Shawn Frances Lee of PoleCat Power
You are about to meet one of the most influential people in the world of pole dancing. She and I started emailing over my posts on strippers and pole, and I invited her to tell us about the real life of pole dancing and exotic dance. Ladies and gentleman, the amazing Shawn Frances Lee of PoleCat Power.
What got you started pole dancing?
Working as a real exotic dancer. The first time I saw anyone use a pole in a stage performance was when I began dancing in Las Vegas at the Crazy Horse Too in 1990. Only a small handful of girls did polework, and a couple of them were amazing at it. I asked them to teach me, but they wouldn’t. So, I figured it out on my own. Late in the shift, when the club was slow, I would go on the second stage that wasn’t being used, and just figure it out. Having a background in technical dance and gymnastics, I got good at it very quickly, and mimicked most of what they did, much to the dismay and shock of the girls that wouldn’t teach me. After about a month of this, five of them actually physically cornered me in the locker room one night, and one of them said; “We take it as a compliment that you like our polework, but we work really hard to create our stage performances, and we think that you should change it slightly, you know, make it your own, you know what I mean?” I got the hint. I then created my own unique style, got along with the other dancers famously, and soon became one of the strongest stage and polework girls in Vegas. Jenna Jameson began working there a couple of years later; we worked together when she was only 17. Vegas was quite interesting back then.
I began teaching in the summer of 2003, in Los Angeles. I had retired from dancing in the clubs a few years earlier. I was one of the first “pole dance instructors” in the United States.
You have performed professionally as both a pole dancer and a stripper. What does that experience bring to your teaching?
At that time, performing as a pole dancer and as a stripper was synonymous. They were one and the same. There were no other venues with dance poles in them. As for the experience, I think it is invaluable to my teaching style. Since I actually did it for a living off and on for over a decade, I truly understand the time it takes to not only learn the tricks, but also organically how they evolve from one to the next.
Most of the best-known and respected pole dancers have a stripping background, yet you are one of the few that specifically acknowledges it. What are the obstacles for teachers and performers in disclosing a stripping background, and what benefits have you found in doing so?
I can’t answer this one quickly. Personally, I can immediately tell when pole dancers and pole dance instructors have been real strippers or exotic dancers, just by watching them dance and move. There are some things that are just a dead give away. There are a lot of them out there who were real strippers, and some of them are well known in the pole dance for fitness world. Some of them have disclosed it to me, but I keep it to myself, because if they want it out there, they will put it out there themselves.
I personally acknowledge it because it is the only reason I began teaching it in the first place. I didn’t wake up one day, see it on television and think, “Hey, I know, I want to teach pole dancing.” It didn’t happen that way. I fell into it incidentally; I never meant for it to evolve into what it has become. I was asked to teach it specifically because I had really done it, and the women interested in taking classes were looking for something “authentic” at the time.
I was nervous at first, putting it out there on my website. But, after some thought, I got over it. I realized that the people who would be interested in my material would be looking for the real deal, rather than some shallow knock off. And, if they didn’t like it, or if they had a problem with it, I didn’t really want them in my classes anyway.
As for the obstacles for other teachers or performers disclosing it? That’s a personal choice. I think that they should. It is their authenticity that shines in what they do. By denying it, they are only feeding fuel to the “stripping makes you a bad person” fire, and forcing themselves to repress who they truly are. It is a catch 22, because it is this very societal issue that keeps them from revealing it. Maybe they are afraid they will lose students if they reveal it, or that people in their community will shun them if they did, or people won’t “respect” them. It’s complicated. I on the other hand, just don’t care, so it doesn’t really affect me.
The benefits for me have been that I get students who are genuinely interested in what I do, what I have to offer them, and I don’t have to make up stories, lie about who or what I am, or how I learned how to do it. It was bizarre to me in the beginning when students would ask me “Who taught you how to pole dance?” Or “Who did you train with?” I had never even heard the term “pole dance” before teaching it. It seemed so absurd to me, since I was entirely self-taught. People still ask me, and it still seems just as absurd.
Shawn is releasing a series of instructional DVDs throughout 2009. Get the first in the series, Slink, Slide, and Melt, which lets you in on the secrets of sexy transitions, gorgeous exotic dance moves, and making just crossing the floor too hot to handle.
How do you respond to students who get defensive about pole dancing and are quick to point out that they aren’t strippers?
This is another long one. Because I am so upfront about my past, I don’t seem to attract students that will do that. I have had students nervously mention in their first class that they don’t want to be “real strippers”, and I would smile and tell them that it isn’t mandatory to be a stripper to take classes. One wonderful thing I have witnessed, is that since the women who are strippers or work in the adult entertainment industry are comfortable in my classes, everyone relaxes and gets to know each other, and they forget about the social boundaries that exist outside of class in the real world. That is really cool to see happen, really amazing.
