Zippora Lewis first came on my radar in 2014.
By then, I had already been pole dancing since 2012 so I was deeply immersed in the world of aerial and thought I had seen it all. However, I saw Zippora perform at a showcase in Atlanta and instantly fell in love with the Baltimore native. She was muscular, flexible, and feminine, three contradictory concepts that were all well-presented in one petite body. She had the entire crowd mesmerized with a bendy, sexy, cool performance to FKA Twigs’ “Two Weeks.”
I have been following her journey ever since, never not amazed by what her body can do whether it’s on the pole, lyra, or even floorwork. Zippora has taught pole, competed and performed in many performances since my first introduction to her. She has also been a stunt double for Anika Noni Rose in BET’s The Quad, recently appeared on an aerial lollipop in Lil Baby’s “Pure Cocaine,” and she did stunt double work in the upcoming Starz series, P-Valley. Yes, pole stunt doubles are a thing! The nuances of the pole world are a lot more complex than people like to believe.
Zippora, in addition to her athletic life, has a thriving career in fashion. The Atlanta resident is a technical designer by trade, which means she works with factories and tells them how to create garments for mass production (yes, this skill does come in handy for her own costumes). Her resume includes Under Armour, as well as fitting athletes for the Olympics. Your girl ain’t no joke!
And on top of all of that, she is as sweet as it gets! I have had the pleasure of taking classes taught by her and having had conversations about how she gets so bendy and fit because everyone always wants to know how she got such a strong, banging body! The most interesting part about this is, she doesn’t work out as much as people might think.
Zippora says It’s about diet and learning about epigenetics. I caught up with the busy athlete to chat about how she fell in love with pole, what it’s like to work as a stunt double in this vein, and how anyone can transform their body.
Who was the first pole dancer that really motivated you to to really work at the craft?
The first time I took a class [in 2010], there was this instructor named Body. She was a stripper and I fell in love with her movement. She was so strong. She was so flexible and she was super sweet. It was just so different. I was never an active person. I hated to be outside when it came to rolling around in the grass or anything like that. I didn’t know flexibility or anything like that. So, I go to that class and just seeing her, I was like, “Oh my God!” I’ve never seen anything so beautiful, and not even the fact that she was a dancer, her body was beautiful.
Everything about her and I mean, I’m I love men to the day that I die, so it wasn’t even on that kind of level. I just thought that she was amazing. I’ve never seen such art and something so amazing. So from there, I was like, “I’ve got to get into this!” and I just stuck with it.
And you ended up transforming yourself into that same person where people look at you in aw in the same way! Of course, you started from scratch but now people look at you like, “How did you do it?”
It’s funny you say that. I look back and I think about Body and I’m like, oh my God, I turned myself into Body [laughs], but she was everything. Even to this day, I pay homage to her. I know where she is, I know her son, I’m like, you are the reason I live. She was just amazing to me. And then a year or two after I started, I saw an amazing pole dancer, her name is Jenyne Butterfly.
I went to a competition or a performance, and I didn’t even know who Jenyne was but I saw this person and literally, I stood up and I cried. I just love creativity, and the first time I saw her perform, I was the only one standing. I was in tears. It was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen aside from Body because she was tiny, she’s just so pretty, she was of a different color. Everything! She was just like Body but she was different. She’s the only person, and I’ve met some people, that I ever get starstruck for. So the two of those people are the reason why I was like, okay, I’m going to stick with it because hopefully, I can be like them one day.
I know you get this question all the time, but how often do you train including pole and other conditioning stuff?
I didn’t start working out until the last four years. I started to entertain a gym and I was teaching in a gym before I moved [to Atlanta]. So, I guess maybe like four-and-a-half years. I started to teach in a gym, just fitness classes because I was getting bored with pole and then I also had a studio in Baltimore and the studio was in a gym. So I ended up teaching pole dancing classes and teaching fitness classes, but even my fitness classes were a little dancey, too, so it was kind of like my own thing.
