This Is Not Exotic Dancing: Interview With Ashley Popoli, Owner of Vertical Addiction; Aerial Arts Studio

“You need to be vulnerable. Doing pole is really different. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever done before.” -Ashley Popoli, Owner of Vertical Addiction

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Ashley Popoli, Owner of Vertical Addiction / Photo Courtesy of Ashley Popoli

The most enticing element of Stamford CT’s paramount pole fitness and aerial arts studio, Vertical Addiction, isn’t the seductive appeal of the street sign of a woman gracefully hanging upside down by her legs. Nor is it the curiosity of the concept of pole fitness and aerial arts, sparking visions of Cirque Du Soleil and going delightfully dizzy. The welcoming appeal of Vertical Addiction emanates from the woman that sits at the helm of the studio, owner, Ashley Popoli. Upon entering the studio, visitors and students of Vertical Addiction are embraced from the start, a result of Popoli’s infectious and dynamic energy.

As an advocate of fitness, self expression and strong women I have long wanted to sit down with a woman not only immersed in the fitness industry, but a woman who is an entrepreneur, and an inspiring  following her passion based on self expression and casting aside the norm within fitness. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Popoli, which instantly felt like sitting down with a best friend, and talked pole fitness, meditation, the Weeknd, vulnerability and the dedication required to train insane.

Ditte Dennisor: Tell me a little bit about how you got started in pole fitness.

Ashley Popoli: When I was little I was a gymnast and I loved it. Later when I was in my teens, I walked away from it and did some high school sports, I played soccer and I danced a little. After I graduated college I came back home and went back to the gym and started working out and I knew something was missing. I knew I liked to workout; I was studying to become a personal trainer- I was always very into fitness! I was working out at the gym and this woman randomly approached me- I didn’t know her, but she taught pole fitness. She asked me if I was a dancer, and asked if I used to be a gymnast. We got to talking and she suggested that I take her class. At the time she taught up in Trumbull- which for me was far, so I kept blowing it off. It wasn’t that I wasn’t interested, but for me it was a question of ‘Why am I going to drive almost an hour out of my way for a pole fitness class?’ But she was persistent! Every time she’d see me at the gym she’d come up to me and ask if I was going to be at one of her classes and finally I thought ‘Either I’m going to have to not come to this gym anymore or I’ll have to go take this woman’s class.’ I wanted to try something new. I was looking for a change in my life so I decided to take her class and I was addicted from the first minute! It was exciting and fun and challenging! It was hard but it was different. It wasn’t like anything I had done before. It definitely captivated my attention. I was intrigued by it. I was determined to learn it. I’m a little bit competitive by nature- well that’s a lie- I’m a lot competitive by nature- and I remember doing it and feeling those same feelings from gymnastics. I knew I could figure it out but it was going to take time. I ended up going to class again and buying a 5 pack and I decided to try the class 5 more times and I liked it… but I still didn’t want to commute that far. After the 5 classes I was hooked, I was in it. Soon enough I started to commute into the city to train because they realized they couldn’t take me to the place that I wanted to go to. I needed to go to a place where I could train with real professionals so that’s when I started going into the city.

DD: In Manhattan?

AP: Yeah! So now I commute into the city about two times a week and I’ll work with my coaches.

DD: Why did you choose to open your studio in Stamford?

AP: I worked in Stamford previously in a corporate position and I know it’s a big city, and I did my research. I knew there was no pole fitness studio here. And I knew there was a huge chunk of young professional clientele. There are also the mom’s who stay at home and they spend their mornings working out. I got familiar with the area and I thought this could really thrive if we hit the right people. There’s the UConn [University of Connecticut] campus and the Sacred Heart University satellite campus here as well, so I figured there’s enough young people here in this area that I could hit up a good market.

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The New Vertical Addiction Studio / Photo Courtesy of Ashley Popoli

 

“Some people get into this because they’re going through a change in their life. I’ve seen women in my studio get divorced, find new jobs or quit their jobs because they realize they’re not happy. The pole industry and community allows people to get real with themselves and to feel liberated and confident. Pole allows people to say ‘I’m going to live my life to the fullest and be happy’”

DD:  I’ve noticed that the community at Vertical Addiction and within the pole fitness community overall that everyone is incredibly supportive, encouraging and they embrace everybody. Has it always been that way?

