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  • Maëlys Renaud

Pole movement research and expansion of the mind: Interview with Joana Silva, owner of Imo Studio

Joana Silva is a passionate full time pole dance instructor and performer. I met her on Instagram: I first loved certain photographs where Joana's body meets the landscapes with character, then I discovered her approach to movement and read her captions, which are always relevant and inspired by various references and analogies. Her comment on the use of the word “flow” to describe or catalog any type of movement pattern or discipline reinforced some thoughts that grew on me: she deconstructs what people think “flow” is and compares it to rivers’ flows: “sometimes a river flows slow and other times fast, sometimes it’s still and other times turbulent. The river never flows the same way, but it’s always flowing.” She suggests keeping this in mind and applying it to pole dance and dance in general.

With such mindset and beautiful movement research, she became Pole Art Winner Pro at Pole Theatre* UK 2016, Pole Theatre USA 2017 and -Overall Winner- at Pole Theatre Iceland 2019! To share her experience and her love for this art form, Joana opened in 2021 Imo Studio, in Lisbon, Portugal.

credits. portrait by Nuno Brito

Hi Joana! First of all: congratulations for recently celebrating the one year anniversary of your pole dance and movement studio! Tell us about you and your pole journey leading to opening your pole studio.

My name is Joana Silva, I’m 41, and I’m from Portugal. I started pole dancing because of Demi Moore and the movie “Striptease”. When I watched this movie I knew I had to try pole dancing one day: that day arrived and since then I have never stopped. 15 years have passed (more or less) and I’m still passionate about it, and I finally had the courage to open my own studio. The biggest revelation I had with pole dance was to finally discover my true vocation: teaching!

What have you learned in this past year of growing your own studio?

I’ve (re)learned that any project takes time to thrive, and to never give up even when it’s hard, and there are many hard days along the process. The hardest thing for me was to see the studio (and teaching) as a business. I’m so passionate about teaching that I was not used to seeing it as a business, but at the end of the day (with bills to pay) that’s the reality.

credits. At Imo Studio by Tiago Leão

You participated in three Pole Theatre* competitions so far: why did you choose to compete on the Pole Theatre stage?

It is a competition in which the type of performances I enjoy creating (artistic, conceptual, experimental) fit in. It is a competition that favors the artistic aspect over the technicality/difficulty.

In 2016, you explored the relationship between music and sound, movement and choreography and what comes first in the creation process ; in 2017, your piece originated with the concept “I am a SEED” ; in 2019, your incredible piece reflected on nowadays society and culture and how it impacts our “broken” bodies (how our man-made environment affect our ability to move). How do you choose the themes for your pole competitions? Can you elaborate on the creation process for your performance related to the artificial environment we built for ourselves?

I'm an observant person, so I get inspired by life itself, things I’m passionate about, ideas that come to my mind while I’m interacting with the world/planet I live in.

The performance “We are all broken, and so am I” was inspired by the book “Move Your DNA”, from Katy Bowman. When I read this book it felt like someone (Katy) was inside my head… She writes about many things/concerns I was already thinking about and that was a huge inspiration and motivation to create the performance. I wanted to “speak out” about these concerns but I’m not a writer, I’m a dancer, I speak with my body, so that’s what I did. I started doing movement research to express how our bodies are losing their skills/capacities/function because of technology evolution. The more technology evolves the more our bodies regress.

credits. Pole Theatre 2019 by @mflovent

You recently answered the questions that your followers have about the process of preparing for a competition, what are the insights that you’d like to share with us?

The main insight about creating a performance is: it’s more beneficial to the mind than to the body :) :) (personal opinion!). Preparing for a competition requires a lot of repetitions of the same movements and always on “the same side” and that’s not good for the body. The performer has to compensate somehow in order to avoid injuries. What I enjoy the most is the creation process and to bring to life an idea/concept!

