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Davis, California

Monday, June 24, 2024

Rocknasium’s second annual Pole Studio Showcase highlighted a vibrant community

The local rock climbing gym’s pole dance showcase put on an engaging production


By GRETA FOEHR — features@theaggie.org 


Rocknasium, Davis’ local climbing gym and pole studio, hosted its second annual Pole Studio Showcase on April 20, 2024. The showcase featured a variety of pole dancing performances and select belly dance acts. 

Imani Latif, a UC Davis alum and manager at Rocknasium, started the Rocknasium Pole Studio in 2016 when the studio that she was teaching at closed down. She decided to start teaching classes at Rocknasium and converted the yoga studio into a pole studio. Since then, the program has grown exponentially, with thousands of people passing through her classes. There are now four other instructors, but she was the sole teacher until 2021. 

Last year, Latif decided to host a pole showcase for her students, a chance to demonstrate what they had been working on all year. 

“I wanted it to be like a recital for people who want to show their friends and family the things that they have been working on,” Latif said. “In 2023, we had enough students, enough instructors and enough bandwidth to be able to put on a show. And then this year was the expansion of that.” 

Last year, the showcase was in Rocknasium’s weight training area, which was too small to accommodate the growing popularity of the pole dance program. This year, Mark Leffler, Rocknasium’s owner, built a stage over what is normally the gym’s walkway, creating a theater-like setup where the audience sat in the middle room of the gym under the climbing roof. 

Jonathan Serna, a Davis resident and Rocknasium employee, was in charge of the lighting and filming for the showcase. He and his team climbed the gym walls to set up static lines to bring up the film equipment. They recorded the entire show, with the audience in the frame, from a point on the wall directly across from the stage. During the show, Serna also recorded the performers closely. 

“It’s a very engaging experience to be the one to film,” Serna said. “I get to be in sync with the performers, with their movement, with the music, with their performance, with their emotions and feelings. And then, of course, I get to be a part of the audience too.”

Serna will be releasing a two-minute highlight reel of the event on Rocknasium’s social media accounts. 

The Studio Showcase not only had an elaborate backdrop and lighting setup but also engaging performances and an ecstatic audience. The audience was made up of friends and families of the performers, as well as Rocknasium members who wanted to experience the pole studio’s community and hard work. The event had around 150 attendees. 

Serna appreciated the energy that the audience brought to the event.

“The audience was generally quite fanatic,” Serna said. “There was a lot of whooping, yelling, cursing, screaming and loving. It was a great turnout in terms of audience entertainment and reception.”

The performers put countless hours of work into their acts, and it paid off. They started attending weekly practices for the showcase in February, when Latif gathered a group of her students that were interested in creating a dance for the show. Every performer picked their own song.

“They have to pick their own music and their own kind of style because I want their personality to show through,” Latif said. “I think it’s fun when we have this huge mix of music.” 

Every performer seemed to be exactly in their element, and because of that, each dance was completely different from the next. Latif succeeded in her goal of highlighting not just the skills of her performers, but their personalities and styles as well.

The weekly classes started with clinics taught by Latif about performing and building choreography. These clinics morphed into a time for performers to hone skills from class that they wanted to include in their performances. They first established their major pole tricks, then perfected the dance and performance aspects of their choreography.

Latif’s favorite part about the pole show and the process leading up to it was getting to see her students perform something they worked so hard on in front of an enthusiastic crowd. She said that during the showcase, everyone performed better than they did in any rehearsal.

“Everyone really was feeding off of the energy of the crowd and went full out,” Latif said. “A lot of people added extra little moves and looks and expressions. It wasn’t just like, ‘I’m going to do my routine in front of people.’ People were on stage performing. And it was cool to see that mental shift.”

The pole and belly dance community brings a vibrant energy to Rocknasium, and the pole showcase is an opportunity for them to show that Rocknasium is more than just a climbing gym. 

“The way that we’re really able to take this [rock climbing] space and transform it to hold space for something that isn’t climbing, I think is really cool,” Latif said.

Serna appreciated the new angle that pole dancing brings to a rock climbing gym. 

“It’s so much more than, ‘How long can I climb?’ or ‘How hard can I go?’ There’s an artistic aspect to these performances,” Serna said. “It’s not just about showing off strength but also showing off the meaning behind the movement: emotionally, mentally, sometimes physically.”

Sheena Cuccia, a UC Davis alum and belly dance teacher at Rocknasium, performed in the showcase, as did three of her belly dance students. Her favorite part about being in the showcase was experiencing the range of acts that were included in the show. 

Cuccia also commented on the crossover between rock climbing and dance. 

“I really think that dance can play a big part in rock climbing, getting [in] that flow and in tune with your body,” Cuccia said. “I think it’s a crossover that people don’t quite expect, but that works really well together.” 

Rocknasium’s pole dance show highlighted an underappreciated aspect of Rockniusm’s community, and everyone in attendance brought enthusiasm and appreciation to the event. Rocknasium’s pole and belly dance studio brings a lively community to the climbing gym, and the show’s production as well as the dancers’ hard work, made for an incredible show. 

Find information about future events or pole classes on their website, rocknasium.com, and look out for the recap video on their Instagram, @rocknasium.  


Written by: Greta Foehr — features@theaggie.org


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