Manar, Mint El Mokadem, has proven to be an iconic pioneer in Egypt’s fitness industry. Launching PoleFit Egypt, the country’s first aerial arts school, she has proven that pole dancing is more than what you’d typically expect. Over the past 5 years, the introduction of PoleFit has simply established a new niche in Egypt.
Mint first became familiar with the sport in the UK where she attended university and had her initial encounter with counseling therapy. We are honoured that she has agreed to openly talk and share her struggle with mental health to the public. To her, it’s a therapeutic experience running PoleFit Egypt.
Mint’s Experience with Therapy
When I started going to therapy, I used to feel so uncomfortable saying it. Now I say it so openly, but I graduated 5 years ago….It took me a long while to be comfortable with it. People would look at me and think I’m crazy for seeing a counsellor. Now I’m like of course I see a therapist. I need somebody whom I can speak to for an hour of my week, that has nothing to do with my life and I think it’s better for all of the people in my life that I get that time to talk to her. And for me, talking openly about my feelings transforms kol haga.
Studying abroad was definitely not easy for her, as our phone call continues. We go on off a tangent about mental health. It’s why I started Break The Silence. I can definitely relate.
She goes on to speak about PoleFit Egypt in specific.
The thing about Pole in general, especially with Egyptian girls, is that they get out of their comfort zones for a multiple of reasons. E7na, we’re teaching an adult how to do things that are more acrobatic, so there are obviously a lot of physical fears. There are a lot of women who are afraid of going backwards, because they feel, you know, if I tilt my body backward and lift my body….what if I fall? It’s literally the movement itself; It requires a lot of trust and letting go, which is very scary for a lot of people. The kids, they go straight ahead and do it. The adults la2.
Body Image and PoleFit Egypt
Tany haga, inty immediately when you walk in, you have to wear a short and tee shirt and it doesn’t matter if you’re waxed or not, if you have cellulite or not, it doesn’t matter if your chubby or really skinny, you walk into a place that is very unfamiliar, full of strangers and you’re almost half naked, fahim asdy? I have found a lot of girls with body image insecurities. Before they realize, they’re in a safe zone and no one gives a shit about what your body looks like. We only care about how you use our body and what your body can do. E7na kolena banat. The girls start to fall in love with their bodies rather for what it looks like in the mirror.
PoleFit has nothing to do with age. It has to do with the relationship between the body and the mind. And the thing is, in an intro class an athlete can walk into class and not be able to execute the move I’m instructing while another girl, who’s never exercised, can perfectly execute it. It’s really fascinating. I am only talking about beginner’s level of course.
Starting PoleFit Egypt
After graduating University, I opened PoleFit in between the time I was about to start my masters in psychology and started teaching casually. I found so many stories. “Mint, I lost my dad 2 years ago. I’ve been doing therapy for 2 years. I haven’t been able to keep going with my life. It’s when I started classes, me and my therapist pointed out that the first hour I ever stop thinking about my dad and enjoyed the moment was when I was doing Pole. It completely preoccupies your mind. It’s not like running. You cannot wander, you have to be there in the moment because its acrobatic.
I realised what I was doing was very big was because of this story I’m about to tell you. It’s the reason why I didn’t go to study for my masters in psychology. Turns out that most people enter PoleFit Egypt enter because of a recent changing point in their life. Losing a friend, a breakup, or they just moved to the city. Bezaat, for pole, it’s a very different sport. It usually needs courage, especially when lots of people think they can’t do it.
A Transformational Story
Whenever I get a low point in my life, when I’m like mish adra ana begad ha2fil, I remember one specific story which makes me realise how big what I’m doing is. I had this student who walked into an intro class, whom I won’t name; she was 27, and asked me for private classes. It was a huge challenge for me because I had never met a student who was literally afraid to take her feet off the floor. It was the first time I couldn’t teach a single move after two hours of instructing. We started off experimenting and she spoke to me about her physical trauma as a child in an incidence where a boy pushed her by a pool and got very hurt.
Since then, she avoided swimming and most physical contact. I can tell you today, after trying all types of therapy before walking into our studio, she has recovered in a way that keeps me carrying on. People would look at her and ask her, which therapist have you been seeing? It’s a very dear story to my heart.
While we do the inside job, they transmit it into their worlds’, outside. At the end of the day we are a therapeutic experience branded under fitness.
Mint Talks about Mental Health in Egypt
Mental Health in Egypt has become the biggest issue across all social classes. Everyone feels entitled to peek inside your underwear to judge you. And if you excuse them, you become the rude one. You really have no freedom of choice living here. Men are expected to act brave, earn, take care of the house, the concept of “ragel” here as you know is very traditional. Women are also expected to serve a very specific role. Most of the time, both really aren’t fully fulfilled. We are like product in Egypt. Not souls. Parents raise us in a market of pride. We are a culture of looks and stereotypes. They completely miss out on our mental health and emotional need. We live under a lot of oppression and as a culture, we don’t like seeing anything new that we don’t know. Usually, over time, we gradually accept it.
Mint Speaks about Therapy and Treatment in Egypt
I’ve tried therapy here and outside. In Egypt, we have a few that are amazing. While it took me 4 to 5 goes to find the right therapist here, it takes one go or two to find the perfect match in England. The issues around therapy in Egypt is having real confidentiality. It’s a huge problem. There are no real enforcers. No real consequences. I have to filter out so much here. They have regulations bara.
Treatment of mental health costs a lot in Egypt to see a psychiatrist or therapist. Average costs are 400LE, minimum. One follow up weekly adds up to 1600LE monthly. It’s not cheap, neither accessible. Only the crème de la crème can really afford this luxury.
I must also mention a crucial misconception here. Egyptians mostly mistaken therapists for psychiatrists. Therapists don’t use meds. This is a huge issue in Egypt because here, is no control whatsoever over antipsychotics. Doctors overprescribe them WAY too much.
People need to be aware of the serious harms they cause. A close family member of mine suffered much more after being prescribed. They are very addictive and not the best sustainable solution to healing.
Overall, I understand that Mint strongly believes in PoleFit being therapy in the form of fitness.
Pole is Rebuilding Trust with the body. Loving your own skin. Girls go shopping for what to wear in class. It’s their real freedom of expression. She enjoys what she wears, which she can’t in Egypt’s everyday life. My students find it amazing to experience this freedom regularly throughout the week.
PoleFit Egypt’s Work-Train Program.
All PoleFit Egypt’s work, be it admin, designs etc, is done in-house. We only hire from within. When I asked some students why they don’t come as often, and they told me they couldn’t afford it, I came up with our work-train program, which clocks in your hours of work for class-time. That’s why we have become a very tight community. We are one big family.
The Future of Mint.
My dream is to study Dance Movement Therapy. It is the psychotherapeutic use of movement and dance to support intellectual, emotional, and motor functions of the body.
Mint aims to help those with Parkinson’s and other mental disorders to become physically capable of using dance therapy to enhance their cognitive motor functions.
From instructing classes to building a community to hosting a competitive platform; PoleFit has become the national organizer of Pole Theatre in Egypt, the world 1st showcase, held in the middle east, hosting veiled women as well as women of all backgrounds/careers in a women’s-only confidential competition.
The reality is that Manar “Mint” El Mokadem has built an entire ecosystem for pole fitness to help empower females in Egypt.
It was an honour to have spoken to her, especially knowing that her success remains to be derived from her own personal struggles with mental health.
What an inspiration.