Pole dancing might have had a bad press in the past, but over the last decade, it has risen above any shady connotations and become an almost mainstream fitness regime.
For Christine Ash, it’s a great deal more than that, however. Her mission is to use it as an invaluable tool in helping women achieve an excellent, self-body image – and have a lot of fun along the way.
At the age of 63, she is a superb example of how the pole and burlesque techniques she teaches can have an enormously positive effect for anyone, especially more mature women.
“It’s a hard society we live in, particularly for older women,” she explains. “It’s all about beauty, fillers, that kind of thing, so women get to a certain age and feel less secure about themselves, their body image can be quite low.
“I think it’s vitally important for them to regain their confidence, to feel good about their bodies.”
Christine made a massive leap of faith herself when she became a mum. She originally qualified as a legal executive and worked for the Crown Prosecution Service in Lewes.
“I had a child in the Jane Fonda era of fitness videos,” she says with a laugh. “I went to a fitness class, really enjoyed it and got hooked.”
After deciding to give up her legal career and train as a fitness instructor, she eventually opened her gym in Lewes and, during the year of 2000, she established Bodyworkshop Gym in North Street, building up a large and loyal clientele of men and women of all ages, sometimes including three generations of the same family. Her oldest client is 90, a regular at pilates classes.
“I first became interested in pole dancing about nine years ago when someone approached me, saying she would like to hire my premises to hold classes,” Christine says. “She wanted to charge my clients quite a lot of money for her classes, which I thought was too high, so I thought to myself, how hard can it be to teach!”
Christine set about learning pole dancing from scratch and honed her skills and techniques within a very short timescale, becoming an accomplished teacher who applies the same high standards she insists on for all the forms of fitness classes she holds. She also teaches aerial hoops, another exciting discipline which uses the same kind of skills.
“Originally pole dancing came from the world of stripping, but it’s come a long way since then and means different things to different people,” she says. “Now there is talk of making it into an Olympic sport.
“In nature, we all want to be attractive, to others or just for ourselves. I don’t think there is anything wrong with being sexy. Those who take part in dancing or gymnastics wear leotards or skimpy outfits. They perform on the floor, so what’s the difference in performing on a pole or a hoop.
“You can be sexy if you wish, wear seven or eight-inch heels and fishnet tights, projecting yourself into the kind of image you want, or you can keep it simple and use it just as a great way of keeping fit.
“I teach pole dancing to a lot of home-schooled children, and they come just for the basics. But it is something for everyone, whatever suits you and whatever your size, age or level of fitness, there is always something you can do.
“It isn’t challenging to learn – you can start at any level, and once you start spinning, it builds up a bit of momentum. Gradually your body gets to understand this, and if you wish you can progress to climbing the pole and doing some harder tricks.
“I teach a lot of guys now. With pole dancing, you build up a lot of core strength and flexibility, and the men see how fit the girls are and decide to use the pole exercises to help their fitness.
“Of course there are some guys who like to wear high heels! In Poland, pole dancing for men is very popular, and there’s a substantial male contingent. Some of them do tough tricks, using very high poles and tumbling down them.
“Some of the guys I teach have gone on to take part in competitions. The girls at university hold pole dancing competitions and several of mine have been winners.”
Christine also teaches burlesque and believes that both this and pole dancing play an essential part, not just in boosting clients’ body image but also lifting their spirits.
“It isn’t just older women who lack confidence or have a low body image,” she explains. “Two of my pole girls are teenagers who have had depression and had been cutting themselves. Pole dancing gave them a much better self-body image.
“For a lot of women, the classes are an escape from their everyday lives. When you are pole dancing, you have to concentrate, so you forget about other things going on in your life. Some of my clients are getting over situations such as bereavement or divorce – when they come to a class, they can put that aside for a while and enjoy themselves.
“It can be for any age group. One of my regulars is sixty-seven. I have a lady in her fifties who has a lot of stuff going on in her personal life. Here she can offload, leave her problems behind.
“We always have a lot of laughs. I do internet dating, so I often tell the classes tales of my dates from hell. I encourage them to embrace their curves, their femininity, to be themselves. I want everyone to go away, feeling happy and positive.”
Teaching burlesque stemmed from a client who had already done some pole dancing and wanted to learn aerial hoop, then wanted to learn burlesque.
“Her look is long red hair, tattoos and piercings. We decided to play to her strengths, so we choreographed a hippy, festival-type of burlesque for her. Now she gets quite a few professional burlesque bookings.
“For Valentine’s Day, the class learnt a little bit of chair dancing so that they could give their husband’s an extraordinary dance. After the Valentine’s lesson here, one client went to Spain with her husband to celebrate their wedding anniversary – he was blown away when she did a surprise dance for him. It can do a lot for relationships.
“We have excellent pole dancing evenings for hen parties – some of them have done it before, others are complete beginners, but they all have a wonderful time.
“I’m sixty-three now and waiting for a new hip, but I still sometimes put on my nine-inch heels – I couldn’t walk very far in them, but I can always do my pole dancing.
“I’m more confident now than I have ever been, and I’m passionate about teaching my skills as a way of empowering other women.
Helping them to come out on the other side with a much better self-body image, renewed confidence, loving their bodies and feeling much more positive about themselves.”•