I still remember when I saw Natasha Wang’s pole art video in 2013. I watched it around 10 times that day and another 100 times the following weeks. Probably that was on of the reasons why I wanted to learn pole dance so much. Life is pretty amazing; 7 years later I ended up in the same pole studio in Hollywood where she teaches and practices and now she is here with me on the pages of BWG to talk about her career and the world’s pole scene. Please welcome Natasha!
Where are you from and what you do?
I was born in Austin, Texas, but I’ve been living in Los Angeles since 2001. I teach pole dance and pole fitness and occasionally perform. Teaching however, is my true passion.
Why pole dance?
I took my first class in 2005 at S Factor in Los Angeles. (Side note: this legendary studio just became one of the latest business victims of Covid and shuttered its doors after 20 years). I was 29, working as a publicist, and while I grew up around movement and fitness because my father was a martial arts teacher and coach, I spent my 20s largely sedentary with an unhealthy, unbalanced lifestyle. I had all the vices – smoking, drinking, staying up late and not eating well. I needed a drastic change and saw signing up for a trendy fitness class as a way to get me on that righteous path.
How did you become a professional dancer?
It started as a hobby. In 2005 there wasn’t a pole fitness industry the way there is now. There were only a few studios in the world — Bobbi’s in Australia, Pole Fitness Studio in Las Vegas and S Factor in LA. There were no travelling ‘polestars’, no pole conventions, and very few brands that marketed to pole dancers outside of strip clubs. So I had no frame of reference and no ambitions for pole dancing professionally when I started taking classes.
Also, I already had a career and spent nine years working for the same boutique PR company. It was stable, and I had no prospects of leaving that for something I saw as unpredictable. Health insurance, 401K and job security was (and still is) nowhere to be had in pole.
All of that changed when I won USPDF in 2011. There were so few pole competitions back then, so everyone paid attention to the one American title that mattered – USPDF. You won that one, and you were set. Previous winners, Jenyne Butterfly and Alethea Austin, both went on to tour the world and appear on TV and in movies. Pole reached a tipping point around that same time, suddenly studios were popping up everywhere and I got invitations to teach workshops all over. I realized I could make a go at it and not starve to death. Paying the bills, seeing the world and doing what I love? What could be better than that? So I left PR in 2011 and wandered into the great unknown.
I’ve never considered myself a professional dancer, but having taught pole for almost a decade, I feel confident saying the attributes that make a good teacher include the desire to see your students not only succeed but surpass you, the ability to foster an inclusive environment that celebrates all bodies, a passion for the art of pole while geeking out on the technical stuff, and a continued desire to learn and develop as an artist, athlete and teacher.
Has pole dance changed you mentally and/or physically?
Absolutely. The physical transformation is always the most noticeable and dramatic but the more important changes take place internally. Pole has made me a more empowered woman. It’s taught me emotional and spiritual strength. It’s that missing puzzle piece I had been searching for as a child into young adulthood that finally made me feel whole.
The hard part is knowing that the physical gifts are fleeting. But that’s also what makes it so precious, because I know I won’t be able to pole at a high level for the rest of my life. I’ll pole until my body tells me to stop, which I hope won’t be for another 20-30 years.
You have lots of fans on social media. Do they inspire you, do they help you to keep going?
Social media is a large part of my job, and you’d think with a background in public relations I’d be a pro at it. In many ways it is the most difficult part of what I do since I’m naturally a private and introverted person, and I’ve always disliked putting myself out there. I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the validation I receive from a social media post. I’m hardwired for praise just like any other human being. But I’ve tried in the past year to exist less in the social media sphere and to be more physically, emotionally and spiritually present out in the world.
However, social media is more important than ever for promoting my classes by showing off my skills. The pandemic has had an indelible and permanent impact on the pole industry. Every day I hear about another studio that has had to close. Many of us who make our sole living teaching pole (or yoga, fitness or any other in-person activity) are collecting unemployment. We’re frightened for our future, and whether there will even be studios to return to once this is all over.
All my teaching tours, judging and performing gigs dried up overnight and I had to quickly adjust to quarantine life – Zoom classes and lots of time at home. I teach six virtual classes a week and I LOVE seeing my students week to week. They’ve become my virtual social life and have kept me sane.
It is great that you’ve managed to keep up with teaching online. The competition is big and many people are trying to do the same. Why do you think someone cannot succeed?
If I feel like someone is not walking the walk, or just doing it for the ‘gram or whatever, I’m not interested! And probably others would feel the same. If there’s one piece of advice I have for people who want to “stand out” online, it’s to speak your truth with an authentic voice and share only what brings you joy. If you do that, you’ll find an audience.
I also find it important to use our social media platforms for good. This summer’s anti-racism protests have taught us all this in a big way.
What do you do when you’re not pole dancing?
After teaching my online classes, I meditate and journal on my balcony. I have become a pro at making bowls during the pandemic! I train handstands, run, do HIIT workouts at home, take a yoga class on the beach or virtually, or hold a virtual pole jam. I do desk work, I read (currently ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and ‘White Rage’ by Carol Anderson). I listen to music, I hike on the weekends with my husband or spend the day at the beach. I pet my cats (a lot) and I daydream about traveling again. Hopefully the time will come soon when I can travel the world again to teach.
Anything else you would like to say?
Be good and kind to each others. Listen with an open heart and mind when those in our community share experiences of hurt and oppression. Speak out against injustice. Advocate and participate in civil discourse and be a good ally. Stay safe! Wear a mask! I hope we are all dancing together in person soon.
… and if you‘re debating about starting pole dancing, just to do it. When it’s safe for pole studios to re-open, walk in and make that commitment. In the meantime, invest in an at-home pole (see a link below), find a good teacher or studio offering virtual classes, and you’ll quickly see why pole dancers are so obsessed.
Natasha teaches two virtual classes a week for BeSpun (LA-based pole studio) until the studio re-opens. Check out their online class timetable: www.bespun.com
She also teaches four virtual classes every weekend: Shapes on Spin, The Upside Down (tricks class), Polestands & Conditioning, and Pole Poetry (flow). Classes are $20 each, with packages of 10 classes for $150. To sign up: www.natashawang.com/schedule
If you’re looking for an at-home pole: https://xpoleus.com/affiliate/NatashaWang/
And if you’re financially able, please continue to support your local pole studios that are suffering during this crazy time. Take virtual classes, buy merchandise, and send them messages of encouragement. They need it!
Photo credit: Thumbnail pic @lanlylephoto , the pic bellow @jakavinsek