Ultimate Fantasy is a pole dance showcase and event centring beginner performers. Organised by my Akila Pole Studio student Rich, it was a wholesome, raucous night of fun showcasing how much beginners have to offer – and the pole industry should take note. Read on for my interview with Rich, where we talk about the ideas behind Ultimate Fantasy and their pole journey.
What is Ultimate Fantasy?
Ultimate Fantasy is a project by Richard Schmidt aka Rich, who works for the Wallace Collection by day and who dons their heels by night as an upper beginner pole dance student at Akila Pole Studio, my home studio where I used to regularly teach in Brixton, London.
Born in October 2022, almost one year into Rich’s pole journey, Ultimate Fantasy aims to create performing opportunities for beginner pole dancers. A femme and queer safe space for people to feel safe and comfortable, Ultimate Fantasy is essentially an art and performance show with a little after party.
Rich thought everything through in the tiniest detail to create a safe space for their performers and the audience:
“My idea was to create an event for baby polers where they can invite their friends and family and show them their skills. For this reason, I wanted each dancer to have an equal number of tickets so they can personally invite people that they want, instead of just releasing all tickets for general sale. Each name you see in the ticket option is a dancer who is performing. This way I could also keep track who sold how many tickets.”
The event has no theme or specific style: “I just told the girls to show us the best of what they got, and after seeing the rehearsal I am very confident to say they are bringing IT!!! I’m so proud of all of them and happy they took part in this and so excited for this event,” they add.
The creation of Ultimate Fantasy
Ultimate Fantasy came to life on the back of Rich’s desire to perform as a beginner, when they didn’t really know how and where they could bring their skills – something that we, as an industry, should really be considering when creating spaces to share our art.
“I was documenting and sharing my pole journey on Instagram and always had a lot of support from my friends. They kept asking me when they could see me perform, and I would often brush it off saying something like, ‘I don’t know, hopefully soon!’ But I had no idea where, when and how.”
The more their friends asked, the more Rich wanted to perform. However, with no performance experience nor knowledge about the pole industry, they felt stuck. “I’d heard that there were competitions and showcases, but I didn’t even know where to find them and even if I did, I doubted I would be good enough to join.”
So when catching up with their friend Thomas, a director at the venue where Ultimate Fantasy took place, Rich asked him about whether the space could fit a pole. They say “We started talking and he suggested I should perform there. I was thrilled, but I couldn’t envision just myself entertaining a crowd. So he suggested inviting more dancers and then it clicked: I AM GOING TO ORGANISE A SHOWCASE!”
“I knew there must be more dancers like me, beginners who have been dancing for a while and want to perform but don’t know how and where. And with this idea, I started asking my friends from classes if they’d be interested. Some were thrilled and excited, some told me it’s not their time yet, which I absolutely understand and respect.”
What was Ultimate Fantasy like?
Ultimate Fantasy took place at Kunstraum, a non-profit art space in Islington launched in 2012 to make room for artists to come together and create, collaborate and develop their craft. The showcase was the first-ever pole dance event at Kunstraum, making history in this gorgeous space, which prioritises LGBTQ+ people and people of colour.
On the night, performers included a team of Akila Pole Studio students: Isobel, Deb, Lilac, Ines, Beth and Stefany, as well as Rich themselves. The production was a team effort as much as the dancing: Rich’s friend Thomas, who provided the space and gave them the idea for the event, helped with the logistics as well as with lights, sound and video together with Stefano from Kunstraum. Alice, another good friend of theirs, was the MC. Elliot, Richard’s boyfriend, deejayed. Ruth, their cousin, took charge of check-in.
The event also had a fundraising aspect, donating a percentage of its profits from ticket sales to The Outside Project, a shelter, centre and domestic abuse refuge for LGBTIQ+ people who are endangered or homeless and feel that they are on the outside of services due to historical and present prejudice in society and in their homes.
But what was Ultimate Fantasy actually like? Well… I knew I was gonna have fun, but I wasn’t ready for *how much* fun Rich’s night was going to be. Featuring seven performers with different styles, from the flowy to the bouncy, from pole art to filthy, from fast-paced to slinky, this event showed just how much beginners can bring it.
The space at Kunstraum really did feel like Rich’s Ultimate Fantasy: “between a dream realm, fantasy and sweet reality, all in hues of pink and sparkly stars, almost like it could disappear in a moment that you blink. Very light and airy, floating on a cloud of sensuality and joy with a touch of melancholy.” And so it was: a triumph of red and pink lighting, mirrors and velvety curtains, something straight out of a Lana Del Rey dream – and Rich did perform a cover of West Coast, so I doubt it was accidental!
