Welcome to the first of our Instructor Spotlight features! We’d like to share with you the stories that shaped our awesome team. We hope you find them fun and inspiring, and perhaps you might even learn a thing or two about your instructor that you didn’t already know…
Today we bring you the story of our ‘dark horse’, Jillian!
How did you get into pole dancing?
It is funny how you think of something you desire and it manifests in your life at precisely the right time, in the right way!
I signed into my Hotmail account one day in May 2011. As usual, my funbox was awash with daily horoscopes, facebook updates, national geographic newsletters, the latest Onion video releases, living social offers and board deals. I was thrilled to discover a 50% discount off pole dance classes in Temple Bar. Without hesitation, I purchased this deal. What a fun 6 weeks that was!!
I remember chatting to one of the girls outside before class about buying my own pole to practice on, as my then boyfriend suggested that I didn’t need to go to classes and could learn at home; we had plenty of space. Lo and behold, an old school friend advertised an x-pole for sale on Facebook. One quick message later… cha-ching sold she said. Completely delighted with myself, we spent an afternoon assembling it and many, many, many minutes watching videos of people like Oona Kivela work magic on the pole. Soon after, yet another pole voucher landed in my inbox and this time I found myself in contact with none other than the owner of Pole Dance Ireland and organizer of Pole Princess Ireland. It was during this event that I saw Arlene perform for the first time and fell in love with her style. I immediately signed up to her studio.
Why are you so passionate about fitness and pole dance?
The main reason I am passionate about fitness and specifically pole dancing is because it covers all aspects of wellness. Being involved in a fitness activity brings benefits, we all know this. I felt better every time I took up a new activity and I felt like crap when I had to stop for work, travel or injury reasons. Like most of us, I tried everything from gym memberships to roller hockey to yoga, but none of them stuck.
Pole dancing represents for me a holistic type of fitness, there are physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and social benefits that are unlike any fitness activity I have experienced before.
Why are you so passionate about serving others?
The main reason I am so passionate about serving others is because I never cease to feel energized by teaching. Sure, there are some days both in an academic setting and a pole studio where things don’t always go according to plan or students appear somewhat ‘meh!’ at the end, but without fail, my experience in the role of teacher leaves me feeling high.
I enjoy nothing better than bringing my personality, knowledge and skills to help others develop, improve and achieve. The fact that I teach pole is instrumental to my own development as a pole dancer, I am inspired to continually improve and expand my knowledge and skills in this industry. I often wake up teaching pole after my Thursday classes and remain in this head space with all of your names, faces, achievements and struggles until I arrive at my next destination and commence teaching something and someone else.
What struggles have you overcome to get to where you’re currently at?
I found Irish Pole Dance academy around the same time as strong swimmers found my egg. At this stage I was completely and utterly hooked on pole dancing. I wasn’t bad at it either since I was naturally strong and fearless and eager to learn. It was with great regret that I chose to put pole dancing aside for the term of my pregnancy but I swore to return.
I made sure to stay fit throughout my pregnancy by going back to the pool on a regular basis. This meant that I was able to return to Pole just two months after giving birth. It wasn’t easy like it had been before, suddenly my brain was involved! I felt fear doing tricks that I had easily done before. I felt stiff in my lower back in a way that I had never experienced before. All I could remember were the words of a woman, whom I had trained with, before I had become pregnant, ‘I can’t do it, I don’t have deep core strength anymore because of having children’. I was terrified that this was me now and that pole had been snatched from my life as quickly as it had entered.
This being said, I felt good after the first class because I was doing something for me. I was getting out of the house and dare I say it away from my beautiful son, his father and all of their needs. I was free to be me for that glorious, gruelling hour long session of pole dancing. I was determined to stick with it, even just for that, even if I never got any better, even if I couldn’t do the things the girls in my class were doing, even if that girl contorting herself upside down in the most elegant way on the spinning pole, in the far left of the room, was a beginner when I was in the advanced class last year, even if I was only getting 20 hours sleep a week, even if my breasts were exploding and leaking milk all over me by the time the class ended.
I started to sign up for as many workshops as were available and as was respectable to my family responsibilities. I did almost a whole week of pole that Christmas as well as my first ever photoshoot. I had a very limited repertoire of tricks that I could reasonably hold but I did it anyway, for me. I was critical and delighted with the results.
During the first year of my son’s life and my first proper year as a pole dancer, I experienced a myriad of meltdowns and trauma in my personal life. Throughout this year pole became, like my son, a stabilizing force. Something important to hold onto when things became blurry and I didn’t recognize myself anymore.
