Gwen Holbrey is the owner and head instructor of The Watermelon Studios. As a child, she grew up trying multiple styles of dance and went on to complete a degree in Drama. After attending pole classes and becoming head instructor for another school, she took the plunge and opened her own business. Her studio quickly became a Scottish success story, coming second in the Off The Pole best studio awards and attracting pole artists from all over the world, visiting to teach exclusive workshops. The school also attracts world class sports photographers looking to shoot both Gwen and her Watermelon ‘Pips’ (students).
With classes booked to capacity every week, Gwen has just opened her second school, introducing Zumba, Body Blitz and Yoga alongside her famous pole classes. Most recently, The Watermelon Studio was the first pole studio to get to the final of the Edinburgh Business Awards 2018, and proudly took home the Community Award.
1. Opening your own pole studio isn’t something that a lot of women in their early 20’s are prepared to take a ‘dream job’ risk on. What inspired you to just go for it?
I never really thought of it as a ‘dream job’, it was more ‘I have so many ideas I want to try it!’ and it’s just been non-stop since then. I’ve just kept going, enjoying building this company and gaining more knowledge. It’s only more recently that I’ve managed to step back and realise how much I love this job and how lucky I am to see such extraordinary people on their pole journeys.
2. You make no excuses for the fact that pole dancing comes from strippers, and not Chinese pole arts (as some may argue). Do you think it’s important, from a feminist stance, for women to embrace this?
The first pole studio was opened by a stripper, so why would I make excuses?! We wouldn’t be here today without strippers!
I was quite ignorant when I first started and would say ‘I don’t wear heels, I do pole fitness’ … I now have 13 pairs, whoops! The more I met people in this industry and my knowledge of the industry broadened, the more my ignorance faded. I’ve found either people understand it or they don’t, and it’s not worth my energy to entertain the negative comments.
I was teaching about 10 women a couple of weeks ago and it suddenly hit me, I said ‘how many of you could stand half naked in a room with 9 other women and feel more confident in yourself than you ever have before?’ This is the confidence that pole brings these woman, men and myself. I feel I have hit the jackpot with this job as each week I’m doing something different, fun and freeing, how many people can say that in their day jobs? It’s an escape like no other, an escape from judgement, an escape from sizes, shapes, age etc, we’re all there together, to pole.
I have seen the change in confidence which pole has brought to almost all our students, the power that the woman (and men!) feel. They feel strong, they feel sexy, they feel physically fit and in control. We do this purely for ourselves, and if we want to be sexy it’s our choice. To me, a feminist is when a woman gets to do whatever she wants no matter what, whether she wants to dance naked or in a snow suit, it’s her choice. A ‘feminist’ should never tell another woman what she should do/wear, she should support her choices no matter what.
3. Pole dancing and pole sports have become increasingly popular in the last few years, why do you think that is?
I think there are a few reasons for this. I think word of mouth has been a big part of it, as well as people seeing the physical results on how strong and fit it can make you. I believe people want to be a part of this amazing community we have, and people realise how fun and freeing it is. There are now more studios opening all over the world allowing for more people to try it. Social media also plays such a big part in it, with photos and videos going viral. We also have amazing artists in our community promoting their skills, like Doubles World Champions Terri Walsh and Lisette Krol, and the amazing Tiff Finney on Britain’s Got Talent, etc.
4. You’ve just opened your second studio – What have been the main highlights and challenges in the running of your business?
Kristy Sellars! My absolute pole idol, who became my friend and then performed her famous Toxic routine in the studio. She has been there from day one with her amazing advice and support.
The other main highlight has been the students! When I’ve had a bad day or getting stressed I’ll see a student get their dream move or an achievement they’ve been working hard on and it reminds me why I do this. Highlights have also been meeting some of my pole idols and becoming their friend, doing amazing photo shoots (one underwater!), wearing amazing outfits (thank you Pole Junkie!), meeting so many amazingly talented people, and of course getting to pole!
Owning a studio is a lot harder than I ever thought it would be and it does have many challenges. Many things I didn’t even think of- organising bin collections, cleaning, stock
taking, book keeping, music licences, sanitary bins, staff training, and the crazy amount of admin! It does get slightly easier the more you do it, but now I’ve opened another studio I am stressed all over again! But definitely worth it 😉
5. One of your male students recently posted a ‘boys do pole too’ photo. You are clearly working on changing perceptions of the sport. How do you go about reiterating that pole dancing is a mixed gender activity?
I don’t think we actively try, it just happens! We don’t treat men any differently to our woman students so I don’t feel it’s a big issue to make. I just loved the T-shirt so had to share a picture! There are many amazing influential male pole artists that are taking the pole community by storm, showing all sides of it!
And just for fun…
6. You named your business after a watermelon, and we’ve heard you get sent lots of pictures of watermelon merchandise. What’s the weirdest thing you’ve seen?
A watermelon ukulele!! It was a gift, I love it and it’s on display at our new studio!
7. What is the most memorable class you have ever taken, be it pole, or something completely unrelated?
Ah I’ve taught and attended so many it’s really hard to choose! I have attended many workshops by Tiff Finney and they always stand out because they are just so much fun and I am constantly inspired by her!
8. You and your instructors post little personal stories of shopping trips to shops you love, Victoria’s Secrets being one of them. What do think Victoria’s secret is?
She poles 😉
9. If you had a brainwashing machine, what would you use it for?
I would brainwash students to not touch the studio mirrors!!! Haha!
10. What was the last thing you dressed up as for fancy dress?
A Watermelon!! No joke!
Learn more about The Watermelon Studio on their website.