This blog post is an interview with the legend that is Hijabiluscious, a.k.a. Neda, the Muslim, Los Angeles-based pole dancer behind the hilarious, viral Instagram account of the same name. Neda’s content always gives me food for thought and makes laugh out loud, and I’m super honoured that she has taken the time to take part in this interview so that I can share some of her brilliance with you all.
Who is @Hijabiluscious?
For those of you who have been living under a rock, @Hijabiluscious is a currently 53,000-follower strong, laugh-out-loud, educational, memetastic Instagram account created by Neda, an Iranian, Muslim nurse practitioner living in LA.
Neda took up pole two years ago, for the sake of trying something new after finishing a two-miles race in the Ocean that she really enjoyed. She says: “I noticed there was a pole studio just a mile from me. So I thought, ‘I wanna try some ho shit!’ and I signed up for my first class in august of 2019 at Luscious Maven.” She fell in love with pole and @Hijabiluscious was born.
Neda’s first pole dance performance dates back to only four months after she took her first class. Hey, students who are waiting to get a handspring before performing: I’m looking at you!
It was after that performance that @Hijabiluscious went viral. “That was super brave of me,” Neda says of her choice to perform. “All the other performers had years experience but not me! I still performed.”
“I love performing. It’s in my nature. I loved public speaking too. So it’s a rush for me,” she says. Her dancing style is heavily influenced by beginner ballet moves, because she loves “slow movements of strength and grace.”
Pole dancing while Muslim
Even though I am not Catholic, I come from a Catholic country; most of my family are Catholic, and even those who are not have inherited Catholicism’s very conservative world view, particularly when it comes to women, sexuality and their displaying of this sexuality. This has meant that a lot of people I know frown upon my (very public and very naked) pole dance content, either to my face or behind my back.
I also often get questions from students and followers about how to deal with other people’s opinion, whether that’s at work or with conservative family members. I have my own approach to this – and I have shared it in offline and online lectures – but I was very interested in Neda’s strategies to address the relationship between pole, religion and/or conservative world views. Why? Because on the daily, her @Hijabiluscious account is targeted by what she calls the ‘Haram police,’ or people who criticise her choice to pole dance and publicly share her pole journey as contrary to the teachings of Islam. Neda’s view on people who choose to take time out of their day to criticise her is very no-bullshit:
“I make one point very clear: your disapproval doesn’t pay my bills. If you believe I’m going to hell, then I’ll see you there. I just remind my fellow Muslims that arrogance is one of the biggest sins in Islam, so if you want to make your sins known by attacking me, go ahead. I’m not the one with the spiritual problem here then.”Neda – @Hijabiluscious
Neda’s approach to dealing with never-ending judgement against her @Hijabiluscious account is very direct: “Block block block. You don’t owe people an explanation when they aren’t trying to learn anything about you. If they are just trying to gain information to further attack you, BLOCK.”
This is why she has stopped responding to most trolls. “Your mental health comes first and you don’t owe everyone access to you, especially if they are looking to provoke you,” she says.
Neda’s relationship with pole’s origins
So how does Neda reconcile her Muslim background – which, if you go by stereotypes, is very conservative – with pole dancing, a sport and an art popularised by strippers and sex workers?
Well, those of you who buy into stereotypes are going to be disappointed.
In fact, if you’ve ever hashtagged your pole videos with “#notastripper” to separate yourself from the founders of our sport, you should listen to Neda instead: “I don’t hide that pole comes from stripping. It might not be normal to a lot of people until they try their first class. It wasn’t normal to me either until I went.”
For Neda, we should just be honest about the origins of pole, because whether we hashtag our posts #notastripper or not, people’s opinion about us isn’t going to change:
“Some people are just not gonna be ok with your choices. Becoming ok with that is much easier than trying to convince others. Eventually, they change their minds when they try it themselves, or see how happy we are when partaking.”Neda – @Hijabiluscious
“I don’t think being religiously conservative means believing innocent people shouldn’t be safe at work,” Neda adds, talking about the whorephobia that is rife among some factions of feminism and some parts of the pole industry. “I think people mistaken tradition for rigidity. You don’t have to embrace someone’s lifestyle to believe [sex workers] deserve rights,” she says. “Plenty of people wouldn’t wear a hijab themselves, but they still believe I deserve to be safe. I believe the same thing for sex workers.”
Neda’s thoughts on Muslim inclusivity in the pole industry
Inclusivity has been a hot topic in the pole industry for a while. By assuming that the stereotypical pole dancer is cisgender, straight, femme, thin and white, we are forgetting to cater for people with different experiences within our industry – and that affects everything from polers’ experiences during class to the polewear brands that they have access to.
Neda, for instance, pole dances in stretchy, grippy leggings. Why? Because of privacy, an issue we don’t talk about enough in pole. When talking about making pole dance classes more inclusive for Muslim students, she says: “Stop assuming everyone is ok with being in the background of your videos. Privacy is very much taken for granted in pole studios, and that’s why I wear a hijab even in women’s classes.”
Neda argues that, even unintentionally, a lot of people tend to post videos with other students in the background without their consent, meaning she can’t be sure that someone won’t accidentally show her in a bikini in the back of their videos. “That’s how we can become more inclusive – understanding that regardless of religion, not everyone wants to be public about pole and that’s okay,” she adds.
@Hijabiluscious’ pole dance journey and beyond
Neda’s @Hijabiluscious pole dancing account has taken off, gone viral and created some of the best memes out there. Her ability to make fun of herself while celebrating the art she loves is really unique – as you can see below.
So what’s next for her?
Neda is open to performing again and to competing, too. But she has her eye on another future milestone, for when she grows as a pole dancer and a businesswoman: “One day I’d love to have my own studio.”
Can’t wait to see that happen!
Follow Neda at @Hijabiluscious.