Interview with Cassie Pickersgill

Cassie Pickersgill is a tall, leggy, box dyed redhead pole dance instructor and performer, the other half of The Pole Nook pole photography and dance studio, as well as a sex worker and a theatre trained dancer with eight years of vocational dance training. Known for her miles-long splits and her badass choreo, Cassie has always been one of my favourite performers, and I’ve become even more inspired by her since getting to know her. I’m super excited to have her here on the blog, where she talks about everything from going to dance boarding school to cheerleading at the Indian Premier League, from winning international pole competitions to starting a business at 25, all the way to working in strip clubs and performing at iconic London events. 

@cassiepickersgill shot by @acalculatedrisk

Cassie’s pole dance style 

I first found Cassie on Instagram, not just because she was an instructor in the London pole dance scene, but also because she was one of the few people I could find who regularly danced to rock – I was like, YES! We exist! 

Cassie describes herself as a dancer with a love of metal and the macabre. She adores bringing powerful routines with a dark undertone to life (especially if they include being covered in fake blood). 

Even though her style is often classed as flow, Cassie says: “I don’t feel like my style fits into the box that’s given to me – I guess I do flow, but I don’t flow like most people. Definitely prefer dancing to rock music, I like a bit of power – I’m not a hard style dancer, but I do like a kip every now and then!” 

I’ve always been in awe of Cassie’s style because, unlike me and my love for chaos, she delivers very precise and yet very powerful and felt performances to rock music. Her splits are absolute goals, and she gives the best face on stage.

@cassiepickersgill shot by at Eden Pole Competition

We met for the first time when we were both teaching at Akila Pole Studio, where we got together for a training session where we achieved nothing: Cassie tried to teach me Bird of Paradise, I tried to teach her Brass Bridge, we failed, we laughed, we kept in touch. Since then, we’ve been regularly getting together to rehearse for competitions and performances, and we sat down for this interview while enjoying some much needed post-training pizza and beer. In this interview, we cover the experiences that have influenced and shaped her career. 

Before the pole: Cassie’s dance training 

Cassie’s skills and stage presence are the results of years of hard work: she has been training as a dancer since the age of 11. 

Originally from Jersey, Channel Islands, Cassie chose to attend a vocational dance boarding school because, at the time, she wanted to be a ballerina. She says: “I’d been dancing since I was 3, as children do, I said to my mum that I wanted to do this, but when you’re in Jersey… you can’t really do that in Jersey.” 

So she auditioned for and got into The Hammond boarding school in Chester, England, where she studied for five years. Her days were very structured: she’d have a normal school day until 3PM, and then stay for two more hours after to dance, and go in on Saturdays to dance too. Once she became more advanced in her training, she also went to school early in the mornings to do advanced ballet. 

Moving away from home so young was hard. She shared a room with six or seven other girls, on bunk beds, in a boarding house. “At first, when you go to boarding school, it feels like you’re on a sleepover,” Cassie says. “The worst part was when I first went home for Christmas the first year – going back was horrific.”

Cassie thinks her dance training and her experience growing up at boarding school had a huge impact on her character: “You grow up quite quickly. As a result, I’m quite independent, people always think I’m older than I am. And you form friendships quite well, because you literally live on top of people.”

Despite her extensive training, Cassie didn’t end up working as a ballerina. “I wanted to be a ballerina until I realised I was far too tall,” Cassie says. “You don’t really get very many tall ballerinas because there’s no one to partner with! I’m also not built like one.” 

So after finishing boarding school, Cassie auditioned for seniors school all around the country, without securing a place at ballet school. She instead went to The Urdang Academy, a musical theatre college in Angel, London, at the age of 16. These experiences and auditions really shaped Cassie, both as a dancer and as a person: 

“I’ve done a lot of end of show performances at college that were very important towards learning choreo and being a performer, but I think a lot of what shaped me as a performer were auditions – because they were soul destroying. It made me realise I wanted to dance for myself, for enjoyment, and if it wasn’t gonna come this way I was gonna find another way of doing it.

