Natasha Williams, owner of Body Mind Studios, shares her 25-year pioneering adventure into the world of pole dance, learning by trial-and-error, her instructional books, new projects and advice to both beginning and advanced pole dancers.
How did you first get introduced to pole dancing?
I have been dancing as a showgirl and exotic dancer since 1989. The first time one of our clubs installed poles was in 1998, and since then I’ve been hooked.
What about it intrigued you and kept you coming back for more?
Pole is so unique and there is nothing like it. I love to try new things and it was challenging for me. Being able to do tricks on the pole also added a wow factor to my dance routine and made me look forward to my performances.
How did you learn (studio, DVDs, YouTube)?
I mainly learned live on stage and by trial and error. There were no portable poles and the only time we got to use one was while we were performing.
At the time there was no one to teach pole, and only 1 video available online which was from Fawnia Dietrich. I made up a lot of my own moves, and picked up some from the other girls I was dancing with.
Keep in mind that the dancers I worked with didn't like to have someone do the same moves as them so it was very slow going. YouTube was a great tool, but that only came years later.
Wow, and to think all of us today have a wealth of information at our fingertips. What was the most challenging thing for you to learn in pole?
I think Superman. Since there were no instructions and I had no spotter it took me 3 weeks and a bunch of bruises to figure it out. Having said that it’s now the easiest move for me to perform.
What gave you the idea of creating Pole Position? Do you feel it is comprehensive in relation to the other pole dictionaries/guides that are out there?
"Pole Position" was my first book, which covers beginners to advanced moves, but I have written "Pole Tricks Handbook" now, which is specifically with intermediate/advanced moves. It’s definitely one of the more informative books.
The idea came about because there are tons of movies and pictures, but no one to actually explain which hand to put where. This came from my own experience of having no one to teach me. My books are written based on my own instruction methods from years of seeing what the most common mistakes are that we make.
What do you teach as far as pole dance progression (learning one thing before learning another)?
Progression varies from person to person, based on their level of strength and physical intelligence, but as a general rule you need to be able to sit before you can lean back for example. As far as teaching the individual moves, I start with where your hands are, where your body is in relation to the pole, where your legs are and how you get momentum.
My beginner ladies need to build up strength, especially in their shoulders so we work on mainly basic hand grips before they can move on to split grips. I also like to work on handstands to build up towards the next level when they start to do handsprings.
What inspired you to become an instructor?
I always wanted to help empower women, I just never knew it would come in this shape or form! Teaching, inspiring and motivating is my life purpose, so it’s natural for me.
What inspired you to open your own studio?
I saw a need for normal women (who are not ordinary, but in comparison to the girls I was working with who were definitely not normal) wanting to be able to like themselves and their bodies. As a dancer working long hours, and working to seduce men I have the most amazing body and I feel absolutely comfortable in it. I saw a lot of women starting to come to the clubs to watch the shows, but they were not there to see us naked, they wanted to see what we are DOING so that they could do the same.
Also, having danced for men for so long, I felt that it’s time to give back to the women so that their husbands can stay at home and spend time with them.
(Example page from Pole Position Intermediate/Advanced Handbook).
What do feel that pole dancing has done for women in fitness generally?
The answer is probably the most obvious to most people – toning, losing weight, sculpting, healthy and lean muscles, core strength, and more. There is more to it than that though. You can get fit from any form of exercise, so why pole?
The reason I think pole has taken off so much is because of the sexy, flirty side. I think most girls from very small want to be told how pretty they are and how beautiful they look. There is no ‘ grooming’ school that teaches you how to be sexy, how to not overdo it, how to move gracefully. The closest would be modelling, but that is a long shot.
With pole there is an excuse for learning the sexy stuff by having all the fitness benefits to go with it. And it’s win-win for everyone.
What has pole dance done for you personally?
