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A Lion King pole dancing routine? How Revolutions in Swanley is challenging attitudes

PUBLISHED: 10:20 28 September 2012

Cat from Revolutions Pole Academy

Cat from Revolutions Pole Academy

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Anna Dubuis discovers pole dancing is quickly losing its once seedy reputation...

As someone who can barely touch their toes I didn’t have high hopes for pole dancing. Turns out, I was correct.

When I made my descent of the pole it was more fireman than ravishing siren.

And when I swung around the pole I quickly lost momentum and got stuck, hanging on for dear life, startled at how ungainly my performance had been.

Next I tried a “resting” position which involves clamping your thighs around the pole and freeing the arms, essentially like you’re sitting down – but with more pain and zero comfort.

Determined to succeed at something, I attempted climbing the pole.

I clutched it with both hands and lifted myself up, holding the pole between my feet.

To my delight I managed to climb a whole metre off the floor, albeit in the most ungraceful way.

Luckily inspiration was there in the form of my teacher Cat Ledbetter.

Not the most likely candidate for pole dancing, she is a graduate in maths and theoretical physics who hadn’t danced a day past her fifth birthday and also once struggled with toe-touching.

Her first pole dancing lesson seven years ago didn’t go so well, she says.

“I took it up when I was at uni and I was absolutely rubbish. I came to it with no dance experience. The closest thing I could compare it with was climbing. It took me three months to go upside down – I teach people who can do that in the first lesson.”

Nevertheless Cat, now 28, fell in love with the pole and persevered.

“I was just like ‘I have got to get good at it’. Muscles were killing me that I didn’t know existed. But you want to get back and keep trying it. It now seems the most natural thing in the world.”

To the uninitiated, the aim is to create movement around the pole through floor choreography, climbing, spinning and poses.

It’s much more than spinning around a pole and requires huge amounts of strength to control each movement – something I lacked spectacularly.

Revolutions, which is now a professional pole dancing academy running out of a studio in Swanley, began in Cat’s living room where she installed four poles to teach friends.

More people became curious and in 2010 Cat took the plunge to set up the business on a full-time basis.

I came along to the academy expecting sequins, heels and a bit of “in-yer-face” attitude.

Instead I enter a light-filled room filled with power pink mats that is more reminiscent of a dance studio… except for the six four-metre poles extending from floor to ceiling.

Cat is keen to keep her studio classy, taking pole dancing away from the stripper stereotype and focusing instead on the fitness and creative elements.

The success of her school rests on a boom in pole dancing across the country that reflects this attitude.

“Yes pole dancing goes on in strip clubs but we can challenge people’s perceptions of the sport. You have to be reliant on other people being open-minded but a lot of the girls here don’t care what others think.

“We do teach some silly moves, it’s partly about breaking the ice,” she says.

The pole dance performance of The Lion King that Cat and her students did at a show last year, for instance, is a far cry from strip routines.

Next month she is bringing together 15 schools from the area for a fundraising show with the tagline “So you think you know pole”.

Cat has made it her mission to make pole dancing an inclusive activity.

“People who are body aware, who can see a move and copy it, can pick up pole dancing easily. People come to get fit, do something a bit different, feel more flexible.”

Nor is it dedicated for lithe twenty-somethings: BBC South East’s Yvette Austin, a mother in her 40s, was crowned the winner in the British Isles Pole Championships 2011 amateur division.

Before I leave, Cat demonstrates some of the more advanced moves. Her petite frame springs up the pole, twisting and turning around it, stopping with legs extended in the air, and then rolling into another pose, effortless and ethereal.

n Cat’s pole dancing showcase in aid of Magpie Dance, a Bromley dance charity for people with learning disabilities, is on Saturday, October 27, at 7pm at South East Dance Studios, Hextable. Visit www.soyouthinkyouknowpole.org for more details.

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