However, what I do run into, are instructors that are quick to point out that they aren’t strippers. I am then quick to point out that I was, and just leave it at that. The first time I experienced this was at Sfactor. All of a sudden, I had tons of students coming to me from there, in early 2004. Their style of movement was so odd and un-stripper-like to me, curious; I decided to observe an intro class. At the end of that class, the instructors performed, and then sat everyone down to give the sales pitch. The main spokesperson instructor rolled her eyes, wrinkled her nose, and said, “I just want you to know that none of us have ever been, or, ever will be, real strippers.” I laughed out loud, picked up my shoes and walked out at that very moment. The condescending attitude was beyond offensive. That memory still irritates me.
I think it is blatantly hypocritical to take classes in something, or teach something, and yet at the same time constantly reiterate your horrible distaste or dislike for its origin. To me, it is no different than saying “I love my trapeze class, but I would NEVER join the REAL circus, ewwww, yuck.” Or, other analogies; “I am a professional magic trick instructor, but I hate magicians. I would never be a magician, because you know, magicians are like So gross.” And, my recent favorite analogy “This contest [or showcase] is a place for aerial circus professionals to compete [or perform] in a non-degrading atmosphere, where people aren’t insulting them by actually paying them. Because, I mean, WE are aerial artists, not “circus” people.” Do they realize how insanely stupid that sounds? How insulting it is to the women who actually learned the art in the real atmosphere in which it was created? To me, the women that need to state that they pole dance, but would never be a stripper, are the same exact women that would sleep with a guy because he takes them out for a nice dinner and shopping at Nordstrom’s, or they start dating their boss because they want a promotion, but they would never take actual money for sleeping with the guy, because they are not a whore. It is the same hypocrisy.
However, I have to thank these very women for this in a strange way, because as a result of their blatant ignorance, I get the overflow in my business from all of the women who want to learn the “real” thing, especially from adult film stars that need to train to feature in strip clubs who have been treated poorly, or rejected from these other studios. I have trained some of the top touring acts including Tera Patrick, Jenna Haze, Katsuni, and many more.
What do you wish the attitude towards pole dancing and stripping was? What do you think can help us get there?
I don’t know if I have a particular attitude or ideal that I wish to exist on this matter. Having been a stripper, and having dealt with the social drama that went along with it, I am extremely aware of the rift between the two, and I know it is entirely based on social stigmas, ignorance, religion, and fear. When this whole pole dancing phenomena began, it seemed like the stigmas attached to stripping might begin to blur. But, the opposite has happened in the past few years, when the “pole dancing for fitness” instructors suddenly had this desire to “separate” themselves from strippers, and “make pole dancing legitimate”. In the process, they have overly sanitized pole dancing into becoming this bizarre packaged corporate product that is entirely different from the art of stripping – and in the process it loses the very thing that made it appealing to women in the first place. It is absolutely nothing like it’s origin; they have taken what they wanted from it, leaving the rest behind, like picking raisins out of a carrot salad. It has become a mutation. And, I feel, not necessarily for the better. There is the “art” of stripping and exotic polework, and this new “pole dancing for fitness” style. They are becoming distinctly different, and the “art” of the performance is becoming lost in the process. To me, pole dancing for fitness isn’t really dancing. But, it is what it is.
I think, that due to our cultural inhibitions, that will not change. Pole dancing will become like belly dancing classes have, a fun recreational thing to do, but very different from its original art form. The student seeking the “real” thing will have to learn how to differentiate between the two, and make their own decision based on what they are looking for. They will become two different markets entirely. That is what I see happening. And, over the last year, I have personally chosen to stick to the art and the origin of it. I train instructors to make their own choice in that matter.
How did you make the leap to opening your own studio and offering pole-dancing classes? What was that like?
I taught my first workshops in an adult film studio that had a strip club set, with a stage and poles. It was really cool place, but in an inconvenient location, and it intimidated the more “vanilla” students. So, after about 8 months, I renovated a room in my house into a small studio. I enjoyed the intimacy of that. But, in 2005, the classes started growing so fast, that I was forced to rent larger facilities to teach in. At one point I had lots of regular classes going with 8 poles, and 20+ students. It was crazy. I didn’t like the feel of that; there was too much going on to actually teach quality, safe classes in my opinion. I then rented a smaller studio for over 4 years, where I installed two poles, and I kept my classes intentionally small. I could have opened my own studio, but I chose not to. I decided that I would rather focus on creating quality classes, instructional DVD’s, and a strong instructor-training program, rather than have the headache and the overhead of a studio. I don’t regret the choice. I completely respect anyone who takes on the responsibility of having their own studio, it just wasn’t for me. I now base myself out of X-polesitions locally; I trained their original instructors. Leah has a stunning studio, and she is a great person to work with. Otherwise, I choreograph and train adult film actresses to “feature” in strip clubs, and I travel and train instructors at their own facilities around the USA and internationally. I really enjoy that.
