Australia’s Got Talent’s Matthew Shields shot to fame overnight for his creative Aboriginal dance style on the pole and his performances have encouraged men to get involved in the female-dominated pole dance.
But not many people know he now has a dance partner.
Matthew Shields and Michelle Shimmy won first place at the Australian Pole Championships at the Erindale Theatre in Canberra on November 18. The pair also won the doubles division in the 2012 Australian Pole Fitness Championships in Melbourne on April 22.
“It’s an incredible feeling to win a national championship performing with someone you admire, respect and love so much,” Shimmy said. “Matthew is not just my dance partner – he’s also one of my dearest friends.”
But both still clearly remember their stage nerves the first time they performed together in the 2011 Asia Pacific Pole Dance Championships at Sydney’s Luna Park where they came third.
Now they have performed not only in Australia but also in cities around the world like Budapest and Hong Kong.
“People have said that Shimmy and my performances together have made them cry, and that’s so amazing for us to hear,” Matthew said.
With Shimmy’s background in gymnastics and belly dancing and Mattew’s background in traditional Australian Aboriginal dancing, contemporary, jazz and hip hop, they adapted to pole dancing very quickly. Shimmy took the first pole dance class with her sister and still remembers the strange feeling of watching her sister dance ‘sexy’.
Both are touched and delighted about the support from Aboriginal people. When they performed at the Red Ochre Multicultural Festival in the NSW country town of Dubbo in September last year, they enjoyed the love of the locals with large groups of children coming up to say hi to Matthew and ask for his autograph.
“He is so warm, funny, generous and kind. Everyone who meets him falls in love with him,” Shimmy said. “He loves the attention but it certainly hasn’t gone to his head. He just appreciates the opportunities that have come for him to be able to do what he loves – dance.”
The pair has yet to incorporate Aboriginal dance styles into a doubles routine. Shimmy likes Aboriginal dance but said she would need to make sure any such routine was acceptable to the Aboriginal community and didn’t offend anyone. She loves to watch Matthew doing a pole dance that reflects his own culture and often goes to Redfern as well as the Kimberleys where there are many remote Aboriginal communities.
Double pole dance demands tacit understanding between the two dancers and many more tricks than a solo routine. Shimmy’s boyfriend thought he would be jealous if she danced with a straight man, but Matthew puts him at ease because he is a gay.
They like to surprise people when Shimmy lifts Matthew, which is uncommon to see in male and female doubles. Luckily, they are the same height and Matthew is about 10 or 15 kilos heavier than Shimmy, so it shocks the audience which always expects the male to do all the lifting.
Shimmy said she wants to show that women are strong enough to do it.
The pair get inspiration from adagio and acro-balance and travel long distances to choreograph dances together. Sometimes they will ask for help with some of the adagio in their routines from acrobatics trainer Chris Mayhew. They usually choose appropriate music first and then try to tell a story with their moves. Their routine in Hong Kong – jungle kids playing in the rainforest – thrilled the audience.
A move usually takes four or five attempts to get right and some physically ‘impossible’ moves even make them fall off the pole. They are often asked to dance at performing sites without good facilities but have learned to deal with bad lighting and staging.
Occupational injuries from pole dancing include strains, burns and bruising. It is a must for dancers to do warm ups before doing pole dance. Shimmy once got bursitis in her right shoulder and she had to have cortisone injections. It took nine months to heal. She said the best way to avoid injury is to strap the weak points and prepare adequately for difficult moves.
For Matthew a valuable lesson in pole dancing was to shave his legs for safety on the pole.
Matthew and Shimmy are both busy people. Matthew is studying nursing at Sydney’s University of Technology; he wants to be a good nurse to contribute to the improvement of health conditions for Aboriginal people. Shimmy is a part-time lawyer as well as a director of the Pole Dance Academy which now has hundreds of students.
But they keep dancing with passion and love. After study and work, they find it relaxing to train to increase their strength and maintain flexibility.
These efforts have paid off handsomely this year but right now, both dancers are focused on the challenges that 2013 will bring. For information about performances visit www.michelleshimmy.com