Volunteering for World Vision gave me focus. My deep-felt passion for educating students on becoming global citizens and helping others made me feel like was chipping away at the problems facing our world. Locally, I campaigned to city councils and governments, marched in the streets, spoke at high schools, and raised as much money as I could for World Vision’s annual 40-Hour Famine. I was on a mission to change the world and put an end to people living in poverty.

When I wasn’t working as a change agent, my friend and I would go to the gym; but neither of us knew what we were really doing. The gym gave us a program to follow but it was the same identical workouts every week. Repetitions, sets, drop sets, weight machines, treadmills—day after day, no variety and no fun. Even after countless hours in the gym and almost starving myself, I was putting on more weight. I didn’t understand how I could make an impact on other people’s lives, but I couldn’t make a simple change in my own.

My frustration with the changes in my body, or the lack thereof, went far beyond the gym.  Growing up I was “the” fat kid. Always being chosen last for team sports and teased in the playground soon evolved into bullying in my early teens, and eventually led to a eating disorder. By my late teens, I lost weight, but I still wasn’t happy or satisfied. I became obsessed with exercise and even more obsessed with not eating, not realising that my misunderstanding of the complexities of the human body was only causing me more harm. I’d spent so much time focusing on others through my volunteer work; I promised myself I would do something just for me. I knew that I needed something different, something more motivating than machine weights and treadmills.

One day, I noticed a sign on a building… “Pole Dancing Classes For Fitness” I thought to myself, “Well, at least it’s something different from the gym.”. Later that day I made the decision to enrol in a class. I was far too embarrassed to tell anyone about my new adventure, in fact for that entire first class I sat in my car unable to get the courage to walk into the studio!

A week later I finally got it together and awkardly walked into class wearing my huge basketball shorts and t-shirt. Throughout the class I watched by my instructor, ‘Cleo the Hurricane’. She moved around the pole with such grace, control and strength that I was mesmorised. In that moment, I knew I wanted to be just like her. I don’t remember much else from that class, but I do know I had never felt more free. Pole dancing synchronised my mind with my body, and for that full hour I listened to my body, switching off from the outside world. I left the session with a renewed energy. I felt a new excitement rise up in me and I simply couldn’t wait to do it again!

That was 10 years ago.

After my first class, I was hooked. Instead of counting calories, I counted the number of tricks and combinations I could perform. You couldn’t keep me out of the studio, and when I wasn’t in class, I was practicing every possible moment. Even street signs and streetlights became a dancing pole! I never knew my body could transform so quickly. I built muscle, grew stronger, and lost body fat. Instead of boring workouts at the gym, I was having fun and it showed.

Pole was a true love affair. Some weeks, I had to make the choice between putting fuel in my car and paying for the next pole-dancing course. This often meant having my boyfriend drive me to and from the studio. For me, there was nothing more important than making it to class.

18 months and a lot of hard work later, I entered into my very first student competition. I spent countless hours putting together my own routine to perform to a crowd of 30 people. Gosh, it was nerve racking! But when it was over, all I wanted was to do it all over again.

After working my way through all of the levels at the studio, I was offered a job as a pole teacher. I soon learned that introducing other women to pole and helping them discover a fitter, stronger and more confident version of themselves gave me so much joy. I discovered a new passion, a new focus, and a new plan for making a difference in the world. I quit World Vision and withdrew from my International Development studies at University. I felt guilty for making this decision but I knew I had to I trust my gut.

The next few years brought me the delight of teaching many wonderful students and being part of a supportive pole community. I made lifelong friends and worked hard to hone my own pole dancing skills. In 2013, I entered my first pole competition and was chosen to compete at the Victorian Pole Championships. Since I’ve never been great at sports, I was quite proud of this achievement.

And then, tragedy struck.

A week after the competition, I slipped off the pole and landed poorly on my right foot. I looked down to see bones protruding from in my foot. I was in utter disbelief. “Surely I’m dreaming?” I stood up and called for help. The adrenaline kept the pain at bay till the paramedics arrived at the scene.

Over the next 6 months I undertook four surgeries. The doctors told me I snapped all but one of the bones across the bridge of my foot. This type of impact injury is associated with brutal car crashes, not from pole dancing! I was bound up in a full lower leg cast for 6 months and was told by the nurses it would be a long recovery. No working, no driving, and definitely no pole dancing. I was devastated.

I can now relate to all those athletes who have endured a severe injury. Not being able to release endorphins, to watch your muscles and strength wither away, to see everything you’ve worked hard for disappear, to watch others around you improve while you go backward was difficult beyond words.

Despite my limited mobility, I was determined to keep up my strength. I put a pole in my parent’s lounge room and filled my days by attempting short pole routines with my foot in a cast. It was the only thing in my life that kept me from going crazy.

When my cast was finally removed I knew what I had to do—get back to it! The many operations left my right foot arthritic and extremely sore. High impact sports were out of the question, but luckily the only sport I cared about would keep my feet high off the ground. 

To help with the recovery, I built a little studio in my parents’ garage. Flanked with two poles and purple walls, this little pole room became my sanctuary. I spent countless hours here, focusing on my recovery. Day in and day out, I taught myself how to re-invert, perform outside leg hangs, and complete handsprings. I lost count of the number of times I told myself I was done with pole. Through the many tears and tantrums, my willpower remained steadfast. Despite being at the beginner level again, I was in my pole studio every day trying to improve myself.

In my quest for constant improvement, I enrolled in a Certificate IV in Personal Training. I loved learning about the body and begun applying the principles I learned to pole dancing. I finally understood how to train with purpose, to build my muscles, and optimise my training. I opened a personal training business in my parents garage and started taking clients. I was also offered a teaching position at another studio and felt my passion for teaching ignite again.

