Professional Pole Dancer + Co-Owners / Pole Dance Academy
If like us, you think the terms Fonji, Genie and Seahorse are names of characters featured on the Lord of the Rings then like us… you would be wrong. Believe it or not, these words are the names of popular pole dancing positions, and these positions are perfected daily by today’s guests, World Champions and Entrepreneurs Maddie Sparkle and Michelle Shimmy.
Type “Shimmy” or “Sparkle” into YouTube and you will find a plethora of videos featuring sisters Maddie and Michelle, doing their thing… their passion. These women stand out in a land of lycra and sequins because not only are they beasts in business (They started the Pole Dance Academy in 2009 and now have three studios in Australia) but they are also passionate advocates of women’s health, strength and confidence. Maddie started her colourful career as a graphic and fashion designer, while Michelle was (and still is) a Lawyer. With both impressive career backgrounds, what makes this #careerstory powerful is that through pole dance, these babes were able to truly morph into and discover their ultimate passion, and inadvertently enable their students to feel this passion as well.
From Lawyer to Pole Dance? Today’s #careerstory is one that you will not want to miss. Please meet Shimmy and Sparkle…
Hi girls, can you start by telling us where you grew up and how your experience shaped the person you are, and the career that you are in today?
Maddie: I grew up in Rose Bay and went to Kambala. School was very strict and we didn’t have a lot of freedom or advice on how to start up a new business. I never even knew it was an option. When I left school I studied fashion design and studied business and realised that it was possible to start something from scratch. You don’t have to work for someone else. You can make your career whatever you want.
Michelle: I grew up in the eastern suburbs of Sydney. I started off in a public school and then I got a scholarship to go to an all girls private school. It was a very conservative school, and I lived a bit of a double life. By day I was a high achieving school prefect, and on the weekends I was bit of a wild child. I loved partying and I loved dancing. At school I played a lot of sport, especially gymnastics, which was one of my favourite activities. I did gymnastics at school and at a local club. I suppose my love of dancing and of gymnastics created the foundations for my love of pole dance later in life.
Where did you go to High School and how was that experience for you?
Maddie: High school was very strict and I didn’t really love my school years the way most people did. I couldn’t wait to get out of school and travel and get away from all of the rules. I always had my own ideas about life and they didn’t really fit in with school regulations.
Michelle: I went to high school at Kambala, a private school in Rose Bay. I loved school and all the activities they offered, but the one thing I hated was how restrictive and conformist it was. I was a very opinionated kid – probably a real pain in the butt! I used to get in trouble for arguing with teachers. I was very curious about the world and I used to question everything and I’m sure that made me a very annoying student. Nevertheless, I did well at school and so when I finished I went to university and did an Arts/Law degree. I wanted to be an international lawyer. I never thought I would grow up to be a professional pole dancer.
Did your high school play an important role in helping you choose your further education and future career?
Maddie: No not at all, I think most of my teachers would be very surprised to hear I am a pole dancer.
Michelle: No. If anything, it held me back for a long time. It was just expected that I would go to university and do law and then be a lawyer for the rest of my life. There was never any suggestion that it might be possible to create your own career rather than follow a predictable pathway. There was no spirit of entrepreneurship. The conservative attitude of the school made me extremely apprehensive about the idea of breaking free and doing my own thing. All my friends at the time thought I was crazy.
Did you complete any internships or work experience placements in high school? Tell us about that experience.
Maddie: I worked as a graphic designer and fashion designer for a while and I always loved the more creative jobs. I wanted to be a fashion designer for a while and I am happy that pole dancing has also allowed me to create our own range of pole wear.
Michelle: As soon as I turned 14 and 9 months I went out and got a job, selling bread in a bakery. Before that, I used to babysit. I always wanted to work and earn my own money. Being self-reliant was always very important to me. I saved up my money so that I could travel when I was old enough.I did a work experience placement in year 10 as part of the school’s work experience program. It was in a barrister’s chambers. It was my first taste of how boring life as a lawyer could be! But I still wanted to be a lawyer.
Did you go to College, University, Tafe or another equivalent? Take us through the courses that you studied and why you chose them?
Maddie: I studied fashion design at Tafe, at the same time as taking pole classes. I hadn’t decided how serious I was about pole dancing yet so I was still excited to start a fashion design career, I only pole danced in my free time and days off. Now I wish I had of spent more of my time training and less time studying.
Michelle: I studied Arts/Law at UNSW. During my studies, I went to France for a year to study there. It was very challenging because all the courses were in French, but I loved it. I learnt to speak French, and I got a job in a bar which helped me to improve my language skills faster. After I finished my year in France, I deferred university for one semester and went to Italy with my sister. We studied Italian and I found that I picked it up quite quickly because I could already speak French. All the courses I studied had an international flavour. I really wanted to work in international law or diplomacy. My dream was to work for the United Nations. I just wanted to explore the world.
