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Thursday 28 September 2023 Dublin: 14°C
# get off the couch
Sick of the gym? Maybe try pole dancing, trapeze or laughter yoga
There’s more than one way to get in shape.

IF THE IDEA of another boring gym treadmill session is enough to keep you wedded to the couch, maybe some aerial acrobatics or a pole dancing session can shake you out of your exercise funk.

They are among the raft of new fitness options to crop up in recent years for those looking for something beyond the mainstream offerings to get a health kick.

For champion pole dancer Arlene Caffrey, her love of the pastime started when she started doing classes for fitness with her mother in 2006.

Five years later, after winning several Irish titles as a performer, she launched her own school, the Irish Pole Dance Academy, to teach so-called “vertical dance” in Dublin as work in her trade as a graphic designer dried up during the recession.

“I started doing casual classes in Drogheda just for fun, but I didn’t realise I would enjoy it so much or the physical workout you could get from it,” Caffrey said.

I went on to travel the world and compete in different competitions and shows, and it has turned into a full-time job for me.”

Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 22.23.18 One of Caffrey's pole dancing classes

When Caffrey launched her business, there were no purpose-built studio in Dublin and classes were being taught ad-hoc in nightclubs and other venues.

However she said there are now at least 15 schools teaching similar skills and her own academy had gone from weekly classes to daily sessions, as well as expanding its footprint to Galway.

Caffrey said pole dancing – outside the sleazy surrounds of strip clubs – was about being “tasteful, but sexy”, while it was also a powerful workout.

“What we are focussed on is helping women to get stronger and fitter and more flexible and to reap the physical benefits of it, but what I love the most is the psychological benefit that come from taking these classes,” she said.

“It has helped me become more confident in my own skin and be more outgoing in life.”


Up in the air

Also in Dublin, former school principal and gymnastics trainer Shane Holohan launched his aerial and acrobatic school, Taking Flight, about eight months ago.

He teaches students to climb and “fly” on trapeze, hoops and fabric, Cirque du Soleil-style, and he said those signing up were split between people ticking off a “bucket-list thing” and people training for fitness.

But, unfortunately, it wasn’t as easy as grabbing the apparatus and leaping into the air like a trained circus performer, with a lot of groundwork and conditioning making up the sessions.

“When people do get up in the air, you want them to have a good experience – but you need them to be ready,” Holohan said.

Screen Shot 2015-08-30 at 17.06.20 Instagram Instagram

Taking Flight is not alone if offering circus-style aerial sessions, with several other Dublin-based groups also opening for classes.

“Mentally, you develop a lot of self confidence,” Holohan said.

Everything you do is something to be celebrated: if you learn to climb fabric or rope for this first time, you come down and think ‘wow, I just did that’.”

Screen Shot 2015-08-30 at 17.06.02 Instagram Instagram

Laugh yourself healthy

At the much lower-impact, but no-less unique, end of the spectrum, Donegal-based Mary Ananda Shakti has been teaching “laughter yoga” for more than a decade after studying under the movement’s founder, Indian doctor Madan Kataria.

I was searching for something that was different because my life had got so serious, I just Googled laughter and that’s how I found it so I went to train with him,” she said.

The self-described “laughologist” started Laughter Yoga Ireland and has trained a few hundred people in the techniques with several going on to start their own businesses running laughing sessions for schools, businesses and social groups.

It is billed as an “exercise routine” which combines yoga breathing techniques and stretching with simulated laughter – which practitioners claim quickly turns into the real thing when done in groups.

It really helps against depression; it’s not a cure-all for anything, but it just really helps people through their life,” Shakti said. “It is quite a good physical workout, but you don’t have to be physically fit to do it.”

This month, as part of’s ongoing startup and small and medium enterprise (SME) focus, we are looking at the health and fitness industries.

To view other stories from our collection, click here.

READ: Why this tech CEO says low tax deals were the ‘best thing in the history of the Irish economy’ >

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