By Jess Goulart
With dark purple hair and the welcoming presence of a first grade teacher, you wouldn’t expect the five-foot nine Danielle Romano to be able to bench you – but she can. Romano is a pole-dancing instructor at Body & Pole in New York City, along with the US National Pole Championship silver medalist who has also won both the 2013 Atlantic Pole Championships (APC) and the 2012 Supershag Pole Fitness Championships. Her routines range from seductive to domineering to purposefully disconcerting, but all work against the strip-club stigma historically associated with pole dancing and elevate the practice to an art form.
Drawing inspiration from her background in film, Romano creates complex characters for each routine. Similar to method actors, she fleshes out characters’ stories and personalities until she can “become them” while onstage – she even goes so far as to create storyboards while developing her acts. The characters can be fantastic or realistic, male or female, intimidating or approachable, although no matter whom Romano is playing, her passionate commitment to the role and masterful expression of movement is felt by her audience.
“My last competition piece was about my uncle,” Romano tells BTR. “He was in prison in the Siberian Gulag for ten years. I actually had a fundraiser on Indiegogo to get all these semi-permanent Russian tattoos painted all over my body. I run with a character and try to become that character until I am gone, and I go on that stage and I’m not me anymore.”
Romano’s APC routine has been called “demonically visceral,” a phrase she takes as a compliment to her dedication. Check out the video below to see what I mean.
Romano describes this character as a “soul-eating demon” with a definitively masculine, powerful, dominating energy. For the layperson who knows only pole stereotypes that masculinity seems antithetical, and Romano cares to confront the difficult yet worthy challenge of addressing gender norms through her dance routines.
“My inspiration is mostly male actors, like Johnny Depp and Christian Bale. For a woman in my sport it’s very hard to play a successful male on stage, and I love to cross those lines a lot.”
Gender roles aren’t the only stigma performers like Romano are breaking down. Pole dancing’s roots in the States can be traced to the traveling circuses that crisscrossed the country during the Great Depression, but it was only recently that it began to gain traction as a viable sport. Exotic dance forms like burlesque heavily influenced pole and are perhaps the reason it is commonly associated with strip clubs. However, athletes performing at pole dancing competitions certainly show the strength and athleticism required to execute even the most basic moves.
“I think that it’s always fun to explain myself. It’s always fun to watch someone scoff or patronize me or pat me on the back, and then I am like let me just show you this video,” Romano laughs. “’Oh! Oh! What is that?!’ they suddenly say. So, first they don’t believe what I’m actually telling them, and then they don’t believe I’m actually human. And I’m like, wow, that’s very nice.”
Body & Pole, where Romano teaches, is one of the premier studios in the world and, she says, the best. They offer classes for all ages and difficulties. For people who want to improve their bodies and health but can’t seem to commit to the gym, pole dancing offers an interesting alternative.
“You’re going to be working on your core strength, flexibility, coordination and balance, and then working central movement into that. Your entire body is working as an instrument of movement, so it’s not just one thing that develops but many over time. You’ll certainly get this gorgeous, amazing, Sports Illustrated muscular back.”
Apart from the physical, Romano says practicing pole dancing gives you more confidence in yourself, your life, and your interpersonal relationships as you start to feel “graceful and lighter.” Indeed, studies have shown that physical exercise promotes psychosocial health benefits and may even act as therapy for certain psychological disorders.
One of the reasons for that confidence boost is a quest for triumph over the self-doubt and fear people often experience when performing. While Romano makes it look easy, she admits there’s often a war raging inside her as she dances through the routine, with voices screaming at her that she can’t do it, that she should just quit. Conquering those internal voices is what really makes her stronger.
Who doesn’t want to feel more grounded, more confident in their life and body?
Danielle Romano discusses the external messages she hopes to communicate with viewers via pole dancing:
“I definitely don’t hope for my exact literal interpretation of the piece to be perceived by the audience. What I do hope is that I make them think about something and they feel connected to my work. They feel intimated or engaged or affected by me – that I have some kind of effect on them and that they think about it after they’ve seen it.”
All photos courtesy of Danielle Romano.