Pole dancing elevated as a respectable way to keep fit

Justine McLucas from Ecole de Pole

Justine McLucas from Ecole de Pole - Credit: Archant

Classes run by trained ballet dancer Justine McLucas aim to show that the tricks tainted by seedy bars can help develop strength

Six years ago, Justine McLucas had just moved to the UK from Australia as an investment banker and was trying to find a passion to replace a ballet career cut short by injury.

Fast-forward to last year and McLucas was amazing audiences all over Britain on Sky’s Got to Dance while managing Ecole de Pole, a pole dancing school with studios in London Bridge and Camden.

“A good way to get the school known is to compete,” says McLucas, “but I think I bit off a bit more than I can chew. Every morning I wake up and roll over to check my emails and I’ll still be up at 2am adding to the website. Of course it’s the price you pay when you love something.”

McLucas has certainly found her passion in pole dancing. After moving from Fulham last year, her Camden studio is celebrating its one year anniversary and is, by all accounts, going from strength to strength.

Hailed as an instructor

She has just been nominated for the International Pole Championships Industry Award’s Instructor of the Year – a remarkable achievement considering that there are only eight nominees worldwide. However, she is more proud of the effect the school has had on her students.

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“One of the best things about pole dancing is that you pick it up and become addicted – there’s always a new challenge that you just have to achieve. Unlike body combat, where you’re just repeating the same thing each week, you’re always progressing so it’s never boring.

“Because we do it in groups, it’s fantastic to see the camaraderie, people cheering when someone’s mastered a new trick. The effects it has on motivation and self-confidence are really special.”

The transformation in McLucas herself is also evident. Admitting that life as an investment banker was “soul- destroying”, she notes that many of the students come from a whole variety of backgrounds. Even some of the 10 teachers, who originally started as her students, are lawyers teaching under aliases.

The progression of the students is particularly admirable, with many of them starting off as amateurs and ending up as professionals able to compete in national competitions. In many ways, it mirrors the story of the Australian – though few will find the same recognition on national television.

“I love Got to Dance,” says McLucas. “It actually showcases real talent – whereas a lot of these shows go for novelty. Adam Garcia, Kimberly Wyatt and Ashley Banjo were all brilliant judges and there were a lot of people phoning up afterwards asking to do a beginners’ course. It put pole in a good light rather than playing on the stigma people have about it.”

The image of a scantily-clad dancer twirling around a seedy bar in a Hollywood movie is arguably what deters a lot of people from pole dancing. McLucas is keen to accentuate the differences between this image and the reality.

“Think about martial arts, you see people killing each other in movies, but that’s not what it’s about in real life. We’re not just doing shimmies round the poles, we’re influenced more by circus, like the Chinese pole style, for instance.”

Having danced as a ballerina until a foot injury ended her career at the age of 19, McLucas was worried she would never be able to recapture such passion. After joining a London gym in 2007, she took a pole dancing class just as a way to keep fit and have fun.

“I’m 32, which in ballet, jazz or tap terms is ancient. With pole, though, people start at 25, 30 years old and are winning competitions when they’re 38 or 39. Initially I was just delighted to find a way to dance without having to be en pointe.

“My teacher was an ex-ballerina herself and asked me. So I did that for a while and then decided to branch out on my own.”

Now, McLucas is looking firmly to the future and is pushing for a pole dancing qualification that she designed to be officially accredited, so that her students can continue to develop and teach like her.

Above all else, though, she believes Ecole de Pole is as accessible to casual dancers as it is to those looking for a real challenge.

“It doesn’t matter about your profession or background – anyone can walk in off the street and I think I could make them into a good pole dancer. It’s about co-ordination, flexibility and confidence and it’s a much more interesting way to keep fit than just sitting in a gym lifting weights.”

For more information about Justine McLucas and Ecole de Pole, visit ecoledepole.co.uk. The Camden Studio can be found at 66 Rochester Place, Camden Town, NW1.