My 18th Pole Dance Anniversary (‘Poleversary’)

arlene caffrey 18th pole anniversary blog - photo by ray marsh

‘My pole dance jaunt is now old enough to vote’, I wrote in an Instagram post as I drank alone in a swanky cocktail bar in Sevilla. It was June 21st, 2024; my 18th pole dance anniversary, or ‘poleversary’ as it’s referred to by those who also practice this art form.

It’s very probable that 19-year-old-me would have thought this a sad situation: all dressed up and drinking a celebratory mojito on my own, far from home. However, the introverted vibes were just what I needed. Some space and time to reflect on 18 years of practice, as well as to mindfully enjoy the surreality of the moment.

As I mentioned in the very Instagram post I made that night, I’m in Sevilla on a 3-month artist’s residency. I’m working on some new ceramic sculptures, image-based works and a live art performance, which are all informed by my pole dance practice in direct and indirect ways. It’s such a fun position to be in and I’m feeling very lucky that this is my life. I’ll have more about my artworks and residency process following my public exhibition on July 11th in the Antiquarium, however here’s a little sneaky peek from my artist statement for this work:

Exploring the dance between public and private expression, the modest and obscene, the immediate and the permanent, this practice aims to challenge how the female body and sexual-self is perceived in cultures which are underpinned by patriarchal ideas…

On top of the above I’m continuing to teach pole dance masterclasses (I was in Lisbon last month) as well as weekly classes at my Spanish pole-home Aerial Dreams, creating online pole dance lessons, preparing for my PhD studies, and maintaining my friendships and relationships; in short it’s an incredibly busy time. Phew. So, back to my feelings and reflections on having made it to 18 years of consistent pole dance practice, resulting in some much needed alone-time in a cocktail bar.

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I took this selfie in the mirror of the trendy Sevillan cocktail bar on my 18th poleversary, yay!

I feel incredibly lucky to be here as well as still practicing pole after all these years. Something which I started out of curiosity back as an art school undergraduate has taken me on quite the journey, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

One of my students asked me last week during my classes at Aerial Dreams what I’m working on at the moment with the pole. I feel like I still have a lot to learn when it comes to the art of pole dancing. Yes, even after 18 years I feel like I have not yet “peaked”. But to give a definitive answer for those who care to know, I’m still working on my ‘Keem Split’ (or ‘Plus Sign’) as well as adding more layers of texture to my movement by exploring where I can add more natural flexion and rotation.

I was also seperately asked what advice would I have for that 19-year-old version of myself about to embark on her first pole dancing class.

If I could go back to that glowy midsummer evening in my hometown of Drogheda, I’d catch my younger-self as she’s making her way up the stairwell of the studio for her first ‘pole fitness’ class and pull her aside to impart the following wisdom…

From this first pole dancing class, you’ll get a sense that this notion you’re now taking is going to become significant, but in ways you can’t yet see. You’d be right. It’s going to become a journey where you continually learn and unlearn about yourself as you grow older and evolve.

You’re going to meet so many people, visit faraway places and have unforgettable and formative experiences all because of pole dance. Some of these people will join the ranks among your best friends, others will come and go, as indeed trends will come and go in pole dance. It’s a scene that is constantly in flux, ebbing and flowing with the times as indeed your progress with the pole ebbs and flows.

It can become all-consuming; you’ll get a bit obsessed when you’ve little else to be doing (spoiler alert: you’ll be unemployed once you finish that undergraduate degree in art and design). Remember that pole dancing is not a surrogate for a personality; you’ll be glad to have your other hobbies and friendships to keep you sane and grounded, especially when you become a pole dance studio owner (oops, another spoiler); don’t let your loves fall by the wayside.

On that topic of studio ownership: don’t work so hard. Those years that you’ll spend sweating and bending over backwards trying to people-please and maintain a perfect studio, you’re not getting them back once they’ve passed you by. Celebrate the successes more and worry less about the inevitable setbacks that will happen along the way (another spoiler: running a pole dance business is just the same as any other kind of small business with all the joys and woes that come with it). No one is perfect, and that very much includes you. Don’t judge yourself, or anyone else, so harshly.

Last spoiler: you think you know it all right now, but you’re going change so much over the coming years. Your mindset will grow and evolve just as your very style does, as well as the pole scene at large (and yes, it will become a very, very large scene outside of this tiny studio in Drogheda). Be willing to consider new viewpoints, resist ego, to listen and to see nuance. Because you will feel very different about the things you staunchly believe right now, even a few short years. This process of growth and reflection never stops.

Now, go up those stairs and onwards to your first pole dancing class. Grab onto that 50mm stainless steel pole and let it change the course of your life. You’re going to bust out a ropey Pole Walk, a tentative Back Slide, topped off with some dodgy Body Waves and an alarming amount of hip gyrations, all at lightning speed to ‘Gett Off’ by Prince. And you’re going to love it.

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Self portrait at 37 years of age, on the streets of Sevilla.

PS: I’m incredibly thankful for all of the amazing people who’ve been a part of this journey and who are supporting me in it. You know who you are, I love you 🖤

My humble request: If you enjoyed this blog and found it inspiring, enjoyable, why not pay it forward by tipping me the cost of a coffee? Your small contributions help me to make my art. Thank you, you gorgeous being!

In any case, I’d love to know what you thought of this blog. You can DM me on Insta (@arlenecaffrey) and please do tag me if you are sharing this blog. Sure isn’t it only polite 🖤