AP: I have to say since the day I started pole- and I’ve been to different studios and competitions and I’ve traveled a bit- it has always been this strong. I try to tell people and explain to them that you have to be a part of this just because the community is so amazing! People really don’t understand it until they’re part of it. It is the most supportive environment I have ever been in. You need to be vulnerable. Doing pole is really different. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever done before. You’re probably not feeling so confident at the beginning; you’re starting you might look weird, you might feel weird. But with that, there are other people there being vulnerable with you. I think naturally that forms a connection because you’re all in the same boat together. And once you hit the move, you hit the spin, and you finally get your first climb and you’re so excited and you feel so liberated and empowered! And your friends who have been doing this and struggling with you too are so excited for you that it fosters excitement and a sisterhood and camaraderie. No matter where I go within the pole fitness community that’s all I ever come into contact with; women and men supporting each other in their goals and their journey. Some people get into this because they’re going through a change in their life. I’ve seen women in my studio get divorced, find new jobs or quit their jobs because they realize they’re not happy. The pole industry and community allows people to get real with themselves and to feel liberated and confident. Pole allows people to say ‘I’m going to live my life to the fullest and be happy’  and they can remove those things that don’t make them happy and they now have the support system and confidence to say ‘I’m gonna go out there and get what I want and make it happen.’

DD: I noticed that you have a hammock class. Is that a new class?

AP: We’re starting hammock meditation in our new space. It’s a new class. We’ve seen that people in the city have started this. We’re in Stamford, we’re in a corporate American city- just like Manhattan. People are busy and their crazed and they’re certainly working more than 8 hours. What we want to do is give people – women and men- the opportunity at lunch time to walk away, relax for 30 minutes, close their eyes, de-stress, calm down, do the meditation, and unwind so they can clear their head and go back to work and feel refreshed. It’s certainly not strenuous. It’s more psychological and emotional and reconnecting with yourself and taking it down a notch from your busy lifestyle. It’s for anybody! It doesn’t have to be for the working professional, it could be a mom who just spent her morning driving kids around who needs a space to go and chill out for 30 minutes. In European countries, they do siesta! They shut down in the middle of their day and we don’t here in America.  I think part of the reason that people are so high strung is that they’re never taking time to calm down. A lot of people don’t meditate. I myself just started doing it and it’s hard for me to clear my mind at the beginning, but I have to say it’s so relaxing and calming for me. It helps me to decompress and clear my head. Sometimes from meditating I find really good ideas enter my mind. Hammock meditation could be a popular thing, especially for Stamford because nobody else is doing it.

Before: Vertical Addiction’s New Studio At 575 Pacific Street, Stamford CT

DD: You mentioned that men can take the hammock meditation classes. Are men allowed to take other classes at Vertical Addiction?

AP: Men can take any class! I’ve had men take the pole class. One of our students has a son and he’s taken the hoop class. He’s an actor and he dances as well and he loves it! Most of our clientele is predominantly female but we allow men to come into the studio. Obviously there’s the assumption that you’re going to be respectful and understand this is fitness and truthfully we’ve never had an issue.

” I think that’s what makes people feel so inspired by this sport- they can make it whatever they want. When you can relate to something so deeply- you want more of that! You can express yourself through your movement and your music however you want.”

DD: What’s the greatest misconception about pole fitness and the aerial arts?

AP: The greatest misconception is that people think this is exotic dancing. There’s a platform for that but pole fitness is very different. These are fitness based classes. There are foundational moves, there’s correct technique, there’s muscle engagement and the opportunity to build those muscles that you have to create. We help students create that foundation to build upon. It’s very systematic and there’s a clear plan. You start in intro, move to level 1, then level 2. Then there’s the opportunity to do aerial hoop and we do the same thing. There’s a prep class that helps you to build those muscles and learn the basic entrances and exits in and out of the hoop. Once that feels good you go into intermediate hoop. People think that this is fun and silly and we dance around a pole and it’s sensual. And it can be sensual but these are fitness based classes. Girls are working hard and learning technique. It’s not just turning on music and dancing around a pole. We’re learning specific movements and then learning how to tie them together and build upon them.

DD: How do you stay fit outside of pole fitness? Is this your main form of fitness?

