Meet our Instructors | Ashlee
Our next featured instructor is Ashlee, who serves on Ascendance's board of directors. Learn more about Ashlee below!
How long have you been pole dancing? How did you start?
I’ve been pole-dancing for 4 1/2 years. I started my pole journey in an intro-to-pole class. I couldn’t hold a plank, do a push-up, or touch my toes when I started! I couldn’t even make eye contact with others when I started. I was so nervous!
What made you try Pole Dancing?
I saw a friend stripping in Portland and was in awe of her confidence, strength, sex-appeal, and movement. I wanted to know what it felt like to feel as good as what she projected!
What advice do you give beginning pole dancers? Advanced students?
Have fun! You started pole because it looked fun, not because you wanted to go pro, right? I see so many people who approach pole and aerial and think they have to look a certain way or have a certain level of fitness already, but the whole point of beginner classes is that you’re new! You’re a beginner. We ALL started as beginners. The only way to ‘get there’ is to show up consistently and to keep trying.
Be patient with yourself. We all start pole with very different skill levels. I came to pole with 0 dance background, and was not ‘fit’ at the time. Through repetition, exploration, and giving myself permission to try new things, I increased my confidence, grew my skill set, and became stronger/bendier.
Give yourself permission to be “bad”: I have run out of appendages trying to count the number of students who get frustrated that they don’t nail a new skill on the first try. They compare their efforts as students to mine as their teacher or other students in class. It’ your first time trying! It’s my 1,000th time demo-ing. Of course your movement is going to look different. Your job as a student is not to be perfect on the first try. Your job as a student is simply * to try*.
Rest-days count as training.
Learn to move/dance like YOU: Tricks only carry us so far. As polers we come in a variety of shapes, heights, sizes, and weights. All of these factors will affect in a very beautiful way, what your movement looks like. Getting caught up in comparing yourself to other polers is not only counter-productive, but can be emotionally damaging. There is only one you and you’re already fabulous. Don’t waste time trying to move exactly like someone else. Embrace your body’s unique movement paths, differences, and options.
There is no wrong way to move, there is only safe and unsafe.
Repeat this with me, Advanced Polers: Rest-days count as training. Rest-days count as training. Rest-days count as training.
Also: Think you’re ‘not bendy’ or don’t need to stretch? Think again! Training active-flexibility will unlock the key to every pole move you’ve ever dreamed of but can’t seem to get yet.
Why did you start teaching?
I started teaching because I loved how pole made me feel, and I wanted to introduce others to the art and sport that has brought me so much personal healing.
What is different about your teaching style that you think students are drawn to?
I keep my classroom focussed, fun and do my best to make everyone laugh at least once per class. I keep modifications in my pocket for everyone. My focus on technique, musicality, and self gives my students the tools they need to find their own style. I won’t teach you how to dance like me; I’ll teach you how to dance like YOU.
What would you say is the biggest struggle or obstacle among pole dance students that you come across? What would be your advice to them?
Over-training and not fueling their bodies! Sure, “pole kisses” aka bruises can feel rewarding when you learn a new skill, but if you are bruising everywhere and not healing, that’s not a badge of honor. It’s a sign that your body needs a few days off. You’re not going to magically fall “out of shape” by taking 3 days off (or even a week!) If you’re sick, rest. If you’re tired, rest. If you’re hungry, for the love of all things sparkly, eat! (How are you supposed to drive a car on the freeway on an empty tank?)
Oh, and neglecting flexibility training. Stretching is not optional. Stretching is essential. The stronger you get, the stiffer you get. It’s crucial that you take flexibility training seriously to maintain healthy mobility and minimize your chances of injury.
What would your advice be for students who want to find their own style in dance?
Show up to Freestyle Flow! Show up to choreo class! Show up to Exotic (sexy) class! Try conditioning and flex class! Go to dance classes that are outside your comfort zone. Your job as a student is not to be the ‘best’ in class; your job is to listen to your instructor, and to move your body to the best of your ability.
