Yumi Pong was going through a dark period in her life when she took up pole dancing.

“I started pole dancing after my mum passed away,” says the co-owner and director of Milan Pole Dance Studio. “I didn’t go into it expecting it to help me cope with my grief. But in going for classes and interacting with other people, I was able to see how they were able to stay strong even though they also had their own problems.”

“This not only made me realise that I wasn’t alone, but also boosted my confidence.”

It helped her put things into perspective, so when one of her current partners, a pole dancing classmate at that time, approached her to join the industry, she readily agreed.

“I wanted to help other people partake in this experience because I knew how much it helped me.”

Milan Pole Dance Studio opened its first studio in 2014, and second studio in 2016. On top of overseeing daily operations, Yumi also churns out creative content for the brand’s social media accounts.

Her efforts often go unrecognised

The 29-year-old has a flexibile work schedule, but that doesn’t mean her life is any less stressful. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

“My job takes up a lot of time. I’m constantly thinking about work even when I’m not at the studio and never truly feel like I’m switched off from it,” she shares.

It doesn’t help that people don’t always recognise her behind-the-scenes efforts.

“Some people are like: ‘What’s there to do for a pole dancing studio, anyway?’ But that’s when I know I’m doing a good job, because it means everything is running smoothly. I do everything, even cleaning toilets.”

She also has to ensure the finances are always in order, which can be tricky.

“One of the most important things I’ve learnt is that money not only keeps our business running, but also affects our decision-making process. Sometimes, it’s tempting to make decisions based on emotions, but it’s crucial to be realistic about what makes financial sense for the business.”

“Even when it comes to stuff like designing class packages, it can be hard to choose between what I want to do, and what is best for the business. I love the business and I love the people involved, but I have to make sure I go with what is sustainable.”

But her students’ joy makes it all worth it

“I’m always reminded that my work isn’t about me. There’s a bigger picture to it and it’s populated by passionate people from all walks of life— namely my partners, instructors and students. They inspire me,” says Yumi.

“I love watching the progress of not just the students, but also the team. It makes me incredibly proud and is what drives me to maintain a place that does them justice.”

She especially beams with pride when she encounters students who are pregnant.

“Being a soon-to-be mother is really tough. And seeing them carve out time for themselves—coming all the way down just to take a class—makes me really happy.”

Running the studio has been challenging since day one, but Yumi has embraced the fact that this is par for the course: “The studio turns five this year. I still feel like I’m too young to run a business, but I don’t think this is something anyone can prepare for, really. It’s just one of those things you dive into and learn the ropes along the way.”

And her advice for starting your own business?

“Have a good support system. Be patient, because things take time to grow. And don’t be afraid of change—people and circumstances do, so learn to grow with the changes and see them as opportunities.