As a key figurehead of an industry fast undergoing a makeover, top pole dancer Amy Hazel pushes herself beyond the limits of the human body, combining strength, flexibility and technique. 

Australian competitive pole dancer and aerialist Amy Hazel is making her mark on the global performance art scene in an industry that may soon become an Olympic sport. As the winner of Miss Pole Dance Australia 2017/18, she is known for her death-defying acrobatic moves, pulled off spinning at 15 feet in the air, that combine incredible levels of strength, flexibility and technique. Dubbed the Pole Dancing Unicorn because of her vibrant hair, Amy first began dancing eight years ago. Now, she has competed internationally from Melbourne to Beijing. Having struggled with an eating disorder since her high school days in Hong Kong, pole dancing became a therapy through which she found both new purpose and a new outlook. “Pole is a very accepting sport and there is minimal discrimination for the body you have,” she says. “Unlike other forms of dance such as ballet or gymnastics, I definitely feel that pole is not a cause of body dysmorphia or eating disorders. If anything, it makes you accept your body more.”

With a love for dance that began when she was six years old, Amy has always felt at home performing. “For me, it’s about finding a song that inspires me to blast the music loud in a theatre, have a big stage full of lights and smoke, and just dance my heart out. It’s such a heart-warming feeling to hear the crowd scream,” she says of her first competition in 2012.

For her, pole dancing is a sport that has helped her build up her self esteem. Having battled anorexia and bulimia since her teens, she learnt to regain control of her life through her pole journey, channelling her energies into earning her place among elite dancers in an experience she has blogged extensively about. “I’ve found that, only by being honest to yourself and others, can you build the support you really need to recover. I will always have thoughts, but I have learned to accept the changes my body goes through and know that I am my own worst critic.”

Now a professional at the top of her field, Amy has watched the pole industry evolve and develop as it has entered the mainstream fitness scene. “When I first started, the industry was quite small and pole dancing was a bit taboo,” she recalls. With more fitness-oriented studios disowning the industry’s strip club origins, the pole community has been divided into two: those that subscribe to the increasingly popular hashtag #notastripper, and the reactionary hashtag #yesastripper that seeks to achieve widespread recognition that the adult entertainment industries also deserve ample enforcement of basic labour rights and regulations.

Amy sits somewhere between the two with her versatile style that ranges from the grunge of American rap-rock band Limp Bizkit to the shimmering allure of Lady Marmalade, although she laughs, “I do love my exotic showgirl style though!” Determined to broaden her reach and her ability to help others struggling with eating disorders, she has enrolled at the Southern School of Natural Therapies. For her, the two passions come together in an enthusiasm for health, healing, and fitness. “I want to help people feel better about themselves from the inside out,” she explains. With her proven determination, she’s well on her way.