Tell us about your career journey so far. Who you have worked for, and explain any highlights.
Maddie: I worked for one year in fashion design and then decided to open Pole Dance Academy with my sister. I was going to work on the business and my sister was going to teach classes but it wasn’t long until I became completely obsessed with pole dancing and decided to train harder so I could compete. The first few years were very hard work. We were exhausted and spent every waking hour growing our studio and training to become stronger and most flexible.
Michelle: When I finished my studies, I applied for an internship at the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, which is based in The Hague in the Netherlands. I was beyond excited when they accepted me as an intern in the Office of the Prosecutor. It was an amazing experience to work at the ICTY, but it definitely shattered some of my illusions about how the UN operates and what a career in international law would be like. Still, I thought that I would apply for a job there once my internship was over. Two things happened to prevent me from doing that. My boyfriend at the time came to visit me, and made it pretty clear that he wouldn’t want to live in The Hague. But more importantly, my mum got sick, and I had to come home to care for her. Once I was back in Sydney, I accepted the offer of a graduate position at Clayton Utz, a big law firm.
There were parts of working at Clayton Utz that I loved, but most of the time I was very unhappy there. I hated sitting in an office all day reviewing documents and doing work that didn’t challenge me in any way. I felt like I was wasting my life. Then an opportunity came up to join the firm’s Pro Bono team for a short time, while one of the solicitors in the team was on maternity leave. I loved it. The work was more meaningful, and I felt like I was doing something really worthwhile. We did a lot of work for the victims of violent crime to help them get compensation, we assisted indigenous clients to make Stolen Wages claims, we did a lot of anti-discrimination matters – the work was great. I even got the opportunity to spend four months in Kununurra in the Kimberley region of WA, on secondment at a Community Legal Centre. We worked with remote communities and it was an incredible experience.
Eventually I had to go back to the corporate side of the firm. I worked in Competition Law, and I found some of the work interesting but for the most part I was pretty unhappy there. I didn’t want to spend my life in an office. I kept thinking there must be more to life. When my sister and I decided to open Pole Dance Academy together, I quit Clayton Utz and I got a job at Redfern Legal Centre, which is a community legal centre in the suburb where I lived at the time. I was so happy to get the job because I was finally able to work full time doing the kind of work I liked best – helping disadvantaged individuals access legal services. Also, the hours were much more reasonable, so I was able to work full time at RLC and then go to the studio in the evenings to teach, which is something I could never have done at Clayton Utz, where I would often finish work very late at night.
So for three years I worked full time at RLC by day, and worked at the studio at night and on the weekends. It was difficult and exhausting, but I was so happy to be doing what I loved that it didn’t matter.
How did you get into the job that you are in now?
Maddie: Hard work and passion. If I didn’t love dancing as much as I do, I don’t think we would have been able to work as hard as we did for the first few years. It was exhausting both physically and mentally. Some days it was very hard to get out of bed. Strength and flexibility training makes your body ache.
Michelle: My sister’s friend suggested we should try a pole dance class. I didn’t particularly want to, as I thought it sounded silly. But my sister convinced me to come along and try it out, and so I did. Right from my very first class I fell in love with pole. It was so beautiful and graceful, and surprisingly difficult. I thought my teacher was so gorgeous and I loved watching her dance. I wanted to be able to do what she did. I had been taking classes for about three years when one day I went to watch Miss Pole Dance Australia. I watched the competitors performing on stage and I thought to myself, I would love to be up there one day. Then I told myself it was impossible, because if anyone from Clayton Utz or any of our clients knew about it, it would ruin my career as a lawyer. Then I realised that it seemed very strange to not pursue something I was wildly passionate about (pole dance) in order to pursue something I didn’t really like at all (corporate law). The thought remained with me for a while, in the back of my mind.
Then one day I had a performance review at work. The partner I met with told me that they thought I wasn’t 110% committed to working at the firm, and they questioned how serious I was about it. At the time, I had been working weekends and late nights, and I couldn’t believe they were still asking me to prove myself to them. I was very upset about it, and ultimately it was a wake up call for me. I realised that they were right – I wasn’t 110% committed to working at the firm. In fact, I didn’t want to be there at all. So I spoke to my sister about going into business together, we drew up a business plan, found a studio space, signed a lease, and we were off!
It was the best decision I ever made.
What is the hardest part of your current job?
