole. Eventually she decided to open a studio that focused on the sensual journey of pole and turned them into a workout for women. The S Factor studios created a safe space for women who were curious about pole dancing as a new way to workout, feel sexy and get in touch with feminine parts of themselves. In the mid-2000s, the idea of working out on a pole was not only taboo, but viewed by many as some kind of joke. The fast franchising and early books and home DVD workout series helped both and men and women pause and think about pole a legit type of dance and fitness. The sensual style of S factor shows up in nearly all pole studios today in floor work and dance moves.

BeSpun Studio is another studio in Los Angeles that helped to shape the pole scene. The brainchild of Leigh Ann Reilly, Be Spun first opened its doors in 2006 and very quickly became known as THE training site for pole champions. The studio focuses on tricks, transitions, freestyle and exotic flow as well as strength training, floor work and flexibility. The number of pole champions who have come out of BeSpun’s doors is impressive and includes OG pole stars such as Natasha Wang, Alethea Austin, Amy Guion, Estee Zakar, Jennifer Kim, Adrienne Lauren, Amber FleurRichard, Mina Mortezaie and of course, Leigh Ann herself. Leigh Ann is also the creator of the annual pole showcase Pole Show LA, which attracts pole champions from around the world.

 

New York

Photo by Michel Leroy

 

The New York pole scene started with two studios and branched quickly into three. S Factor opened a studio in the mid 2000s and the New York Pole Dancing Studio opened in 2005. Both studios were instrumental in igniting the first generation of polers on the East Coast and helping push pole out of the underground and into the spotlight of the fitness industry. Most of us have also heard of Body and Pole. This cutting-edge studio is a prime example of the mega growth that has happened in the last ten years for pole. Since opening the doors in 2009 as four poles in the back of a yoga studio, B &P is now a 10,000-square-foot dance studio dedicated to pole and aerial arts. The influence of the New York dance scene has created a studio scene that not only has developed many champions in the competition world of pole, but many innovations with regards to choreography, gymnastic movement and various styles of pole. More than a few influential polers have called B&P home: Marlo Fisken, Kyra Johannesen, Michelle Stanek, Samatha Star, Lian Tal, Tracee Kafer, Steven Retchless and Roz Mays.

Australia

Photo by Sea Salt Studios

Bobbi’s is a name synonymous with pole dancing in Australia. Bobbi Vivoda and Vanessa Brecht founded the Sydney Pole Dancing School in 2004 and the studio was so popular that two months later they had to move to a new location and opened the first official Bobbi’s Pole Studio. Bobbi’s now has multiple locations throughout Australia and studios in Singapore and Malaysia. The Miss Pole Dance Australia competition was the invention of Bobbi and was held for the first time in 2005.  Many people in the pole industry attribute the 2006 Miss Pole Dance competition and Felix Cane’s performance as the moment when people realized that pole as a sport had limitless potential. The sexy choreography, gigantic shoes and fluid style of Australian pole dance can be attributed to Bobbi’s studios. Notable students include Felix Cane, Cleo the Hurricane, Jedda Jordan and Allegra King (Yes, the move is named after her).

Though this is by no means a complete list, it’s a brief history of the influential pole studios and their dedicated owners who have helped advance pole to where we are today. There are pole studios all over the world, a fantastic community of men and women who embrace sensuality and strength and the Olympics are in sight. This is an exciting and innovative time in pole, and there are many other studios and influencers out there who helped pole be what it is today. What pole studios would you add to this list? Comment below!

 

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Rebecca Stokes
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Rebecca Stokes

Rebecca is a certified personal trainer, aerial studio owner and has developed training certifications in the aerial arts industry.She is a journalist and is working on her Masters in clinical mental health therapy.
Rebecca Stokes
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