This really shaped my friendships and relationships too – it’s a lot of rejection based on how I look, on that one performance, so that’s why I’m such a perfectionist. The dance world is not like the pole world – people are very judgemental, it’s very cut-throat and it feels that way.”

Cassie Pickersgill

Cassie and pole dance

Cassie took up pole dancing after she had just graduated from musical theatre college. “I wasn’t doing any sort of movement, I was working in a restaurant and feeling a bit shit about myself, so I booked a class at what was Ecole de Pole.”

At the time, she wanted to audition as a dancer but was going through a break-up, and wasn’t enjoying working in a restaurant. She says: “I was a bit stuck and I wanted to get back into movement. Pole was a way of starting a hobby, to get some movement back. It wasn’t intended to be anything beyond getting moving and meeting new people. I didn’t know it was going to be such a big part of my life.” 

Cassie booked an open level class with Diane Croskin, attended by advanced students that ended up becoming instructors – and they were doing flips! She says: “I was like, ‘I have to do this!’ but I remember talking to Diane and asking, ‘Where’s the beginner class?’” 

Even if she ended up booking a more advanced first lesson, she only felt more motivated to keep going. She says: “I just thought they were so badass! I was terrified, and struggled with the first conditioning exercises, but I really wanted to do it.” 

Cassie feels taking up pole dancing is different now compared to late 2017, when she started. She tells me:

“Before I started, I’d never seen anything on Instagram from any pole dancer, now most of my Instagram is pole. It’s a lot bigger now, so it’s more intimidating. If people are seeking a safe haven, it doesn’t seem like a niche anymore – everything you see on Instagram is very impressive. So people are even more scared to go and fuck up, because not everyone posts on Instagram when they fuck up.” 

Cassie Pickersgill

It was at a pole class that Cassie met her business partner and pole wife, Rachel aka @ray.marsh, whom I recently interviewed for the blog, too. They did a couple of beginner classes together without forming much of a connection, but then they booked into a class where they happened to be the only two students. “Our instructor, Diane, took a video of us – of my short blonde hair and my ginormous running shorts – and we just started doing lots of classes together.”

@cassiepickersgill shot by @ray.marsh

Their friendship grew when they shared a pole in sexy choreo classes. Rachel wanted to test out photography with pole, so Cassie and Cat Lee did a shoot with her as she was testing it out. That day, Rachel had a class in the evening so they went for pizza – their first “date”. 

“After that, we made an event out of meeting before pole, going to the pub, having a burger, having a pint before pole – I would never recommend this to ANY student – but we had a couple of pints before pole and then we’d go to Aleksandra Karolina’s sexy choreo. We had a regular pole, a regular pub, a regular class and we became friends that way.”

Cassie Pickersgill

Being hypermobile

Despite being a trained dancer, Cassie had her own challenges as a beginner pole dancer. She says: “I was a trained dancer, I had the coordination, I had the flexibility, but I had no strength. I was good at flow, but I couldn’t really lift into anything. Because I’m hyper mobile, it took me a long time to build any strength in my shoulders specifically.”

You’ve gotta be patient with it, she says about hypermobility. “It means your pole journey may be longer. It may take you longer to do some strength tricks – and it’s worth putting in the time to do it properly.” 

For Cassie, hyper mobility is a very misunderstood thing: “People say, ‘I’m really jealous you’re hyper mobile,’ because I’m flexible, but it means every other thing is more difficult for me. Yeah, I can do a nice split but it took me years to go upside down! It’s not something to be as lusted after as it is.” 

@cassiepickersgill shot by @ray.marsh

She adds: “It’s difficult not to be disheartened when you see people you started with do things you can’t do. But you have to be careful: I dislocated a lot of joints, and it’s not worth pushing that far.”

Becoming a pole instructor 

Cassie has been teaching pole for three years. She began teaching when Justine, the former owner of Ecole de Pole, messaged her about it. At the time, she was moving back to Jersey. She wanted to leave London for a while because it was too expensive, and she was working a job she didn’t like and needed to move on her own for a bit. 

At the same time, she had been asked to teach choreo classes at the only pole dance studio in Jersey. “They didn’t have anyone teaching in heels then,” she says. “I love that I’m the first person who brought heels to the sleepy island of Jersey!” 