What past experiences have made you the person you are now?
After a misunderstanding resulting in unfair punishment from a P.E teacher in first year of secondary school, I lost interest in playing for the netball team. I developed an apathy towards sports and P.E along with an ability to forge my mother’s signature and an ever flowing period.
It was only when I turned 17 and joined the F.C.A (Reserve Defense Forces) that I resumed my passion for fitness. I’ll never forget how unfit and ashamed I felt 3 months into training when we were out on the range and I had difficulty holding a lunge position to fire from the 300 yard mark never mind dash to the 200 yard mark for the next round of targets.
Mind made up, I set to work, eating healthy and doing a 20 minute circuit of basic exercises daily in my bedroom. I felt amazing the next time I went out on the range and was well able to keep up with the others. Not having to concentrate on my lack of fitness meant I could concentrate on the targets and I became a markswoman for my company two years later.
Once I started working in the corporate world, it became more difficult to maintain my hobby. I worked late into the evenings and drove everywhere. I could feel my level of fitness and general health decline so swimming became my way of staying fit. I swam throughout more than half of my twenties.
After a long trip down under, during which I experimented with running but injured my knee on some dodgy road in New Zealand. I returned home broke, overweight and car-less. One thing I am very conscious of is wasting time, it appalled me to wait for buses and sit in traffic so I decided to walk to work instead, soon after I purchased a bike and for two years I cycled in all weathers from Glasnevin to Phibsboro and back.
I even took up roller hockey during this time but once again an injury sent me packing. I took to travelling again in 2007 and like before my level of fitness declined.
Even though I did my best at first to keep walking and cycling, a car found its way under my ass.
I embarked on a new career in 2005 when I returned from my first Gap year; teaching and I clicked from the outset. I found this type of work so much more rewarding than making millions in the corporate world that I had occupied for most of my twenties.
I started pole dancing when I was in my early thirties and I haven’t looked back, I also haven’t done any other fitness related activity since. I simply cannot imagine my life without pole. Around the same time as I returned to work after my maternity leave, the possibility of moving to France arose. The first thing I thought about was a pole school, I didn’t much fancy the look of what I saw online and given the fact that my French was then still very latent, I didn’t hold much prospect of gaining employment as a teacher. So, I decided to do the Xpert pole fitness instructor training with a view to starting my own studio over there. I decided not to move to France.
I started single parenting in August 2013. Pole, as important as it had been up to this point, became my savior. A friend commented, ‘I think it is because of pole, you are doing so well, better than I did when I broke up with the devil (her pet name for her emotionally abusive ex)’.
Pole as a personal hobby is in a nutshell the best decision I ever made for myself, it has given me strength when I thought I had none left, it has sustained me through some of the toughest times I have experienced to date, it held me together when I should have been falling to pieces. It has broken and battered me and built me anew. It has brought many new and wonderful people from all walks of life into my world.
Teaching pole was the second best decision. When Arlene advertised for Pole Dance instructors, I just knew that I had to go for it, I would forever regret it if I didn’t.
In the beginning, I was super nervous and flooded with doubts about my ability to teach pole, to cope with the physical demands as well as find the time to plan lessons and choreography but I am, like us all, surrounded by such strong and uplifting supportive people who believed in me. I’ll admit, it is not always easy balancing teaching and personal training with my life outside pole. My son hogs my pole at home, he takes up the majority of my free time but I wouldn’t have it any other way, he is one of my best students and will definitely surpass my pole prowess in time.
Almost a year and a half after I taught my first class and 3 years after becoming a mother, I am stronger, more confident and more competent as a person, a teacher and as a student (one my first maxims of life (and pole) is, there is always more to learn). I. am. a. Pole. Mom.
Pole is akin to giving birth, you wear very little clothing, you are not always sure what to do, complete strangers stare your bits square on, they tell you what to do, the pain is unbearable at times, you are exhausted by the time it is over. But let me tell you this. Pole, like giving birth is, ‘Pain with a purpose’ there is something so incredibly beautiful and meaningful at the end. There is a new person. There is you.
What best sums you up?
Growing up in a family where we didn’t necessarily go to mass but were nonetheless Catholics following strict Catholic rules and taboos around sex, sensuality and gender roles. My catholic upbringing ironically cultivated a desire for non-conformity and smashing the patriarch. I went from being a people pleaser to a Pleaser lover.