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Welcome to Racked's Fitness Week: five days of workout coverage, so that you can start your New Year's resolutions off right.
Photo by Marselle Washington of Marco Imagery.
In case you missed it, back in October Rihanna released the highly-anticipated music video for "Pour it Up," a strip club anthem off her seventh studio album, Unapologetic. Offering 3:17 minutes of racy theatrics, the video showcases just how far the art (yes, art) of pole dancing has come, thanks to a series of gravity-defying tricks performed by Nicole "The Pole" Williams.
In addition to dancing for RiRi and Bruno Mars (she was actress Freida Printo's body double in "Gorilla"), Williams teaches pole and exotic dance classes at LA's Allure Dance & Fitness Studio, which she founded in 2007. We stopped by Allure's Pico location to see "The Pole" in action (catch a snippet here) and asked the avid Instagrammer everything that we've been dying to know about her sport of choice.
When was your first taste of pole?
"It was in 2007—I remember the day vividly! I was at a house party in the Valley and someone set up a pole. There were two girls there that were strippers but were just there as partygoers, dressed in regular clothing. When they saw the pole, they couldn't resist doing tricks on it. I was like, 'That looks hella dope. I have to do that right now.' But I didn't look at it and think 'sexy'—it was more like gymnastics, very athletic. I wanted to learn right away."
Did you already have a fitness background?
"Definitely. A lot of people don't know this, but I started personal training when I was 20 years old, so for 13 years now. I've been an athlete all my life, a total tomboy that grew up around all boy cousins and played sports. One day, I met a couple of guys who were trainers and they inspired me to try training. I started training at a big gym in West Hollywood on La Cienega and Melrose, and kind of just fell in love with it."
And then you fell in love with pole.
"Yes. A few weeks after that house party, a friend of mine got a pole at his house and I just started practicing. The strength part came naturally because I was already athletic, but the sexy part took a bit more time. I remember making my own little pole videos and sending them to my guy friends thinking I looked hot, and they would be like, 'That's not cute, Nicole.' So, I kept practicing and filming myself until I got it right. I'm a Virgo, so I'm a perfectionist."
Did you go ever go to strip clubs for research?
"No, because girls weren't doing pole tricks six years ago. They were only walking around the pole or twirling and sliding down it, and that was it. Instead, I would search pole dancing videos on YouTube."
When did you start Allure?
"I co-owned a gym at the time I started pole dancing, so I bought three poles and set them up in our fitness room. When the gym closed in late 2007, I started doing private lessons, so Allure actually started in my living room! It was literally six months after I first tried pole that I made my little GoDaddy website and started getting all these clients. Eventually I found a back room to rent at a studio off Robertson and Olympic and started teaching there. Before finally opening my own Allure studio, I took three classes at BeSpun on Sunset to see what the set up was like. Then, we opened and have been busy ever since!"
What's Allure's client demographic?
"Some people might think this is an all-black studio, but it's not at all. I get everything—white, hispanic, asian—every ethnicity has been here. Ages range from early 20's to late 40's. You have people who are married, who are college students, who worked 9 to 5 jobs, everyone."
Are any of your clients strippers?
"Actually, only 2% of my clientele are strippers. This is a real workout, so the same people who book a yoga class, book Allure. But I can tell when strippers are in the class—I can see it in the way they move. Sometimes they'll tell me, but I could care less because they're a client just like anybody else. I do encourage them to take private classes with me, though, so we can work on their performance and target the exact moves they want to do."
What part of the body does pole dancing work?
"Pole dancing literally works every part of the body—from your earlobes, down to your pinky toe! Let's just say that I stopped lifting weights about a year after I started pole because I realized that my body was still looking good and I hadn't touched a dumbbell. When you go the gym, you're not really learning anything. Here at Allure, you achieve something new at every single class, so you have something to show off. You don't learn party tricks at the gym, that's for sure."
Where's the craziest place you've ever done a pole trick?
"I can pop up anywhere—on a stop sign, on the street. I once did it at Six Flags and people were staring at me. They thought I was part of the entertainment!"
Hilarious. What should people wear when attending one of your classes?
"Wear shorts or yoga pants. You don't need shorts for the intro class, but once you get to beginner you'll definitely need them. Some woman many not be comfortable with shorts but just know that I get all shapes and sizes. I have clients over 200 pounds that are killing it—they look sexier on the pole than I do! You just have to work it right."
What about the shoes? Are sky-high heels required?
"Depends. To eliminate the stripper effect, I don't wear shoes during competitions or when I'm doing big tricks where I'll need my feet. However, sometimes you may want a nice heel to accent an outfit. I order shoes wholesale from Pleaser USA, which I sell right here at the studio. A lot of people call them stripper shoes but they're really just platform heels, and super comfortable! I can walk around in those shoes all day at an amusement park and my feet wouldn't hurt, seriously."
What type of music do you like pole dancing to?
"I just heard this artist named James Blake, his voice is ridiculous! I love soulful music, like Jill Scott, India Arie, even some Katy Perry and of course, Rihanna."
Rihanna! How did you land that video?
"It's a funny story, actually. A casting agent rented my studio, but I didn't know what for. Then, one night I was with a few girlfriends and they told me that they were auditioning at my studio for Rihanna's new video. I was like, 'What?! Hold on a second.' I had no idea it was for Rihanna, so I called the casting agent and asked him if I could audition. He said 'of course,' so I did and I killed it."
How was RiRi on set?
"She was so cool, just partying and chilling with all of us. The video was shot in three days. In the behind-the-scenes video she even gives me a shout-out, which was really sweet. You know, the video was shot in May of last year, but it didn't come out until September, and I found out about it because someone tagged me on Instagram."
No way! That's how you found out the video was released?
"Seriously. She posted my audition footage everywhere and posted photos of me teaching her on set. It was crazy. It was released the same weekend that I was on set for Bruno."
And how did you land Bruno Mars?
"The same way I got Rihanna. A casting agent used my studio for the video auditions, so I tried out. Bruno was so cool. During the video, him and his manager approached me and asked if I wanted to perform with him at the MTV European Music Awards in Amsterdam and I said 'Hell yeah!' It was so fun." [Watch the performance here.]
Amazing. What's next for Nicole "The Pole" and Allure?
"I've already been on Ellen, which was a goal of mine. I also want to develop my own branded pole, so I'm meeting with a company to do that. I'm also coming out with a new series of striptease and exotic dance instructional DVDs, which will include women of all shapes and sizes. I did two instructional DVDs for the Rihanna video, which is coming out later this month. I'm also releasing bracelets that say 'Feel sexy, strong and empowered' and I hope to one day launch a clothing line."
Last but not least, what celebs would you love to dance for?
"Miley Cyrus fell in love with me in Amsterdam, so definitely her. Katy Perry is a fan, too. I also love Beyonce. I just met with her choreographer, so hopefully we're going to do something together."
Book a class at Allure Dance & Fitness Studio here and purchase Nicole's instructional DVDs here.
· Nicole the Pole [Official Site]
· Allure Dance & Fitness Studio [Official Site]
· All Fitness Week Posts [Racked]