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: https://www.polerciseni.com/
Spectacular Ogham Grove Opens Tonight In Cathedral Quarter
Cathedral Quarters Writers’ Square will tonight (September 17) be transformed into a spectacular installation from the creative team for CNB21 Presents: The Ogham Grove.
From 6pm tonight through until Sunday evening visitors can experience an interactive celebration of the ancient druidic language, with massive representations of trees, sounds and lighting weaving a path of learning about the language and the chance to win prizes.
Ogham Grove replaces the previous city centre based programme of street based activity and pop-up events.
Although the plans for this year are monumental in size, Culture Night Belfast and CQ Trust director Susan Picken said visitors should not expect the same on-street celebration as years gone by.
Prior to the pandemic, Culture Night had been one of Belfast’s largest free events, a cultural celebration that attracted almost 90,000 local, national and international visitors to the Cathedral Quarter and Belfast city centre. The impact of COVID has led to a major review of the event however.
Susan said: “Culture Night 2021 will be much smaller in scale and scope and will take the form of an on-site installation that people can drop into and enjoy over the course of the weekend – this different format will allow us to focus on safety as well as making sure everyone has a great time.”
The brains behind the concept include creative lead Gawain Morrison, artist and prop designer Dylan McCaughtry, designer Neil Beattie, lighting designer Tomás FitzGerald and drum loop producer Damian Mills.
Gawain Morrison said that the concept of The Ogham Grove “draws inspiration from the ancient Celtic Ogham Tree alphabet which dives deep into the era where nature and myths intertwined”.
This year, as well as experiencing The Ogham Grove itself, visitors will be able to take part in an accompanying interactive experience that will lead them through the Cathedral Quarter, and also take them on a journey of personal discovery.
According to Gawain the immersive nature inspired trail and competition will mean visitors can take something special away from the experience.
“For somebody who will be coming to this, the several points of access means it is going to be a very experiential and sensory experience,” he explained.
“I hope that as visitors walk around whether it’s in the day or night, that they will take something away from it.”
Across the Cathedral Quarter area, there will be five zones each representing one of the five families of the Ogham alphabet.
To be eligible to win a prize, participants must find and scan a QR code found on one of the trail’s bespoke wooden plaques and take note of the lines of poetry displayed.
Prizes to be won include vouchers for restaurants, gift tokens to purchase your own pieces of art and tickets to shows coming up in the Cathedral Quarter and will be announced at the end of the Culture Night weekend.
This year’s Culture Night Belfast is supported by Belfast City Council, Arts Council for Northern Ireland, Tourism NI, Belfast Harbour Commissioners and Translink.
To keep up to date with all the CNB Presents The Ogham Grove updates go to culturenightbelfast.com or follow #CNB21 on social media
Issued by Excalibur Press on behalf of CNB Presents: The Ogham Grove
£5m Fund to Retain Skills in the Creative Sector
A £5million fund to prevent the loss of the talent and expertise of individuals and freelancers working in the creative sector has been launched by Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey.
The Creative Individuals Recovery Programme, which opens at noon today, will provide a grant of up to £2,000 per individual eligible application including DJs, artists, performers, sound and lighting technicians, writers, events managers and many other professionals who have been impacted as a result of the public health restrictions on the creative sector.
There is evidence that the creative sectors rely heavily on self-employed and freelance individuals and that many have already left the sectors because of the pandemic, with those remaining facing jobs vulnerability and unaffordable costs relating to re-establishing their creative practice.
Minister Hargey said: “I have listened to the recommendations of the Culture, Arts and Heritage Recovery Taskforce, and I have also engaged with the sector. As a result I am today launching a support scheme to provide grants to individuals to encourage them to remain in the creative arts sector.
“The culture, languages, arts and heritage sectors have been disproportionately impacted by Covid-19 restrictions as they rely heavily on people’s ability to get together which is why the Executive has provided £13million in 2021/2022 to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic.
“There is a risk that self-employed and freelance individuals may be forced to leave the creative sectors as a result of the pandemic. As the sectors rely heavily on individuals, this could destabilise the sector and the benefits it delivers including social, economic and wellbeing. This new £5m funding scheme aims to prevent loss of sectoral skills for self-employed and freelance individuals and safeguard the sector for the future.
“This fund will help with costs of reactivating, maintaining and enhancing their creative trade, vocation or profession. It is designed to prevent individuals, and their talent and expertise, from leaving the creative economy; and help them re-establish their contribution to the important benefits these sectors deliver.”
Welcoming the funding, chair of the Culture, Arts and Heritage Recovery Taskforce Rotha Johnston said: “Freelancers and the self-employed are critical to the recovery and sustainability of the creative and cultural sectors as a result of the impacts of Covid-19. Many have been deprived the opportunity to use their skills, perform or practice their art in the last 18 months. The Taskforce is of the unanimous view that support for individuals is essential to protect the viability of the sectors going forward. The Taskforce’s findings and recommendations have been developed following extensive engagement with people from across the sectors and our conclusion is that this public investment in culture, arts and heritage will deliver significant benefits to individuals, society and the economy in the short, medium and long term”.
The fund, co-designed by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland (ACNI) with the Department for Communities, will be delivered by the Arts Council. For information on how to apply including eligibility criteria please visit http://artscouncil-ni.org/funding/for-individuals
D/deaf and disabled artists will be supported via a separate award via ACNI to the University of Atypical who regularly support this particular cohort, to ensure that artists with particular needs are appropriately supported through the application process.
The scheme is open until 12 noon, 6 October, 2021.