It was at this stage I know I wanted spend my days and nights, teaching pole for a living.

Over the New Year, I traveled to Byron Bay to meet a man I was seeing. I had only known Andy for month, but he brought something out of me that I loved. I knew he was special. Upon meeting him, I told him that I had quit my job in retail. He asked me, “What now?” “I don’t know,” I answered.  Andy said, “Well, what do you love to do?” Without hesitation I replied, “I love to pole dance.” “Well do that,” he said with an unyielding grin. It seemed so simple, but he was right. Why wasn’t I doing or pursuing what I love?

Andy and I agreed to work on the idea of opening a pole studio when I returned from a trip to New Zealand. He held a Master’s in Business and had worked in the fitness industry for seven years. In my mind, we were the perfect combination – aligned by the magical forces of the universe. When I arrived in New Zealand I found out that my travel agent had made a booking mistake and I ended up missing my tour. A whirlwind 48 hours later, I was back at home and I was refunded the entire amount of my trip, $4,000. “You wanted to start a studio. Now you have the money—do it!” Andy said (his faith in me continues to push me forward to this day).

I was determined and excited, but my initial energy quickly dissipated as I realised it would cost me a lot more than $4,000 to start a pole-dancing studio. I wasn’t able to get a loan and had already quit my job in retail prior to the holiday. Soon the money in my account started dribbling away.

I tried to get Government grants, loans, anything that would give me a little extra cash to pursue my dream, but couldn’t catch a break! I felt like such a failure and wanted to give up. I would continuously call Andy in tears of frustration saying, “I can’t do it. I’m not smart enough, and it’s just too hard.” He never allowed me to make excuses.

Then one day, an old student of mine from a few years ago said she wanted to meet with me. We hadn’t spoken in some time, but she was one of my students with whom I developed a strong bond. We reunited at a café and she couldn’t wait to share with me some exciting news. She told me she sold her home and wanted to use the money to help me open a studio, no strings attached.

I was stunned! How did she know about my aspirations to open a studio when I had only shared this idea with Andy and my close friends? She said she remembered our conversations those may years ago in which I talked about opening a studio, and now that she had the means, it would be an honour to be part of making my dream a reality. We walked to the bank and she deposited the money into my account. Without her generous gift, The Pole Room would not exist.

As a side note, it brings me so much joy and to say that Andy and I were able to repay her even though she never expected it. Words can’t express how much I love her. She has changed my life and the lives of many of our students, and still she has never wanted to be named or recognised for this amazing gift.

Although her financial gift made opening a studio feasible, there was still a lot of hard work to be done. For someone who never completed university or studied business, the process was extremely overwhelming. Beyond developing a business plan, course content, and structure, there were so many details to arrange, such as scouting out the right staff and suppliers. It took a month to even find a studio space.

Thanks to my good friend Caz for tipping us off, our very first location was above a gym in Ringwood. The dream started coming to life and it wasn’t long before the construction was in full motion. Poles, floorboards, mirrors, painting, builders. . . the list kept getting bigger, and so did the expenses.

But, we did it! It was only a small studio, but to me, it was perfect. Eight poles, a cute reception area, and lots of natural light. Simply put, it was 50 square metres of love. I didn’t know what to expect or how people would react to me opening such a small studio. Would it be enough?

I still remember “Open Day” at the end of April in 2015. We had so many bookings, my computer went into a meltdown. Within a week, we were sold out. Could this really be happening? Did that many people truly believe in me and my vision?

When we sold-out our first term at Ringwood, we immediately knew we needed a bigger space. Six months later we moved into our current location, a 370 m2  warehouse at Kilsyth. Andy quit his full time job so that we could begin building our dream, together. His personal investment allowed us to transform our new space from an old, smelly boxing gym in to an incredible studio.  We envisioned growing worldwide, and we knew that this studio was just the beginning.

The Pole Room is now expanding faster than ever with the purchase of 3 Pole Princess studios and have opened our first franchised studio in Highett. We’re at capacity every day, with energetic students and teachers excited to exercise. TPR is what it is today because of the amazing staff. They are the heart and soul of the studio, and each have been chosen based not only on their abilities, but their dedication to our values of acceptance, vibrancy and commitment.

It’s our philosophy that by focusing on mastering the tricks, combinations, and routines, our students will never have to do another “workout” in their lives. TPR is the physical manifestation of our belief that exercise should not only be fun, but empowering. Exercise should also be social, creative, and something you look forward to doing. The amazing physical results our students have is simply a by-product of their skill development, and having fun!

When we intrinsically feel good about ourselves, we learn to listen to our bodies, watch what we eat, and engage in proper recovery. Exercise has an amazing ability to bring confidence to our everyday lives, which positively impacts our homes, workplaces, and community. We’re changing so many women’s lives at The Pole Room!

Last year, I reconnected to what brings me the most joy and happiness by finding my way back to the stage again after a 3-year extended recovery. I am now in the best shape of my life, both physically and mentally, and I have faith in the journey. I love being the creator and the designer of my life and sharing it with Andy. To me, I have found my true calling.

So, what does pole dancing have to do with fighting poverty?

I reflect on this question often, and sometimes I’m filled with remorse for selfishly choosing to pole dance over working at an NGO. But, the more time that passes, the more I realise that we change the world by doing what makes us feel the most alive and happy. This happiness is paid forward, into the lives of others and your community. 

Everyone has a sweet spot in using their passion to make an impact. I truly believe that when everyone finds their passion, and we will fill the world with true happiness. For me, that sweet spot is dancing on poles and empowering other women.