Peach Lee Ray Interview: Adaptability, Community, and Ethical Marketing

Peach Lee Ray is a pole, dance, and confidence coach based in the Wirral, UK. She describes herself as a “4′ 11 pocket rocket of Irish descent”, and she’s passionate about pole, performing, and self-improvement. Her studio, Feelin’ Peachy, was developed to combine those passions into a community space where her students can learn the art of pole, improve their self-confidence, and have a safe space away from a world that tells them to be less than who they are.

After a wonderful (and definitely tiring!) hour and a half of training with Peach, we sat down to refuel and talk more about her approach to pole, the community around Feelin’ Peachy, and her thoughts on the pole industry.

Thanks so much for today! I was actually super nervous coming here today; I know it’s my anxiety talking, but I was convinced I’d be awful and you’d regret inviting me up here for a private lesson.

Honestly, I was nervous that I wouldn’t be able to teach you anything new, and you’d travelled all this way for nothing, so I’m so happy you got something out of today! 

I’d never be disappointed in anyone! I’m one of those instructors that thinks everything that everyone does is amazing. I think we’re all a bit like that.

That’s what I love about you, and that’s why I was so excited to come and learn from you. You’re so supportive and encouraging, and today really showed me why Feelin’ Peachy has such a wonderful community around it. How important is it to you that you build and grow a community around your studio?

I think it’s so important because as adults, it feels nearly impossible to make friends and find people you get along with. You know with your pole family you’re going to see them once a week if not more, so there’s the consistency there. Then the extra things like the social events that I put on gives you the ability to get to know people who are like you, especially if you have your ethos in place so everybody is on the same page.

I deliberately called Feelin’ Peachy an empowerment studio because I think community is so, so important for anyone’s self-development and confidence journey, and like I said as adults it can be difficult to find your community. That’s why I wanted my studio to be a place where my students know they’re going to be surrounded by other people who are going to lift each other up, cheer each other on, and help each other feel confident enough to chase their dreams.

Most importantly, though, I want to build a community where my students get to see themselves represented. Six of my students came to watch me at Filthy Friday, so for them getting to see a showcase of people with different body types, of different abilities, of all different shapes, sizes, ethnicities and genders – I love to get them to a show where they can see people like them. 

I want to talk a little about your PLACE philosophy, because it’s such a big part of how you’ve built your community. How has this helped you and your students grow?

A big part of Feelin’ Peachy is finding your PLACE, which in practice means:

  • Positivity in your outlook and bringing that positivity to others, 
  • Love for yourself and others, whether you know them or not,
  • Acceptance of who we and others are, and not judging them for things they can’t or don’t want to change,
  • Compassion to ourselves and others, 
  • Evolution, both in how we facilitate our own growth, and how we support the growth of others.

This is written down in our new welcome pack, as well as other suggestions for students – like we say “no negative self-talk”. So, if someone speaks badly about themselves, we remind themselves of the rule. Obviously you’re allowed to be frustrated and have negative emotions, but we want to help people approach those emotions and deal with them in the right way. We always approach these negative emotions with a perspective of “okay, how can we help you out in this situation”, rather than telling people just to keep their chin up.

I have one student who, when she started, would apologise in pretty much every sentence. I said to her “if you apologise one more time, I’m going to get everyone in this room to pay you a compliment”, and since then she’s grown so much. But I don’t think anyone’s ever told her she doesn’t need to apologise for herself.

And I do get people who apologise for not picking things up as quickly as other people, or they’ll come in on their first lesson and apologise that they’re not at the same level as some of my other students who have been coming for months. I always tell them it’s my job to help them – that’s literally what they’re paying me to do – and that of course some other students will be ahead of them, because they’ve had more time to practice. 

Another big thing is helping people to understand that everyone has different strengths, and that they will learn things quicker or slower than other people, so they understand that things work at their pace. 

Having those rules in place makes sure that we’re all on the same page, but I also made it public so that if business was slow, I’d never be tempted to revert to the same tactics as other studios. And it’s really paid off in dividends. So many studio owners I’ve spoken to want to go in new directions but their students don’t want it, which is understandable – that studio opened as one thing, but if they change, they become something that their students aren’t looking for. Whereas because I opened immediately with this mission statement at my core, I only attracted students who fit my ethos, and they referred other people who fit with my ethos too.

Feelin’ Peachy has always been remarkable for me a big part of your message is about fun. Your message has always been “if you’re having fun, you’re winning”, which I don’t see all that often in the pole world. Fitness marketing has become the norm in a lot of ways.