What are your feelings about pole dancing for fitness being associated with exotic dancing/stripping?
It is important to recognize that pole is first and foremost an apparatus, than anyone can move around as they see fit, but I refuse to separate my art from its roots. People can talk about Chinese and Indian pole all day long, but the fact is modern pole fitness was born from an ex-stripper who came up with a creative business model. She turned her first career into a pole fitness studio and paved the way for an entirely new industry focussed on fitness, expression, and self-love. Pole was initially only something you could learn at ‘the club’. Then, polers began sharing videos online and eventually, major pole studios were born. We literally utilize moves in championship-style competitions named after strippers that are alive and dancing today. (The “Allegra” is named after Miss Pole Dance Australia 2010, Allegra King!) I often see those trying to separate the idea of pole from strip clubs doing so in search of validation from those already slut-shame strippers and women who seek sensual and sexual expression. To me, that is a pointless fight that I believe furthers a flawed narrative. Ultimately, those people should not be catered to, and when we as polers hop on the “I’m different, I’m not a stripper” train, we further repress everyone who touches a pole: woman, child, man, stripper, hobbiest, athlete, dancer, etc.
I am pole dancer who loves exotic style, and as I see it, a stripper’s fight for respect is a feminist issue, and is therefore also my fight as a woman, and ally.
What are your thoughts about pole dancing being included in the Olympics as a sport?
If pole is included, I feel like circus arts like Lyra and other aerial apparatuses should be added as well. I see this huge push in the community to have pole included in the Olympics and after many of the championship-style pieces I’ve seen, I agree that it is a worthy addition. Whilst I respect the elements of rhythmic gymnastics in championship-style pole, so much of the chatter I have read is focussed on disassociating from exotic-dance style and strip-clubs vs. the elevation of the sport. Seeking validation from those to aim to shame us for how we move is ultimately unproductive, and I don’t think this motive is a good enough reason to seek Olympic approval.
What has been your biggest challenge in your pole journey? How did you overcome the difficulty/challenge?
Self-Doubt. I used to let the fact that I didn’t have a dance or fitness background get to me. Then I discovered that a lot of polers that I look up to also came to pole with NOTHING and build everything they had from the ground up, just like I am doing. Check out this article here: https://cleosrocknpole.com/blog/-fierce-pole-dancers-who-didnt-need-a-fitness-or-dance-background-to-kick-ass
What has been the most challenging move/trick to learn?
The Ayesha (hand-spring)! I learned mine with a very specific, difficult grip, and it took me years! Later on, I learned that there are much easier grips but the strength that I built training my true-grip Ayesha on both sides has translated into so many other skills so I guess I can stop complaining about that one. Ha.
What is your favorite pole dancing move?
A bodywave. As cool as tricks are, there is nothing more satisfying than mastering fundamentals. At it’s beginning, my body wave was reminiscent of an awkward pelican trying to swallow a starfish. Today, 4 1/2 years later, I’ve trained my back to move like a snake. I am proud to be a one-trick pony in this way! I can body wave up, down, big, small, fast, slow, from the chest, from the hip, while standing, while laying own, while kneeling, all the ways! I often dance to entire songs using only body waves.
What is your greatest achievement so far in pole dance?
Learning to love myself. Pole gave me the opportunity to explore my sensuality free from the male gaze, and gave me a safe space to appreciate my body for what it can do instead of what it looks like.
What are you currently working on? What are your goals for this year?
My training this year has been entirely devoted to putting the ‘tricks’ down and working only on dance. Dancing for joy, dancing for catharsis, dancing to trap, pop, reggeton, rock, synth-pop, instrumental tracks, you name it, I’m dancing to it.
What is your proudest moment in your career?
Taking Silver in L3 Exotic (senior) at the US National Pole Dance Championships in 2017. Also, having my investments in myself as as performer and dancer being recognized with an invitation to dance with Valtesse Productions, which I’ve been doing since May 2018.
