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Nicole Gallo Hagler attended a pole class at Urban Studio in Nashville in July of 2011. She had just moved from Ohio to pursue a relationship with her boyfriend. Studio owner Tonya Richner quickly recognized her talent. She was graceful, flexible and strong. Nicole inquired about available teaching positions at the studio. “I wasn’t looking to hire anyone at the time, but I offered her a job right away,” recalls Tonya. 

Nicole had a powerful presence and was striking in appearance. She had pink hair, tattoos and favored Gothic style. Some students were initially intimated by this and her classes started off slow. As they got to know her though, they fell in love with her passion and fun spirit. “She became our star instructor. I was so proud of her,” says Tonya. 

In February of this year, both Nicole and her daughter Marin became ill with the flu. A week had passed and as Marin’s health improved, Nicole’s got worse. Her husband Jon was stationed in Afghanistan at the time so a neighbor took her to the hospital. She was treated and sent home. Days later her vision became blurred and she returned to the hospital once again. It was then that she was diagnosed with a severe form of Leukemia. Her husband was informed to fly home immediately.  

Nicole fought hard against the cancer but about 72 hours later she passed away. Her fellow pole dancers and students at the studio had just finished taking pictures they were going to send to her when they learned of the distressing news. “One of the most difficult things to comprehend was how someone so seemingly healthy and strong could die so quickly from an illness like that,” says Tonya. “She had a sick pack abs and just performed at a show two weeks before she passed. She was the one telling everyone how to eat healthy, to stop being lazy and go to the gym, and to do more crunches and push-ups.”

The studio decided to come together and honor Nicole’s memory by participating in the Light the Night Walk for Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. The walk is scheduled to take place on October 11th. This charity event meant to remember Nicole and show support for a worthy cause was soured when Urban Studio received a hateful phone call from a woman regarding the group’s participation in the event. The caller criticized the studio, blaming them for only participating for publicity’s sake. This of course could not be further from the truth. 

The acceptance of pole fitness in Tennessee has yet to fully come to fruition. Tonya claims she has been forced to deal with a great amount of discrimination. She has been turned down for business loans as well as turned down for leases. “Most people assume that we are a bunch of nasty strippers looking to cause trouble.” This hesitant acceptance has not eliminated her motivation or spirit though. She is extremely passionate about what she does and vows to not give up.

The studio is still healing from this tragedy. There are so many who loved and will deeply miss Nicole. “She was a true motivator and amazing woman,” says Tonya. They are extremely close to raising their goal of $500. To help contribute to the Light the Night Walk for Leukemia and Lymphoma Society you can visit their team page here.

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