“Helping women gain self-confidence and belief in themselves – and prove to themselves that they can do more than they realise – has been something I’ve been passionate about since I was a little girl.”
This is the heartfelt sentiment of women’s empowerment advocate, Nataniel Pires, as she reflects on what International Women’s Day means. But how she encourages this is not in the way you’d expect…
Pires is the founder of La Rouge – I Am Women, a women-only alternative fitness and wellness brand, that offers classes in aerial arts, pole sport, and dance fitness. Aerial and pole are forms of fitness that aren’t yet well known in the South African sport and fitness arena, but are gaining massive interest globally as not only highly effective forms of fitness, but as competitive sports.
A lifelong vision
Pires had always had a passion for dancing, and explored various types of dance in her younger years. When she was 17, her Mum shared with her that she was taking pole fitness lessons, which Pires and her sister consequently joined. A year later, Pires started teaching pole fitness herself, and in 2008 she and her sister Nadja opened their first studio.
“It’s not like anything you’d expect,” says Pires. “There’s such a negative stereotype around pole dancing, with people most often associating it with ‘gentlemen’s clubs’. But that’s not at all what it is. It’s a form of dancing that gives you a full-body workout while helping with flexibility, mobility, sharpening your cognitive function, as well as improving memory.”
But what Pires found to be the most powerful attributes of pole fitness, were how it helped to build women’s confidence in themselves; to believe in themselves as they achieved new skills, greater strength, and more agility, in the classes; and empower them to keep on pushing themselves to their next level.
“My sister and I were initially training women in their 50s to find themselves, explore what their bodies could do, and let go of limiting beliefs as they experienced for themselves what they could achieve. It was an incredible thing to see these ladies walking more confidently as they progressed in their classes, talking more confidently, taking up the challenges of more advanced moves in class – and then taking that confidence out into their daily lives!”
A Helping Hand With Healing
A few years later, Pires was approached to work with two young girls who had experienced a difficult trauma, and try and help them overcome some of their fears and find their confidence again.
“It was in working with these girls as well as working with our more mature ladies, that I realised what an impact we could have. And working with younger women could help to build their confidence earlier on in life.
In general, women tend to struggle with confidence – from confidence in and love for their own bodies, to self-worth and believing in themselves and what they can achieve if their mindsets are right. Gender stereotypes don’t help with this either. So women have a lot of healing that they need to do.”
A New Community
Since 2008, the La Rouge brand has grown, and there are now three studios in Johannesburg at which women can experience and learn not just pole fitness, but aerial arts, aerobic-style dance, and stretch classes – all geared towards uplifting their fitness levels as well as their confidence levels.
“Our studios are not just venues where women go to do a class and then go home. They are spaces where new friends are made, where ladies can get a lot of support from like-minded women as they work through their body image fears, and their confidence fears.
It’s so inspiring to see a whole class of ladies cheering a peer when she achieves a more difficult move or pose. Our ladies really care about each other – the support and love are very real,” shares Pires.
Building Confidence From The Early Years
Self-esteem and confidence are in the foundational stages between the ages of 4 and 11, as young ladies start to develop their sense of self in the world. And research has shown that feelings of body insecurity can start from as young as 10 years old.
That’s why La Rouge has created a program especially for young girls from the age of 6. “Our Little Women classes teach the basics of a selection of our fitness styles, from stretch to silks and aerial hoop,” says Pires.
“Our instructors approach these classes with the care and support that is so integral to how we do everything at La Rouge. As the girls learn new moves, see how their bodies achieve things they didn’t know they could do, and consequently realise what they are capable of, their confidence levels grow. As confidence grows, so does their courage and eagerness to try more new things – and we see girls leaving these classes with such excitement and pride in their achievements. It’s one of the most rewarding things that any teacher could hope for!”