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Meet Roz Mays, the plus-size pole-dancing teacher

She couldn’t care less about what you have to say about her body

In the world of pole fitness, Roz “The Diva” Mays, 31, is an anomaly. At 230 pounds, she’s not the type of woman you’d expect to see spinning on a pole — let alone leading the class. But the certified pole instructor and personal New York City trainer is doing just that.

Mays grew up in a household in Huntington, Long Island, where she and her sister were raised to embrace their thick “gams,” which her father affectionately called “tree trunks.” The expression could have easily been taken the wrong way, but Mays knew better.

“My dad was coming from a place of love, like he was describing Serena and Venus [Williams],” Mays says. “Thank God we took it in a good way, because telling some teen girls their legs look like tree trunks could’ve turned out really horrible.”

Mays recalls her upbringing as fortunate and says her family was extremely supportive of her activities. She participated in fencing, soccer and, her favorite, softball.

Despite her physical activity, Mays never had what most would consider the typical athletic build. A chubby child who became an even chubbier adult, she is the complete opposite of lean and muscular and was often judged for her physical appearance.

“As much as I loved playing sports, it was also around that time when I was younger that I sort of cemented the idea in my head that I wasn’t valuable to sports because I couldn’t run fast,” Mays says. “Even before puberty weight hit, I was just never a quick body, and it was the quintessential story of the last person picked for tag. And I think because it was so normal for so long, I didn’t realize how damaging some of those thoughts were.”

After earning a business degree from George Washington University, Mays got stuck working a sedentary job at a nonprofit that wasn’t her ideal career path. As a result, she developed bad eating habits and was wearing the biggest size that Old Navy had to offer. She describes that time as her rock bottom, the moment she realized she had to make a change.

She signed up for a gym membership and immediately got hooked on the dance classes, particularly pole.

“Your first pole class will tell you about muscles you didn’t know existed. I left in pain and couldn’t raise my arms for a week, [but] I couldn’t wait to get back in the class,” Mays says. “I think pole is one of those things where with the first class you either love it for life or you never touch that pole again.”

Despite being one of the biggest students in her classes, Mays found confidence and support in the pole community and began to embrace her body.

In the spring of 2010, she competed in the first Polesque, a pole-meets-burlesque competition where the winner is determined by a combination of crowd opinion and judge’s ratings. Mays didn’t win, but she made an impression. When she returned to the stage for Polesque’s second season, spectators couldn’t recall her name but remembered her sassy performance to Beyoncé’s “Diva.”

A year later, Mays was so skilled that she took home top honors at Polesque, thanks to her racy performance to Christina Aguilera’s “Nasty Naughty Boy.”

“Pole stuck with me because I can be as sexually extroverted as I wanted to and it was appropriate in that forum. It was like I get to live my truth in this moment,” says Mays, who ranks the win as one of her greatest sports, pole and life moments to this day.

Read more at espnW.

Kelley Evans is a digital producer at Andscape. She is a food passionista, helicopter mom and an unapologetic Southerner who spends every night with the cast of The Young and the Restless by way of her couch.