Maddie: The hardest part is making sure everything runs smoothly at home when we are travelling overseas. We need to make sure the people we hire to run our studios are experienced and very capable. Sometimes we are not contactable for a few days so if decisions need to be made without us, we need people we can trust to make the best decision for the business.
Michelle: There is no off button. You have to answer emails and messages constantly. I also run an international pole dance competition called Pole Theatre, and it’s in over 15 countries worldwide and in all continents except Antarctica – so I often get questions at very odd hours. I travel a lot to MC, judge and perform at competitions and to teach workshops, and while it’s amazing to get to see the world doing what I love, the constant jetlag is hard and I get homesick. Also, injuries and fatigue are an issue because my job is so physical. But other than that, it’s the best job in the world!
What does a day a typical business day look like for you in your current job?
Maddie: It differs every day. When I am at home in Sydney, I normally wake up and work from home for a few hours, then I am free to walk my dogs etc. I work most nights teaching from 5:30pm till 8:30pm. I run many competitions and also online tutorials so I need to make time to work on those as well.
Michelle: I usually wake up at 7 or 8 am, and I stay in bed for an hour. I use this time to just relax, meditate and answer emails/messages. Then I get up and walk my dog down at Bondi Beach (which is where I live). Sometimes I’ll stretch or train my handstands or go for a swim. Then I’ll meet a friend for coffee. My mornings are very chilled because I don’t finish work until 10 or 11 at night. In the afternoon I do admin work at home on my laptop, attend meetings, check on our various projects like our range of pole and active wear Shimmy & Sparkle, pick up things we need for the studio and generally run errands. I speak to my sister and our studio manager many times during the day to see what needs doing for the studios.
In the evenings, I teach classes or choreograph routines. After classes there is always more admin work to follow up on. Then its time to lock up the studios and head home, at about 10.30 or 11 pm. When I get home I stay up a bit later to watch netflix to unwind (currently I’m obsessed with American Horror Story – which doesn’t really help me to unwind!). Then I go to bed.
Who has been your hero, or greatest inspiration growing up and why?
Maddie: My sister, I learnt early on it life how to be loyal, honest and supportive. She helped me through many tough times and without her most of what we have created together wouldn’t be possible. I couldn’t run our empire without her and she couldn’t run it without me.
Michelle: I draw inspiration from many different people, I couldn’t name just one. I’ve always admired the women in my life who have managed to build themselves successful careers in male dominated fields. I’ve had many strong female role models in my life, who have taught me the value in believing in yourself, being decisive and firm about your decisions, speaking with confidence and purpose, and not tolerating the people who don’t want to take you seriously because you’re a woman in a male dominated field. Working in law taught me a lot, and even now that I’m in a female dominated field, I still carry those lessons with me. My sister and business partner Maddie is one of my biggest inspirations. We are very close and she’s just awesome in every possible way.
What advice would you give girls who are interested in your career?
Maddie: Get ready to work. It looks easy but it is definitely not. My job is physically demanding and very, very stressful at times. You need to love it with so much passion to want to work this hard.
Michelle: Be prepared to work extremely hard to build your business. Looking back, I sometimes wonder if I had have known just how hard I would have to work in those first three to four years, would I have done it? You probably won’t even be able to pay yourself for the first couple of years (we didn’t). It’s very hard to set up a business. Most businesses fail in the first two years and I can understand why. You really need to have a lot of passion and dedication to succeed. I think I would also let people know that success can come at a personal cost. It’s hard to balance relationships and work, and if you don’t get that balance right, your personal relationships can suffer.
Now to our favourite part of the interview, can you please tell us your favourite websites, books, social media accounts, etc that you turn to constantly for inspiration?
- Favourite Blogs or Websites: I don’t really have a favourite website but I definitely use the internet to search for the answers to all my questions. I never had anyone to guide me through how to run a business so if I didn’t know the answer to something, I would research and google looking for answers.
- Name an Instagram Account or Snapchat that you can’t go a day without checking: All of the people I follow inspire me daily. I love checking contortionists around the world to be inspired and I check our studio Instagram daily to see what all my students are getting up to when I am not around – @poledanceacademy
- Books: Anything to take me to another world.
- People: @michelleshimmy, @marioncrampe, @olgakoda
- Favourite Blogs or Websites: I read online newspapers and my Facebook/Instagram feeds, which keep me up to date on the pole world.
- Name an Instagram Account or Snapchat that you can’t go a day without checking: All the people I follow inspire me – that’s why I follow them!
- Books: I read books for fun and diversion – I don’t read business related books
- People: my sister, Amy Hazel, Marion Crampe, Daria, Kira Noire, Olga Koda, and my Pole Dance Academy instructors who are all amazing