Stories of Impact: Holly Smith
“The impact of pole spreads far and wide throughout my life.”
How did you become interested in pole dance?
“I was looking for a new sport to try that would improve my health in all parts: make new friends, physical exercise, and build my self-confidence. Pole provided a space for me to be myself and to apply myself to a form of physical therapy that no one else I knew did.”
What was life like for you before you started pole dancing?
“Throughout secondary school, I struggled with various mental health issues, mainly rooting from my depression. For sixth form* I moved to a difficult faculty where I was prepared for a fresh start, believing everything would be different now that I would be out of a toxic environment. However, my college was much, much larger than my previous school and I really struggled to make friends. The only person I talked to was my girlfriend, and she lived two hours away with an apprenticeship, so even that was just phoning on her lunch break once a day.
By my birthday, I decided it was time to get organized and actually start up a new club like I had intended to do when first joining sixth form. I had seen advertisements in the local area for aerial fitness and pole fitness, so I told my mum and she found ILP Fitness.”
How has pole helped you since?
“Pole has provided me with a form of therapy. [At the pole studio], I can leave my worries at the door, I can wear clothes that I feel strong and healthy in, I have new friends that make me smile, and I have a safe space to be myself. Every week when I leave pole, I leave with a smile. There is such a radiant vibe in the class and nothing matters as long as you try, have a laugh and get pictures for each other before we all fall off [the pole].
I go to pole class on Thursdays, so it’s the middle of the week. Usually people would find that tough, but it gives me something to look forward to. No matter how the week has gone so far or whether my day was tough, I can’t wait to get home and into my pole gear because I know it will be OK once I get [to the studio].”
What is it about pole, specifically and compared to other physical outlets you may have tried, that gives you this feeling?
“I think the environment of the class has a large impact. You walk in and there are people of all ages and abilities, and it doesn’t matter who you are, you just fit in.
[Pole dancing] is also not common in my social circles, which meant it could be my thing and that I had no one to compare myself to, which is something I have always done, which has affected my mental health greatly.
I feel enough, I feel worthy, and I feel body-confident. We all wear as little or as much as we want and everyone’s body is respected. When I started pole, I wore long shorts and floaty tops. Now I wear hot pants and flamboyant, cropped sports bras. I walk out [of class] feeling good about myself.”
What have reactions been like from other people who find out you do pole dancing?
“Classmates that I had in my first year of college made it into a joke that I was a pole dancer and didn’t take the discipline seriously or the fact that it was just for fun and that it made me happy. The friends that I’ve made over summer and in these first few weeks back to college have been so receptive of it.
I posted a picture of my first attempt at iguana (pictured right) on my Snapchat story and so many people replied saying how cool it was and that they were in awe of the strength and flexibility that I had.”
How did those comments make you feel?
“I was hurt by the negative reactions, as pole meant so much to me, but at the time I was on toxic cull and I simply removed everyone out of my life if they didn’t add happiness to mine. Receiving the more recent reactions made me feel so happy. I felt appreciated and touched that other people actually thought I was good at something. I felt enough.”
How else has pole dancing impacted you?
“My depression came in many forms [prior to pole]. Sometimes it was in my eating and exercise, other times in my sleep. When it hit my diet, I lost lots of weight and had a tinted view of what I actually looked like. My relationship with sports used to be so healthy until my teenage years, where I only took part in sports in order to burn calories.
Pole was something that recreated my love for physical activity in a way that combined things I had already done (such as dance and music) with things I hadn’t tried (such as acrobatics). I brought snacks for energy and protein shakes after to feed my muscles and it really helped to change my view on what sports are for.”
What are your depression levels like now?
“Currently I’m doing very well. I usually dip in the winter as I have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), but I feel more ready than ever to face the challenging months ahead.
I’m not going to sit here and say everything’s all fine and that it’s all down to pole, because it’s not. What I will say is that pole has really helped me rebuild a lot of things that I lacked for so long and that I am so grateful for the effect that it’s had on my life. I intend to keep it in my life and will definitely continue to go throughout winter. The impact of pole spreads far and wide throughout my life.”
Where do you think you would be today had it not been for pole dancing?
“I think I would be in a very lonely place, and in all honesty I don’t think I would have passed my school exams. Pole was an integral part of getting me back on my feet after my supposed fresh start crumbled.
I don’t think I would have had the same summer without pole either. I went to Mongolia and China, completed my Gold Duke of Edinburgh’s Award (DofE)**, wore a dress I felt good in on a hen night***—none of that would have been easy without the impact pole has had on my life.
Why did pole help you through those things in particular?
My Mongolia/China trip was with Scouts**** and I had been fundraising for so long for it, but as time went on, no matter how amazing the trip looked, I just couldn’t get excited about it. In fact, I couldn’t think of anything worse than traveling away from my bed—my safe place—and doing something exciting in the unknown.
As I achieved more and more things in pole, my confidence and happiness grew every day. My tenacity and perseverance was at an all-time high and I was ready to overcome any obstacle.
Likewise with DofE, this year was my Gold**, and in previous levels I had basically starved myself whilst completing expeditions. We are supposed to consume around 3,000 calories a day and after eight months of learning to love and fuel my body, I smashed that target. Obtaining Gold DofE meant a lot more to me than something to write on my CV, it was a personal and mental achievement.
*Sixth form is the two final years of secondary school in England and other areas for students aged 16 to 18.
**DofE is an awards program that helps prepare youth for life and work through various physical and mental activities. Bronze, silver, and gold levels can be reached.
***Hen night is the UK term for bachelorette party.
****Scouts is a mixed-youth organization that provides activities for young adults to improve their skills and personal lives.