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'confidence boost' Pole dancing pioneer welcomes new Netflix show on the sport

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El Fegan

El Fegan

El Fegan

A new Netflix documentary will shine a spotlight on the secrets of pole dancing, says local pioneer El Fegan.

El opened the first pole studio in Ireland 15 years ago and has since taught thousands of clients.

She says Strip Down, Rise Up, recently launched on Netflix, is a raw portrayal of the power of the pole, following women who use it to battle illness, abuse, and grief.

At her studios she’s helped clients overcome addictions and eating disorders or people who just want to love their bodies.

The Polercise founder from Hilltown, Co Down, discovered the pull of the pole at a studio in Sydney run by a former stripper.

When she came back to Northern Ireland, she taught herself from a book by S Factor founder Sheila Kelley and former exotic dancer Pantera, who both feature in the Netflix programme.

“I came across it at Bobbi’s Pole Studio in Australia. She was a stripper and I was in awe of her and the stories she would tell. She was a beautiful, strong, feminine lady,” says El.

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El Fegan

El Fegan

El Fegan

“When I came home there were no resources in Ireland, so I had to go online and order every book and DVD.

“I learned a lot from Sheila Kelley’s S Factor book and Pantera’s DVD. They were a big influence on me, and I love watching them now.”

The documentary has come in for some criticism for focusing on the sensual dance side of pole rather than the fitness.

It follows S Factor clients exploring their sexuality and Amy Bond, who teaches the gravity-defying trickster-style competition moves.

“There’s a lot of criticism that it’s not about pole fitness and more about movement,” she says.

“What I got from it was whether it was the sexy side or finding your inner goddess or appreciating what your body is capable of — the common thread is the confidence that it instils.

“We have had people who have been in abusive, controlling relationships who have found their confidence through pole and the courage to get out of that situation.

“I have worked with clients who are dealing with body confidence, with eating disorders, people with addictions, women in their forties who are discovering their femininity and owning their first pair of high heels.

"We have seen it all.”

The documentary, from Oscar-nominated filmmaker Michele Ohayon, also reflects the diversity of pole.

One woman dances her way through cancer while a young widow’s goal is to get to the top of the pole as she copes with her grief.

El says her clients, aged from ten to 60, are even more diverse and include men as well as mother and daughter classes.

“The programme shows it’s open to everyone, that girls and women come in all shapes and sizes. You don’t have to be fit. The reason for coming is to build up your upper body.

“We’d get people emailing asking if they have to wear shorts and being shy when they come in.

"As the weeks go on you can see the clothes getting shorter as they build up body confidence, and you need your skin out to grip on certain moves.”

And she’s weighed in on the row over pole studios which have been accused of shunning the stripper roots of the dance.

Pole fitness is now in contention to become an Olympic sport, but sex workers have taken aim at fitness performers who use #notastripper on Instagram, replying with #yesastripper.

“There is a big movement going on at the minute with sex workers who are kicking off that pole studios like ourselves aren’t supporting them,” says El.

“A lot of pole studios are finding they have to refer back to the strip clubs, and there is a whole sex workers movement going on on Instagram.

“If it wasn’t for strip clubs pole wouldn’t be where it is, and I have no shame in referencing them.”

She believes Ireland’s talent should be celebrated by local film makers.

Cork woman Terri Walsh and pole partner Lisette Krol are three-time world champions who have worked with El in Belfast at all-Ireland competitions.

The duo also demonstrated their skills on Britain’s Got Talent.

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