Meet Mona Marie, The Caribeña Helping Women Find Their Strength And Freedom Through Pole Dancing

credit: Visuales de Vera'Sor

Ask Mona Marie about her greatest relationship, and she will tell you it’s the one she has with her pole. Through erotic dance, the entertainer has found beauty, confidence and freedom, and she hopes to impart these treasures to other women through her dance and fitness studio Poletic Justice.

At the Bronx, New York pole lounge and arts studio, beginners and skilled dancers can take a series of intimate classes on the art of pole, climbing, spins, inversions, floorwork, headstands and handstands as well as non-pole sessions on twerking, burlesque, dance aerobics and yoga.

For Marie, who grew up in the Morris Park neighborhood of the Bronx, it was crucial to create a space for women and femmes in her borough to come together, strengthen community and build confidence.

“There’s other pole fitness studios in Manhattan and Brooklyn, and I felt like I wanted to open a space where I’m able to give back to my community, and Bronx women are my community,” the 32-year-old businesswoman told FIERCE. “There’s nothing around here for us, just co-ed gyms, boxing gyms, nothing for women, and I wanted to help change that.”

At about five-to-ten people, predominantly women, though Marie stresses everyone is invited, to a class, clients get one-on-one attention but are still able to find the community many of them are looking for. With children, who are encouraged to accompany their mothers at the studio, working on homework or participating in strength-building activities, Marie starts every class by lighting sage and “speaking the good.”

“I have the women tell me something positive that happened in their day, even if it’s something as small as getting the wing on your right eye on point,” Marie, who is of Puerto Rican, Cuban and Jamaican descent, says. “It’s very important, especially as women. We are so busy trying to conquer the world and being a superhero in our everyday lives that it’s easy to forget the little things that make us smile.”

That’s the vibe at Poletic Justice: energizing and empowering. It’s not the type of studio that encourages counting calories or participating in squat challenges. Instead, it’s where women, often for the first time, recognize the beauty, wonder and power of their bodies as they are.

“I want them to feel empowered. That’s the only thing I want. I’m about self-love and building confidence. A lot of women want to know what it means to be sexy or confident. We all have our struggles. I want my clients to leave feeling good, that you released that negativity and allowed yourself to let it go and clear your mind. That’s what I want,” she said.

In order to get there, Marie says women need to be patient with themselves. While she stresses that you don’t need to have upper body strength or be a size 4 or below to do pole, she doesn’t bullshit clients, either. It takes time, practice and dedication to build the might and skill to master the art.

Another requirement: make sure you’re doing this for yourself.

“Women often have this idea that they need to be sexy for someone else and not for themselves. I’m changing that in my studio. Love and be sexy for yourself, and then let that confidence you gain and strength you are building for yourself be a plus for someone else, but it’s not for them,” she says.

Like many of her clients, Marie struggled with self-esteem and body image issues before discovering pole. With an athletic built, she didn’t see the beauty and sensuality of her brawny figure until she entered a gentleman’s club at the age of 20. There, strong women, who’d soon become her closest friends, captivated her attention with their impressive flips and stands. She wanted in. The next week, she applied and was hired. For three months, she observed the dancers from the backroom and practiced moves she’d watch on YouTube, finally gaining the know-how and courage to take to the stage herself.

Marie, a college student at the time, fell in love with the art, and realized quickly that she wanted to turn her new hobby into a full-time gig. Putting on solo club shows — one she even did especially for her mother, grandmother and aunt, who needed some reassuring after learning about her new erotic dance interests — appearing in music videos for acts like Mary J. Blige, Mya and Ja Rule, and eventually landing a “lifetime opportunity” as Madonna’s official pole choreographer and pole trainer during her 2015 Rebel Heart Tour all paved the way for her opening her own pole studio in 2016.

Poletic Justice, whose name plays on the Kendrick Lamar banger to reflect the poetic ease of Marie’s own stage lines, is more than a place for dance, aerobics and community, though. In 2017, when the organizers of New York City’s “Stripper Strike,” Gizelle Marie and Panama Pink, needed a place to convene, they called on Marie, turning Poletic Justice into the movement’s headquarters.

“It was nice to watch people express themselves in a safe space and try to see how changes can be made. I commend Panama and Gizelle for doing what they need to do. The battle they took on is necessary but difficult. This industry needs change. I understand it’s the sex industry, but it’s just like every other industry. It needs professionalism,” said Marie, who’s also calling for more rules and regulations that protect dancers against violence, exploitation and discrimination.

With clients who are mothers, career women, college students and high school dropouts, Marie hopes to retire the racialized sexist myth that dancers are promiscuous, and wants folk to know that pole is for everyone and has the capability of improving people’s lives.

“Pole and I have a very beautiful and loving relationship, perhaps the best relationship I had my whole life. It allowed me to find myself, my confidence and my freedom,” she said. “And if you let me, through pole, I will make you so confident and badass that you also won’t question going after the career you want or telling your partner to get out of your face.”

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