What has made you stick with Pole Dancing?
It’s such a diverse discipline and it can be different every day. Sometimes I can’t bring myself to dance or my heart isn’t open enough to really “go for it”, so I focus on conditioning and practical execution of pole tricks. Sometimes training tricks feels boring, and I’ll flip back to dancing and exploring self-expression/story-telling. Sometimes all I want to do is dance sexy and be a total boss. Other days my heart is heavy and I need to move differently and dance my way through the day’s challenges.
How did people around you react when they learned that you were doing pole dance?
My family was fairly unbothered by it. They were supportive and I’ve since had my mom, and multiple female relatives come take my classes! My dad and step-dad don’t always understand it but they have always been supportive of my chosen discipline.
The first question strangers usually have for me is, “So, are you a stripper?”, to which my response is usually, “why is that important to you?” If they are out to shame me in any way, they *always* end up making a fool of themselves trying to answer the question when I flip it back on them. If they are genuinely curious without judgement, it ends up being a respectful and productive conversation.
Do you perform regularly?
I have performed throughout the summer of 2018 with Valtesse Productions. I have also performed at several private corporate events, and local events over the past two years like Upstream Fest, SEAF, and as co-opener for SG Blackheart Burlesque.
What is the most important in a pole dance performance in your opinion?
Audience engagement, confidence. Audiences can quickly become desensitized if you overwhelm them with trick after trick. One of my favorite performances ever was from a rather junior dancer who never went upside down, but she had the audience eating out of the palm of her hand because she OWNED that stage and gave off, ‘You’re welcome!’ vibes the whole time. Being a good performer is not the same thing as being a good athlete.
Do you have any pole idols? Anyone in the pole community who inspires you?
Olga Koda, Carmine Black, Marion Crampe, but that’s just the start! I follow over 300 professional dancers, aerialists and contortionists on Instagram. Each of these dancers has such unique style! Olga’s style is intense, explosive, acrobatic, sexy. Carmine is raw, smooth, sensual, nuanced, authentic. Marion defies gravity whilst bending her body like a pretzel. She is elegant, fluid, and moves with such grace (a product of both her personal style and contortion training!)
What is your favorite pole workout wear?
When I show up for aerial tricks or conditioning class I almost exclusively wear a mix of random sports bras, and Mika tops/Bad Kitty bottoms. (FYI if you’re wondering why pole dancers wear so little and why we can’t just ‘cover up’, flesh-on-metal-pole contact is a safety issue. The smaller your clothes, the safer you are.) My attire when teaching Exotic and low-flow often errs on the side of a fashion-show. I dance my best when I feel great, and part of what makes me feel great is dressing up. I mix brightly colored heels with Rad crushed velvet leg warmers, open-back knee-pads, various swimwear and lingerie pieces that I’ve repurposed and layered together. Artista Apparel also has fantastic options for all sizes, skin-tones, and coverage needs.
What are your other hobbies?
When I’m not training flexibility or pole, or dancing, I rhinestone costumes, read outside, check out live music, eat insanely good food, and snuggle with my cats.
What do you do in your free time? Off the pole?
I model for fine art projects, I travel for work (LA, Guatemala and NYC are my favorite destinations!) I mess up recipes trying to remember how to cook, and think of ways that I can help my students grow.
What is your all-time favorite song to pole to?
This is such an unfair question as I have over 300 songs on my top 2 pole playlists alone!! I suppose if I look at how many times I played each song, my favorite is PONY by Ginuwine, but lately it’s Cockiness(Love It) by Rhianna. See https://youtu.be/lbnoG2dsUk0 and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mbJRVufEX00.
Give us a sexy floorwork song.
After Dark by Tito & Tarantula: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=srIqKYsRk78
I Love Ya by Tank: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HzIwwc2Lzgk
What’s a YouTube pole dance video we should check out?
Marion and Alex: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YZvSQutXO7E