Behind the pole dance studio SF featured in new Netflix documentary, “Strip Down, Rise Up”


A recent Saturday afternoon, Amy bond was walking home from the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market with her husband when she saw something that caught her eye.

Accompanied by her mother, a 16-year-old girl attempted to climb a street pole and perform a gravity-defying movement known as the “human flag”. Widely recognized as an advanced technique in the fitness and pole dance communities, the maneuver requires individuals to hoist themselves onto a steel beam with their arms, using their central strength to suspend their body to the side so that it is horizontally parallel to the ground.

Bond, who is the owner of San Francisco pole and dance, observed the young girl quietly trying – and failing – to support her body in order to execute the movement.

“Of course I walk past and I’m like, ‘Oh wait, you’re doing it wrong. Let me show you how to do it, ”Bond laughs. “And five minutes later, she and her mother were making human flags on the side of the road sign.”

In the new Netflix documentary, “Strip off, get up” the camera follows Bond and his students closely as they prepare to compete in the Golden Gate Pole Championships, the regional competition for professional and amateur dancers in the Bay Area. But rather than titillating viewers, director Michèle Ohayon eliminates any misconceptions they might have about the intimate, acrobatic art form by showing how it can be used as a meditative and healing practice for those who participate.

TO S factor – a pole dance studio in Los Angeles run by the actress Sheila kelley – students are also preparing to “embark on a six-month journey where they will reconnect with their bodies through sensual movement”. For Evelyn, a 50-year-old widow and mother of two, learning pole dancing encourages her to regain meaning and self-confidence as she grapples with the recent death of her husband. talented gymnast, it is a way to recover his body after suffering years of sexual assault at the hands of Larry Nassar, the famous former doctor of the American gymnastics team.

Another student, Sally, confesses that she decided to take classes just to regain strength and feel beautiful after being diagnosed with cancer. Meanwhile, Patricia discusses some of the discrimination she faces in the workplace and her frustration with her inability to cope for fear of the stigma of being called an “angry black woman”. We later learn that she also struggled with sexual assault as a child. For her, pole dance is a liberation.

Sheila Kelley, owner of the S Factor studio in Los Angeles, chats with one of her students, Patricia, in “Strip Down, Rise Up”.

Courtesy of Netflix

“Strip Down, Rise Up” was shot by a team of women, and that perspective is palpable in the film’s nuanced interpretation of a sport that is often hypersexualized or seen as something that only fuels the male gaze. But over the past decade, Bond believes the conversation around pole dancing has changed dramatically.

“One of the questions I used to ask myself was, ‘Oh, so are you a stripper?’ “, did she say. “Much of the sultry style of movement that is incorporated into recreational pole dancing comes from the fundamental movement developed by strippers, but it is not the same. And now what people often say is, ‘Oh my God. I have a friend who does this, and it looks really hard. ‘”

With the rise of pole dancing as an exotic fitness craze, dancers and athletes of all experience levels have developed an interest in the trend. Some people come for the high heels and sultry choreography, while others practice it as an intensive and strengthening sport strongly rooted in gymnastics. And that’s what Bond likes about it.

“It’s so many things for so many different people. You don’t have to look a certain way to try it out. In fact, you don’t have to change your body to get good. I mean, don’t be a show-off, but it’s the muscles in my arms, ”she said, flexing her biceps for me on Zoom. “The first thing people always say is, ‘Oh, I could never do that, I need upper body strength.’ But I couldn’t even do pull-ups when I started pole dancing. I got strength in my upper body because I did pole dance.

Unlike Kelley’s studio, Bond’s classes are open to male and gender nonconforming students. Among them is Michael Pope, who has a simple purpose to introduce himself:

“I’ve never been in shape or felt sexy,” he says in the documentary.

For this reason, Bond says welcoming students from all walks of life is an integral part of his studio’s mission.

“I think most of the time men are looking for the same thing as women which is an outlet to express themselves and an outlet to feel good about their body,” she said. “And I almost wonder if men have fewer opportunities in the world to feel good about themselves.”

Yet Bond believes the art of pole dancing continues to be misunderstood, even within the community.

Allison glides effortlessly around the pole at San Francisco Pole and Dance in "Strip off, get up."

Allison glides effortlessly around the pole at the San Francisco Pole and Dance in “Strip Down, Rise Up”.

Courtesy of Netflix

“There’s a certain tension between people who really want to distance themselves from stripper roots and people who really want to celebrate them,” she said. “Personally, I’m more on the hey camp, let’s honor the fact that these movement styles come from strippers and we owe them a debt that they don’t have the ability to go post all of their stuff. on Instagram and celebrate it. They have a job that marries the hardest parts of blue collar work with the hardest parts of white collar work. It’s very stigmatized and often kept under wraps for fear of protecting their own life.

As a former sex worker, Bond can attest to this personally. The youngest of seven children in a strict Mormon family, she tells in the documentary how she ran away from her home in Los Angeles at the age of 19 with the desire to become an actress. It didn’t quite work out, and the $ 2,000 she had saved for the trip quickly wore off.

However, she later learned that she could make more money modeling nude than being a waitress, and eventually turned to porn for six months. Her income helped her spend four years at community college before eventually transferring to UC Berkeley and later to Boston Law School. Now, in addition to operating her own pole-dance studios in the Bay Area (she opened another space in Oakland in 2019), she is a volunteer family lawyer.

“I know what it feels like to have to hide her old profession because other people don’t like her,” Bond said during our conversation, admitting that she avoided the internet for at least a decade after leaving the industry. and continues to be harassed. by online trolls. “It was like my dirty little secret. But I do want to say that I have had a largely positive experience working in porn, and I really wish we could all recognize that sex work is work and move on. Pole dancing as a hobby has definitely evolved into different styles, but that doesn’t mean we can’t also celebrate where it came from.

It was during a cold winter in Boston that she is discovering pole dance for the first time. It might have been in the basement of a Gold’s Gym, but for Bond it was like a safe haven.

“As soon as I hit the post, I was like ‘Oh, I love this’,” she said in the documentary, eyes wide and shining. “When I’m on pole, I fly. It’s crazy.”

“I know what it feels like to have to hide your old profession because other people don’t like it,” Bond said.

Courtesy of Netflix

It should be noted that the filming of “Strip Down, Rise Up” took place before the pandemic, and the realm of pole dancing is now obviously very different. While Bond students performed at local venues ranging from Grace Cathedral in Stud, they found themselves trying to figure out how they could continue to practice their hobby safely from their own homes.

Meanwhile, Bond was faced with the task of keeping his studios open, which was no small feat, considering his San Francisco studio’s rent alone stands at $ 11,000. Fortunately, she was able to strike a deal with her owners, and the P3 loans helped cover the rest.

“Honestly, without these loans, I’m not sure my businesses would have survived,” she said.

But the community she helped cultivate continues to thrive through virtual “pot jam” sessions, and since last week her San Francisco studio has been given the green light to book one-on-one private lessons. head. Bond looks forward to the day when she can lead full classes again, but in the meantime, she hopes “Strip Down, Rise Up” sheds light on the industry and encourages newcomers to try it.

“(Director Ohayon) really captured what we’re trying to build here,” Bond said. “It’s not about looking sexy… it’s about the connection we make with each other around our weird obsession with a 45mm piece of metal. And she just got us from the start.

Watch “Strip Down, Rise Up” on Netflix.


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