The sold-out event was a raucous, loud, supportive show of love, a testament of how appreciated and cared for Rich already is within the London pole community. But it was the crowd – a direct consequence of the safe and supportive space Rich created – that made Ultimate Fantasy the fantastic night it turned out to be.
Performers’ friends and family came through. There were fathers, brothers, partners, friends, fellow polers, instructors, all coming together to support their loved ones as they did one of the bravest things ever: share their passion, literally strip down and make themselves vulnerable in public, many of them for the first time.
And it was glorious. Even if I have stopped teaching regularly, it was truly priceless to watch some of the beginners I followed from day one of their choreography journeys bring it and make the crowd go wild. I would have shed a proud pole mama tear if I wasn’t screaming so much!
The pole dance industry can be a healing and generative space for beginners, and a lot of that transpired at Ultimate Fantasy. But for an industry that relies on beginners so much, we still don’t do enough to create spaces for people that aren’t pros to cut their teeth and perform.
Coming from Australia, where I did three showcases a year as a beginner, I felt like I had very few opportunities to share my passion with friends and loved ones when I moved back to Europe. And as someone who never loved competing, but often did it just to be able to perform somewhere, a display of performance love and need such as Ultimate Fantasy speaks volume about the need to make more space for amateur performers outside of comps.
Rich created that space for themselves and their fellow beginners, who showed just how fierce, excited and just bloody marvelous you can be on stage even after just a year of pole. As an industry, we really should take note.
After such a successful event, it’s only fair you get to hear more about the organiser, so without further ado, here’s a bit about the mind and body behind Ultimate Fantasy, Rich.
Rich’s transformative dance journey
Rich fell in love with dance in 2017 when, at 27, they worked at the Barbican Art Gallery, which was hosting Trajal Harrell’s Hoochie Coochie queer dance exhibition. They were inspired by the dancers who, they say, “just moved so freely.” It was then that they realised they wanted to become a beautiful dancer: “But I just didn’t know how to go about it. I was 27 and to be honest, I thought my ship had sailed and it was too late for me to start dancing,” they say.
Like many of us who start pole, Rich had no previous dance experience apart from clubbing. So they booked a contemporary dance class… and didn’t love it. They say: “To be honest, I hated it! It didn’t make me feel inspired or beautiful, but rather disappointed and just like that, after one bad experience I stopped pursuing the idea of becoming a dancer.”
In between early 2020 and the pandemic, Rich gave dancing another shot, trying voguing and starting dancing in lockdown, when they both worked on their flexibility and splits and started taking online twerk classes. “I was hooked from the beginning and so I twerked every week for four months in my bedroom and I loved it.” Once studios reopened in June 2021, Rich continued with twerk and joined multiple other classes at At Your Beat (AYB) Studio. They say:
“Thanks to Instagram, I saw videos of girls rolling around on the floor doing splits and tricks, and I knew I wanted to be that girl! I joined my all-time favourite class of that time, Flexi Floorwork, and that’s when it really hit me: there was no turning back, only going forward. Everything was making sense, me working on my splits for over a year so I can finally utilize this skill on the floor and become a bad bitch.”
Rich pinpoints the summer of 2021 as the true moment of self-discovery for their dance practice:
“I spent hours in the studio, doing multiple classes a day. I got my first pair of heels and I started tapping into something that I knew was in me, but that for a long time I didn’t let out because of fear and shame and simply not knowing how to express it. Dancing made me feel fearless and free, and I started to fully tune into my sensual and feminine energy. Let me tell you, my life completely changed at this point: I found purpose and ambition to keep growing at the age of 31!”
Rich’s pole journey
One of Rich’s classmates from AYB posted an Instagram story from a pole dance studio, and they were intrigued. “I never thought of pole dancing because it seemed too advanced and out there that I thought I could never do it. However, seeing it on IG story made it look so accessible and ‘doable’ so I asked my classmate about the studio,” they say.
This is how, in November 2021, Rich found Akila Pole Studio, where I’ve had the pleasure to teach them choreo classes. And let me tell you: they can definitely pole dance, and were already fierce AF as a complete beginner.
Rich cut their teeth in my pole wife Rosanne’s (@unicornpower) Floorwork class – “It became my go to class and I went to every single one of her Monday classes for many months that followed,” they say, because they were “in love with how smooth and effortless her style was and I wanted to be as slinky and flowy as her.” Rich credits Rosanne as a huge inspiration: “Rosanne is an absolute sweetheart, great teacher and a beautiful dancer and I always feel inspired when attending her classes.”