At that time, I wasn’t really doing actual weights or treadmill or anything like that. I hated running. So, not until the last two years or so since I’ve been In Atlanta is when I really started to entertain the gym a little more frequently, and really, a little more frequently means two times a week and I only do legs. I don’t do any upper body because I get enough upper body on the pole. So, I only do it about two times a week. I focus a lot on nutrition when it’s time for a competition or if it’s time to get ready for a photoshoot or some kind of event.
I know what my body responds to and so I’ll cut out all the whites, gluten, potatoes, stuff like that, but then at the same time I noticed that I was getting a little too skinny on the bottom half of my body and my shoulders kept growing and I just didn’t want to look like an upside-down like triangle. As you know, we all end up looking like anyway [laughs], but it was just becoming too extreme for me, so I was like let me just try this whole thing and I immersed myself into YouTube videos of how to grow my thighs. So I was like, let me just try it. Let me just go to the gym and then it just took a life of its own.
You give people like me hope that I can have a banging body without working out all the time if I could just get my diet together.
Exactly. You can totally just diet for sure. The thing is, they say it’s 80% of your physique and it totally is. If you find that you’re cutting out certain things, you’ll start to see and feel a change in your body because most of the time it’s in your digestive tract. You know, taking in nutrients that are either you expelling from your body or you’re taking it in, or your gut that’s leaking. Not to be a complete science nerd but I learned about muscles and engagement and stuff like that and fell into learning about epigenetics and then learning about how certain genetic markers can be turned on and off.
Let’s get into some of the work that you’ve done. You were Anika Noni Rose’s body double on The Quad, and did double work for other people. How did you get into this type of work as a pole dancer?
Yeah, I did The Quad, and it’s so funny every opportunity, either a video or TV show just happened to be networking. With The Quad, that was such a fluke because a friend said, “I have this opportunity, just come and try it out.” Now, me, I am one of the shyest people you’ll ever meet, so I was like, “TV? No!” And she was like, “Just just try, it’ll be fine.” So I went and because I was just a little insecure, I didn’t feel like my body was where I wanted it to be at that specific time, especially when you just drop something on me on the fly. I was just flying in from Japan for work and she said, “You need to come in tomorrow.”
So I’m like, “Oh my god, I’ve been eating all this rice, I’m all bloated and it’s not going to work out” but she was like, “Just come by!” So I meet the director and the actress and they just said, “Okay fine, you can do it!” It was just as easy as that and I’m sure it’s not as easy for everyone else but you know it was just the right time and place.
How does body doubling work when it comes to pole? How long were you on set and do they just let you do your thing and figure out the rest with special effects?
There was some choreo. She actually had Torwa Joe from Vertical Joe’s as her choreographer to do the pole part of it. So I learned her choreo just so that they can overlap some of those moves but it was so odd and kind of funny because they also didn’t know what they wanted and they didn’t know what I was capable of so they just said, “Just do you, just go and do whatever” so I’m like, “Okay, no problem.” So I just started doing me and then the room got really quiet and I was so embarrassed. I come off the pole and like I said, it was so quiet and I’m looking around at the directors. Everyone starts laughing and then the director comes in and he was like, “That was amazing!” and I’m like, “No it wasn’t. What do you mean?”
Again, I’m insecure because I’m like they don’t know what they want. It was probably like 30 seconds on the screen. I think call time was one something if I’m remembering correctly, and I didn’t leave until about 4:00 a.m. the next morning. So it was a lot of waiting around and things like that, but probably from the time we actually started shooting, I was there was probably from 8 p.m. until maybe 11 or 12 and then she too had to shoot after me. So some of the things that I did, she had to do and then, conversely, I had to fill in some things too.
And again once you see it on TV, it’s just a few seconds. It takes a few hours to create and you need the endurance to maintain to make sure that your lines are great, your shapes are great from the moment you begin and it needs to look exactly the same.
What else are you working on when it comes to this type of work?
