Twice international pole champion, yogi and fitness instructor Deb Roach gave a talk at last year’s event on how increased visibility of people with disabilities is often presented for the gaze of the able-bodied. We have caught up with her in the run-up to this year’s event, ‘Home’, to see what the theme means to her…
Hi Deb, thanks for chatting with us! We loved your talk last year at ‘Intersect’ – what have you been up to since we last saw you?
“I’m living back in Sydney very unexpectedly! I flew out of London 3 days after the TEDxUCLWomen Intersect event on what I had planned to be a 7-week long pole and aerial teaching and performing adventure throughout Asia, Australia and New Zealand. I was in Phuket when I received the call from home that my mum had cancer… So my 2 weeks in Sydney for the festive season has become 9 months so far. I’m teaching pole dancing, yoga and Pilates here much as I was in London, and helping my family out wherever I am able.”
For those who couldn’t make it to last year’s event, would you mind describing what you do for a living and how your knowledge and experience informed your interpretation of ‘Intersect’?
“I’m a movement instructor and performer. I’m twice international pole champion and I teach yoga, Pilates and pole dance. I was also born with a congenital malformation, which means I have no left arm. My experience of life as a person with a disability has intersected with the able bodied majority in a number of ways – particularly as a performing artist and athlete.”
See Deb’s incredible talk ‘Beyond Intersection, Towards Integration’ here:
“That’s the world I want to see. One that recognises that all of humanity is diverse and that we all have the equal right to enjoy our opportunities. I get to do that every day and it’s a real good laugh!” – Deb Roach – Intersect 2016
Our theme this year is ‘Home’ in all its interpretations… what does this mean to you?
“I didn’t feel respected as an artist, performer or pole dancing instructor here in Sydney. I wasn’t tanned, no six pack, different fashion sense, an alien. I lived my entire life here on the outside, watching a society I couldn’t functionally connect and interact with. In my adolescence, my home town felt like a prison, my peers my enemies. As an adult, I made my way through it and built what I thought I wanted, but cracks soon appeared in the facade when I stood by my choices to challenge society’s notions of what I should and shouldn’t do.
On my numerous visits to London, actual oceans of opportunity would just appear before me. It was the city in which I felt completely and unconditionally free to be myself and to pursue the career of my dreams. An exceptional talent visa endorsed by the arts Council made it possible for me to make London my home and it is definitely my happiest place of residence. My sense of belonging came in the form of freedom, to be the master of my destiny, to have unlimited choice. From how I looked, to my hours of work, where I lived, how I taught. The anonymity I was afforded living in the big city was at times isolating but overridingly welcome. In the UK I felt embraced, welcomed and appreciated.
Returning to Sydney was devastating at first. I felt I’d been ripped from my dream life when my career was on the brink of really taking off in a wonderful new direction. I knew I was needed at home, and I understood what choices I could make to survive here. I contacted the pole studio nearest my mum’s house and instantly found new work with a wonderful company. My former employers for Pilates and yoga were also thrilled to have me back. I just couldn’t find a way to be grateful though, and that’s really unusual for me.
I’ve struggled tremendously to readjust and the anxiety and depression I’ve battled for 6 months have been the worst I’ve known since my adolescence. I had something to look forward to, however, and through mum’s treatment and my own mental health concerns, it kept me going – I held on. I travelled Europe and the UK through June as a performer and instructor and I reconnected with my former sense of happy self. My ability to self-actualize returned and I vowed to make my own way forward here in Sydney, and to set about it the moment I returned.
I did it. I chased down some opportunities and then others came to me in return. I’m building a new home, one that chose me, that’s challenged me to adapt in every single imaginable way, but here I am. At the end of the day, I’m doing what I believe I’m on this earth to do.
As long as I’m able to meet my own needs and live with purpose, my home can now be anywhere.”
A huge thank you to Deb for her time. To find out more about her, check out her social media!