28 Dec Samoa’s own Pole-Dancer Chemical Engineer.
She’s Samoa’s first home-grown woman chemical engineer who’s worked for oil tanking companies throughout the world. And she’s also, an award-winning pole dancer and pole dance instructor.
Pele is one of 6 children of Tuaopepe Felix and Marita Wendt. She was born and raised in Samoa and then was a university scholarship student to Australia. “I’m the only one out of us six kids who did Sciences,” she explained. “Chemical engineering isn’t a field with a lot of women in it, especially not Pacific Islander women, and not when I first started in this field.” After graduation she served her bond in Samoa, working for then Mobil Oil before going to work for fuel storage companies in Fiji, NZ, the United Kingdom, Germany and Singapore. She now works in Darwin, Australia for a transport company.
Four years ago, she was looking for a fun new form of exercise. “I was tired of doing the same old thing, going to the gym and doing weights. I wanted to try a new challenge, but it had to be fun.”
She took a beginner class at the local pole dancing studio, completed the 8 week course and was hooked. “I liked that it was a women-only space and a supportive and nurturing environment. I was relatively new to Darwin and it was also a chance to meet people and make friends.”
Pele explained how pole dancing can be an empowering form of exercise for women (and men!) of all ages and body sizes. “It’s similar to gymnastics and you’re building strength as well as co-ordination. It’s a great workout and has a strong creative process to it as well.”
There are two types of pole dancing. Static pole – where the pole is stationary. And spin pole – where it’s on a rotating base. “To master each one requires different skills and strengths. I’m self-taught on the spin pole because nobody at our studio knew how to do that form of pole dancing. They call me the ‘Queen of Spin’!” she laughed.
Pele went on to take the next several pole dancing courses and within 6 months, she entered her first competition. She competed in – and won – the Intermediate Division in the Northern Territories Pole Dancer Competition with an original routine that she had choreographed herself. “I used the Te Vaka song ‘Manatu’ which is a song about being homesick. Something I could really relate to!”
Since competing, Pele has gone on to complete all the levels available for pole dancing in Darwin and she is now an instructor herself. She is an avid student of her craft and as she has eclipsed any of the instructors available in her area, she travels to different pole dancing conventions to advance her skills.
In 2014 she attended a Pole Camp in Western Australia where many of the world’s best taught different workshops. In 2015, Pele went to the Las Vegas Pole Expo. “It was amazing,” she said. “There were thousands of people who had come from all around the world to learn and to showcase their talents.”
This year, Pele attended a pole dancing retreat in Bali and next year she hopes to attend a world pole dancing camp in Barcelona, Spain.
What about the stereotypes and stigma? “You mean that pole dancing is only for strippers?” asked Pele. “If you look at the history of pole dancing, the dance and gymnast aspect of it came long before strippers co-opted it. Chinese gymnasts and dancers have been doing pole dancing for many hundreds of years.” She added, “Pole dancers – whether or not they’re strippers too – are incredible athletes. They have to be. You try lifting your own body weight and dancing those routines with control and precision.”
Pele has long been an avid health and fitness devotee. In 2010 she did the San Francisco to the Panama Canal leg on the Around the World Clipper Yacht Race. She’s done outrigger canoeing, body sculpting, run a half-marathon, and she also does yoga for flexibility and balance. She spent 8 months training and then fighting at a Muay Thai camp in Thailand. She is also a certified group fitness instructor, a Metafit coach and teaches high intensity interval sessions every week, after her regular job.
She explained that her commitment to regular exercise has been an integral part of maintaining good mental health wellness. “I’ve struggled with depression throughout my life and when I’m exercising regularly – I’m better able to handle everything that life throws at me.”
Being an instructor for pole dancing has been hugely rewarding for Pele. “I’ve seen women start dancing who couldn’t lift themselves and they work at it until they’ve gotten to the point where they can lift their own body weight,” she said. “I get a lot of joy from seeing women achieve things they didn’t think was possible. They gain strength, lose weight, and really glow with confidence.”
“I teach because it keeps me accountable. It keeps me exercising and showing up every week because I have four ladies in their 50’s who are waiting for me at the class.”
Pele has a message for all, “Look after the body you have. It’s the only place you have to live.”
- Faataua le Ola: 24 hour hotline for all of Samoa (8005433).