Pride goes online with help from Islington’s London Dance Academy

Islington fitness studio owner helps to launch virtual Pride

Islington fitness studio owner helps to launch virtual Pride - Credit: Archant

Gloria! Digital Pride Festival is a diverse weekend of pole dance and splits classes, drag aerobics, bingo and fabulous performances by Ru Paul Drag Race stars

Melissa Gray, founder of Digital Pride

Melissa Gray, founder of Digital Pride - Credit: Archant

The online ticketed Gloria! Digital Pride Festival runs this weekend (June 27-28) and features both Ru Paul Drag Race names and a diverse cross-section of LGBTQ performers including differently-abled, trans and lesbian drag artists.

It is organised by Melissa Gray, director of London Dance Academy, who was largely responsible for taking pole fitness into mainstream gyms such as LA Fitness, David Lloyd, and Gymbox. She later brought activities such as aerial yoga, hoop and silks to the fitness industry, and before lockdown was running 200 classes a week from her Islington-based studio. She talks about her studio and the festival.

Q: Tell us about your dance studio.

A: London Dance Academy is probably best known for our Pole, AntiGravity Yoga, Aerial, Splits, and Circus contortion classes. My passion for movement comes from my family’s lifelong commitment to dance and the Arts.

A dramatic and artistic pose

A dramatic and artistic pose - Credit: Archant

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I decided to open my own academy in 2005 to help this legacy live on. My family moved from Sri Lanka to London when I was six. During those days many people had a local independent dance school just around the corner, but the following decades saw a dramatic drop in these intimate creative spaces and I wanted to create a friendly dance space where people could feel like they belong.”

How difficult has the pandemic been for you?

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Before lockdown we were running over 200 classes per week. We started our online Academy 24 hours after lockdown was enforced, and are running over 50 classes per week now, with as much variety as being at home will allow. But to be honest, it’s been really tough having to pay rent for a space we can’t generate an income from. We’re doing our best to support our teachers and keep the studio open, but every day brings a new challenge.

One thing that really helps is that we are not alone. Everything we’re going through is also happening to so many others, and now more than ever is a time to show unity and help each other to get through this and come out the other side. Online classes can be great fun and convenient but ultimately do we want actual dance academies to come back to?

Melissa Gray, founder of Digital Pride

Melissa Gray, founder of Digital Pride - Credit: Archant

Why the digital Pride fest?

We wanted to create an event driven by positivity, to spread joy and support as many artists and teachers out of work as possible. It’s hard enough being self employed at the best of times, but when you have no idea when any opportunities will be forthcoming, we felt we had to do something.

Gloria! Digital Pride Festival is a grass roots event where all ticket sales go back to supporting the artists. It started as a humble in-house affair in honour of Pride, to give our loved ones something swanky to look forward to, and what better way than a good old knees up?

As our plans formed we heard the sad news that the bigger Pride events were being cancelled, which caused our humble event to gain momentum and more and more incredible artists joined in. It took on a fabulous life of its own!

Melissa Gray, founder of Digital Pride

Melissa Gray, founder of Digital Pride - Credit: Archant

This is one of the hardest times to be involved in the performing arts. We wanted to shine a light on the heroes of our industry who have given us our passion and our careers. We take so much for granted when we buy a ticket for a show. If the show gets cancelled it’s extremely disappointing for the audience, but for the Aartists, organisers and venues it can be devastating.

Tell us what it will involve.

We wanted Gloria! to be a bit special, like a cut diamond.

Each day will start with a selection of our favourite workshops and signature classes from the Pride of London Dance Academy. Local teachers will provide a mixture of classes and gorgeous performances, showing the world what fabulous things Shoreditch has to offer. Some of our head-liners are: Divina de Campo and Cheryl Hole, Charlie Hide’s Isolation bingo, Donna Marie Lady Gaga Tribute, Bougie Drag Brunch, Kings of Clubs, The Cocoa Butter Club and Dolly Trolley’s drag aerobics.

Melissa Gray, founder of Digital Pride

Melissa Gray, founder of Digital Pride - Credit: Archant

I’ll also be teaching my signature Splits Therapy class and introducing my ‘Headspace workshops’, which aim to help people to make the big decisions to navigate us through the journey that awaits us.

Tickets are now available to purchase from They cost £9.75 for 1 day or £12.75 for a weekend pass.

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