RISING STAR: Joanna Robinson

Winner of the Miss Ireland pole dancing competition, Joanna Robinson, speaks to Peter Geoghegan ahead of show case event Âme du Pole (The Soul of the Pole)

So what is Âme du Pole?

Basically it’s the history of exotic and pole dancing through the ages. As most people know, pole dancing only emerged in Canada in the 1980s, but its roots are much older. It stretches back to the silk and trapeze artists in the circus as well as belly dancers and other forms of dance. Pole dancing has been part of circus routines for years, and if you look at something like Cirque de Soleil you can still see that.

The interesting thing about the show is how people’s expectations of what exotic dancing is have changed. Back in the 1920s it was just girls from different countries. They were seen as exotic because they had different coloured skin but they danced fully clothed. Nowadays exotic dancing is more commonly associated with nakedness, but that has not always been the case.

How did you get involved in pole dancing?

A year and half ago I saw El [Fegan, head of Belfast school Polercise] on The Stephen Nolan Show. I’ll never forget it, I was around at my friend’s house and I saw her come on and do all these amazing moves and I just said, ‘I want to do that’. I rang Belfast City Council and they got me the number of Polercise. There happened to be a new term starting the following week. It was fate!

How long were you dancing before you started participating in competitions?

I entered my first competition six weeks after starting. I think I wanted the challenge of appearing in front of the judges and trying to do my best.

How does competitive pole dancing work?

JoannaRobinson appears in Dutch Shcultz videoLike anything else, there are clear rules. You are judged on things like technicality, flexibility, how you join moves together, how you flow with the song, presentation, whether or not you include the audience. What you wear also varies. For example, for the recent World Championships you needed gymnastic suits, you couldn’t show too much cleavage and had to go barefoot or wear pumps (so no high heels).

Unfortunately competitions are not held in Northern Ireland too often so I have to go to England. But I do think, as more people get to find out about pole dancing, it will become more accepted and people will be willing to back local competitions.

There have been calls to include pole dancing in the 2012 Olympics, what’s the story behind that?

Well, we are barefoot, wear gymnastic suits and do everything on a pole that you can do on a beam or on bars so if you ask me what we do is essentially gymnastics on a pole. Polercise and many of the pole dancing schools throughout the UK are petitioning to have the sport included in the Olympics. While it probably won’t make 2012 if it did…well, wow, that would be something.

With so much gymnastics involved pole dancing must be great for fitness?

It really is a total aerobic work out taking in squats, flexs, literally taking every part of our body and working on it. People think that we stand at the bottom of the pole and just wiggle our bums, which is both offensive and totally wrong. There’s so much fitness required.

How do people react when you tell them what you do?

They normally say, ‘Eh, pardon?’ There are so many different reactions: you can always tell in the first few seconds what people think, some people are genuinely interested, others are not quite so supportive… It’s funny sometimes, like when you’re in the bank and your occupation comes up on the screen.

Many men have crude opinions on pole dancing but once they actually see what it takes they quickly change their views. After they’ve seen me on the pole men often come up and say ‘that’s unbelievable’ or ‘I could never do that’. The nicest compliment I’ve had was from a fella who came up to me said, ‘You’ve got the best calf muscles ever’. I thought that was great.

You’ve won Miss Ireland, so what’s next for Joanna Robinson?

To be honest I don’t have a specific aim – I don’t know how much further you can go than the World Championships. Although hopefully next time I’ll actually take part!

This year I went all the way to Amsterdam for the World Championships only for the event to be cancelled the day before it was due to begin. Apparently there were some problems with funding. It was so emotional and disappointing but some good did come out of it - I met dancers from all around the world and we’ve kept in touch ever since.

Do you have a personal pole dancing highlight?

There’s been so many. For a lot of girls it’s just about fitness but for me pole dancing is my life. I’ll never forget last New Year’s when myself and a couple of friends started hanging off a lamppost in town counting down from ten. Within no time there were 60 or 70 people counting down with us. And there was no alcohol taken. On our part at least!

Though I think the highlight has to be appearing in Kerrang! magazine after being in the video for (Belfast rockers) Dutch Schultz’s single ‘It Bends in the Middle’. Being in the magazine and in the video, which was directed by Will McConnell, was such an unbelievable experience.

I often appear live with Dutch Schultz and that seems to have created a lot of controversy on the web. The message boards have been full of comments, some good, some bad. But that suits me fine, I like being in the middle of things.

Âme du Pole takes place in Dundalk on June 27 and the Waterside Theatre in Derry on June 28, both at 8pm. Tickets are priced £10 and €12 and are now available from www.polerciseltd.com or from An Táin in Dundalk on 00 353 939 2919 and the Waterside Theatre in Derry on 028 7131 4000.