I double that! There is a lot of learning about oneself in the preparation of a piece: the development of an idea and its translation to movement and the back and forth between concept and movement. As mentioned, you explored seems related to the life plants and the interaction between humanity and technology. When did you first become aware of the environmental challenges and how does it reflect in your life and art?

It started with my feet. I was frequently spraining my ankles, while walking on the streets (not when I was training). I started questioning why, researching, and then Marlo Fisken mentioned barefoot wear. It took me a while but I got rid of all my “normal” footwear and now I only use barefoot wear, and guess what? No more sprained ankles.

It is hard not to be affected by the environment because we’re always exposed to it but there’s definitely options out there to avoid being “badly” shaped to it.

Is there an environmental issue that you care about the most? Why so?

Global warming and lack of water (because there’s no life without water!).

credits. Joana Silva by Tiago Leão

Whose work has influenced and inspired you?

On a personal level:

Maria Isabel Silva (my mother) for her bravery, and for teaching me how to be a hard worker.

On a professional level:

Jorge Barja (gymnast coach) for teaching me to believe in myself.

Marlo Fisken (movement educator and pole dancer) for her integrity, and constant share of knowledge.

What are your current book recommendations?

. Move Your DNA, from Katy Bowman.

Quotes from the book: “Our unquenchable desire to be comfortable has debilitated us. Ironic, as there is nothing comfortable about being debilitated.” “Perhaps the only way out of our poor physical state, created by our culture of convenience, is a return to the behaviors of our ancestors.”

. Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind: Informal Talks on Zen Meditation and Practice, from Shunryu Suzuki.

From the book: "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few."

This first quote from Move your DNA is right on, wow! Food for thoughts.

What is one thing that you wish someone had told you/taught you a long time ago?

Prioritize yourself, Joana.

What’s next for you?

Nurturing my “baby” (the studio);

Competing with Exotic Paradise Championship in Barcelona (October 30th, @exoticparadisepole);

Spending even more time in nature, with my dog.

Final thought?

“The constant looking outside of ourselves can keep us from knowing when we hit the target.” - from the book It Didn’t Start With You by Mark Wolynn.

Great reminder! Thank you Joana for sharing your pole journey, and wisdom! Have a great time at the competition!

*As mentioned in our recent interview of pole dancer Cami Camomille, Pole Theatre is a unique pole dance competition where competitors can enter one of the four categories: Pole Art, Pole Comedy, Pole Drama and Pole Classique. Competitors are encouraged to captivate the audience by telling a story on stage and creating unique and inspiring performances.


Born in 1981 in Lisbon, Portugal, Joana Silva started her athletic career at a young age practicing acrobatic gymnastic. From 1994 to 2000 she was a federated gymnast from the “Portuguese Federation of Trampoline and Acrobatic Sports”, becoming many times national champion in different categories. She was also a gymnast from the National Team, participating in European and World Championships. By the year 2000 Joana stopped competing as an acrobatic gymnast and started dancing. From 2001 to 2007 she danced street dance, such as hip hop, house dance, new style, breakdance, etc., and took classes/workshops in Portugal, London and Los Angeles. Breakdance was what she loved the most, participating in several shows, competitions/battles. In 2007 Joana took her first pole dance class. Automatically she was dazzled with this dance and never stopped since then. In 2012 she founded and organized the 1st edition of the “National Pole Dance Show” (Portugal) entitle “Pole Dance is…” which united all national pole dancers/schools with the aim of promoting and developing pole dance in Portugal. This was followed by 2nd and 3rd editions. In 2012 Joana was the first Portuguese pole dancer who participated in an international pole dance competition – “The Art of Pole Dance” (Slovenia) – where she ranked 3rd.

Joana teaches pole dance since 2008 in Lisbon (Portugal) and internationally. She developed the first Portuguese Pole Dance Instructor Course. Joana also took a degree in Physical Therapy (2002-2004) and studied Osteopathy.

Instagram: & @imo_studio

Facebook: Joana Silva

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