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[People vs. Food]: Pole Dancer Jessica Tara vs. N2 Extreme Gelato

A new series in which we talk to the interesting people of Shanghai... while getting them to eat strange and wonderful things.
Last updated: 2016-10-21
"People Vs. Food" is an ongoing column in which we get to know the myriad of people who call Shanghai home, while getting them to chow down on some strange, interesting, wonderful, bizarre, horrific, delicious, singular food item readily available in the city.

The Food: N2 Ice Lab's liquid nitrogen gelato -- an American import, N2 Ice Cream Lab is a gelato chain with a pretty singular gimmick: They use liquid nitrogen to "flash freeze" your gelato right there on the spot. It's science-y! In a Bill Nye the Science Guy sort of way. Check out a video of the process here.

There's one in Shanghai at the Daimaru Mall at 228 Nanjing Dong Lu.

But is it any good? Let's ask...

The Person: American transplant Jessica Tara is a professional pole dancer living and working in Shanghai. Currently, she's studying dance and teaching pole dancing out of Gaga Dance Studio, and also dances around the city at clubs and private events, often with her partner on the pole Cathy, performing as a duo.


This Saturday, Jessica and her partner are performing at Inferno as part of a going away party. Some, possibly all of these things will be involved: blood, milk baths, flogging, S&M, and plenty of that good ole fashion rock 'n' roll. Event details are right here.


SmSh: So how did you end up in Shanghai?

Jessica: I’m from South Carolina. Ive been in Shanghai for three years, and it’s been a really good experience. I first got here and I started teaching English, you know.

SmSh: Of course.

Jessica: Something easy to get into, right? But I’ve been dancing all my life. I was a ballroom dancer before I went to university. I studied electronic communication and worked for PBS for a number of years. Then, after that I was in Barcelona. But my boyfriend got transferred to China, so I followed him here. I was teaching here and from my time in Spain, I had given up dancing for that period.

So, here’s the thing: My grandmother has osteoporosis and every time I go back to the States I take care of her. And I saw how debilitating it is, and how disabled she was getting in terms of her physique. I needed to do something to prevent this, and exercise is the best way. So, I got back into dance that way.

Pole dancing, at first, was just a hobby but then I really got into it. I really, really got into it. And then I got accepted into a professional dance academy, and that’s how I met Cathy, my dance partner. We both have been dancing pole for about four years. We both started working at around the same time as well.

SmSh: How does pole dancing differ from other forms of dancing. Like, besides the very obvious element. Is it more physical? I guess strength is a huge part of it…

Jessica: It involves a lot of strength and balance. Of course, there’s the sexy side of it, but it’s also a process of always challenging your body. Like “can I do this”… Like “I can’t do this today, I have to work up to that level.” I’ve taken boot camp-style fitness and it’s very much the same kind of thing. It’s like constantly doing push-ups.

It’s one thing to be at a gym running or whatever, but if you’re hanging from a pole, you’ve got the motivation to hang on of you’ll crack your head [laughs].

SmSh: Yeah, it’s got a real element of danger. Ever been injured? Have you cracked your head open?

Jessica: Yeah, I’ve fallen before, yeah. But since then I’ve really been working on ways to catch myself — to anticipate the fall and react to it to not get hurt.

SmSh: What are the most difficult moves?

Jessica: It’s different for different people. For some there is a move called Iron X, which is basically doing a side handstand on the pole, like a flag, and supporting yourself on strength. Everything seems hard at some point — hand spring variations… there’s a few things I’m working towards.

SmSh: Where do you get inspiration from for your own performances? Are you influenced by other dancers?

Jessica: Oh yeah. Definitely. Olga Koda — she’s a Russian dancer. I really like her style. I don’t know. She’s really aggressive. It’s really nice. Mona Marie — she’s in New York. I really like her style as well. She’s really fluid but also really aggressive as well. I don't know I just like this aggressive style. I think it’s really nice. I do like graceful pole dancing but there’s something really attractive about a masculine-slash-feminine thing. And I think people really enjoy seeing that like, “Oh wow, a girl is doing these really strong moves…”

SmSh: Think they’d like the aggressive thing at Inferno.

Jessica: Yeah? This will be my first time dancing at Inferno…

SmSh: Have you been there?

Jessica: No, I haven’t.

SmSh: Do you like heavy metal?

Jessica: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Actually, when I was a kid I used to go to heavy metal concerts. When I was like 15-years-old.

SmSh: It’s okay, they’re all still 15-years-old at Inferno. Spiritually. What sorts of things do you have planned for Saturday’s show. Not to give too much away…

Jessica: Oh, you know… some leash walking, some S&M…

Jessica in the workplace.

SmSh: Oh man. What would a typical show be like?

Jessica: Depends on the venue. We change the shows depending on what the venue or event requires. But I’m into harder stuff. Like the last performance we did, Cathy, my partner, walked me around on a leash. Wrapping a chain around my neck. We do a lot of stuff where we’re both on the pole, one of us holding the other… I’m bringing out the crazy in her. Before she was doing more graceful moves and things, but I’m like, “Okay, I’ve got a job for us. Walk me out on a chain and lead me around — just do it."

Whipping me with the flogger. Pouring fake blood on each other. Milk baths…

SmSh: This sounds absolutely wonderful. Absolutely wonderful. It is scary performing as a duo? I guess you’d have to rely on each other a lot.

