It’s been over a year since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, and though we may (mostly, hopefully) be out of the woods many still have valid reasons to be concerned with the effects of the covid pandemic. Will there be long term effects on the pole industry? What will those effects look like? Colleen Jolly, instructor, performer, owner of the International Pole Convention and International Pole Industry Association; Dakota Fox, co-owner and instructor of Aradia Fitness, and Natalya Nightshade, performer, instructor, and owner of Nightshade Designs and the Nocturnelle Pole Show share their opinions.
(Note: this interview took place prior to the release of the covid vaccine.)
Q : Do you think the pandemic will affect the pole industry in the long term? And if so how?
Colleen: “I am concerned about the potential classism and elitism that could happen if not everyone could afford to pole. I do also think some studios and other pole businesses will be forced to close or choose to close. I saw someone post naively online the other day that if someone opened a business and closed a business, they could just open another one again, right? I’ve opened and closed several businesses over the past several years. Some people (like me) are too damn stubborn and continue pumping cash (or credit) and time into various endeavors sometimes successfully and sometimes unsuccessfully. Some people will always be entrepreneurs and others may not. The financial and emotional strain is very high. I’ve personally been going through some stress-related health issues for the past almost two years and I’ve been seriously considering that perhaps how I’m working isn’t sustainable long-term. Sometimes life also just happens—you have a baby, or a family member gets chronically ill and need care. So many things make having a small business too much on top of the rest of life. Pole, more than any other industry I’ve been a part of, is SO PERSONAL. Expectations are very, very high as are emotions. It makes us all passionate, but it can also be very draining for the people that are being asked to fulfill those expectations as business owners, teachers, event or competition creators, etc. While some people have managed to make very financially successful pole businesses, most are not very successful financially and the pole industry is often the second or third hustle which makes it hard to keep going against some seemingly insurmountable issues like a global pandemic and second great depression.”
As Colleen pointed out, owning a business in general comes with its strains but adding a pandemic on top of that has definitely made things difficult for pole studio owners, instructors, and performers. This can be difficult for students and clients as well as they may have fewer options for studios, services, and pole events down the road. As Dakota points out, some studios were unable to reopen, and many that did had to move online, a trend that we may see more of in the future.
Dakota: “We are going to see A LOT of pole & aerial studios closing down. Studios that were barely covering operating expenses before the pandemic may not have the reserves to make it through. Many pole events aren’t going to be able to happen – we will be losing one of those insanely cool community connection moments that really can’t be replicated virtually. I almost feel like we will be going back to the “YouTube” pole era (circa 2008-2011) when competitions were few & far between and there were more at-home polers than there were pole studios to choose from. The online market for dance & fitness may be the next “big thing” for pole & aerial for a while. At least until a vaccine is available; and probably a while beyond that. I predict that the pole industry is going to be buckling down for the next 1-3 years. It’s gonna be a whole new pole world for us all.”
As noted by Dakota, some pole studios may have been struggling before the pandemic, which has made coping with the pandemic even more strenuous. This is probably doubly the case for studios that had a smaller online presence as well, as adjusting to the pandemic certainly required you to be online. However, the effects of the pandemic have not just hit current pole business owners, but up and coming pole business owners as well, as Natalya explains.
Natalya: “Absolutely. I think it’ll affect most everything long term, so naturally the pole industry won’t be immune to that. Two local studios here have closed doors on their second locations, and while thankfully I haven’t seen any local pole businesses totally shutter, I have sadly seen a few announcements online of studios closing permanently in other states. I have a few friends who were in the build out process of opening their first studio, or expanding their current studio right as all this shut down and my heart breaks for them. We’ve all seen the projections for the amount of small businesses that are statistically expected to close within a year of this being over, so it’s a scary time for just about everyone.”
Every industry, including pole, has been affected by the pandemic, including every person from the veteran pole entrepreneurs to the aspiring ones, as well as students and clients alike. At this stage of the pandemic, with the vaccine having been released, I like to hope that the worst is behind us. But like many of you, I am still sensitive to the fact that the effects of the pandemic could last months, maybe years for many. With that being said though, I want to end this article with gratitude and say thank you to all of the poleprenurers for their hard work and to all of the clients and students who have kept the industry going! You are amazing!