Natasha Wang quit her desk job as a publicist nine years ago, and since then, she’s traveled to nearly every corner of the globe inspiring women everywhere, in spite of language and cultural barriers.
Her job title for the past nine years? A professional pole athlete and instructor.
The 44-year-old U.S. pole champion has performed across several countries as a solo artist on stage and on TV, collecting prestigious titles such as the 2018 International Pole Championship (IPC) pole art champion, 2013 IPC Ultimate Champion, 2011 U.S. pole dance champion, 2010 U.S. Pole Dance Federation (USPDF) West Coast Champion and USPDF’s 2015 “Instructor of the Year.”
In 2011, she even appeared on “The View” to teach Sherri Shepherd the basics of pole dancing.
I caught Natasha just before she was off to teach her first morning class of the day at BeSpun pole dance studio in Hollywood. The envious life of a world-famous pole instructor has taken her all over the world but for now, she was back in her sun-lit home of Los Angeles.
“Sometimes when I can’t sleep at night I go through the list and I think it’s over 60 countries,” she said casually as I marveled over the extent of her travels.
Without a doubt, her passport would easily put any travel Instagram influencer to shame in an instant.
“I really loved teaching in Israel,” she told me. “I think as somebody who was going to Israel for the first time, you know, you have these sorts of conceptions about the separation of the Jews and the Muslims.”
“And here was this studio that had Jewish pole dancers, and Muslim pole dancers, and Christian pole dancers altogether, stripped of the clothes that they would wear walking out in the streets, so everybody looks completely the same.”
Despite the potential differences or barriers, pole dancing seems to have the extraordinary ability to bring people together from all walks of life.
“It was really beautiful. It was a women’s only studio and inside, there was definitely a feeling of sisterhood amongst all of the women there.”
But before she became the international pole icon that she is today, Natasha started off with zero experience in dance or gymnastics at the age of 30.
“I remember feeling very awkward and uncomfortable,” she admitted, thinking back to her very first class.
“The friends that I started with would say that I was a fast learner, but I don’t remember it that way.”
She added jokingly, “If you talk to anyone who’s ever taken a pole class for the first time I think very few would be like, ‘I walked into that class and I left feeling like, wow, I really feel comfortable wearing heels and rolling around and touching myself.’”
For the first couple of years, Natasha kept her pole journey under tight wraps. While films like “Hustlers” have brought the world of pole into the spotlight more recently, the attitude was entirely different a decade ago.
“When I first started, pole was not mainstream yet and it was still something that a lot of the students did secretively,” she recalled.
“And so it was like this secret coven of women who would come together once a week and roll around in the dark.”
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This is when her stage name “Cricket” was born. While the name may seem like a symbolic choice, it’s actually an ode to her beloved childhood dog of the same name.
Natasha eventually shed her stage name as pole began to gain more visibility in the mainstream.
Soon, she proudly revealed to friends, family, and coworkers about what exactly she had been up to. While the reactions were mostly positive, quite unsurprisingly, she was also met with confusion.
“I had some friends who were like, ‘you went to college, why are you paying money to learn how to be an exotic dancer?’ They didn’t understand. They thought it was like the antithesis of being an empowered woman,” she said.
While this balance of pole and a full-time job as a publicist was manageable in the beginning, her newfound fame after being crowned the USPDF champion in New York left her with a big decision.
“I came back to LA, went back to work and tried to keep teaching workshops and keep going on tour,” Natasha said.
“But I found out that it was going to be really hard for me to stay focused at work and be able to travel around.”
At the age of 35, she chose the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of traveling around the world as a champion pole instructor.
“I told my boss that I’d go back to work in two years. I was going to take a two-year sabbatical.”
“Then after the two years was over, she called me. She was like, ‘Oh, you ready to come back to work?’ And I was like, ‘Umm give me another year…'” Natasha said as she started laughing.
Since then, nearly a decade has passed and it’s safe to say, Natasha won’t be leaving behind her pole career to return to a desk job any time soon.