So she began teaching, coming back and forth from Jersey to London while auditioning for dance jobs and doing the Ecole De Pole teacher training. She then came back to London for a while to prepare for cheerleading at the Indian Premier League (IPL), one of her favourite and biggest dance jobs to date (more on that later). 

At the time, she stayed on Rachel’s sofa – “Very grateful to her for all the times she hosted me!” Cassie says – and then she went to India, came back and completed her instructor training. That’s when she started covering classes at Ecole de Pole, around 2019. 

About her early teaching days, she says: “It was quite hard to get bookings, to build a client base. It was so much hard work to post on Instagram stories all the time, trying to get students. I used to get my classes cancelled all the time.” 

Like any new instructor (and a lot of seasoned professionals, still), Cassie was self-conscious about different things, from bringing her passion for rock to the studio to learning as a student.

“I was always worried about going to classes as a student once I became a teacher, and thought my fellow advanced students wouldn’t come to my classes because they wouldn’t wanna learn from me. I read something somewhere – that you can learn something from everyone, and that’s 100% true. If my students started teaching I’d definitely go to their classes. So I’ve had to get used to that.” 

Cassie Pickersgill

She adds: “It took me a while to use my kind of music when I started teaching, because I thought people would not like it. I didn’t wanna scare people away!”

Not very long after she started teaching, Ecole de Pole became Ultimate Pole, where she enjoyed building her student base while also teaching at the newly opened Akila Pole Studio. But a new studio was on the cards. 

The Pole Nook 

Every time I remember that Cassie is only 25 and already a business owner, as well as an accomplished performer, I can’t help but be in awe of her drive and experience. I was still very much trying to figure out who I was at 25, while Cassie has her head in the game, and she is nailing it.

“Rachel always wanted to have her own studio, but I was broke as fuck so I didn’t even think about it,” Cassie says about opening their co-owned London Fields studio, The Pole Nook. She adds:

“At the time I was making no money as a pole instructor, living on Rachel’s sofa, and I could pay for sweet fuck all. Can’t remember how it came up, but it became clear that the only way we could do it was together. So we got a bit drunk, chose the studio name because we knew we could only afford a small thing. When we came back from Christmas we found a place, and because I was working at the club I could finally afford it, so we did it. And it was fucking hard work to set up!”

Cassie Pickersgill

Cassie says starting the studio was a challenge, because as every business owner probably knows, problems never stop cropping up. “It’s definitely tested me and Rachel, but I’m very grateful to be able to do it. I have no idea how I’d have done without her!” she says.

Now, the business is almost one year old. It has taught Cassie that it’s important to set boundaries, even if it’s hard, and that you don’t have to take every bit of business you’re offered, or you’ll burn out. “Everyone wants to do it and it’s a lot of work,” she says. “You’ve got to do it with someone you love because it’s testing.”

But, really, the feeling Cassie associates with The Pole Nook is pride: “Every time someone posts from the studio I have a massive amount of pride. On days when the studio’s fully booked I’m like, this is my studio! It’s the most bonkers thing ever to be able to say I own a business.” 

@cassiepickersgill shot by @ray.marsh at their studio, The Pole Nook

Rachel and Cassie are celebrating The Pole Nook’s first birthday with their first showcase on 12 March. Featuring 20 performers including students, instructors and guests with different levels of experience and ability, the already sold-out showcase will be hosted by the beautiful venue that is Tolouse Lautrec in Elephant & Castle. On the night, Cassie and Rachel will be performing together for the first time since 2019. 

“We just wanna celebrate to thank people for all the support we’ve received. Our showcase was the next level, and we wanted to thank people who make the studio what it is,” Cassie says. 

Winning pole dance competitions

Cassie has also got two competition wins in her bag. She came first at Filthy Fever in Denmark, where she won the professional category, and second at the first edition of Eden Pole Competition in London. 

Cassie doesn’t like competing often, but likes the intention that goes into building a piece, and the direction and motivation to create a comp can provide. 

