Having been born without her left arm, Deb Roach a disabled pole dancer faced a number of challenges growing up.
Roach grew up in Sydney, Australia, where, according to her, accessibility and inclusion were never a strong focus of the schooling system.
She explains: “At school kids were given the option to pick people to join their teams. I was always the last picked. I focused really on my academic and my cerebral pursuits and got very trapped in my head for my teenage years.”
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After starting work in her twenties, Roach joined her colleagues at the gym during her lunch breaks. It was then that she was drawn to the thrill and satisfaction of exercise and fitness.
However, it wasn’t until she began stage-dancing and DJing at a club, where she saw a pole dancing double act perform that she decided to try something new.
Of her first encounter she says: “They blew my mind. We were backstage and I said, ‘You lucky girls, with your two arms and your fancy pole dancing, that was insanely good.’”
The dancers enquired if she had ever tried pole dancing before.
She continued: “I’m like, ‘Why would a girl with one arm try and do what you guys are doing up there?’
To which they replied: “Why not?”
They played a pivotal in pushing her to pursue her now passion, challenging her. Taking them up on their challenge Deb found herself in the dance studio, battling head on with the hurdles. But, she never turned back!
“Things like climbing the pole took me a lot longer because my teachers had always trained with two arms and it was a pretty new sport back then.” she explained.
Nevertheless, Roach quickly took to performing. And added her own spin to traditional pole dancing moves. She eventually left her job to join the fitness world full-time.
After winning local pole competitions, she was asked to compete in the disabled category at the 2012 International Pole Championships in Hong Kong.
Roach says: “I ended up going there, then I won. That’s when my mind was absolutely blown. There was recognition that I never dreamed of.”
Following her success at the competition, Roach began receiving invitations to attend events around the world. Now trotting the globe performing and teaching – even going on to win the disabled title at the International Pole Championships for a second time in 2015.
Roach describes her profession as ‘a vehicle for personal growth and transformation’. But, she does face trouble with some students having to win them over.
She said: “There are definitely some shock reactions. Students that can’t believe that they are in a room with one-armed pole instructor.”
For Roach, one of the most essential and important aspects of being a pole dancer is being able to distribute her talent amongst others. Also, being a source of inspiration for them.
She said: “The thing I love most about pole dancing is actually in teaching. It’s about seeing people who came in with fear that they weren’t strong enough.”
Roach’s students are diverse, touching upon all categories, from grandmothers to doctors. They are all positive about their teacher’s abilities.
One student, Emma said: “I can barely do it with two arms. So, the fact that she is doing it with one arm is really, really impressive.”
Despite her personal struggles in the field, Deb looks on to the bigger picture. She puts up a fight against the lingering stigma attached to pole dancing.
She said: “There are still people out there that believe pole dancing only exists in a strip club. But there are ignorant people all over the world.
“If they want to look at me and think, ‘Oh, she is a pole dancer, that means she is stripper,’ more’s the pity because they don’t get me.”
“I am a woman doing something taboo and reclaiming my body for myself in a safe environment. Somewhere I‘m not told that if I am pursuing my own sexuality means that I am crude or a slut. And I think that that’s a really positive thing.”