Interested in teaching pole dance and exotic dance? Get serious about it with Shawn’s pole dance instructor training, which emphasizes safety and injury prevention.
Shawn is now booking Instructor Training workshops for the fall/winter of 2009/2010 throughout the USA, and it may be her final tour for traveling and training instructors. Get certified by her while you still can! Email Shawn for details.
What is the first thing you teach students just starting to take pole-dancing classes?
About the importance of proper body alignment and shoulder stability in order to avoid injuries, building base skills, and core strength, all combined with basic exotic dance movement, how to walk in the shoes, basic spins and climbs. Inspiring them to be themselves, explore, and enjoy.
How do you take care of yourself, given all of the pole dancing classes you teach?
When I taught pole classes on a daily and weekly basis, I learned to focus on structuring my classes to alternate muscle groups, and by scheduling classes to allow my body enough down time to avoid overuse and repetitive injuries. Now, since I teach sporadically, it is important for me to maintain my ongoing strength so that I can teach when I choose to. I still train heavily in the aerial circus arts, which is not a new thing to me, I have been training in tissu and trapeze for over 7 years now. Hot baths, stretching daily, massage, and remembering to relax, are all important too.
Favorite makeup tip:
Deodorant on the bikini line, it reduces shaving bumps. Visine on pimples, it gets the red out. Preparation-H works for puffiness underneath the eyes. Dermablend on bruises, drink lots of water, and a good skin care routine.
Barefoot, sneakers, or platform heels?
I am a stiletto thigh high boot girl. Always have been. I learned to dance in platforms so I could choreograph for students who wore them that were competing in contests. I teach barefoot, generally, for safety reasons, so I can move quickly when I need to. Sneakers? Never. I don’t get the sneaker thing at all. It baffles me. Or the knee-pads. Ugh. Learn to crawl without bruising your knees instead.
Favorite grip enhancer:
I try to avoid the use of grip enhancers, so students develop strength in their grip and forearms naturally. However, if they need it, I like to use Eco Balls by Metolious, because they are a sweat neutralizer, rather than a resin.
Pole dance move that made you proudest to learn:
Any of the crazier tricks I made up myself while working in the clubs that just happened organically while performing live and they worked!
Pole dance pet peeves:
Not dancing to the music. Un-pointed toes aka “Porn Feet.” Running in circles around the pole, like a hamster. The “Sumo Wrestler” squat. Jumping onto the pole. The high knee “Nazi” walk around the pole drives me batshit. Just doing Trick, Trick, Trick, with no transitional movement or dance incorporated.
YouTube videos where people are in their dirty bedroom, with all their personal crap strewn about. YouTubers that see a trick on someone else’s video, and then immediately have to post themselves teaching their “new trick” without giving any credit to where they saw it. People who learn stuff from others, put it on their own instructional clips or DVD’s, and take credit for creating it themselves, without giving any credit to the person they learned it from. I can keep going… but I won’t. Those people know who they are.
Favorite treatment for bruises and sore muscles:
Traumeel gel, and Traumeel drops. Epsom Salt baths, and massage.
Who would you most like to have in the audience when you pole dance?
Preferably, people who are tipping me lots of money. As the Joker said in The Dark Knight, “If you are good at something… never do it for free.”
Who is your hero or role model?
I don’t think I’ve ever had a specific hero or a role model, but I have people that I respect. In the stripping world, it would be GiO. She was on of the first feature acts I ever saw, and she inspired me to really perform on stage. The woman was absolutely amazing, and no pole! In the pole-dancing world, I give kudos to Felix for making it into Cirque, also to Nichole Romana for making it into the America’s Got Talent finals, and I love Pantera for keepin’ it real.
What are your favorite words of encouragement?
Discover your own strengths, and gifts, and embrace them, don’t focus on your weaknesses. Everyone is different, and they have different skills; so don’t compare yourself to others. Just be yourself.
Favorite pizza toppings:
Fresh basil, garlic, and roma tomatoes. Sometimes pepperoni.
Cupcakes or ice cream?
Ice cream, Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia, and Pinkberry frozen yogurt.
Anything else you’d like to share:
Don’t hate on strippers. Even if you disagree with their choice of profession, they are the ONLY reason you have pole dancing classes to begin with. You should thank them for creating this inspiring movement, rather than disregard them as merely a nuisance in your pole dance world.
I am also currently booking Instructor Training workshops for the fall/winter of 2009/2010 throughout the USA. This may be my final tour of traveling and training instructors, so if you are interested in PoleCat Power licensed training, or your studio is interested in hosting PoleCat Power licensed training workshops, or upcoming certification in my method, please email me at: email@example.com for more information.
Thanks to Jennifer for letting me rant on and on….. and remember, Practice Safe Pole!
Want to learn real exotic dance moves? Get Shawn’s new DVD, Slink, Slide, and Melt – I already ordered mine!
And, if you liked this article, you should also read this interview with Yannori, a graduate of Shawn’s pole dancing instructor training.