ONCE the preserve of strip clubs and other establishments of questionable repute, pole dancing has come out of the shadows to be embraced by a new generation of fitness enthusiasts of all backgrounds and gender.

Its relatively low cost (all you need is a pole or hoop), versatility and the proven health benefits have led to a boom in classes offering training in this most athletic of vertical workouts.

Among its advocates is Oxford wildlife photographer and professional tree climber Andrew Walmsley. The Headington-based photojournalist and adventurer now puts his climbing to good use as a pole, hoop and trapeze artist. And, he says, with the country in lockdown, a spin on the pole is the perfect way to stay fit.

“Pole dance means different things to different people,” says the athletic 37 year-old, who has worked on expeditions around the world, from West Africa to Borneo.

“For some it’s a sport, for some it’s a dance and creative outlet, and for others it’s a mix of all of these things.

Read more: Animals celebrate Easter at locked down zoo

“It has its origins in stripping, and like most other pole dancers who don’t do it professionally, I am committed to the rights and recognition of the people who brought us this amazing art form. For most of us, the only time we’ll have seen pole dancing is in clubs or in scenes in films, but it’s a rapidly growing hobby for many people, and there’s a style of pole dance for everyone – you can embrace the sexier side of it if you want, but nobody will force you to do so!”

Oxford Mail:

And, he says, it offers an all-body workout like none other. “Pole dance is a great form of exercise because, like calisthenics, it’s using your own body weight to train,” he says.

Read more: NHS get rock star treatment form VIP tour bus crew

“Every session includes the things you’d expect from any form of exercise – warm-up, conditioning, technique, strength and cardio. I’d almost describe it as a combination of dance and gymnastics. I don’t have a background in either of those disciplines, but it hasn’t held me back because the training is so thorough and so adaptable to different ability levels

Oxford Mail:

“It’s also great for artistic self-expression because, like any form of dance, it’s set to music and you can embrace any style you want to help you express yourself.”

For Andrew and his girlfriend Lucy Radford, the inspiration came while watching an 80s pop star at Oxfordshire’s Wilderness festival, three years ago.

He recalls “Lucy and I watched Grace Jones perform at Wilderness and one of her backing dancers was a pole dancer.

“His strength and ability were awe-inspiring and sowed a seed of interest in both of us.

“Lucy started classes shortly afterwards, while I was away on a wildlife photography expedition, and I joined her when I got back.

“Since starting classes, we’ve explored doubles pole as well as dancing individually, and we entered a competition as a duo in July 2019

Oxford Mail:

“We normally go to classes run by Amy Furey, aka Delilah High Aerial, at the Oxford Academy. She also runs aerial hoop classes at Feel Fit gym in Cowley, and we’ve been going to those for over a year as well.

“We’ve met some wonderful friends through our classes – we’re a proper community and we socialise together a lot outside of classes too.

“We’re lucky enough to be able to continue training under lockdown conditions.

“We bought ourselves a pole over a year ago, and while we haven’t got enough space at home to leave it set up all the time, we set it up about once a week to keep up our strength and conditioning.

“Amy has also started running online classes, taught by the amazing Mel Lee.

Read more: Hero medic killed by coronavirus

“Most of these can be done without a pole so we’re really enjoying those as well.

“We’re also very lucky to be able to keep practising hoop at home – I’ve used my rigging and tree-climbing qualifications to rig up the hoop from a tree at the bottom of our garden.”

Oxford Mail:

While a pole, hoop or trapeze can easily be installed at home or in a garden, Andrew advises caution. Serious injuries can result if the equipment is not properly fixed. He says it is also important to have someone watch over – or ‘spot’ – you during your workout, should you get into trouble or experience a problem with the equipment.

Another option, he suggests, is to have fun by dressing up. Many practitioners enjoy dressing up for performances – including Andrew, who has had his own flamboyant gear made for him. However it is perfectly acceptable to stick to conventional gym wear.

“People often ask what we wear for pole dancing,” Andrew smiles, flashing a cheeky grin.

“As with most other types of dance, the answer is pretty much whatever you feel comfortable in! You do need a certain amount of skin out to be able to grip properly and stay safe in a lot of moves, but if you’re not comfortable with that, you can buy sticky leggings and tops which allow you to grip while remaining covered up.

“These are quite expensive, however, and quite hot to wear, so most people just wear shorts and sports bras for most classes. There is, of course, a performative aspect to any type of dance so most of us do have fancier outfits and high heels which we wear some or all of the time – I have two pairs of six inch heels and love how accepting the pole dance community is, no matter what gender you are or what you choose to wear.”

So how difficult is it to master the technique? “The most difficult thing about pole probably varies from individual to individual,” he says. “For me, and for Lucy, it’s the flexibility you need for some moves – neither of us is naturally very flexible so we have to put a lot of work into that. For other people, the strange feeling of being upside down and holding on with just one leg is the most difficult thing – it all just depends on your personal preferences.

Oxford Mail:

“There’s a definite sense of achievement with pole. From the very first lesson, you learn to do things you’d never have done in your usual life, and it’s so exciting to watch your own progression and challenge yourself with ever more complex moves.

“Lucy and I are extra grateful for pole during lockdown. Not only does it keep us moving and give us a reason to get off the sofa, but our community is as strong as ever and we talk to our pole friends almost every day. We’re all helping each other to get through this.

“For anyone who’s thinking of trying it, the first thing I’d say is try not to let nerves get the better of you. I was really worried that, particularly as a man, everyone would stare at me and think I was weird for going along to a class that’s largely attended by women, but everyone is so welcoming and accepting, and you’ll quickly feel part of the family.

“You can get your first class free at Delilah High Aerial, so there’s really nothing to lose!

“You do make progress very quickly in pole – by the end of the first lesson, you’ll already feel you’ve learnt a lot.

“Pole will definitely make your life better. You’ll achieve things you never imagined being able to do, and make friends who’ll become a hugely important part of your life.

“Lucy and I can’t recommend it highly enough!”

Oxford Mail:


  • Delilah High Aerial – Amy Furey – runs pole dancing classes at Oxford Academy, Sandy Lane West, Littlemore, Oxford. Go to delilahhighaerial.co.uk for more details and times of class once the lockdown has ended and gyms re-open.
  • Amy also runs aerial hoop classes at Feel Fit Gym, 21 Templars Square, Cowley, Oxford. Call 01865 711333. These are expected to continue after the lockdown.
  • Pole Cats also offers classes and private lessons in the Oxford area. Go to polecatsdance.co.uk/
  • To practice at home, you can find instruction tutorials online and also shop for equipment.
  • Do not attempt to try it without the correct high-quality equipment or without someone to ‘spot’ you while you exercise. Like all serious forms of exercise, pole dancing can cause injury if done incorrectly. Always warm up correctly beforehand.