Pole Dance in Lebanon: From a Workout Trend to a Lasting Community

Pole Dance in Lebanon: From a Workout Trend to a Lasting Community

Four women stretching in the dark

Essentially known as a discipline that combines dance and acrobatics, pole dance has been a noteworthy workout trend within the Lebanese community for the past few years, garnering a following of dedicated practitioners from all ages and backgrounds. But the physical activity component is only the tip of iceberg, as pole dance has gradually shifted into a movement that empowers, fascinates, and inspires.

Hanging by a pole of passion

Looking to delve deeper into the dynamics of this artform, HOME sat down with Laura Ayoub , precursor and key figure of pole dance in Lebanon, for firsthand insight into the topic.

Contrary to what many tend to think, Ayoub does not come from an athletic or dance background but has rather studied hospitality management and successfully worked in the industry for 10 years as a co-owner of four different restaurants prior to fortuitously discovering pole dance while attending a friend’s bachelorette in Cannes.

“We were walking to the beach and passed by a pole dancing studio and were really curious to try it although we looked like children in class,” she recalled. “After Cannes, I went straight to Cyprus for my brother’s wedding and decided to take another class there as there were no classes in Lebanon and fell in love with it.”

Despite having no formal dance training, the young woman relied on her kinesthetic intelligence to fuel her passion for this newly discovered form of exercise and began developing her knowledge through research and taking pole classes abroad to hone her skills.

“I ordered a pole when I came back to Lebanon and started training at HOME, and when I had been doing it for six to seven months, a girl I know was opening a gym in Mar Mikhael and expressed interest in starting a pole dance class so she asked me if I would teach and I said ‘Of course not,’” Ayoub tells HOME.

Luckily, the project got delayed for around a year, and when the gym owner approached her again by the end of that period, Ayoub had reached a stage of passionate obsession with pole dance and even launched an Instagram account just for that using her nickname (@lolypole). “By that time, I had taken classes in over seven different countries and felt this urge to share it, to speak the same language with someone, so I said to her ‘Okay, I’m going to give you and your friends a class, and if you think I am good, then so it be!’ and at the same time I started researching more on anatomy and physical therapy,” she explains.

Blond woman hanging on a poleLaura Ayoub

The attendees loved her trial class and that was all she needed to get the ball rolling. “The first year I started, I was teaching one class per week, but now it’s over 20 classes per week, in addition to private sessions and an average of 10 to 15 classes per week that are taught by my students,” she notes.

“It has been booming so much that I literally switched careers: I loved my job but pole dance is my passion, and when I felt that it was financially sustainable, I switched just for the love of pole dance, and I even have a student now who also switched to a full-time teacher because of the increase in demand.”

A multi-rewarding activity for everyone

Pole dance routines can look quite surreal and even impossible to achieve for anyone who hasn’t tried it yet, but the good news is that it’s essentially an activity for everyone, regardless of age, flexibility or previous training. “Whenever someone tells me ‘What if I can’t pole dance?’, I say ‘You can’t pole dance because you’ve never tried it,’” Ayoub admits. “It’s a bit like driving; it’s for everyone but it comes with practice.”

But what makes it so addictive is that it’s not just about throwing in a bunch of physical tricks but rather holds an essential mental component that also makes it a tool for body positivity and women’s empowerment.

“Pole dancing is all in one. You work a lot on dance flow as well as strength and flexibility but it will also boost your confidence as you have to wear minimal clothing to let your skin grip,” says 28-year-old Lea Tabcharani (@leatpole), a student of Ayoub and lighting designer by day who currently gives private pole lessons.

Since her early childhood, Tabcharani has always been surrounded by sports, yet she only developed interest in pole dance when studying in Italy. “I was very interested in the idea of pole dancing but never got the chance to try it. Having moved back to Lebanon, I heard about pole dancing through friends, which intrigued me a lot, so I decided to give it a try and attend a class. Since then, a new passion took off,” she told HOME.

And this curiosity is, according to Ayoub, the first trigger that attracts people to the sport. “My reaction the first time I saw pole dance is that I was blown away by how beautiful it is, which made me curious to try it,” she recalls. “Secondly, I’ve noticed through my students that it’s really empowering to see what your body can do. Third, as a sport, it does change your body by building strength and flexibility, and finally it’s really fun, notably for people who hate sports.”

Woman hanging on a pole in watersLea Tabcharani

“From a personal point of view, pole dancing is an art that enables me to disconnect from everything around while making me discover different parts of myself I didn’t know existed: flowing with the music, flexibility, strength and most importantly connecting with my inner self,” Tabcharani confesses.

Classes normally feature two students per pole with an average cost of $20 to $25 per session depending on the package and type of session. It generally takes six months to a year for the average student to fully understand what the discipline is all about to become a pole dancer.