I feel like as a pole studio you need a mission statement. Mine has always been to make classes fun, and that’s at the heart of everything I do. If something isn’t fun for my students, I either don’t do it, or stop running it. The studio’s busy, and I know I’m not cheap, but my students choose to come here because it’s more than just a workout.

From my perspective, you go to pole to have fun and it’s all about the journey and community more than the destination. It really depends what your studio’s about though. I’ve only been poling for five years, so I came in at the time when heels and sexy stuff was coming back into pole. And, I came in right in the middle of the whole #notastripper thing. 

I didn’t start my studio when pole studios were branding themselves as pole fitness and trying to distance themselves from the stigma around the origins of pole. Of course I never blame any instructor or studio owner who branded themselves or their studio as pole fitness, but nowadays I don’t think there’s any excuse. 

You can make a business teaching pole without necessarily doing pole fitness – I’ve definitely done that!

I don’t necessarily see the problem with marketing with fitness, because there’s a market for that. But if that’s all you do, you’re not going to attract people who aren’t interested in that. We can do so much more in the pole industry.

Your social media feed is one of the most diverse I’ve ever seen, and I love your focus on building people up. Your refusal to market on insecurities is a real credit to Feelin’ Peachy and the pole industry as a whole. 

For me, I feel like it’s unethical to market based on people’s insecurities, which was a big thing for me when I set up my studio.

I was listening to a marketing audiobook recently that said that your marketing is telling people that people like them can do something like this. So if your marketing is fitness based and you’re only showing thin people in your marketing, and you’re only showing the most advanced tricks – you’re not showing that people like you CAN do something like this. 

That’s why representation is important because we need to be telling people that they do belong here, and they can achieve everything they want to achieve. 

As soon as I could, I moved away from everything on our social media channels being a photo of me. I don’t want people to think they have to look like me to be able to do this. So once a month I do a thread in our private social media group for people to drop photos that they’re happy for me to use so I can showcase my students and make it about them.

Because when you come for a class, it’s not about me – it’s about you, and how do I show that if I’m only ever posting pictures of me? It’s so important when you’re doing the marketing for your studio that you think about what message you’re putting out. 

In the welcome pack, I also talk about how it’s a core principle of this studio that we don’t talk about body weight, market towards “problem areas” (because they don’t exist!), or target other insecurities just to get people through the door.

You mentioned earlier that you think the pole industry can do so much more than fitness, and I agree – there’s a lot of magic within pole, and I think only looking to serve the fitness aspect means we’re missing out on a lot of the other benefits.

Fitness is a perfectly valid reason for wanting to do pole and there’s plenty of people who want that. You can definitely start a business on pole fitness alone, and you’re always going to attract people who are looking for fitness classes because they want to achieve a certain goal. It’s not a bad business model to have, but I don’t think it should be the only one out there.

I think that’s why a lot of studio owners can feel threatened when other studios open because everyone’s doing the same thing. If you’re all doing the same thing, then how can your students differentiate? Other than through price, location, and teaching. 

People end up getting super competitive because they’ll see a new studio opening that does the same thing at maybe half the price that they do it, but they don’t think to diversify or adapt. Instead of looking at what you can do in order to make yourself different and explains your price, so many people see other studios undercutting them as that studio’s problem.

If you know what you want to do, and you do that well, then you won’t be afraid of people undercutting you. If you have a marketing strategy that’s working for you, then other studios might try to copy you, but if you’re unique in what you do, it’s going to be hard for them. Even with my instructors, I choose them based on their personality. I don’t want them to be a carbon copy of me. 

It might be that people with established studios want to change – but they can’t change at this point, and I can’t blame them for that. They have their market. But there’s going to be new studios that pop up and they might be better than you. They might put you out of business. You haven’t earned the right to corner your market just because you’ve been there longest. This is where, both as a business and as an instructor, you have to be adaptable.

Just like with any business you need to give your customers a reason to keep coming back, so adapting to what they want is crucial. 

And that’s why I offer so many different kinds of classes, but to be honest, I prefer teaching the dance and choreography based classes. My dream is eventually to get more instructors on board to teach the tricks classes so I can focus more on the classes I’m passionate about. 

It’s not that I don’t love teaching tricks, but my heart is in the dancing. I love that creativity – and I’m super surprised because I only started doing contemporary and other non-sexy pole in 2018.

But that’s the thing, not everyone wants to do the same thing. Not everyone wants to do sexy style, but if you want to make a studio just for that, then do it! The people who want to do it are going to come along and they’ll love it, and you’ll find your family.

