Changing the face of an art form
Last updated 10/24/2020 at 2:39pm
Sarah Ward gave a groan of frustrated effort as she completed a carousel movement around the metal pole she had been swinging on for the past half hour.
"You did it. That was amazing," shouted Amanda Cobb as Ward completed her dance set.
It was Ward's ninth pole dancing class with Cobb, and she had come a long way since day one.
"It's been fun. I think in the beginning when I said I'd take the class, I was scared, but after I did it the first time, I was like, 'Oh my gosh, this is so much fun. When's the next class?' I was upset when I couldn't make it," Ward said. "I learned a lot about myself. I've had to learn to trust myself and learn that I can accomplish things if I put my mind to it."
As for Cobb, her pole dancing career began 15 years ago when she decided to drop out of college.
"I ran out of tuition money, and I had to decide if I wanted to join the Army or pole dance. I decided to pole dance," said Cobb with a laugh. "I had a background in ballet. I went to a bikini bar, because I was not comfortable working in a strip club. So, I worked there, dancing in a swimsuit. It was a lot of fun."
Cobb said she worked at the bikini bar in Grand Rapids, Mich. on and off for four years before being approached by someone from a regional acrobatic circus.
"So, essentially, I ran away and joined the circus," Cobb laughed again, adding that she performed as an aerialist, fire performer, and contortionist. She also competed in pole dancing competitions off and on.
"I continued to perform while I built a career as a licensed hair stylist," said Cobb, who later also obtained a brewing technology certification and began working at a brewery in Wichita, Kansas, where she met her husband, Ryan.
"The military brought us to Clovis where I could not find a job in my career field," said Cobb, who works part-time for Ward as a waitress at the Red Door Brewing Company in Clovis and part-time as a flower farmer.
Cobb said she struggled the first several months with adapting to New Mexico life.
"I was grasping at straws for direction career-wise and personally," she said. "Dancing has always made me really happy and has always challenged me. It requires focus, discipline, and strength mentally and physically. I wanted to feel happy again, so I bought a pole and started dancing for myself, and a friend asked me if she could come and learn from me."
Cobb said her friend never returned after one class, so she assumed she had not done a good job teaching her, but "that struck me. I didn't want someone approaching dancing feeling scared and unsure of themselves."
She broached the subject with Ward one day as they visited over their end-of-shift beer. Ward told her she would love to take classes with her and encouraged her to make a business out of her talent, so with some help, Cobb placed an infographic on the Cannon Spouses Facebook page.
"The response was overwhelming. It has just exploded. It's insane," said Cobb, who started her Facebook page for Upward Pole Dance Studio in September and is now booking 10 to 15 classes a week.
"I did not expect to have the response that I have had thus far. It was really overwhelming. I have felt very busy," Cobb said.
As for Ward, she said it has been fun, challenging, and has built her self-esteem.
"I think confidence has always been a (difficult) thing for me, and I think for a lot of women, and I have gained more confidence in myself since starting pole dancing classes," Ward said. "It's not even just about the pole dancing. It's the strength you're building mentally and physically."
Cobb said pole dancing has some social connotations she would like to overcome.
"It's not an overtly sexual dance form if it's approached in a respectful way. It's more about awareness of your body, movement, and momentum. There's so much to it, it's insane," she said. "I just want to make sure that people know that it is for everyone. It's very inclusive. Pole dancing welcomes all shapes and sizes, and it brings out what makes you special. It's OK to be hesitant, but you don't know if you don't try."