“The age of my students ranges between 8 and 60 years old, and I even have some mothers and daughters who train together. It’s really for everyone. There are just prerequisites, just baby steps.” Ayoub noted. “Mental support is more important than technique in teaching pole, you need to encourage your students and make them understand that it’s a sport that takes time because your body is doing many things simultaneously to achieve each trick.”

“It’s important to be next to the student when trying a new move to explain it step by step while preventing injuries and to constantly push them beyond their limits, but most importantly to have fun and enjoy!” Tabcharani adds.

Pioneering a generation united by pole

When asked if pole dance is a passing trend or a lasting community within the Lebanese society, both agreed that the sport is surely meant to last. “It has been on for over 15 years and there are national championships across the world,” Ayoub notes. “I recently competed in Egypt for instance with pole dancers from 11 different countries and was able to push through and win first place.”

“It’s a sport growing worldwide with more and more events and competitions happening, as well as a growing interest to pursue it as a weekly workout and hobby,” Tabcharani observes. “People love it because it has extreme mental and physical powers and positively affects their perception of themselves,” Ayoub added.

She is currently part of House of Pole, a group of four girls that met through this art. “We are very passionate about aerial sports and we want to share our passion with the rest of the world,” she tells HOME, unveiling plans to open an aerial art dance studio in the near future.

“The thing about pole dance is that we are a sisterhood, my students are bound to grow and spread their wings, and I encourage them to do anything they want and be proud of themselves,” Ayoub affirms. “Being united by pole is something I feel strongly about, the more they spread their wings, the more it makes me feel good as a teacher.”

Teaching pole therefore is not just a matter of technique but has a lot to do with mental support. “When choosing one of my students to replace me during times of travel, I don’t choose them according to their technical skill but focus more on their ability to give mental support by being friendly, patient, empowering, and most importantly making it fun and free,” she explains.

“A lot of my students have lost drastic weight, gained so much self-confidence, healed from personal problems and discovered a passion, all thanks to pole dance. You start realizing your body can do things you never thought it could and feeling better about yourself, given that you have to wear minimal clothing for your skin to grip properly,” she adds. “We don’t even shut the curtains anymore when training at the studio!”

The first year Ayoub did a student showcase to raise money for charity, seven students took the stage to perform choreographed routines created by them; the number more than tripled the year after with a total of 25 students. “The public was so receptive, parents came to support their kids, and some members of the audience even started to try it out,” she recalls.

Walking into her first ever pole class five years ago, Lebanon’s pole dance pioneer never thought she’d be dedicating her entire life to this art just a few years later. But as much as she loves teaching, she is looking to focus more on her personal training in the coming months.

“I love teaching but it becomes exhausting when you teach a heavy load of classes, leaving you less time to do more advanced training,” she elucidates. “I want to start training more and work on more advanced transitions, but at the same time I am creating a pole dance program and systemizing everything to spread it all over Lebanon with the help of my students.”

Shattering cultural taboos with power and grace

Despite gaining major popularity across the world in recent years, pole dance still entails a wave of misconceptions. “It comes from the fact that there is a pole and a lot of skin is needed for better grip, but we don’t really mind that,” Ayoub observes.

Woman dancing on a pole with smoke behind herLaura Ayoub

“We like that pole dance is sexy and people are intrigued by it, but sometimes I wonder why some people are bothered about showing skin, ballerinas wear tutus, gymnasts wear body suits, tennis players wear micro skirts, swimmers wear swimsuits … It just makes things easier for us: The more skin you use, the safer you are on a pole.”

And while the Lebanese community has embraced the sport quite well so far, some people are bound to remain skeptical about it, just like any other booming trend. “Lebanon is a country full of contrast and cultural clashes, and even if there’s a huge community accepting pole dance especially from the new generation, it remains a conservative country and part of it will never accept it or hasn’t really heard about it,” Ayoub explains. “You cannot judge anything you haven’t tried.”

On the personal level, Ayoub did not particularly suffer from such misconceptions given her liberal surrounding but has experienced them through some her students. “I come from a very liberal and feminist family, but I witnessed the struggles my students sometimes have with their families,” she says. “For instance two of my really good students who are now pole dancers couldn’t tell their parents about it.”

“I hope that through House of Pole’s hard work and practice, we can make a difference in the Lebanese community by spreading positive knowledge, decreasing the uncultured taboos related to pole dancing, and proving that this is not only a sport, but a form of expressive art,” Tabcharani adds.

This being said, pole dance is obviously growing exponentially in Lebanon as more and more people are not only trying it but also sticking to it. “The proof is I was able to switch to make it my full-time job,” Ayoub concludes. “Pole dance is my happiness, and I’m more than glad to have followed my passion.”

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