It’s been almost a year since the covid-19 pandemic started in the US and we are still far from it being over. During this time the US has undergone a series of stay at home orders, social distancing procedures, and the closure of non-essential businesses. Though many of us believe these procedures to be necessary and perhaps, in some cases, even lacking, they have undoubtedly caused a strain on many industries, with the pole industry being no exception. Many of us polers considered our local studio to be a second home and the fear that they will not survive has been very real; not to mention missing our favorite live pole events. During the peak of shut downs and stay at home orders from this past summer I had the chance to speak with three pole leaders, Colleen Jolly – owner and Founder of the International Pole Convention and the International Pole Industry Association, performer, and pole instructor; Dakota Fox – co-owner of Aradia Fitness; and Natalya Nightshade – owner of Nightshade Designs and Nocturnelle Pole Show, performer.
Q: Many people are concerned about how they will be able to bounce back to work as most bans and closures have been lifted. What are your predictions for your own business?
Colleen: “I hope that there will always be a place for PoleCon. Teaching, seeing showcases around the world and other pole camps and teaching experiences all conducted remotely – I’ve even seen amazing photographs done through Zoom – are wonderful but they will never replace that feeling of sharing an experience in person. During PoleCon, I rarely get to watch the showcases, I’m just too busy making sure everything is running as smoothly as it can. But last year in Denver, I watched most of the Black Girls Pole showcase. Ashley Fox’s routine was electric. There’s no other way to explain it. You can see that it was amazing in the video and you can even see the aftermath of the performance in the video with the insane reaction from the crowd. But you can’t feel it. Just thinking about it literally is giving me chills. I hope even though people are scared and confused about this virus, that they never forget how in-person events, concerts and other experiences made them feel. And I hope they are able to safely and happily return to those activities in the near future.”
Colleen expresses what most of us have felt: though it is amazing that technology has allowed us to stay connected it certainly is not the same as in person interactions. Though most instructors made it a priority to quickly adapt to online classes, the shift has been a challenge nonetheless, and for many not produced the same stability as in-person classes. And as Dakota will explain, the return of in-person classes may not look the same as it did before.
Dakota: “At this point, my studio is four months into being closed to normal operations. Here locally, I am watching yoga, dance, & small fitness studios shuttering for good – a new one every week. This is an impossible situation for most small businesses, but even more so for our industry. We rely so heavily on community, the group environment, and of course the necessity of hands-on/close proximity instruction for safety reasons.
My partner Janine and I are taking a hard look at the business. Survivability will encompass much more than a temporary solution – the next several years are going to be a vastly different mode of operation for all of us. We may have to keep very small class sizes and clients may no longer feel comfortable in group environments. Along with that, operating costs such as rent & utilities are going to remain the same – that means exploring the need for increasing class rates or cutting programs that aren’t generating profit for the studio.
We currently have three studios – two pole studios and one yoga studio. There is a solid chance that one or two of those may have to close so that efforts can remain with the most successful location. I know this is a hard pill to swallow for many business owners – but we are living in an unprecedented economic event. Holding on to pride, whimsical wishes & hopes is not a solid business choice. If it comes to the point where we decide to downsize the business, that doesn’t mean that, when the time is right, we can’t explore expanding again in the future.”
As Dakota demonstrates, pole business owners continue to adapt while keeping in mind the concerns and needs of those they serve, especially when it comes to opening in-person classes again. But it’s not just pole classes we are missing – many pole events such as competitions and shows have had to take a back seat. Natalya has experienced this first hand with her Nocturnelle Pole Show and explains how she is taking it.
Natalya: “As I said, fortunately Nightshade Designs hasn’t really experienced any tangible effects yet, but I predict an eventual slow in business once people really start feeling the longer term economic impacts of the pandemic. However, I’ll be very thrilled if I’m wrong about that. With Nocturnelle, fortunately that’s a very low stress endeavor for me. It’s a total passion project that I do because I love it and I felt the community needed it. I don’t depend on it for income, so while I’m very eager to get it back up and running, it’s not the end of my world if it has to be delayed for longer than expected.”
As Natalya explains, different areas of the pole industry have received varying degrees of effects due to covid-19. But if one thing is certain, we are all eager to get back to normalcy as safely as we can. What that new normal will look like may be a little different than what we knew before but our community is strong and I am certain that we will continue to adapt and support our fellow polers in the process.