Women & Sports: Deborah Roach, Pole Dancer
Deb Roach, nicknamed Debzillah for her unstoppable nature, is a 3 time international pole champion, in the disabled division.
Deb came to the world of pole attention when she claimed her first IPC title in Hong Kong, 2012. In 2014, she moved to the UK and became an instructor at The London Academy of Pole Dancing and she has also toured with UK Circus Company "Extraordinary Bodies" (2015 and 2016). In January 2017, Deb returned to Sydney Australia, where she started teaching at World of Pole in Blacktown, of which Deb is now the owner
From sport and fitness to exotic, sensual movement, Deb believes in blending artistry with athleticism and that both joy and empowerment are available to EVERYbody.
Why and when did you start pole dancing?
I was DJing and stage dancing at a nightclub event called Bloodlust and I saw my friend Missy (Catherine Wait) perform a doubles pole routine with Suzie Q. The performance featured marionette puppets, who broke free of their masters strings... it was AMAZING. I was so inspired, back stage I was lucky enough to tell them how incredible they were. I also told them how lucky they were to have two arms to be able to do pole and aerials. My other friends Paloma Negra and Danica Lee were training in aerial silks, which I also really admired - I had a strong circus curiosity. Missy and Suzie Q challenged me to try it out - because otherwise how would I know? So I went to one of their classes on Parramatta Rd in Stanmore. I LOVED it! Body rolls felt amazing, I had a great thigh hold, a love of dance and the tenacity to do something difficult. I was instantly hooked. Pole got me to start questioning my self-limiting beliefs and to quit selling myself short once and for all. It was transformative and a total rush.
Aside from the association with stripping, what is the biggest misconception about pole dancing - in your opinion?
Oh the old stripping chestnut, hahaha. Is it a misconception? Pole dancing DOES come from stripping and I HAVE been a stripper! Does that make me less worthy of respect? It really shouldn't! It was 7 years ago, and only for about 6 months - but it taught me that I was no less attractive than anyone else, despite my physical difference. It taught me about women from all walks of life who were free thinkers, unafraid of rejecting societal norms and instead making their own choices. I love people who carve out their own pathways.
I started stripping when I was a cyclist. A guy on a bike saw me on TV not long after I had won my first international title, and he had something to say about it. “You’re disabled. You shouldn’t be doing that. Pole dancing is hot and you are NOT.” My immediate response was to tell him that pole is really difficult, but you could put any idiot on a bike. It was the straw that broke the camel's back. I was really tired of all the messages and signalling that I was receiving about how, being a person with a disability, I wasn’t entitled to my sexuality in any of its forms. So I started stripping!
At the time, I had hopes of making it into the Paralympics as a cyclist and had started doing some motivational speaking. I was strongly encouraged to stop pole dancing as it tarnished my image. I later stepped away from speaking gigs as I learned about the problems of inspiration porn and ableism. I also moved full time into the pole world, where I could be unapologetically and unashamedly myself.
Here’s the thing about stripper shaming: it works really well for the patriarchy! Keeping women controlled, disconnected from their right to being openly sensual and sexual creatures. Boo, hiss! Not only do strippers get to enjoy dancing and being in their bodies all day every day, but they get paid for it. More power to them! The only thing I could ever wish for is to see the world evolve to where strip clubs were for women only, to enjoy and celebrate their bodies and reclaim their right to pleasure for themselves…
The pole studio is the next best thing. We get to experience our bodies in situations where we face challenges and are supported in our quest to conquer them. What our bodies are capable of becomes far more important than how we look.
When you meet a poler who has been doing it for more than a year, you’re likely to be meeting a really confident person who doesn't pay much heed to what other people think. Pole is a vehicle for us to connect our bodies to joy and empowerment. It is hugely satisfying and rewarding. If you don’t get it - oh well, your loss!
Now, to finally get to the crux of your question! There’s 2 opposite misconceptions about pole. 1 is that it’s easy. NO - it really isn’t. 2 is that you need a strong upper body or some kind of movement background to start. No! All you need is an open mind, a willingness to take on a few challenges and a good deal of patience. You can be any size or shape and have never danced before, apart from that one time you learned the Nutbush/Macarena/whatever :)
What advice would you give to people who are thinking of taking up the pole?
Everyone was a beginner once! If you can be really disciplined about refusing to compare yourself to others and instead focus on your own journey, you’ll get a lot out of it. You don’t need to lose weight first, or feel self-conscious about getting your thighs/belly/arms out - we need them to grip the pole. No one starts lifting weights at the gym with the ability to do a solid 120kg deadlift or squat. It takes practice. Pole - unlike the gym - is engaging, interactive and lots and lots of FUN. Do it. So much to gain.