For many Asian families, this decision to leave behind a stable 9 to 5 job for a career in the arts would be met with outrage and fury. But Natasha wasn’t the first member of her family to choose a path into arts and fitness.
“My family came from Taiwan, but they are very nontraditional,” she explained. “Like my father and I kind of had parallel career paths in a way.”
Natasha’s father was a computer programmer and the respected owner of a kung fu school. Much like herself, her father competed in martial arts and traveled to judge competitions around the world.
“When I told him that I was quitting my job, he was like, ‘Oh, well why?’ He didn’t understand why I couldn’t try to juggle both. He was a little disappointed that I chose that path,” she told me.
“But my mom was always very supportive and oddly they never pressured me to have children.”
To my surprise, despite all of her successes and the thousands of women who look up to her, Natasha was not immune from feeling the pressures of the life of a performer and the insecurities that came with it, especially as a pole dancer without a dance or gymnastics background.
“Not that long ago, I was kind of thinking about the fact that my father never sort of looked at me and said, ‘I think my daughter may have the potential to do something physical, maybe I’m going to nurture this talent and bring her under my wing and, you know, turn her into a Kung Fu champion’. He never did that,” she opened up.
“I think as I’ve gotten older, I realized that the root of a lot of insecurities I have as a performer and competitor, even now, there’s a feeling of… my father never believed in me, so how can I believe in myself?”
Even with these doubts and internal struggles, Natasha rose above her competitors year after year. And after taking some time off from competing, she recently decided to return for another major pole competition in November.
“I’m 44 now and by the time the competition happens, I’ll be 45,” she said. “Part of me is like, Whoa, I wonder if my body’s going to change now until then, in terms of like, if you’re getting older, your reaction times are slower and it’s harder to build muscle.”
In most pole competitions, the dancers are separated by age groups. Women in their 30s are generally put into the “Seniors” division, while women in their 40s are placed in the “Masters”, and the women in their 50s go into the “Grand Master” division.
“The competition asked me whether I wanted to compete in the regular women’s division or the Masters,” she told me.
“I think there’s definitely the stigma of that division,” she added. “They just don’t get the same visibility and the same recognition.”
The topic of ageism, unfortunately, is something all female athletes face down the line. And in terms of pole, this is the same decision many dancers in her age group face.
“One way to combat it is to, embrace the fact that we’re all over 40, compete in the Master’s division and then make that division really badass so that people pay attention to it,” she considered.
“I think we can still compete in Women’s because we did the last time we competed in 2018 and I won Pole Art,” Natasha said about herself and her fellow over-40 elite pole dancers.
“So if we could still beat the women who are younger than us in the regular women’s, then you know, maybe we should just stay.”
Regardless of what she ultimately decides, it’s clear female athletes are rarely ever held back by their age. If male athletes can stay in the limelight and compete well into their 40s and 50s, these highly trained female pole dancers won’t stop dominating the industry any time soon.
While the path that she chose years ago may not have been the most conventional, Natasha Wang today, is an inspiration to thousands of pole dancers around the world. As we wrapped up our conversation, she prepared to head over to BeSpun, where she trains the future pole champions of tomorrow.
At studios like BeSpun, through teaching an emotive art form, Natasha helps to empower women coming from all walks of life: victims of sexual trauma searching to reclaim a certain sexual power, exotic dancers, and athletes alike.
“There’s the physical aspect and then underneath, there’s this really deep emotional part of it too,” she said.
“I think a lot of women are initially attracted to pole for reasons such as I want to lose weight, I want to be sexy… So they, they go into it maybe more for vanity reasons,” Natasha explained.
“But they learn to embrace their inner strength or they learn to appreciate their bodies for what their bodies can do rather than how their bodies look. And so they develop a much healthier relationship with their bodies than they had before.”
Artists like Natasha have a tremendous effect on making a difference in individual women’s lives and helping to grow and empower them. Asian American women are seeing more and more representation everywhere in the media, in the arts, and even in politics. It’s certainly incredible to be able to add a Taiwanese American champion pole artist to the list of role models for future generations.