Natasha Wang is an L.A.-based performer and instructor who has won the titles of IPC Ultimate Champion 2013, Pole Art 2012 Runner-Up, US Pole Dance Champion 2011, USPDF West Coast Champion 2010, California Pole Dance Champion 2010, and East Meets West Miss Pole-AM 2010.
In 2015, she was named the IPDFA “Instructor of the Year” and in 2014, she won “Female Performance Artist of the Year” and “Inspirational Artist of the Year” at the inaugural PWN (Pole World News) Awards.
1. Natasha, could you please tell me about yourself? How have you come to pole dance?
What was your biggest challenge when you started pole dance and how you overcame it? How was your process of becoming a professional pole dancer and instructor? What and who inspired you when creating your own style?
I started pole dancing in 2006 at an LA studio called Sheila Kelly’s S Factor after a friend dragged me to a teaser class. It was one of the first pole studios in the USA (and in the world I believe) and it gave me a great foundation for freestyle movement. We didn’t have YouTube, Instagram, or Facebook back then so there wasn’t a culture of pole experimentation and sharing over social media, so I spent many of those early years just perfecting fireman spins and inverts. Eventually, other studios opened in Los Angeles, and I began taking classes with Leigh Ann Reilly, Alethea Austin, Amy Guion, Lisa Wilhoit and Estee Zakar at BeSpun, which really opened my eyes to what was physically possible with pole.
The challenge in those early days was simply learning how to move and control my body. I didn’t grow up taking dance, gymnastics or any other type of movement, so I had to completely program movement from the ground up.
The journey from hobbyist pole dancer to professional happened really fast. Prior to pole, I was a publicist working a 9-5 job, with pole really being my only hobby outside of work. Riding on the coattails of a friend who wanted to start competing, I entered my first competitions in 2009 (the California Pole Dance Championships and USPDF West Coast) and didn’t do very well in either. By 2010 however, I won both those competitions and by 2011, won the US Pole Dance Championships as well. That’s when I quit my nine-year career in public relations to pursue teaching and touring full time.
I think the main catalyst for developing my own style was joining the cast of The Girl Next Door Show, the longest-running pole dance show in the US. Before then, I was trying to mold myself into the sexy style that was currently popular, and that I had learned at S Factor and BeSpun. But body rolls and hair flips have never felt natural in my body – I think because of my natural upper body stiffness and inflexible back! But once I joined the GND cast, I started working with Kelly Yvonne. She not only praised my sometimes obscure indie song choices, she made me realize that I could set myself apart by my different music choices, costume and quality of movement. I stopped trying to copy Felix Cane and became truly comfortable in my own skin.
Photo: Alloy Images
2. Why have you chosen pole dance? What is special in pole dance for you in your opinion?
What other aerial arts are you doing? How do you feel the difference between doing aerial hoop and pole dance?
I prefer to think that pole dance chose me! I played a few years of volleyball in High School but was never very good. In fact, I was quite traumatized by some of the experiences on the team, and swore when I quit at age 17 that I would never exercise ever again. So from the age of 17 until 28, I held true to my promise. But when I started nearing 30, I realized I needed to change some lifestyle habits, so reluctantly agreed to go with my friend to an intro class at S Factor. I didn’t love it, but I didn’t hate it either, so I stuck with it and of course, eventually grew to love it.
I’m so focused on pole these days that I rarely have time for other aerial pursuits, although I’ve dabbled a bit in both Chinese Pole and Aerial Silks. But pole is my main love.
3. How does your usual day look like?
How long and how often do you train and stretch? How long do you warm-up and stretch before the performance?
My ‘usual day’ depends on whether I’m away on a workshop trip or tour, or whether I’m at home during the in-between weeks training.
When I’m at home, I focus all my time on healing my body, as well as training and getting back into shape. Most people assume that teaching keeps you in shape, but in fact teaching tours are when I suffer most of my injuries, mostly from lack of sleep, carrying heavy luggage, and teaching long hours. Tours also don’t typically allow me adequate time to train, so when I’m home from tour, I pack in as many classes and practice jams as I can. I usually take 1-2 contortion classes a week from my flexibility coach Kristina Neykia, 3 HIIT cardio classes, 3-4 pole classes, 1 yoga session with my fiancé (usually restorative), 1 hike, 1 hand-balancing class, and 5 days of private pole training. I always take 1 day of rest every week.
Before a performance, I usually warm up for no more than 20 minutes, which includes lots of movement to get the heart rate up and active stretches.
Photo: Diego Castillo Photography
4. How do you create your pole dance transitions?
Could you give some tips for interesting transitions? How is your creative process when preparing choreography? How do you choose your music for your performances?