“I chose those comps specifically because they had something that aligned with me. I loved the organisers of Filthy Fever after having seen them at YouFilthy in the UK. It’s important to me to do comps that I feel can appreciate my style, and align with my views and experience as a sex worker.” 

Cassie Pickersgill

For Eden, Cassie applied both for the basework and flow categories, but didn’t get into basework. She says: “I was surprised I got into flow – I thought that’d be way more difficult to get into as it’s a popular style. When I saw who else got in I was like: oh shit! I’m gonna go home now! But it’s probably the best I’ve ever performed – I’m really proud of that performance.” 

@cassiepickersgill shot by at Eden Pole Competition

Cassie prefers the creative aspect of competing to the fitness element. She says: 

“I don’t need to do a double triple flip on a pole to enjoy it – I prefer to enjoy dancing now, which is why I don’t post as much on Instagram at the moment. 

I feel like there might not be a lot of freedom within comps for experimenting with styles – you have to fit into a box, otherwise you lose points. There’s not much exploration. That’s partly why I liked Eden, it’s not so heavy on tricks.

There’s always gonna have to be categories in comps, but there’s definitely more exploration to be had.“

Cassie Pickersgill

Working in strip clubs

I met Cassie when she was auditioning for clubs, something that she has always wanted to do, and she has since been successful and has been working for a major London strip club. She says:

“I’ve always wanted to work in strip clubs for a few reasons: women are sexualised in general, and it’s worth to at least be able to earn money from it. And also, as much as I love pole, I was struggling a lot with money because it doesn’t pay very well. Since working at the club, it’s been the first time I’ve ever been on top of my finances.”

Cassie Pickersgill

She initially thought she could use her pole skills at the club, but ended up in a club where there isn’t a pole. Cassie says: “It’s kind of a running joke with clients that I work at the one club without poles – cause when they ask me what I do outside and say I’m a professional pole dancer they say… but there isn’t a pole here!”

@cassiepickersgill shot by @acalculatedrisk

However, she is quite happy with her workplace’s set-up. “I think my body wouldn’t cope if I had to do stage shows at work, with the amount of teaching that I do,” she says. “The girls that do it are fucking incredible! I still dance at work, but it’s not the same as lifting yourself up in the air.” She adds that she doesn’t rule out working in a club where there’s a pole, but that’s happy with where she is right now. 

Importantly, Cassie has her parents’ support when working as a stripper:

“My parents ask me quite often, ‘How much do you make? My mum says she’s more than happy for me to do it as long as I’m safe, so that’s all I can ask for. Of course you get people that are shit [to you] at the club, but people are shit to you on the tube, so…”

Cassie Pickersgill

Performing at events 

Cassie has performed at a series of national and international major events. One of her favourites has been cheerleading at the IPL, where she was one of the podium leads. 

“It’s not the kind of cheerleading you see on Cheer. It was more dance based,” she says, adding that it was also about lots of pom pom shaking. The job consisted in going around India cheerleading at four-hour long cricket games, at packed stadiums, with cameras on you and big screens. “It was lots of fun,” she says.

Cassie has also now performed at Sexquisite Events – whom you might remember from this post – twice. She loves performing with them: “I love that they champion sex workers artists, I love being surrounded by them. It’s really important to see sex workers thriving in different formats.”

This was the first time I got to witness her perform live, and it was a real treat: I almost lost my voice screaming as she was carried onstage by a man prop she then kicked to the side as she pole danced to Led Zeppelin.

@cassiepickersgill shot by @ray.marsh

In less than a year, Cassie has performed at The San Diego International Fringe Festival, at magazine launches and at One Night Parties, where she was honoured to be invited to, and which she says are amazing – and having attended I can confirm. She says: “I’ve been performing at a lot of events I wouldn’t have been able to do if I wasn’t working at the club. It’s really great to be able to perform at events that champion sex worker artists.“

Cassie is an impressive all-rounder: an artist, a performer, a business owner, a sex worker, a badass – and she’s only 25. I can’t wait to see what she does next, and I for one will be there following her career’s development and cheering her on. Make sure you follow her too at:

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