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By early 2019 Bella Blue was an acclaimed international burlesque performer, producer of several monthly shows in New Orleans, and had just opened the permanent home for the New Orleans School of Burlesque. Then the pandemic hit and everything came to a halt. In the year that followed she would learn the monumental importance of rest and self-care, and what taking care of one’s body truly looks like - all through the experience of learning and teaching pole work. 

How did you get started with pole work? 

Bella: I actually started doing pole in the strip clubs when I was in my 20s. At the time, there wasn't anything that was really intensive as far as teaching or training. People would come through town and offer introductory classes. There were a few people I would follow online and just kind of look at what they were doing, but I didn’t understand the mechanics of it, so it was very challenging.

So fast forward a little. I stopped working in the clubs for a while because burlesque got really busy and so that took over. I would take a pole class here or there, but was focused on other things. Then Covid hit. A few months later, I decided to start school as a first time college student and I knew I needed to do something to keep myself moving. A friend invited me to a Sunday pole class at Awakenings Pole & Aerial Fitness that she really loved, so I went. And I thought this would be the perfect way to hold myself accountable to get up and move. From there I just got obsessed with it. It had just evolved so much from what I remembered and I felt good and strong, and my body had changed so much through the course of the pandemic compared to what it was. I was in a much better physical space to be able to give it a shot.

Has pole work helped you overcome any personal struggles, especially in relation to this past year? 

I think it's helped me overcome a couple of things. I had chronic pain for several years and due to injuries that I thought would always be limiting, I was just sort of resigned to it. Even before the pandemic my body had changed so much and I had done an immense amount of work in just accepting where my body was, what it was doing, and what it looked like. Bodies change. It’s normal; it’s okay. 

What I didn't know was that my body was so inflamed because I was so tired and working non-stop. I just never thought about it and so I think what happened was the combination of understanding how overworked I was and how my body was affected. Once I started to deal with it from the top down, my body really responded positively. Probably the first month into the pandemic, I slept like I hadn't slept in years.

And so what I think pole has done for me is that it forces me to be present. Because if something is hurting, I can't push. You will f*** it up. You will f*** up a shoulder if you keep pushing. You will mess a hip up. It forces me personally to be as present and conscious with my body as possible because I will hurt it if I push too far.

How has pole challenged you?

Knowing what my body can and can't do. Just knowing its limits. 

I think it's really hard to plateau because there's just always something else you can be working on. As a teacher, my role has really been to remind students not to focus on what it looks like right now, but focus on what it feels like. How does it feel in your body? What needs to be adjusted? What can we shift? Is it uncomfortable? Can we move something around? Those tweaks help them feel more comfortable because then they know what to do with their bodies. When people start to understand how their bodies work and the mechanics of it, they feel more confident. 

As an instructor, what would you tell prospective students who aren’t sure about taking pole classes? 

I hear people say they need to cross off some XYZ goal before they take a class, but I think what they don't know is that they're going into a space that's really supportive and welcoming. They’re not going into a space where people are going to be judging them. It's totally opposite. Students are extra supportive of each other. 

What are you seeing your students experience during their learning process?

They’re scared at first. They’re very intimidated. I don't even know if they're conscious of it, but I believe that people come in because they are really yearning for that connection to their bodies. 

I think personal strength too, because the majority of the people that come in are women or people that have had a female experience growing up, regardless of how they identify now, and we aren't offered that when we’re born into the world, you know. We have to work so hard for it, so this becomes a really nice tool for people to get there for themselves. 

What do you hope to share with people through pole work?

I would love to see more people, who view pole as something they will never be able to do, realize it's actually something that they're fully capable of. It just requires them to dig a little bit deeper.

Bella Blue teaches weekly pole classes at Awakenings Pole & Aerial Fitness. Visit their website for more information on classes and schedules.