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As with many female-dominated sports, aerial is a lost art that has not yet received the recognition it has deserved. And yet, the immense health (and mental) benefits cannot be ignored.
I joined the Pole Society in January with two other girls from my flat. Our first session, unlike a usual workout, didn’t leave us exhausted. We walked out of the Great Hall feeling pumped (and then immediately went to Sugar to burn off all the energy). The thing is, being surrounded by twenty other women who cheer and applaud when you finally master that tricky spin is the confidence-booster that we all need after a long day of lectures and comparing ourselves to people we hate on Instagram.
The pole community are supportive and help to raise each other up. LU Pole Soc has been amazing for my confidence. And not just that; my core strength has improved; it’s built up my resilience, and for the first time I have enough stamina to run up the four flights of stairs to our flat.
During lockdown, unlike many of the other ‘polers’, I didn’t have access to a pole in my own home. Admittedly, I adapted and practiced an arrow pose on a rugby pole on campus until I’d perfected getting my hand out and then, with all the children’s parks closed, I started practicing on the play poles. I won’t pretend it’s not weird for a grown woman to practice pole dancing moves and spins on a pole in the park, but in my defence the park was always deserted.
Then, for a photoshoot, I took to an aerial hoop for the first time since well before lockdown. It’s hard to describe aerial hoop to someone who hasn’t done it before but it is essentially graceful yoga suspended six feet above the ground on a hoop that will give you bruises in random places. I can’t express how good this is for stretches, especially legs and hips, and for core strength. (And my god, does it look pretty in a flowy dress.)
I am not usually one for sports (you’ll only find me in the gym if there’s a hot tub or I’ve had a particularly bad week, in which case I’ll have two water bottles and one will be filled with gin) but aerial is perfect for me. Having something with different levels of difficulties which results in visible progress drives you on to succeed, not to mention the incredible online and in-person community who all post progress pictures and support each other in the comments.
It also opens up a whole new niche. I work as a model outside of uni and being able to offer aerial as a skillset is something that sets me apart from the rest of the crowd when photographers are looking for talented models. Not to mention the pride I feel when we’re stood in the smoking shelter at Glow and someone asks what societies I’m in and I get to see their face when I say pole.
But more than that, I feel powerful.
There is something exhilarating about being able to leap onto a pole and wrap your legs up into a complicated spin; or hop onto a hoop and flip upside down for a beautiful pose. My legs are leaner, my biceps are stronger, and my hands are calloused enough that I could tell people I’m a construction worker and they’d probably shrug and say that they thought as much.
When I buy a brand-new pole set and rock up to finally perfect that tricky spin, I feel sexy. I’m not showing off for random men in Sugar or counting my Insta likes; it’s just me pushing my body to the max while being serenaded by the cheers of a bunch of the most supportive girls you will ever meet. And it always leaves me feeling powerful, sexy, and more graceful than my clumsy plus-size body has ever felt. And that is exactly the kind of workout I need.