I feel like a lot of people don’t niche enough, so they try to do everything, or they’ll pick up on something and think “yes, that’s the thing that’ll make me money”. Like when heels became popular again, and suddenly everyone was teaching heels classes.

In my business plan, when I was applying for funding, I said that there was so much more to pole than fitness. Pole has been damaged in a way by the fitness craze. They were competing against Zumba, Barre, and all these other classes that could pack out a room charging £5 a lesson. And now you’re stuck charging £5 a lesson and wondering why you’re not making any money because you can only fit 10 people in a class. Or, you’re trying to pack your classes, but then it’s not the same.

It’s been fundamentally damaged by that. I wanted to do something different and show that pole has this amazing, transformative quality – and that it can be this boutique leisure activity – that can literally change peoples lives. And I know that fitness classes can change people’s lives too, but pole has this certain magic about it and why are we ignoring that?

We’re telling people to “come for the fitness and stay for the magic” but why are you getting people to come for the fitness when you want it to be about the magic? Why are you not getting people to come for the magic, and stay for the magic?

I feel like we need this 360 turnaround on what we think about pole and what the capacity of pole is. I’ve had people tell me that I can’t expect to win a pole competition if I don’t do “real pole”, but what does that even mean? Are you saying what I’m doing isn’t real pole because I don’t really focus on tricks? This is the perspective we have to challenge.

I think the harmful side of that is that people end up tricks-chasing and trying new tricks before they’re ready. It breaks my heart to see people who adore pole feel like they’re doing it “wrong” because they’ve not reached a milestone or done something that they think is the hallmark of a “good pole dancer”.

I’ve actually been seeing a physiotherapist because I fucked up my shoulder from learning to handspring too early, so I instil in all of my students that slow is still okay. Even if you can do something, should you?

I was training 5 days a week, I was doing advanced moves, I have hypermobile shoulders which no-one pointed out to me or taught me about, so when I see students now I’m very wary of how fast they’re trying to get into moves.

Studio owners often complain that they have this culture of trick-chasing in their studio with people always wanting to move onto things that are too advanced for them, but I have the opposite problem now. I’ve told my students for so long that it’s okay to go slow and keep revisiting moves, but now I have to badger people to move up a level when I feel like they might be ready for that.

We do have an instant gratification culture, but we also need to look at the communities we’re building and what we show. On my social channels I don’t post as many advanced moves as other studios because for Feelin’ Peachy, it’s not about the tricks. When people come, they’re not about the tricks. As much as it is about the culture, it’s also about fostering the culture you want in your studio. 

If you’re only posting the crazy shit to attract in customers, then they’re going to want to do the cool stuff you’ve posted. But there’s loads of cool stuff that isn’t tricks! Choreo videos are awesome, and my students love it when I come up with something weird and cool and unique for them to try, because it’s about fun rather than a means to an end.

I’ve been showing my physio these videos and she said what’s really nice is that it’s not what she thought pole was. She said she thought pole was just all the crazy tricks, but not dance with a pole, which is great for fitness because it’s all about functional movement with the pole for support. 

Fitness doesn’t have to be the craziest, strongest, hardest moves you can do. Fitness can be learning choreo, doing functional movement, and having body awareness. How can injuring your shoulder be fitness?

Exactly! Every day I see posts from various pole Facebook groups where someone’s injured, or they think they’ve hurt themselves. 

I still don’t understand why there are instructors out there who are teaching tricks that they’ve been injured in themselves. I showed my physio a video of me doing a rubber Ayesha, and she asked me why I was doing it. She asked if I was ever going to teach it to my students, and I said no, I probably wouldn’t. And she was right, really.

I know people like to do cool tricks and they want to do the risky things, but I’m not that studio, and I’m not that instructor. There’s definitely schools and instructors out there who can teach those things, but that’s not me. 

You know your limits, which I think is important as an instructor. You’re passionate about dance and choreography, but you know that you’re not a flips and risky tricks instructor, because that’s not what you’re interested in. So what’s the harm in directing people to instructors who are trained in doing those things?

Exactly! I’ve been thinking about asking Shane Godliman to teach a workshop for my students who do want to do flips and those kinds of things because he’s so knowledgeable and dedicated to keeping everybody safe while they try these riskier things. 

But that’s another thing – so many studios are so protective of their students that they don’t want them going anywhere else. They want to be everything for that student. I’ve had students who ask if I can teach them a move, and they’ll show me a video of that move, and I’ll say no – but I’ll direct them to someone I know who can teach them that move. 

