Laughter has a big role to play in Gemma Hopkins’ workday.
It’s 10am and peals of giggles are already echoing down the hallway from the Sheffield studio where the 31-year-old is based
Anybody rounding the corner will find themselves surrounded by Supermans, Carousels and a Phoenix or two - as well as an impressive array of swirling limbs.
Gemma runs A Pole New Adventure - a small pole dancing studio with a big reputation.
After taking her first swing on the pole eight years ago, Gemma launched the Carver Street business in 2011.
“I’ve always loved all types of dancing, but my first pole dancing class was actually a dare,” reveals the 31-year-old, who lives with her husband in Pitsmoor.
You don’t need a dance background to do pole dancing, but you do need to be able to laugh at yourselfGemma Hopkins
“I was instantly hooked. It was so different to every other type of exercise I’d ever done, in that it works every single muscle in the body seriously hard, but you’re just having too much of a giggle to even really notice how shattered you are!”
Gemma, who worked in the accounts department of a local engineering firm at the time, began competing in various UK competitions, even winning the title of Best Overall Performer title at the UK Amateur Pole Performer Competition.
She says: “I love the performance aspect of it, and there are so many different styles - fitness, dance, sport, classique - that there’s genuinely something for every taste.
“Eventually I began to realise how much I enjoyed teaching other people - even the stuff I can’t do myself, I can break it down and teach it. Some people start off nervous about throwing themselves around the pole, but once you get used to the different moves and start training the right muscles, it all starts to become second nature.”
In 2011, Gemma made the bold decision to quit her day job and launch the studio, which features eight poles, an aerial hoop, a trapeze and various gym equipment.
Today, she teaches 180 students at 17 weekly classes, as well as private classes.
She also teaches the University of Sheffield’s Pole Society, which was established four years ago and has over 100 members.
“Scarily you don’t have to be qualified to teach pole dancing,” says the 31-year-old. “But I got myself qualified with Expert Pole Fitness and trained for my gym instructor qualification; I’m fascinated by physiology and anatomy anyway so I really enjoyed learning everything I could to make me a more effective teacher.”
And Gemma says she’s not offended by the ‘stripper tag’ snap judgement that so many people make.
“It really doesn’t bother me,” she shrugs.
“I quite embrace that style and think it’s a lot of fun on occasion. Some people come to class and they want to dance around and be all floaty and fairy-like, while others want to seriously get their raunch on. There’s no wrong answer and often you just go with how you’re feeling.
“The reality is that pole dancing can be different things to different people; I think it’s every woman’s choice to embrace what they want to do and who they want to be and then you’ll get what you want from it.
“And I should be clear I’m not just talking about women. I have a number of men that come to my classes; it’s something that I really believe is for everyone.
“The other misconception is you have to be some sort of stick insect to work on the pole. I’m no stick insect - in fact I often joke I’m built like a rugby player.
“But that’s one of the reasons I went into teaching pole dancing, to show that it’s something for everyone. In my classes, people range from a size zero to size 24.
“My youngest student is 16 and the eldest is 63. I teach women, men, gay, straight, bi, transgender; anybody who comes in to my studio - providing they have the right attit ude - is great with me.”
So what constitutes the right attitude?
“Someone who is willing to give it a good go and have a laugh,” she confirms. “You don’t need a dance background to do pole dancing, but you do need to be able to laugh at yourself, and at others.”
And when it comes to attire, Gemma says there’s no need to show up flashing a lot of flesh.
She smiles: “I think bare legs are good, as it helps you to grip the pole, especially early on, but I honestly don’t mind if, for the first few sessions, people come wearing leggings and a t-shirt. It’s a funny thing I’ve found, that the more you learn, the less you seem to wear!
“I think as you get more comfortable with your body and the other people in the class, your confidence soars.
“I don’t have any divas in my studio, no egos, it’s a supportive environment and, believe me, nobody cares about wobbly bits – everybody’s in the same boat.”
So for those who have taken up the resolution to get in shape in 2016, pole dancing may well be the key.
Gemma said: “I started these classes for people to have fun and that’s as true today as the day we started.
“What could be better than having a laugh, getting into great shape and having so much fun you barely notice the hard work?”
Visit A pole new adventure for details.