In pole position


POLES APART We sent footballer Ger Flanagan to a pole dancing class in Ennis. Pic: Arthur Ellis

Fish out of Water

Ger Flanagan

For as long as I can remember, I have always tried to approach life with an open mind, try-everything-once kind of attitude.
Unfortunately for me, this is the kind of perspective that can land you in slightly uncomfortable situations from time-to-time that you had in no way foreseen.
But every once in a while, these are also the situations that bring about some of the most enjoyable and unforgettable experiences in life, from something you could have never in your wildest dreams have imagined yourself doing.
So, when we were recently discussing ideas in the office for a ‘fish out of water’ feature as part of our Summer Series, I rather foolishly muttered the words, ‘I’d try anything’. Amateur mistake.
This slip of the tongue resulted in myself being signed up to a pole fitness/dancing class in the Fame Studio in Ennis, Co Clare, run by the immensely talented Racheal Palmer of ‘The Pole Garage’ (she drew inspiration from the name for her other qualification as a panel beater).
To say I was a bit apprehensive in the beginning would be an understatement. The first thing that springs to mind when I think of pole dancing is beautiful women, wearing skimpy clothing whilst dancing provocatively to a group of approving males – at least that is what I’m told.
When I eventually muscled up the courage to shuffle myself into the wonderfully energetic dance studio, I was surprised to notice my assumptions were not far wrong. There was beautiful women. There was skimpy clothing. And there was provocative dancing. But no males, only yours truly and a friend who had generously volunteered to come along because he felt the opportunity to get some ‘snapchats’ was one to not go amiss.
I was soon to find out that it was so much more than my early judgements.
Racheal informed me that she fell in love with pole fitness as a means of getting fit again after the birth of her two children. She highlighted that it’s ‘not just about being sexy’, but is a hugely beneficial full body workout that provides a unique platform to gain strength and confidence in abundance.
She describes pole fitness as ‘calisthenics’, a Greek word meaning strength and beauty, and told me it is a sport that is continuously expanding across the globe.

After our action filled group warm up routine, the blood was pumping and I was ready to take to the pole. I was to be flung right into the deep-end alongside my dazzling dance partners Roisin and Trish, who had very generously agreed to take me under their wing for what had started to feel like my audition for a new ‘Like Mike’ movie.
As Racheal expertly demonstrated what would be our first move of the night, a ‘back hook spin’, I instantly made my first mistake, thinking it looked easy. The move involved hooking one leg around the pole, whilst using the opposite limb to gather momentum for a spin that would finish with an eloquent fall to the floor.
The grace at which Racheal and all the other ladies in the room perfectly meandered their bodies around the pole, whilst simultaneously failing to look like an unorthodox gorilla swinging from a branch like me, was impressive.
This instant failure prompted my competitive instinct to protrude out of my nervous shell and it wasn’t long before I had the whole studio clapping in appreciation for my effort (seriously).
My pole partner Roisin laughed that she struggled to lift herself up on the bar during the first session and only a few sessions later was literally flying. She described it as ‘addictive’ after one class and I can fully understand why, as I was itching to try some more daring manoeuvres.
With upper body strength on my side, along with an admirable camaraderie amongst the class, it wasn’t long before my confidence was reaching peak levels. Racheal had me ‘Fireman Climbing’ up to the top of the pole into a ‘Crucifix’, which involved vast amounts of leg and core strength as I tentatively released my arms from the pole to acknowledge the audience.
My showpiece move for the night would involve me hanging upside down on the pole, using only my legs to prevent me from falling on to my head as I raised my body into a serpent-like position.
The most difficult aspect of this was convincing yourself that all those sessions in the gym would be the difference in you walking out the front door of the studio or being carried out. Call me dramatic, but I was petrified.
Thankfully, under the watchful eye of the beautiful Racheal and support of my friend Ryan who was on hand to catch me, I succeeded in this death-defying stunt.
In the days where GAA clubs across the country are taking up yoga, pilates and all sorts, to try and gain those extra inches, one would wonder what the benefits of this class could do to a team.
The confidence I was gaining after each successful move is difficult to put into words. This, along with a group of people who could not have made me feel more welcome if they tried, made it an experience I will never forget and one that I have no regrets for doing, despite my initial doubts.
It just so happens that Racheal is fulfilling her dream by launching ‘The Pole Garage” in her new studio in Galway in September of this year.
Don’t knock it until you try it lads.