I did the pilot for a Starz series that’s coming out called P-Valley. I did the initial pilot. I wasn’t in the series because they wanted something very specific and ended up choosing specific kind of girls. There was choreo over there that was pretty specific but it ended up being partly that they just said, “Just do you, just as just do some moves,” and it was like several hours of time being on set and then even for that instance the speed for me when I pole is not slow but it’s in between like slow and fast. It’s very controlled but for P Valley they wanted very quick, very dancer stripper kind of speed, a little sloppy as strippers are and not how it is in a pole competition where you have to point your toes.
Right, competitions and Cirque Du Soleil are one thing, but at the strip club, no one is looking at technique [laughs]!
Right! So, they were like, “Get that technique crap out of here!” I’m like, “What do you mean, I need to point my toes!” At the end, they ended up being like, “Do you” and I was able to flex a little bit but sometimes it just depends because I am a bendy person. So, you know some things that I do, they don’t want that because it’s too pretty. It’s too artistic. They may want it a little harder so it just depends. So, like I said, these two times when I’ve done these things for TV, I don’t know if they were flukes or if it was just for networking or whatever, but sometimes people are looking for something very specific and I may not necessarily fill that void, or I may feel that for them.
I know P-Valley is actually about strippers, but it’s important to point out that people who aren’t in the pole world don’t understand it and tend to think it’s one thing. They think it’s only strippers and don’t understand all the nuances in terms of styles.
It’s true. I think because what’s trending now is strippers so that’s what they’re looking for.
How does poling impact your professional life? Have you ever had any issues with bosses or coworkers?
I was pretty scared about it when I was at Under Armour just because I didn’t know how people would view me. So, I kind of kept it under wraps for a very long time and also with what I wore when I posted things. I was pretty conservative about it just because I didn’t know how they were going to take it but everyone’s pretty cool about it and honestly, being able to pole and do fashion has given me such a diverse perspective on both ends of the spectrum. So apparel wise, when pole dancers have an issue about, this is pulling, this won’t allow me to do this or whatever, I’m able to have some insight there. But then on the flip side, now because I have such an active hobby I’m able to bring that into my profession.
I can say an item is not going to work because when I’m on the pole or on aerial, this is what happens to this, this is how the garment moves, this is what it feels like, so I think my coworkers value it because I have a different perspective that no one else has. For example, this is the second time that I’m fitting athletes for the Olympics.
So, I’m able to talk to them about their training, what they’re going into, what they’re doing, what they even want to wear for the Olympics, and I’m able to have a different dialogue than anyone else because I too am an extreme athlete and I know what the training is like and then I know what you’re expecting out of your garment or your apparel that day when it’s time to perform. So they feel like they also value that perspective as well because no one else in the office may even understand what a true athlete feels like and goes through.
What advice do you have four pole dancers who are interested in getting into the TV film world?
I would say don’t try to fit into a mold because when you are trying out for part or project people can totally tell if you’re not being your authentic self and you’re trying to force it. Authenticity is super important. And I also think that you just have to keep trying. Don’t let a no deter you from still trying to go after what you want. And I think networking also is super important.
So just keep making sure that you get out there, that you’re introducing yourself to a bunch of different people and a bunch of different settings so that people can know who you are and notice your value and what kind of person you are because sometimes it really is about relationships. People may just say, “Do you know someone? Bring her in.” So networking is super important.
As pole dancers, I know we both get people who say they’re interested in trying it but they’re scared because they’re not strong or too big or whatever excuse you can think of. I always tell people that all the athletes you see started from scratch so since you are an amazing athlete, what would your advice be to newbie pole dancers or people who are interested in trying?
That is a loaded question! But I just say you’ve just got to do it. Don’t let yourself stop you from being a better you. Don’t get in your own way. You have to just make sure if that’s something that you want, if you want to get sexier, if you want to be stronger, if you want to get healthier, the only way that’s going to happen is if you make and take the first step, so you have to just do it. Yes, it can be extremely intimidating and there are people around you who are better than you at that time, but they were also where you were at some point.
Sometimes it helps to surround yourself with people who are like-minded but who also can introduce value and help to teach you things that you don’t already know because that’s the only way that you’re going to grow sitting on the sidelines is not going to help you reach your goals.