AP: Pole is my main form of fitness. I teach about 4 days a week, I have private clients and I train myself! It’s really important for me- I’m still a competitor and a professional level athlete. I love to train. Whether I’m having a good day or a bad day it’s a nice way to release that out or connect with a song and dance it out and move. I enjoy running- it relieves stress for me. I also cross train at the gym and do my lower body, training my legs, but I never ever lift a weight.

DD: Really?! Even for training for pole moves?

AP: You’ll never see me lift a weight. My upper body is so strong from pole that I don’t need to lift a weight. I’ll squat and I’ll work my hamstrings but never ever will I lift a weight.

DD: So you can build all that strength to do inversions all from doing pole?

AP: All from pole! I’ll go to the gym and people will always ask me if I do CrossFit and I always say no and explain to them that I do pole. At first they’re kind of confused but then they’re like ‘Oh my God! That’s all from pole?’ And I tell them ‘Yes. This is all from pole.’ I don’t need to lift a weight, I don’t need to do crunches. I get such an intense workout on the pole for my upper body, my back and my core that I don’t need to do that. So many girls will say pole has changed their body- and it does! You’re lifting and controlling and balancing your own body weight. You tone muscles and build strength and burn the fat.

DD: What music do you like to dance to?

AP: I’m an R&B fan! I love the Weeknd. His music is sexy. I like music that tells a story. If I can connect to it emotionally that’s what I want to dance to. Sam Smith has songs where he’s talking about something he’s experienced, love or heartbreak. The music that I’ve chosen for every competition that I’ve done is directly correlated to what I’m going through in my life at that time. If you go back and listen to the music that I’ve used that’s what you’ll find. I think that’s why people love this art so much. There isn’t a set style of music or a set style of dancing- it’s what you make of it. If you decide that you just need to go and dance to a sad song and cry- you can do that. If you decide that you need to put on [Ginuwine’s] ‘Pony’ and grind on the pole you can do that! I think that’s what makes people feel so inspired by this sport- they can make it whatever they want. When you can relate to something so deeply- you want more of that! You can express yourself through your movement and your music however you want.

DD: What are you most looking forward to in your new studio space?

AP: So many things! The 13ft ceilings! We’ve been looking for higher ceilings for over a year and a half. When I walked into that space I saw it was a nice sized space. I looked up and saw there was so much height! I was in heaven. Ceiling height gives you the opportunity to do more and connect more movement and it gives us the opportunity to bring in different forms of aerial arts. To do silks you need more than 12ft so now we can share that and bring in the trapeze bar. The ceiling height is going to give us the opportunity to expand our class offerings and get more creative. The location is fantastic! We’ve been dying to move downtown, right near all the young people in the Harbor Point area- it’s a no brainer!

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Intro Pole Class In Session At The New Vertical Addiction Studio

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Merchandise Wall At Vertical Addiction

DD: What advice would you give to a beginner who wishes to go to the competition level?

AP:  Train! If I know I have a competition coming up I know I need to be focused, I know I need to be taking classes, I need to be training, getting sleep, and taking care of my body. I think anybody can compete. There are competitions for students that are level 1 who don’t need to go upside down! Anybody can do it, but don’t be fooled- it is a sport and it’s a competition- you need to prepare and you need to train. If you think you’re going to throw a routine together in a month it’s not going to happen. The girls that I just had compete at APC [Atlantic Pole Championships] in Virginia, started their routines 2-3 months ahead of time. They booked private sessions and were working with me or a different instructor to coach them to put together their routines. You have to practice. It’s like if you compete in gymnastics, skating or boxing- anything. It’s a sport. You need to prepare and train and perfect your routine over and over again.

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Vertical Addiction is holding their grand re-opening party at their new location on June 4, 2016! If you’ve ever been curious about aerial arts and pole fitness the grand re-opening is a perfect opportunity to meet the amazing women of Vertical Addiction. Check out the new space on June 4, 2016 at 575 Pacific Street. The party will be held from 10AM – 3PM and feature free mini classes, instructor performances, food trucks and team races!

You can follow Ashley and Vertical Addiction at:

Instagram: VerticalAddictionCT

Twitter: @vapolefitness

Facebook

Website

♡ Ditte

 

Just Do It

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“Knowing how wonderful it feels to be comfortable in my own skin, having more energy,  managing anxiety and stress, feeling as if I’ve discovered the fountain of youth and never questioning if I look good in an outfit or for an event is fantastic motivation.”