Besides learning that my body does heal ? (haha) Most people don’t believe me when I tell them I was painfully shy. I’m not comfortable speaking or being in public, so this was a complete test on me. And it absolutely morphed me into having confidence, being able to conduct large groups, and perform in front of audiences that have been up to 2500 people.
And then of course, it’s made me stronger, lean and fitter.
How many studios have you opened? Do you operate all of them yourself?
Since opening in 2004 I have had 18 studios in total, of which some closed, others went their separate way and 4 are still fully operational.
As with teaching myself pole from scratch, I had to teach myself the rules of business which was completely new to me. I now have a solid infrastructure of teachers and studios. I run my own studio and I have 3 independent Body Mind Studios franchises which have been running for about 4 years now.
What advice do you give a student who has no dance or fitness background?
You don’t need to be fit to do pole, the reason you want to come is to get fit, but be gentle on yourself.
I need to let them know that they can bruise and that they will be sore in new places. I find this mainly helps them to commit in their minds, because they decide upfront whether it’s something they can handle.
What advice do you give students who are advanced?
It’s great to find new moves, but there is no point to just keep doing new stuff and you don’t know how to do what you know properly. You need to practice, refine and practice more.
Do you feel that pole dancing still has the stigma of 'stripping' or erotic dance attached to it? If so, does it bother you?
Stigma yes. Does it bother me? No. Sometimes I just want to remind people we are living in the 21st century. MTV is more erotic and they let their kids watch that.
Do you have any new projects or products in the works that you would like to share with us?
Yes! I am almost finished my book ”Point your Toes!” on stage performance and choreography, which hopefully will be ready in the next month.
I have also designed a Business-in-a-Box that contains everything you need to start, run and grow your own successful pole studio. It includes a curriculum, pole 1 instructor training, lesson plans, administration, systems to implement and marketing tools. The box is in pre-launch stage as we are printing.
My Pole Tricks Handbook will also be available shortly in a hardcopy wire-bound format for ease of use.
Do you have any new personal 'pole goals'?
Yes, feeling very inspired this year. My focus has shifted from mastering tricks to creating a dynamic stage performance that tells a story. I will be choreography a group pole dance with men and women for Pole Theatre which is completely new for me.
What keeps you motivated to keep pole dancing?
The fun we have in class, the progress the students make, the sense of community and of course the fitness.
Have you competed? If not, do you plan on it?
I have competed in competitions before opening my studio, but I have realised that I cannot run a studio and train full time on both, so I have had to make a choice. There are a lot stronger people doing pole than myself, my forte is more teaching behind the scenes. However, I will be performing live a lot more J
Do you do any other types of fitness training besides pole dance?
I also teach Udyama Yoga (aerial yoga) which is great strength and flexibility training, but in a relaxing environment. It’s a great complementary exercise to pole.
What diet advice would you give to pole dancers?
Throw your scale away. The more you look at it, the more you obsess about food.
Mediterranean food is the healthiest diet, as well as fresh vegetables and protein. Cut out sugar, dairy, wheat and smoking.
How can we follow you (Natasha Williams) or find your Body Mind Studios information? (Youtube channel, Instagram, Twitter, website, blog)
My website is www.bodymind.co.za. I have a Body Mind Studios YouTube channel bodyminddancing. Am in the process of getting my blog which will be on my website when I’ve finished the other projects.
There are four Body Mind Studios in South Africa:
Fairlands Body Mind Studios location:
Ground Floor, Zotos House, 183 Smit Street, Cnr 5th Ave., Fairlands
Randburg Body Mind Studios location:
First Floor Canterbury Crossing, Bram Fisher Drive, Blairgowrie
Boskruin Body Mind Studios location:
Boskruin Village Office Park, 2nd Floor, Functional Training Gym, President Fouche Drive (Hawken Ave.)
Rivonia Body Mind Studios location:
Top Floor Oriental City, Cnr Rivonia Boulevard and 9th Avenue, Rivonia