I’m not about teaching students moves that I don’t know myself, because it’s not my expertise. I know what I’m good at and what I can do and yes, I know my limits, and that’s why students stay with me because they come for the teaching and the studio.

On the topic of important skills for instructors, we talked a bit earlier about the importance of being adaptable. Do you think this is one of the most important skills you can have, both as an instructor and a business owner?

Yes, definitely! 

Adaptability applies to everything. For me, it was things like listening to my students and understanding what they wanted, what was working for them, and what wasn’t. So I’ll move classes around on the timetable, and I’ll take things off, and I’ll put on new classes too. What I do quite often is I run polls so my students can tell me what they want. I don’t assume what my students want just because I think it’s a great idea.

So many studios think adding to their business will make their business better, when that’s really not the case. If what you’re already doing isn’t working, then adding new certifications, new classes, and new apparatus won’t necessarily make things better. 

One of the reasons I wanted to learn from you is because of your dedication to adaptability – I’ve been to a lot of studios where I’m the largest person in the room, but if I struggle to get into tricks the same way as people with smaller bodies, I’ve been made to feel like it’s my body that’s the problem. 

As a teacher, you always have to be learning too. The way I teach now is completely different to how it was when I started, and it should be! You’ll learn more from your students than you ever will from a certification. You’re always finding out what moves work and what don’t, you’re working with people of different body types – which you should be, really.

One of my major annoyances is when studios have instructors who all look like clones of each other. There’s no diversity there. I see it so often. Studios and brands will talk about diversity, but when they put something new out, it’s always pictures of people who all look alike. Which takes me back to my point earlier about marketing – what message is that giving out to your students, whether they’ve never been before or if they’re regulars.

And if you don’t have that diversity, you’re really missing a lot of valuable different viewpoints and experiences that can benefit your students and your brand. I personally feel like the industry would benefit from hearing those experiences and working with more people who are willing to use what they’ve gone through to uplift others.

I think as a result of my experiences, I can relate to people who are struggling with their body image. I was bullied really badly as a teenager. I had braces, I was self-conscious about my body, I had bad skin, and I was bullied by the boys so bad. I was called ugly, I had food thrown at me, people would bark in my face, all sorts.

Because of that, I feel like I have this empathy for people who are experiencing bad body image. I can relate to people through that, and that helps. Having empathy as an instructor is one of the most important qualities you can have. Cate, for instance, has worked so hard on her body image, and I’m so proud of her for that, and she uses that to help out others too.

We are a body neutral studio – I have my issues with body positivity, because I don’t think it’s realistic to expect you’ll love yourself 100% of the time – and I talk about that a lot with my students. I’ve taught people with body dysmorphia and with really low self esteem, and in here, we always say it’s not necessarily about being positive about your body. It’s just not thinking about it right now.

This is going to sound so pretentious, but I feel like me being an instructor is my way of taking my past experiences and using them to help other people’s lives better. 

I craved recognition as a child, creatively. There’s a small part of me that needs people to recognise my talent and effort. In some ways it feels like I’m destined to not get that type of recognition – but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing I’m coming to realise. 

I am realising that I can use my experiences to heal people. 

I use my passions and my past traumas to heal people through dance and creative pursuits, even though these things also brought me pain. It’s the same thing with body image. Body image brought me pain, but I can use that to heal other people.

There’s a concept in Astrology called your “Wounded Healer”, based on the location of the asteroid Chiron in your chart, and it points to the thing that has wounded you – but gives us powers of healing because we’ve been spiritually wounded. Mine is in my 5th House Leo, which can refer to creative pursuits and expression. 

Whether you’re into Astrology or not, you can use this to figure out how you can help other people. So you can ask yourself – what have you been wounded by? And how can you use those experiences to help other people with their pain?

Peach Lee Ray runs and teaches at Feelin’ Peachy in the Wirral, UK.

Curious about what it’s like to train with Peach? Read my review of Feelin’ Peachy and the private lesson I had with Peach here!

You can follow Peach on Instagram, and make sure to check out Feelin’ Peachy on Facebook and Instagram too.

Normally I’d ask you to toss a coin to your blogger, but instead, please donate to one of the many organisations in Australia that are battling the horrific wildfires – like the Australian Red CrossWIRES, or the First Nations fundraiser.

If you’re going to donate to help these organisations support people, communities, and wildlife in need, please do your research beforehand to ensure you’re donating to a legitimate charity, organisation, or fundraiserAnd please don’t donate to the Salvation Army, because they’re trash. Thanks <3

Share the love!