It’s actually very easy to blindly walk straight past a place that describes itself as “London’s most opulent and lavish venue, with its decadent interiors and world class adult entertainment.” I don’t know what I was expecting exactly, but did find myself red in the face when I had to ask the neighbouring Haagen Dazs man where 14LSQ was- the location for today’s shoot. Five minutes later and I found myself inside the intimidating padded walls of the red room, anxiously joking that I didn’t want to sit that close to the studded mystery harness, for fear of an unwanted pregnancy on my end.
I meet with Ayumi LaNoire who is already perfectly done up in a purple silk kimono, wet look leggings, relaxed hair and razor sharp eyeliner. Perhaps when we think of pole dancing we don’t naturally assume there’d be so many clothes involved. She’s a stunning combination of old school traditional glamour and modern rock ‘n’ roll.
Ayumi trained as a stage actress in Tokyo but it was in London where she fell in love with the pole. However, ‘pole dancer’ doesn’t quite do Ayumi justice as her work encapsulates a certain fluidity that enables her to move between dancer, fire breather/eater and actress, who also works with Japanese bondage. “It’s all about entertainment, I just want to combine everything to make the ultimate entertainment for everybody, so that we don’t need to stick to a certain direction, I want to make it much bigger than that.”
However shifting, the perception of pole dancing comes with its difficulties as it is an area that has been trapped for decades inside a ridged mind-set, “There’s not a pole dancer in the world who hasn’t fought against the stereotype of what we do, it’s already there and has existed for many years, starting with girls as dancers at the big top in circuses slowly progressing to stripping in America and later lap dancing etc.” Although Ayumi can see a shift in the breakdown of these perceptions, especially as the acts move less towards the sexual element and more into a fitness angle with the Olympics for example starting to consider it as a competitive sport. “The pole is now entertainment which can be pulled in various directions and this new freedom of expression is what I fight for.”
In the same way that artists and singers communicate themselves to an audience, Ayumi too feels a complete freedom when she performs, “When I’m on the pole I’m not self conscious or feel myself, I can be something else, not somebody else but something else.” It becomes a true form of artist expression where the performer can enter the stage completely empty of ego. “It feels like I have no intention or object, nothing inside, I just go with the flow, with my instinct to guide me- like water.” Because of her acting background it becomes apparent that Ayumi is a master of all aspects of the stage, sometimes matching herself to a theme and playing with a character, but mostly running on instinct.
The fundamental aspect of pole dancing is the body itself; its strength, power and elegance. Ayumi explains that as she was involved in many sports growing up she understands how to use her body to it’s full potential, “I know how to connect the physics and the mentality together…. Some people don’t know how to use their body and some people don’t know how to put their mind in the same place- they have to talk to each other to find a balance and we have to find a point to be the true self.’ We talk about people being disconnected from their bodies, especially for example people starting out in the acting business who are usually shocked that their mental projection of their body doesn’t match up to their physical behaviour. Ayumi explains that nowadays we are so caught up within the digital sphere and flooded with information that it’s so hard to be yourself by connecting the body and the mind.
However a true culmination of the body and mind in harmony would be, in her communication through Japanese rope bondage, where in a recent show with bondage artist Nina Russ, she explored the idea that pain exists and therefore should be embraced. “People tend to avoid the pain, the physical pain, because pain is something that we don’t like as it hurts, and pole dancing/fire breathing and fire on the skin or hanging from the ceiling are always painful. It’s not comfortable, but that feeling is something that we already have in the body so we cant avoid it- we have to learn it and own it otherwise we never know what it is about.”
Ayumi stresses that she only performs as a bondage model and not the person tying the rope as this is best left to the professionals like Russ who studied the physiology of the human body, and because she is placing her body into a dangerous situation, it becomes an exercise in trust. “I can sense the tense and pains and horrible feelings because something is tying and I’m helpless. I have no control, I can’t do anything and I know that the other person is taking care of me not torturing me.”
But isn’t it a survivalist instinct to avoid pain? Ayumi continues that she thinks society would benefit from embracing pain, in the same way that Asian cultures accept the bad in life as importance for balance and a fuller harmony. The bondage has helped Ayumi learn what the body can take, and what her true limit is, finding a deeper understanding of true pain and true trust. “We have to trust the other person completely so when it’s done we have a huge deep connection that you can’t describe, I had no control, she had the control, she had to trust me and I had to trust her. Bondage looks really torturous and it could be a torture or a play but at the same time it’s based on trust and we can learn about fears and pain.”
As a self proclaimed feminist Ayumi is empowered when she’s on the pole but understands that there’s a very fine line between being sensual and being seen as a sexual object, “I have to be sexy to get paid and do a show but that’s a very tiny bit of it, I try to be in-between, if I’m just focusing on my own feeling of sexiness that’s just provocative… I want to influence people so that they experience the emotions and the full sense of a human being, I don’t care about my sexuality and myself, it’s not totally for a man or for a woman.” She has observed that men are more focused on sensuality of Japanese culture, girls focus more on the beauty side of it, “As we have certain techniques of embroidery and silk patterns, in a way their fantasy is stronger, as it goes beyond the sexual and more into a lifestyle and character.”
As a modern day Geisha, Ayumi notes that there is definitely a fantasy element that westerners associate with the Geisha. She explains that Geisha are showgirls whose mentality and strength take years in training to be properly disciplined, something she inherited from her grandmother who was a fan dance teacher. “Londoners are quick to judge who I am and what culture I have, sometimes it’s annoying but I like to play with it, when I was in Tokyo I’ve never seen or could imagine what fantasy Western people had, so it’s eye opening to find out what they want from Japanese culture. Young girls especially are intoxicated with Japan, they ask me how to be Geisha, how to do Geisha makeup, wear the kimono properly, and I love that curiosity they have.”
We talk about the shows becoming mainstream entertainment and Ayumi explains that many circus organisers showcase it as acrobatics, as it works on the basis of upper body strength, which is hard to train for women. Men pole dancing has increased in popularity too as they physically can be on the pole longer. I ask if men can perform in the same way as women, “Depends on how they express it, it could be totally sexual, a lot of it goes into the Magic Mike comedy.” As the differences in the representations of male and female sexuality are wide, it leaves room for work like Ayumi’s to create a discussion between the two, “There is a lot missing from the general perception of my work, I want to cultivate the beauty in it and let people embrace it as the human body making art, I don’t need a category.”
We end the interview with the burning question, if after all these years on the pole she can still slide down it and pretend she’s a fireman. Ayumi laughs, “There’s actually a trick called ‘the fireman’ for the beginners, it’s a basic pole dancing skill being able to slide down from top to bottom.” Ayumi continues that negative perceptions and politics of the pole aside, she still manages to have fun, “I can touch the ceiling and look down seeing a whole different point of view, it’s a good feeling.” Having my point of view changed also, It is clear to see that Ayumi aches for the art of entertainment, what she does seems very modern, showing that she is the ultimate performer or shape shifter of the stage, she doesn’t want to be tied down to one identity or one category, well, unless she’s being tied down properly.
Ayumi La Noire
Words By: Jessica Tinkler
Photographer: Russell Higton
Stylist: Edith Walker
Hair: Laura Todd
MUA: Adeola Gboyega
Special Thanks: 14 LSQ