Here's how two powerful Egyptian women disrupted societal norms through The Spin Egypt, a startup pole fitness studio that is now home to pole dancing escapees and the country's very first aerial silks academy.
After getting lost in the humdrum back streets of Katameya, with no hope of ever making it to The Spin Egypt, I giggle at the metaphorical irony of this whole situation. Why is someone like me going to the country’s most ardent pole dancing studio and Egypt’s very first aerial silks academy? By me, I mean a mostly lethargic – arguably conservative – Hijabi woman. Of course this Uber is never going to make it; I can barely lift my conservative arse off this chair.
As Egyptians, we have more often than not associated pole dancing with eroticism and stripping, and have denounced it as a shameful and unbecoming profession. We have ignored the physical and emotional benefits, and instead, focused on burdening women with inappropriate body negativity. We have actively oppressed their voices and right to choose the way in which they artistically express themselves. We have dished out judgements based on misconceived ideas of pole dancing and pole fitness as sexual promiscuity, and categorised it as a profession for desperate or impoverished job seekers, which in itself is a personal choice not up for judgement.
Disrupting this norm in a bid to alter pejorative discourse are college best friends, pole addicts, and The Spin Egypt business partners; mum-to-be Hadeer Hamed and devoted Hijabi Noura Omran. “It all started four years ago when I was in London taking a pole dancing course. It was totally for fun, we just wanted to train,” tells Hamed, referring to Omran and herself.
As two young Egyptian women venturing the alluring London city at the time, they had come across the world of pole dance and decided to take up classes. Returning to Egypt after their trip was no obstacle for the defiant duo; a pole was installed in Hamed’s spare apartment - which later became The Spin's official studio - and the pair continued practicing their newfound obsession through online courses. Before long, they had mastered the basics, and were now cleverly self-teaching themselves the advanced tricks. “When Hamed is training, I guide her, and when I’m training, she guides me,” explains Omran, “and there are a lot of dangerous moves that require help in the beginning until we are strong enough to do it alone.” The pair had already started motivating one another, building up the courage and persistence to keep practicing.
Breaking into the world of pole, in a conservative country like Egypt was, unfortunately, bound to have mixed reactions, in fact, the families of the duo had very different perceptions about pole dancing as a form of fitness. Hamed and Omran were very aware of this reality.
For Omran, her family were pushing her to breach the norm as a veiled woman practicing a sport often associated with obscenity. "My parents were always supportive and wanted me to transform the idea of pole dancing in Egypt," tells Omran.
“My mum thought this was just a phase, but really, it was my happy place,” Hamed recounts, “When my sister passed away, I barely left the house. I would go upstairs to the spare apartment, Noura would visit me, and we would train together. When I felt like I was upset, or even happy, I would go up and use the pole. The apartment was my getaway space.”
It took months of convincing for the pair to start coaching pole dancing classes and still; fathers, brothers and fiancés refused the idea, particularly, Hamed's father. “My dad kept saying: ‘you’re going to shame us’. He must have thought I wanted to become a stripper,” laughs Hamed. It wasn’t until Hamed's brother watched his sister become stronger than ever before that the idea of pole dancing as an incredible source of fitness became a reality for her father.
My dad kept saying: ‘you’re going to shame us’. He must have thought I wanted to become a stripper.
Within a year of training, Hamed and Omran had become stronger, physically and emotionally, than ever before. “I was anaemic and fainting whenever it got too hot. I could barely open a bottle of water,” says Hamed, “everything became better, my body was stronger and functioning properly, I was happier… I can carry big water barrels in one hand now.”
These two women continued to resist and defy the societal, conservative norm in order to prove that pushing the boundaries can actually burst open a new reality. Or even a new – ambitious - norm where passion, pride and self-esteem are at its core. They continued to discover the limitless, unfathomable ways their bodies could bend, move, and climb developing a form of invincibility.
Passing on this fierce gusto of girl power, Hamed and Omran decided to kick-start pole dancing lessons in their new studio – just a few girls at a time to slowly build the empire that they were so determined to develop. “We didn’t really know if something like this would work out in Egypt,” they chuckle. "I have taken courses in many pole dancing studios around the world. I wanted to bring back the unique techniques, use my experience, and work really hard to make this work," Omran explains.
The entire business plan - from finance, marketing, and location, to teaching the classes - was single-handedly developed and managed by just the two of them in the apartment that became home to the first Spin Egypt studio. Within the first week of launching The Spin social media accounts, the girls were inundated with a high volume of messages and phone calls. “We had made the accounts before extra poles had even arrived!” They laugh.
For almost two years, The Spin studio coached and empowered mothers, students, and fitness fanatics to master pole pirouettes and drama queen drops, as well as working on strengthening key bodily muscles to reinforce core potency.
“We work with the girls who are very shy to strengthen them and show them there is no limit to what their bodies can do… My goal for every class is for them to leave feeling motivated to come back, and see the potential in what they can achieve,” discusses Omran.
We work with girls who are very shy to strengthen them and show them there is no limit to what their bodies can do.
Many women also pole dance at The Spin to fuel for the stresses that life often throws at them; to escape. “We have a lot of mothers that come in like: ‘I’m here today so that I can get back to my normal life and listen to the nagging of my children,’” tells Hamed.
When asked about their future plans for The Spin, the pair fervently discussed branching out to multiple popular suburban locations, but for now they have entered the world of aerial silks and aerial hoops – the first academy in Egypt to offer aerial fitness classes.
Now the aerial silks and the aerial hoop are a whole new art form of fitness. “It's not like a pole. It swings with you. It's totally different, you need more balance and strength to control your body,” they explain.
With aerials garnering a high volume of interest from all those who have discovered the liberty in swinging freely from the ceiling, The Spin classes are now fully booked with the girls only getting one day off a week. “I think that’s what differentiates us from the rest of the pole dancing studios in Egypt,” continues a passionate Hamed, “the owners instruct the classes. We’re so emotionally invested in what we do and it's important for us to be leading the girls, to motivate them, I can't imagine it any other way to be honest.”
Omran adds, "I train pole 20 hours a week as well as teach classes and handle management because I need to keep up with the girls, not for anything else."
Ultimately, Hamed and Omran transformed their dreams into a day job, not only dispel its myths, or because, by nature, they wouldn’t survive a regular 9-5 day job, but at the discovery of the boundless nature of pole dancing. “My addiction started on day one. It required a lot of hard work, but this is what’s making me survive this!” Describes an excited Omran. “To me, it’s the most important thing that I have ever done in my life… The syllabus never ends, when I finish one move, I want to do the next one, and then I want to do it with one hand!” concludes Hamed with a laugh.
Check out the video of the women in action below:
Production by @MO4Network's #MO4Productions.
Video by Federico Corno.
Photography by Ezz Elmasry.