Anything done to its absolute best is art from where pole dancing instructor Erin Smith stands, and five minutes of watching her dance will convince you what she’s doing takes talent, grace and strength. But does pole dancing belong in an art show? She’s about to find out.
When 28-year-old mother of three Erin Smith threw her friend Lexi Ferrie a 24th birthday party, she had no idea she was choosing a career.
The party included a pole dancer and lessons for their entire group of friends.
“We had a blast when we were there. It was just fun; it was different. There’s pictures of me strewn out on the floor exhausted after half an hour,” said Smith.
Just six months after having a Caesarean section to deliver her twins—Dominic and Danica, now aged six—she was starting lessons.
Now, on the eve of opening her own studio in partnership with several marshal arts businesses, she is now trying to break into the artistic community.
“I think anything that you feel passionate about is an art to you. So this is my passion. This is my art and I feel like an artist when I’m doing it. I feel like I’m presenting my art to somebody,” she said.
Watching her students feel that same creativity and happiness flowing through their bodies only strengthens her conviction.
“To see them develop and produce these beautiful images and see them get the joy in it, I think that’s what makes it an art to me,” she said.
This is how she became an associate member of Donna Lee’s collective studio space in the Rotary Centre for the Arts, called My Studio.
With more prominent members like Jonn Einerssen, seascape painter, stone carver Vance Theoret and glass artist Fay Wolfenden, it’s a place where everyone is welcome, particularly those whose passions might sit on the fringe.
“I just think anything can be brought to an artistic level,” said Lee. “Because I’m an artist and I’ve seen all the life models, I look at their bodies, how they move and all of their muscles and I just think that’s a real art.”
Whether the Lake Country Art Walk judges will think so is still up for debate.
While signing contracts for her new studio last week, Smith was also preparing to show the Art Walk jury her work to try and secure a spot in the show, alongside fellow My Studio artists.
It was a significant challenge.
Smith has been teaching for three years and plans to start staging shows for her students, but she hasn’t really performed in front of others, beyond having new faces watch her when she goes out of country to train.
“For some reason, Canada is a bit behind in its acceptance of pole dance,” she said. “In Europe and the U.S., it’s pretty mainstream, but I have to fly to learn new tricks.”
She and Ferrie, who has become her best student, were both in Florida this year to learn. The International Pole Dance Fitness Association hosts competitions. Her first trip was to Los Angeles where she trained with Australian Felix Cane, Miss Pole Dance World 2009 and 2010, and South Africa’s Jenyne Butterfly, Miss Pole Dance in the US Pole Dance and Fitness Competition in 2009.
“Education is key. Showing people what we do and that we’re not strippers—not to discredit those lovely ladies as they do an incredible things for people—but ours is our art and we just need people to see that and for them to give it credibility,” she said.
Earlier this month she brought in the Canadian champion, Veronica Solimano who works out of Tantra Fitness in Vancouver.
While there is a move afoot to secure a spot for pole dancing in the Olympics, there is no doubt the sultry, sexy side of pole dancing is still part of the art form.
“Everyone comes to pole dance for something a little bit different and for some people it is the sensual side of it,” said Smith. “So that flow and the movement in and out of transitions and spins and inverts and holds, that has to be taught too and learning how to flow in and out of transitions, in and out of moves is an art in itself. It’s slow and it’s sensual and it’s artful.”
Trick classes are more about strength building and getting cool photos of one’s self trying out moves.
Two people can work on the pole doing doubles tricks with one person supporting the other.
“I can hold onto her hands and I can go around the pole,” said Smith, whose work in Florida with Ferrie focused on the dual performer aspect of the dance.
Currently teaching out of the RCA, Smith says the artistic community in the Okanagan has been incredibly supportive of her work.
She has had the odd bad reaction when out doing promotions—people who walk away or turn up their noses—by and large, most respond to the adventurous, acrobatic lilt to the work.
Spinning on her pole outside the RCA last week, a couple of people smiled and the odd one stopped to watch as she flipped through tricks on the outdoor stage.
Comedian Chris Rock may joke “if you can keep your son off the pipe and your daughter off the pole, you’re ahead of the game,” but it would seem, for many, pole dancing doesn’t raise an eyebrow anymore.
“I will respect my body” is the first commandment on the list of Aerial Amy’s 10 Commandments of a Pole Student, which Smith gives to all of her students.
Commandment number 10 states: “I will take steps to trim, manicure, landscape, shave or wax”—with a smiley-face emoticon following the line.
Erin Smith’s new Okanagan Pole Dance Studio will open in the former iQuest location beside Baxter’s pub, off Spall Road this fall.
If she secures a space among the visual artists, photographers, fabric artists and sculptors at the Lake Country Art Walk Sept. 7-8 in the George Elliott Secondary School corridor, she will be performing on a portable pole.
The theme of this year’s Art Walk, “It’s About Time,” seems fitting to bring pole dance onto the artistic stage in the Okanagan.