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Nova Storm Blackstage Community 2024 BPOC pole dancing
Nova StormCourtesy of Blackstage Pole

Blackstage is the pole dancing movement centring the BPOC community

The annual show platforms BPOC pole dancers, especially those who are also plus-sized, LGBTQ+, disabled, low-income or sex workers

“It has always been my dream to fill a stage with pole dancers who look like me and my community,” says Cutie Whippingham. “Being able to watch them all perform and come alive unapologetically, in front of an audience who loves everything that they are, is so deeply moving I can barely put it into words.”

When Whippingham, AKA Leila Davis, takes to the stage of the Clapham Grand next Saturday (March 30), alongside 12 other BPOC pole performers from around the world, her dream will be realised. And not for the first time. 

Four years ago, Whippingham founded Blackstage Pole as a direct response to the lack of diversity in the pole industry, the exploitation of performers, and the lack of opportunities for POC who pole dance. Since then, the Black, queer sex worker-led company has hosted workshops, pole jams, panel talks and, of course, an annual performance to showcase BPOC pole dancers, especially those who are also plus-sized, LGBTQI+, disabled, low income or sex workers. “The pole industry is unregulated when it comes to racism and discrimination in general, there was no infrastructure in place to protect marginalised groups,” says Whippingham. “I needed to create a space that centred the feelings of the most marginalised groups, a place of comfort and safety for us to enjoy and exhibit our passions.” 

The theme of the show this year is community, and it will feature dancers including Kheanna Walker, Medusa Mami and Natalya Nightshade. Proving that pole events can be done ethically and without exploitation, Blackstage performers are paid, given access to their images and videos, and provided with hot meals, snacks and drinks. They also work with lighting professionals and cinematographers to make their vision come alive, says Whippingham. The aim, apart from championing the performers, is to show people that pole is an art form, exactly the same as other dance forms like ballet or contemporary. “Pole is as deserving, poetic, romantic and beautiful as any other art form,” she says. “It is so moving and important despite its constant erasure and stigma. Pole is deserving of its flowers and we as pole artists deserve the spotlight too.”

Below, Whipping and three other performers from the show – Ella Arrozal, Medusa Mami and Nova Storm – share their experience of Blackstage.


What are you looking forward to the most about the event?

Cutie Whippingham: The thing I look forward to the most is being able to watch everyone perform. There’s nothing like being able to take in everyone’s joy. The audience eats up every single performance, and the emotion in the room is palpable – everyone is just in awe, in love.

How has it felt to find your community in the pole scene?

Cutie Whippingham: It feels like a dream, because I’ve always craved community in everything that I do and pole is so important to me. It’s my life, my career, my passion. So to find people that share the same passion, but also are part of the same community and hold each other in the same way is just beyond amazing, a dream come true. I feel so grateful and loved because of it.

What is it about the art of pole you enjoy the most?

Cutie Whippingham: What I enjoy the most is obviously poles. The roots are within sex work, so there is an intention of being sexy, whereas I feel like a lot of dance styles, there isn’t that intention there. There’s an intention of shedding any kind of vulnerability and self-consciousness, to be raw and enticing while you dance. I feel like that’s not there in anything else I’ve ever done and I think being allowed to feel like that and express that is what I love the most about the art of pole dancing.


How has the experience of Blackstage differed from your previous experiences in the industry?

Medusa Mami: The intentions, communication and passion behind the show are prevalent in every interaction I’ve shared with anyone on the team. It has been wonderful being treated so professionally and being considered so deeply. It feels safe.

How do you get ready for a performance? 

Medusa Mami: Good sleep, delicious meals that make my body feel good, fascia release and restorative movement to contour all of the training, and listening to what my body needs. I feel that in order to truly feel comfortable and do my best, I must give back to myself. 

What are your beauty rituals before going on stage?

Medusa Mami: Rose water spritz for love, passion and good luck, along with my favourite perfume! If I don’t have my lip liner, lip gloss combo I will be upset, so that’s a must. I love to take selfies and hype myself up like, ‘Girl you look so good you’re so ready, go tear it up!’


Why did you want to be a part of the Blackstage show?

Ella Arrozal: I wanted to be part of Blackstage because it’s such an amazing platform and wonderful celebration of marginalised pole talents – QTIBPOC, low-income, sex workers – that we do not often get to see in the mainstream pole scene. And because they’re not represented enough in mainstream pole circles, we don’t get to see the beautiful and unique offerings that they have.

How has it felt to find your community in the pole scene?

Ella Arrozal: I remember, when I started pole, being surprised to not find many trans women pole dancers. I got to understand later the many barriers keeping the dolls from getting in: pole classes are expensive, a lot of spaces are not trans-friendly, and there are so much more. So last summer, I set up and began teaching pay-what-you-can pole classes for trans women and trans femmes, and that community has flourished so much. It feels great to be around people who can understand you and share your life experiences, and that’s also how I feel towards the Blxckstage community. As a trans woman of colour, who is also a sex worker, I feel very connected to this community.

What are your beauty rituals before going on stage?

Ella Arrozal: I love doing my own hair and make-up for a show. I like to take my time getting ready in front of a well-lit mirror. Hydration is very important to me, so I like to keep my face and my lips moisturised, and also make sure my body is hydrated before stepping on stage.


Why is an event like this so important? What does it mean to you to be a part of it?

Nova Storm: We commonly hear the phrase ‘pole is for everyone’ even though the industry over all has shown that not to be the case. So by centering BPOC, queer and sex worker performers, it becomes revolutionary because existing freely within a space that celebrates these identities is an act of rebellion. 

I’ve followed Blackstage since the beginning of my journey, with Leila being my first ever pole teacher, and watching how much it has grown has inspired me immensely. While recovering from knee surgery between 2021 and 2022, pole was a huge motivator to keep going and not give up. Pole has given me the drive and confidence to make bolder choices, leading me to places I didn’t even know were possible.

What are you looking forward to the most about the event?

Nova Storm: It seems like it took a lifetime to get to this point, with many bumps along the way, so I’m looking forward to having my art appreciated by a well-deserving audience. I’ve been in the room as an audience member and have felt the love and admiration amongst hundreds of people, which brought me to tears, so I can only imagine what all of that will feel like as a performer on stage. I’m also looking forward to meeting fellow performers who have inspired my pole journey. 

What is it about the art of pole you enjoy the most?

Nova Storm: For me, pole means allowing vulnerability, and ridding ourselves of the shame we feel around being vulnerable. It means freedom to express ourselves unapologetically.

In a world consumed by purity culture, we’re often told to fear ourselves, our bodies and our deepest desires. However, pole sparks a radical shift in how we view life and allows me to take ownership of my narrative, to exist fearlessly as my authentic self. 

Freestyling, sensual flow and stripper style have influenced my movement all the way. For me, these styles truly let me lead with my body and to move it however I please, despite what society deems unacceptable.

The Blackstage annual professional pole show 2024 will take place on Saturday 6 April 2024 at The Clapham Grand, London. Tickets are on sale here and include access to the PXSSY PALACE afterparty until 3am.

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