I am a huge proponent of freestyling, so I make time during every training session to put on some music that moves me, and just hit the record button and see what comes out. I often return to familiar combos and tricks and experiment with ways to alter them, whether with a grip change, a thread-through of an arm, limb or other body part, or in the orientation of the move (i.e., inverted, upright, sideways, etc.). I make sure to record EVERYTHING because I often have ideas for new transitions and moves after I’ve reviewed my training videos.
My creative process when preparing for choreography – doing all of the above, reviewing my videos, pulling out my favorite combos, and finding ways to sync it up with music. I sometimes work with choreographers also.
The selection of music for performances is never very straightforward, but it’s usually a song I’m in love with at the moment that has either an emotional bent or lots of dynamics (slow, fast, hard, soft parts). I find most of my songs on Spotify during my training sessions. Right now most of my artist radio stations are based around Perfume Genius, Active Child, Robot Koch and Matthew Dear.
5. What is the most important in a pole dance performance in your opinion?
Being connected and authentic to the movement. That’s #1 always.
6. What are 2 of your favorite pole tricks and how to do one of them?
I love ‘lower-third’ hand-balancing type movement around the bottom of the pole, and did two online tutorials for Tantra Fitness on my signature moves, the ‘B-Girl’ and ‘Side Valdez Mount.’
7. How to do Downsplits or Russian splits?
What is important to take into consideration in this move? What exercise can a pole student do to master this move?
I believe the Downsplits is a move where the legs are flush against the pole in a downward split. The Russian Splits only has the hands and one foot in contact with the pole.
Russian Splits require a good deal of hamstring flexibility, but also core strength and balance. Students should practice holding a needle scale with one foot directly in front of the base of the pole, and the other leg extended vertically along the length of the pole, and with both hands cupping the pole around the standing leg. Outside hand should be placed roughly behind the knee; inside hand about mid-thigh, and both hands should be actively pulling and engaged. Students can then practice lifting the top leg off the pole a few inches while keeping the standing foot flat on the floor and both biceps engaged. Once they can do this easily, they can try the Russian Split from standing by placing the heel of the standing foot against the pole, and ball of the standing foot on the floor. They should of course attempt with a spotter.
8. As 2015 IPDFA Instructor of the Year what tips can you give to pole dancers and to other pole dance instructors?
I meet so many new pole dancers – those in their first or second year of doing pole – who are attempting strength and flexibility moves that I took me years of training to learn, and getting injured in the process. It’s ok to be doing pole for 2 years and not be able to deadlift or do the Russian Split. We are bombarded on social media by videos of former gymnasts and dancers taking to the pole so easily, and it’s easy to think that we are lesser athletes because we can’t do these things. My best advice would be to take the learning process in a safe, slow and measured way, like I did. I started pole at 29, and didn’t do a deadlift until I was 34, a full 5 years after I started learning pole. I partially credit my patience for the fact that I’ve sustained few injuries during my more than 10 years of pole and didn’t rush into moves I wasn’t ready for, whether it’s a basic invert or a back flip.
9. What are your best tips to those who think that they are too old for pole dance and wish they have started young?
Tip 1: Look up Greta Ponterelli on YouTube
Tip 2: Look up Mary Caryl Serritella on YouTube
Also: Approach the learning process with proper technique. Don’t rush it. Hydrate and fuel your body with adequate sleep and good food. Last but not least, relish in how your confidently sexy movement quality is based on years of wisdom and knowledge that comes with living!
10. You won a lot of championships. How was your experience during the championships?
What tips can you give to those who want to participate in a championship?
My experiences competing have been largely positive, and any negativity surrounding them is a result of my own disappointment with the outcome of my performance, but that’s totally normal. It’s so easy to get hung up on the idea that we are only as good as our last performance, but that’s simply not true. A performance is only a small extract of who you are as an athlete and artist, and it certainly doesn’t define you as a human being.
11. You travel around the globe giving pole dance workshops and performing.
Sure during this time you had interesting experiences and impressions. Could you please share some funny or maybe unexpected episode during your performances?
I once spent a month touring Mainland China and performing in massive nightclubs as a featured artist. While my management company did all they could to ensure I had a safe poling environment, sometimes we’d arrive to the venue and find that the pole was a 65 mm unfinished industrial-grade metal pole with no grip, or a flimsy 30 mm wobbly thing. Once my ‘stage’ was a 6×6 inch raised platform about 2 feet off the ground, so when I landed I had to do so on my tippy toes, as the stage was too small for my feet!
12. Where one can book you for a show? Do you also give classes and workshops?
To book performances, classes and workshops, they can contact my manager Kristy Craig at Poles on Tour: firstname.lastname@example.org
And here’s where everyone can find me on social media: Instagram @polecricket, Twitter @polecricket, Facebook Fan Page:
Featured photo: Edward Light, Atmosphere Light Photography