Pole fitness instructor, Ang Kai Li shares her thoughts on one of the most stereotyped dance medium in the world. Over the years, pole dancing has been slowly reinvented as an underground fitness culture, fusing dance and acrobatics, in studios and gyms worldwide.
All it takes is practice
A rare gem, 26-year-old pole fitness instructor Ang Kai Li swayed away from her medical degree to delve into pole dancing. Despite pole dancing not being a ‘fancy’ job, Ang said she enjoys what she does. “Even if I had a choice, I would not change anything.”
As a little girl, Ang revealed that she has always been interested in her flexibility. Thus, she was always drawn to gymnastics, even though she never had the privilege to attend proper classes.
“Back in secondary school, I would join clubs that somehow resembled gymnastics, such as martial arts. Often they would do moves like flips, leg split and other stretching activities, so I joined in to learn. I was also active in sports,” she said.
When she discovered pole dancing during her medical studies in the Philippines in 2015, she instantly knew that she just had to go for it. “One of my classmates posted a photo of her doing aerial silk. I thought of how fun it looks, and how I’ve always wanted to try it.”
With ample time during her month-long semester break, Ang visited the dance studio and immediately signed up for pole dancing and aerial silk. As she mastered each steps and tricks, she eventually became an instructor a year after.
“Since I picked up the skills very quickly, I was scouted by one of the instructors after the studio closed down. I was not sure initially, but she encouraged me to teach the beginner’s class,” Ang disclosed.
After she graduated in 2017, Ang returned home to Kuching, Sarawak. There were no such thing as pole dancing classes. “I didn’t know what to do. I actually planned to come home and take the doctor’s exam, get my medical licence and practice here. However, I failed.”
As fate would have it she encountered an opportunity that would make her a pole fitness instructor in Kuching. “I met a gym owner in Sabah who suggested that I work in his gym in Kuching. I started teaching in March 2018, however things were slow and due to unforeseen circumstances, I had to stop and leave the following March.”
“When I left, there were five very sad girls who were my students. They asked me to start a studio of my own, but I didn’t have the financial ability to do so. Furthermore, back in those days, my assumption of pole fitness in Kuching was that it could never work out as there was no market to begin with.”
Nonetheless, the strong-willed and soft-hearted Ang decided to get a ‘mobile’ pole instead with the money she had left. She figured that with it, she will still be able to teach the girls, and, “I get to play with it a little too.”
Reminiscing, Ang said that she would install the pole at her current studio, Fly Region and would uninstall it again after the private lesson ends. “Despite teaching aerial hammock at the time, I could not let go of my pole classes because of the dedicated girls,” she laughed.
“They reminded me of my time in the Philippines after the first studio I attended closed down.” The pole instructor would conduct private lessons in between her other classes.
“At the time, I promoted mainly on social media. And from five, the numbers increased steadily. I had 20 students just two months after I started in June 2019.” Currently, Ang revealed that she has more than 50 students in total. “I started investing in more poles to accommodate the students. By December last year, the number of classes per week were overwhelming.
Everything happened so unexpectedly and it all started from the five students,” she said.
Changing the stigma
With society’s scepticism of pole dancing — it is still viewed as a dance for strip clubs — or exotic pole dancers, Ang admitted that it was difficult to stray away from the common misconception.
“Teaching in Kuching has never become a problem, but instead of pole dancing, I label my classes as ‘pole fitness’ to steer away from the stereotype and to make it more appealing to to future learners.”
She revealed that during her private pole classes, she would teach the skills of dancing on a pole. “There will not be any heels or skimpy clothes involved, and it is more like gymnastics. I help people become stronger, to learn to pull themselves up to do tricks to look graceful and pretty, instead of being provocative.”
“And my focus is usually to teach the skills. As for the dance aspect, I leave it to my students’ creativity,” she added.
Explaining the composition of her class, she said that pole fitness to her is like any other workout. “You would gain strength and flexibility. And also, you would gain confidence as a woman.”
Elaborating, Ang said that when her students first started, they would usually come in t-shirts, and shorts. “I would tell them to go shorter i.e sport tops. The reason is because when you climb the pole, you will need the skin to strengthen the grip. There are alternatives such as a ‘sticky’ attire specialised to pole dance but there are limitations. You won’t be able to slide down properly.”
Ang also said that her beginner students would worry as they are insecure of their body. “Stretch marks, muffin tops, scars and fats at the tummy. I always tell them I am not bothered by it, so why should they? It’s a private class anyway.”
At the end of the day, being able to do tricks on the pole increases their confidence level. “As they succesfully perform a trick, they realised that despite the insecurities, they still can do something cool with their body.”
Ang also stressed that pole is not limited to a person’s weight. “As long as you can carry your weight up, you can do pole dancing. However, it takes practice to be able to do so.”
Pushing the limits
When asked to describe the feelings of succesfully performing a trick, Ang said that it is liberating, knowing that you are able to do things that you were told you can’t do before.
“In general, being an adult, you always get told that you are too old for certain things, that it should have been done when you were younger. With pole dancing, I often surprised myself with the things that I could do.
“Believe me, in pole dancing, it is not easy to get a trick done. But when I managed to do it, it was really satisfying.
“It makes me realised that there are limits that I can push, and that if I put in my efforts, I can still do a lot, and it gave me an amazing feeling,” she said.
Despite that, there are also challenges that she had to face constantly.
“As an instructor, the non stop daily physical activities can be very intense and disheartening. However, after a while, it became bearable. Muscle pain is the new normal for me. If you asked me what hurts, I wouldn’t know anymore,” she said.
Ang then revealed her biggest fear; students falling from the pole. “I would always stand close to them and be ready to catch them in case they fall. But I always try to make sure the students push themselves so they can succesfully perform the tricks. At the same time, I always taught them some tips and tricks so that they will know what to do in case they fall and not to badly injure themselves.”
Having been in the industry for five years now, Ang hopes to see pole dancing flourish in Kuching. “I hope to see more pole dancing choreographers. Not necessarily exotic, but more like contemporary or Latin dance combine with poles. I think that would be very interesting.”