By Hannah Stevens @Hannahshewans
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Videographer / director: Marta Ariza
Producer: Hannah Stevens, Ruby Coote
Editor: Marcus Cooper
Erin Clark, 36, first started pole dancing in April of this year and within months she had secured a national title and was on her way to the World Championships in Netherlands, but it has not always been plain sailing.
The pole performer has spent her entire life combating discrimination as a wheelchair user and now she is helping to build a more inclusive pole community.
The Canadian-born dancer said: “I did not consider pole dancing inclusive - having a disabled person show up does not indicate inclusivity.
“It means that more likely, that person is doing a whole lot of adapting to an environment that is not equipped to them.
There are not a lot of disabled pole dancers.”
Clark has been disabled since birth as a result of being born with sacral agenesis and, despite what others may think about her body, self confidence has never been a problem for this fierce dancer.
She said: “Sacral agenesis is a spinal defect, so the base of spinal column didn’t form.
It never existed, so some muscles work and some don’t, and some places I feel and some places I don’t, just randomly.
“I know that there’s an assumption that because I’m deformed and can’t walk that I should definitely be uncomfortable with my body and not like it and want to change it.
“I’m just confident with it, I can’t sincerely say that I struggle with body confidence.
I mean, I have bad hair days from hell that I do not enjoy, but as a general rule I’ve always felt naturally confident in my body.
“I don’t like how people treat me based on how it looks to them.
Pole sport does not affect my body confidence, that just is natural to me.”
When Erin first started performing there was no category for disabled pole athletes, so she helped forge the path for other disabled pole dancers by making room for one.
She said: “The first time that I competed, there was no disabled category.
I had some concerns about the reasons I was accepted, because there wasn’t any system for me to be judged.
So what was there intention behind having me on a stage?
“There are so many pole moves that I can’t do, so we had to find, like, within the code of points, which one can I maybe do.
“I love to win, I like to win for real though, you know, I don’t want it to be given to me just because I showed up.
I want to be the best, I want everyone to know that I’m the best, or at the very least I want to be very good.”
In July, Erin competed at the IPSF World Championships, winning a silver medal for Spain, but the performance was tainted by the rules of judging.
Despite having a disabled category, the judges did not take into consideration the disabilities of any of the athletes, so Clark lost points every time she did not point her toes, which she is not capable of doing.
For the disabled category, this meant that the winner was predetermined by the guaranteed deductions of physically disabled athletes, however, next year the rules have been modified to better accommodate disabled performers.
In preparation for the championships, Erin trained twice a week with her coach Salima Peippo at Art Move Studio in Vilaseca, Spain.
Salima Peippo said: “She’s the best performer, I mean, she’s amazing, she rocks the stage.
She has this ability to show the emotion, I don’t know any people who have this naturally.
She’s really good, she’s a really good performer.
“You can’t really expect her to do the moves like other people do, but it doesn’t mean that she can’t do them.
You just have to find a way.
“She was born like this and she has to deal with it, so it’s just her basic needs and she has a right to them.
I think it’s just her life that has made her an activist, because she has to defend her self all the time - all the time.”
While Erin continues to train for next year’s championships, she also runs her own magazine - How To Be A Sex Icon - which she produces independently to celebrate her role as a badass sex icon.
She said: “Inclusivity, accessibility do not happen by accident, they are very deliberate processes that involve thought, action. Most of the world isn’t inclusive.
“Pole dancing represents something that’s important to me, a constant part of my life, being segregated and being discriminated against.
I’ll participate so that it can become inclusive over time, hopefully.”
Check out more of Erin’s work at: https://www.howtobeasexicon.com/