Aside from floorwork, they began learning tricks and spin pole with Akila, starting a fast trajectory of growth even as a beginner. At the moment, Rich sees themselves as a mixed beginner: “I graduated from absolute beginner to mixed beginner pretty quickly however I feel like I’m still in this level as each time I try an intermediate class, I am very humbled, lol,” they say.
Rich’s style and where they are going next
From choosing a stage name to developing a style, Rich is in that full creative flux you begin to experience when you’re developing as a dancer. “When I introduce myself and say, ‘I am Rich,’ it kinda sounds like a statement and an affirmation, but also just like a short and casual version of my name – and I like that duality,” they say, adding: “I am a Gemini sun after all!”
Rich loves slow, flowy movement, and we share an obsession with Lana Del Rey, who has massively influenced their dancing. “When I do tricks on a spinning pole, I feel very elegant, like a flying fairy up in the air,” they say, “And when I do floor work I become a sexy flowy siren. At least that’s how it is visualised in my mind, I hope it translates!”
“Dancing different pole styles is almost like creating multiple personalities that I can embody,” Rich says, and I can definitely relate. “I observe a pattern in my journey that I shift my focus from tricks to choreography, back and forth quite often, trying to master one and then obsessing about the other,” they add. Head rolls and hair whips are fave staples of theirs: “My hair is my best prop and it’s here to stay!”
Their enthusiasm is contagious, and it’s a great reminder of what it means to be a beginner: the possibilities for learning and growth are endless, something we too often forget when we become professionals. Still, there is a lot Rich is still working on.
“I prefer slow and mellow movements. It’s partly a stylistic choice, but I also struggle with fast choreography and transitions. It’s one of many things I would like to improve,” they say. “I challenge myself with and so I do a fast choreography class from time to time – like your sexy choreo classes that you used to teach at Akila’s for example. Your Supermodel and Nine Inch Nails choreos were iconic but almost killed me!” … oops!
On top of speed, Rich is also working on freestyling. “I’m trying to learn how to just let go and see what my body can do without thinking too much. I used to be scared of it before, but now I find comfort in freestyle. It’s quite liberating, it surprises me what my body and brain can create on the spot.”
The impact of pole on Rich’s life
Prepare yourself for one of the best quotes from this interview, because Rich told me pole means “not being scared to be hot” for them. You’re welcome. Take that, own that, make it yours.
And this is what people who don’t pole dance will never understand: pole has the power to release you from shame, and to make you feel your oats. For that, we have to thank strippers, but you can read that in another post. Rich’s experience confirms pole’s healing power:
“I used to be quite unimpressed with how I used to look, but now I take pride in my appearance.
Before starting to pole, I never really took interest in exercise that much mostly because of bad experience from PE, which made me believe I couldn’t do any sport because I am queer and weak. I used to be just skinny with bad posture, chain smoking and drinking, thinking I was cool lol.
I have never been as fit as I am now and I am loving it. Pole dance makes me love myself and the body that I have, and it gives me confidence in everyday life.”
Making space for beginners
While previous interviewees have found that social media can make pole inaccessible, making everyone feel like they have to be great from the get-go, Rich has had a different experience: “I think that Instagram makes pole look accessible as you can see so many people, some of whom you know personally, doing it and so it breaks the barrier of the unknown.”
“Before I came across pole on IG, I didn’t know much about it, only seen it in the films and music videos and honestly the skill seemed out of my league and reserved for cis women only. But when I saw a classmate from a dance studio doing pole in her story, I felt like I could do it and so I joined Akila’s and here I am, obsessed with pole. I also learned that pole is very inclusive, and I feel safe and happy in this community.”
Still… how about when beginners want to perform?
Rich is incredibly lovely and grateful for the opportunities the pole industry has given them. However, to me, the fact that we barely have any chances for beginners to perform is mind-boggling.
Beginners pay our bills. They fill our classes. They provide hope and longevity to our businesses. But with very little space for showcases in many studios, and even amateur competitions often proving inaccessible to those with no or little performing experience, I really feel we are doing our beginners a disservice. So events like Ultimate Fantasy are incredibly important for them, and I am super grateful Rich has given me a bit of their time for me to give their event space on the blog.
What’s next for Ultimate Fantasy?
After such a fantastic showcase, there are many future possibilities for Ultimate Fantasy. Rich says:
“As I write this, me and the Ultimate Fantasy athletes already had our rehearsal and it was a great bonding experience, which makes me believe that Ultimate Fantasy will be more than just one-off show but rather a collective of dancers who want to support each other and keep growing together.”