Jessica: Yeah, you have to really trust your partner — and I do. Because basically you're holding on with one arm upside down, looking at the floor. Like, “you better have me”…

Another one of our acts is dressing up like school girls and then we just go crazy. [Laughs.] Really aggressive. We do a lot of things inspired by male revues, if that makes sense. Like inspired by the attitude and how they treat their female clientele — flipping them over and behaving masculine and in control. Crowds really like it because it’s coming from women and it’s shocking. Especially coming from women dressed as school girls.

SmSh: It’s like inverted an expected power relationship?

Jessica: Yeah, yeah.

SmSh: Not to be rude but what’s the money like?

Jessica: It’s good! It’s really good. Me and Cathy we get hired together and we split it 50-50.

SmSh: Where else in Shanghai do you perform? What are you favorite places to play?

Jessica: All over the place. Roxy, The Pearl, Cirque le Soir when it was open. Vue Bar for some events. I really enjoy Roxie. The energy is really good. People are really accepting and cool. It’s a really loving environment, you know what I mean? I really like the environment and the people are really nice. I also like The Pearl also but it’s completely different because you’re on stage and it’s open-the-curtains-close-the-curtains — it feels really formal.

SmSh: Do you ever have to deal with rowdy audiences? Bachelor parties? Any war stories?

Jessica: Let’s see… Usually, I have a lot of security. One experience I had, it wasn’t a bad experience, it was a Chinese ballroom. It’s open every day at like 3pm. It’s like a club for 30 and 40-year-olds — I still have no idea what it is. It was men and women, and they wanted to see a little strip tease. Like 4 or 5 security guards walked me to the stage, but there was no problems about it. I feel in China, it’s really safe. They take care of the girls dancing.

SmSh: Pole dancing is a trend in China right?

Jessica: Yeah, I think so. It’s interesting, for Chinese people it’s not a big deal because it is everywhere and lots of people are doing it for fitness or whatever. It’s not necessarily sexualized. For Western people, it’s the opposite. In China, the girls I’ve met that do the stripping it’s never with a pole…

SmSh: You do private events as well, right, like bachelor parties?

Jessica: I’ve only done one bachelor party in Shanghai, and it was funny because they didn’t realize I’m American. I think they were from Taiwan or ABCs, but they were really polite. And then they had water guns shooting at us and shooting at each other. They were just like kids, really. And then it was pole dancers and girls who did strip teases. But we never really go all the way. It’s just down to a bikini or some girls have tape over their nipples. I think the law is you can show everything except the nipples and of course the bottoms…

But they were really polite. But still talking like, “Oh look at her, and look at that…this one’s got moves, this one's got a story, oh my god!” I think they didn't realize that I can speak English…

SmSh: [Laughs.] They didn’t realize you could understand them? Did you bust them on it at the end?

Jessica: Nah…

SmSh: That would have really put a real awkward spin on their party.

On Living in Shanghai...

SmSh: What are your favorite bars and restaurants?

Jessica: I like Bar Rouge. It’s nice. I like Dada a lot. The Mansion is also nice. I like just the chill bars too. Funkadeli, is that still around?

SmSh: Yeah, I think there is a new one.

Jessica: Yeah that's a cool one. Restaurants… I really like The Fellas a bunch. They have nice pizza and it’s a really nice view without being too expensive.

SmSh: What do you do in Shanghai that doesn’t involve eating, drinking, or working?

Jessica: Wow. Hmmm. Shopping. Taobao. That’s the greatest invention ever isn’t it? I just like sitting on Taobao. [Laughs.] Not even to buy stuff, just to see what’s out there. A window into things existing. When I’m bored or can’t sleep I just search random things on Taobao.

SmSh: What’s your least favorite place in Shanghai?

Jessica: Um. What’s that place with all the metros meeting in one place — Xujiahui. Ugh. It’s so big and I get lost in there. With people elbowing you. I get really nervous.

SmSh: What’s your favorite thing about Shanghai?

Jessica: My favorite thing. I like Xuhui. I like to walk around there and there’s so much stuff going on. I get lost very easily [laughs] so I don’t go too far.

But my favorite thing in Shanghai is the dance training. I like the dance school. We really watch out and take care of each other. I just celebrated a birthday and they were singing for me and giving me red envelopes. Just things like that. They really go out of their way to take care of you and make sure you're comfortable, even though you’re far away from home.

I think that feeling of closeness, family, and love is something you might not experience in your own city. Because you can take care of yourself back home, you know.

The Verdict

SmSh: That’s very true. Okay, now give me your expert opinion of this ice cream.

Jessica: It’s great! I really like the Mango Banana.

SmSh: Yeah, it's like a really nice and fresh gelato, with this interesting hard shell thing caused by the liquid nitrogen. Apparently, they've got to be careful not to burn people with this stuff. I know my ice cream.

Jessica: Yeah, it's like ice cream made instantly before you eyes. I'd like to get the ingredients. She looked like she was being secretive back there with them. But yeah, it’s really smooth and it’s pretty neat. I glad you took me here. Maybe I should get some dry ice for my act...


Jessica performs this Saturday at Inferno. If you'd like to book her, add her on WeChat (ID: jessicatara). The address of the ice cream store is right here.