 

As someone who is in the gym 5-6 days a week and has spent the last few years revamping and remodeling her body I’m often asked by others, “How do you do it?” It’s a flattering question but it’s one of those questions that I always have trouble answering because the short answer is, “Hard work.” I get up and I do it. It’s grueling, exhausting, painful but I know how great the reward is. Knowing how wonderful it feels to be comfortable in my own skin, having more energy,  managing anxiety and stress, feeling as if I’ve discovered the fountain of youth and never questioning if I look good in an outfit or for an event is fantastic motivation.

Of course I realize that people aren’t asking for a magic potion. It isn’t one simple question with a simple concise answer, it’s a number of questions wrapped neatly in one frustrated sigh, “How do you it?” What this overwhelmed sigh entails is:

“I’m terrible at portion control. How do you stick to eating healthy? How do you meal prep? Do you really never eat after 7pm? Do you really eat 5 meals a day? How do you track your calories?”

“I don’t have time to spend hours in the gym. How do you work out 5- 6 days a week? How do you fit in 2 workouts a day?”

“How do you wake up early?”

“How often do you lift? How much? Do you still train if you’re sore?”

“How do you give up sugar? How do you drink your coffee and tea black? Do I really have to stop salting my food?”

“Water is so boring. How do you stay hydrated?”

When I first started working out and taking my health and fitness seriously I didn’t really know what I was doing. I only knew that I wasn’t thrilled with the state of my body and I wanted to be healthy.  I needed to exert my body physically because I already exhausted myself mentally and that wasn’t bringing me to the place I wanted to be. The only concrete solution was to start moving my body and make better choices about what I ate. I had to get up and do something and try. 

 

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In the beginning I had no answers and minimal guidance. I went through basic trial and error. I read a lot of articles, spent a lot of time on Youtube Pinterest, ToneitUp.com and BodyBuilding.com for help, motivation and support. I succeeded and failed countless times. I got bored, I got tired, I got stressed, I got lazy, I got discouraged, and I got doubtful. I also gained strength, endurance, confidence  and a renewed belief in myself. When women ask me how I do it, I want to tell them the honest truth about the work it takes to achieve the results they see from me. I want to encourage them to be their best, healthiest, sexiest self and offer them the tools to love themselves and love their body.

“….because frankly, it’s not all gym selfies and sexy sweaty abs. It’s not always yoga on the beach and toned thighs in Nike Pro’s while casually food shopping at Whole Foods.”

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As a writer it’s always awesome to use my words to give back and share my experiences with others. When I thought about the direction I wanted to take this blog and my website I knew I wanted to incorporate fitness with my other passions.  I knew I wanted to approach fitness from an honest, relatable perspective because frankly, it’s not all gym selfies and sexy sweaty abs. It’s not always yoga on the beach and toned thighs while casually food shopping at Whole Foods. Sometimes it’s sweaty abs, toned thighs, bags under your eyes and a torn hair tie in the middle of burpees. Often it looks like doing walking lunges to and from you car during lunch breaks at work, or arriving from lunch with a sweaty sheen and out of breath. Sometimes it’s  going to bed hungry only to wake up at 5am for fasted cardio in 30º weather.  It’s not always Instagram ready, but it’s always worth it. I know firsthand how hard it is and I want to share tips, my favorite products and insight into how to make it manageable and realistic for my audience and my gym friends.

This blog is still about fashion, art, music and personal writing but now I’m moving forward with a new, long overdue addition: health and fitness!

♡ Ditte Mia

Spring/Summer 2015 : Yoga

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“Be not afraid going slowly, be afraid only of standing still” – Chinese Proverb

This Summer I am challenging myself with yoga. The more aware I become of my body the more I want to challenge it and see what it’s capable of. The more I fall in love with my body the more I want to see it evolve and progress- the more I want to express myself physically.

I’ve always enjoyed yoga but it’s one of those things that I can never remain steadily devoted to. The first rule of fitness is to always challenge your body and to always keep your muscles guessing. Yoga allows for increased flexibility and a deeper, fuller range of motion. Yoga encourages discipline and promotes mental, emotional, spiritual, sexual and physical health- it’s bound to benefit all aspects of life that extend beyond the mat.

♥ Ditte