If you were out and about on Culture Night, you’ll probably have come across El Fegan and her colleagues going ‘up the pole’ entertaining everyone.
El has been offering pole dancing, pole athletics and other fun activities from her Polercise premises in Belfast’s Donegall Street for almost fifteen years. Her studio is located in the former premises of Clark’s Dance Studio and El admits that when she first opened, she expected a bit of opposition!
“Looking back now, I think I was just a bit nervous,” she said. “Given the reputation of the US ‘pole dancing’, I expected to see banners and protests right outside the door, but there was nothing and it all worked out well. I think Northern Ireland – and Belfast in particular – has moved on now.”
For those, who don’t know, pole exercise is the hottest and most fun exercise trend right now, with participants able to have fun and get healthy at the same time.
El first came across pole fitness during a trip to Australia.
“I saw this article in a magazine and I was really intrigued,” she explained. “I immediately thought ‘hey, I could do that. I remember going and asking about the classes. For about three weeks I sneaked off to classes but didn’t tell my boyfriend at the time.”
El quickly got the pole ‘bug’ and decided to pursue a career in the activity. But first she had to overcome a bit of a blip!
“When I came home in October 2004″ said El.
“I set up a pole in my brother’s house because I didn’t want to speak to my parents about it. I didn’t think they would understand because, at that time, pole still had a seedy sort of image, so I sneaked over to my brother’s house for a while to practise. Pole was, however, becoming more prominent in England and was getting press coverage, so I would leave magazines open for my mum to pick up on it so that she would understand it wasn’t seedy, but a great way of getting stronger, both physically and mentally.”
Since those early days El has pioneered the benefits of pole for all ages – particularly for girls.
“We’ve actually had girls come in and tell us that pole has changed their lives,” she said. “Through pole, they develop their body confidence and self-confidence, and this can help them in their relationships. Some have come from an abusive relationship and they are able to get the strength to just go and move on from there. And, that, for me, is probably the best, the biggest thing that we get out of it.”
El’s classes are now a major attraction for all types of people. From mothers and daughters to younger children, her classes are a mix of people who are there for fun and for the health benefits.
There’s even a growing number of men joining in!
“Oh, absolutely,” she said. “This year has been good for stag parties and we’ve had a couple of stags who have come in to do pole and had a really great time.”
Those who take part in the Polercise classes some in all shapes and sizes.
“We get small girls who have absolutely no upper body strength, and they’re not able to lift their own body,” she explained. “And then, we’ll get stronger, bigger, girls who can just climb up that pole, no bother. It’s just all about being able to lift your own bodyweight, and work from there.
“We have people who are gymnastic, people who come from absolutely no background and love the sexy side of it, and love putting the hands on. We’re not a school that’s going to go ‘No, you’re not allowed to wear high heels, you’re not allowed to do that’.”
In addition to classes, Polercise also offers fun events for parties.
“We offer any kind of themed dance party, like the whole Burlesque, cheerleading, Grease, Dirty Dancing and the like,” El said. “This year is going to be the hustlers, so we’re going to be offering strip tease workshops. We’ve already run a few of those, and they went down a storm. While the classes involve a full-on body workout, the parties are a bit more fun. Everyone comes in and we play a few party games, followed by a champagne reception.”
El’s increasingly prominent place in the pole fitness world moved on to an international level recently when she was a judge in the world sports fitness championships, which were held in China in October and she was heavily involved in the recent pole competition, which was held in Belfast in October.
“The competition definitely showcased the range of people who have become involved in pole,” El said. “We ended up with more than 50 competitors in six categories – from juniors to seniors and veterans. We’d everybody from eleven year olds to one participant, who is nearly 70!
If you’re intrigued about pole fitness, but not sure whether it’s for you, El suggests a beginners’ class where you learn the basics.
“Everyone starts out as a beginner,” she explained. “Initially we focus on the basics like technique and building your strength. Come and try it and see if it’s for you.”
To find out more, or to book a session please visit: www.polercise.com.