A hybrid of strength and dance with a touch of artistic skill (how else can they hang suspended in mid-air AND look elegant?), aerial dancing might just be the most unexpected way to get fit and make friends.
At least according to the new owner of Canberra’s oldest pole dancing studio, it is. And as someone who has been swinging, sliding, and swaying her way through classes there for 12 years, she would know.
Taking over iSpin Aerial Dance Studio in November 2022, (after leaving a professional career at ANU to pursue her dream) Amanda Piper can’t stop smiling when she talks about her business. Because while it’s not new, the studio has a lot to brag about.
The first in Australia to teach aerial hammock, the largest lyra (aerial hoop) class in Canberra, and home to pole dancing, bungee fitness classes, strength and mobility classes iSpin has been operating for 14 years—but it’s so much more than its offerings. Because while fitness is a large focus, according to Amanda the real drawcard is the community.
“People talk about CrossFit the same way—they go to CrossFit and they find a gym family and they don’t want to go anywhere else,” she says.
“That’s what happens in the pole world as well. You go to a studio and get to know people and they become your close friends. You go to their weddings, baby showers, and family events, and they become an important part of your life.”
Creating and promoting a welcoming community for anyone interested in trying the sports—no matter their gender—Amanda says that the most common misconceptions people have about aerial dance is “you have to be strong” to get started and that in their pole classes, they focus on sexual routines.
But neither is the case.
“In Western society, pole originated from the strip world, and we value that…They were our pioneers, and we honour that. We want to be able to say “This is a great thing” even though iSpin itself does not primarily teach sexy pole. We like to offer a bit more variety,” she says.
“For example, we don’t dance in heels very much—we’ll do it for fun one time and we have one Heels class…there’s more we want to do on the pole.”
“A lot of people might say pole is too provocative…and to them, I want to say “Yes that’s fine if it’s not your thing, but it can be empowering.”
Hosting a range of dancers from varied cultural and religious backgrounds, of all abilities —as well as proudly being a safe space for the LGBTQIA+ community—inclusivity is incredibly important to the iSpin team. Offering a range of options to suit individual requirements, they hope to continue to be a studio where Canberrans can have fun, get fit, make friends, and feel empowered.
“It’s empowering because you get so strong and capable. You don’t need people to open jars for you, you can do it yourself,” Amanda says with a laugh.
“Being able to choose what you do, what you wear and being comfortable with that is empowering as well—not buying into the stereotypical social norms that come with women wearing fewer clothes.”
“At iSpin the typical outfit is shorts and top, but wherever you do pole, the idea is you can wear more or less—it’s completely up to you. You will stick to the pole better using more skin though!”
And from strong and sensual to fun and silly, while you might not be able to do everything at once, you’ll be sure to surprise yourself once you get started—and not just with the fitness element.
“It ticks so many boxes when it comes to what I get out of it. It’s been my home away from home since I started, and that’s how my students also talk about it. It’s their sanctuary, they need it for their mental health, they need it as an escape,” says Amanda.
“We have a lot of people from diverse backgrounds, coming from lots of different situations and it’s a place where they can come and feel nurtured in a way and that’s the thing I love about it the most. You can feel like absolute shit, you come and then you walk out laughing…we haven’t hired anyone in four years because we all become so close and stick around!”
Perfect for creating a connection and making lasting friendships, Amanda’s future vision of the iSpin studio is to make it even more welcoming—if that’s possible. Now offering Mum and Bubs classes the hope is eventually everyone can try a class for themselves.
Highlighting that the studio is a team effort and she couldn’t do anything without the help of her instructors and the previous owner Sophie Jenkins (who continues to teach), mostly, Amanda is excited to keep expanding and inspiring the iSpin community.
“You come to get fit or to try some other movement that’s exciting and you meet friends. Then you’re drawn to the place. You get stronger, but it’s a side effect—people come with this purpose, but it doesn’t stay their only purpose.
“So many people are locked out of exercise. The fitness industry is notoriously toxic, and we want to be an answer to that. I don’t want to block anyone out—if someone wants to come and try it, they’re welcome too. And if it’s not for them that’s completely okay, but at least they got the experience, and we were able to cater for them.”
What: iSpin Aerial Dance Studio.
Where: 27 Colbee Court, Phillip.
Feature image: Josie Cosgrove, Dream Pieces Photography.