Blogger Stephanie NoApologies shares her pole dance journey of self-discovery, healing and connecting with other pole dancers.
How did you first get introduced to pole dance? How long have you been doing pole?
Stephanie NoApologies: I first became interested in pole dance after I saw one of Felix Cane's performances on YouTube. I had no idea that it was such a beautiful art form or that pole dancers were such amazing athletes.
Her performance went way beyond looking "sexy." It was incredible. And I watched it several times before moving on with my day...until that evening when I showed it to my husband.
A few months later he surprised me with a quick trip to Las Vegas. And on that trip I went to Stripper 101 and had so much fun I started looking for pole classes on my phone that night.
I took my first class in March of this year and have only been able to continue intermittently. But until recently I had a pole at home and was working with Jamilla Deville and Felix Cane's beginner DVDs.
Your trip to Las Vegas at the beginning of your pole journey sounds so very similar to mine - a class at Stripper 101! Tell us more about that.
Stephanie NoApologies: I often think about how much that one seemingly trivial decision shaped the direction of my life. Be forewarned: what happens in Vegas does not always stay in Vegas. In fact, sometimes it moves into your living room.
I was so nervous about going to that class. I considered backing out several times. To be honest, I announced I wasn't going more than once. But even though I felt totally unsure of myself, it was so much fun. And I couldn't even remember the last time I'd had fun. I walked into that class scared that my demons would chase me from the room, and I walked out absolutely invigorated.
And in case you were wondering, my stripper name is Jasmine.
What inspired you to start your blog "No Apologies"?
Stephanie NoApologies: Although pole dancing hasn't always been easy for me, from the beginning I felt that I was tapping into parts of myself that had been ignored for a long time. Sometimes it was fun and I walked out of my classes (or my living room) a little taller; sometimes I felt like I hit a wall emotionally and wanted to retreat to the safety of my old miserable routine. But I always felt more alive, more in touch with myself and my feelings.
And I knew I had been dangerously close to missing out on all of this because I was so afraid of what other people would think of me, and I knew I wasn't alone in that. I really wanted to let go of the need to be accepted, to please everyone all the time, and live the life I wanted for myself. And I wanted to invite others to do the same.
I like the name of your blog as well...anything behind it?
Stephanie NoApologies: I made a list of all the things I wanted to talk about -- although the writing has gone in a different direction than I anticipated much of the time -- and I knew I wanted the name to speak to giving myself and other women permission to be who they wanted to be with no apologies. And I jokingly said, "No apoleogies," and my husband was more enthusiastic about it than I was. But with that, I had a space to start sharing.
Your blog reads like an adventure to me, more than just a physical adventure but an adventure of the soul and spirit, and so much self-discovery. Is this your intention?
Stephanie NoApologies: Initially I wanted to write about how much pole dance made me feel in touch with myself and supported by other women in a way that I had never experienced. And since I knew I would have to try to learn on my own for the most part, I wanted to offer some guidance for those trying to do the same.
But because pole dancing has awakened so many things within me that I hadn't been dealing with, I started writing more about a lot of painful things I never intended to, including a history of sexual abuse during my childhood that played a big part in the kind of woman I grew up to be.
As I continued taking classes whenever I could and practicing on my own, I started writing more about how disconnected I felt from my own body at times and about facing those and other painful issues and how powerful that felt. I'm never sure now where the blog is headed, but I figure if I share my journey in a truthful way, it just might touch someone else.
I love, love, love your S Factor experience Part 1....can you fill the readers in on this?
Stephanie NoApologies: I took classes at S Factor for a few weeks and always wanted to write about it if for no other reason than to thank the Orange County studio for their generosity and kindness, but it had been so emotional for me that I wanted to take a step back and really reflect on the experience before I shared it.
I had just started to understand that pole dance was bringing much more to my life than I had anticipated when I stumbled on to Sheila Kelley's TED talk on the subject, and I really wanted to take classes somewhere where they understood and really immersed their students in that exploration. So I signed up for the two complimentary classes they offer new students and let them know right away that I couldn't afford to continue beyond that.
To my surprise, they offered me a month of complimentary classes which blew me away and touched me in a way that compelled me to start opening up to some of the very kind women there, something I really hadn't been able to do before.
I don't want to go into too much detail, but the next few weeks were filled with emotional ups and downs, but also so much self-exploration and gratitude for a wonderful experience.
It sounds from reading your blog that you have been through some very tough circumstances in your life...from childhood through adulthood. How has pole dance helped you either through these things or with healing?
Stephanie NoApologies: I guess everyone has their own story, and mine hasn't been a very happy one. At least not so far. My childhood was rough, and when I was an adult I set out to have a more stable life. I threw myself into school and then work, and a few years later a string of bad luck unraveled everything I had worked for. I tried for a long time to keep holding it together, but it finally came to a point where I felt like I couldn't do it anymore. The life I had built was crumbling around me, and I finally realized it never worked for me anyway. I had worked really hard to feel like I was safe and secure, but my health and well-being had never been a priority. And joy had long been considered a luxury for those with more time and resources.
Pole dancing really introduced me to the idea that I had a right and a responsibility to myself to enjoy my body, to celebrate it, and to be brave enough to allow myself to be seen. It made me feel like I was taking back ownership of my body and my spirit.
How has pole dance helped you physically? Has it spurred you on to try new things?
Stephanie NoApologies: I had been moderately active for most of my life but really stopped taking care of myself when I was in school and started working. But in the year before I started pole dancing I had started working out again and lost about 25 pounds, mostly using various DVDs and games at home. Eventually I started doing Zumba at home, which I like to tell people is a gateway workout because it helped me work my way toward pole dancing even though I didn't realize it at the time. So I thought I was in decent shape, but my first pole class kicked my butt like no workout ever had. I was really pleasantly surprised that it was so challenging. I had virtually no upper body strength to begin with, but I started to notice some new muscle definition and more strength overall very quickly.
Eventually my pole classes led me to take burlesque, aerial silks, and trapeze, and I've grown to love each one. It's always difficult to figure out how I'll manage to continue exploring the things I'm passionate about, but pole dancing has certainly made me brave enough to try new things, something I really never did before.
I see you have tried trapeze...wow!!! I've gone skydiving but I wonder if I would be able to do that...what was that experience like? Are you going to pursue circus or aerial arts?
Stephanie NoApologies: That's amazing! I've always wanted to go skydiving, although I have a pretty serious fear of heights.
I'm not sure why, but I wasn't that nervous about trying trapeze. I guess I figured I would have a safety harness on, so it's no big deal. It suddenly felt like a much bigger deal by about the fifth step up the ladder, and I honestly wasn't sure I could go through with it. The first jump was pretty embarrassing. In fact, in the video you can hear my husband laughing at me when I fail to jump off or let go on my first attempt. But even though it was really scary, it was exhilarating, and I felt really good about what I had done when it was all over with.
I've really grown to love circus and aerial arts. I would really like to take aerial silks and hoop especially, and I hope I get to try trapeze again. Really there are so many things I'd like to learn now. Fire dancing/eating, hula hooping, sword swallowing, you name it. I'm not sure how I'll ever come up with enough time or money to do everything I'd like to, but there's a joy in just having an interest in new things these days.
I like your "Creating a Space for Practice at Home". Tell us more about your 'space'...for those of us that pole at home, we face our own challenges of motivating ourselves...how do you stay motivated? Do you set new challenges for yourself?
Stephanie NoApologies: Until I had to move recently, I had a really nice space that made it much easier to keep practicing. When we first started discussing getting a pole -- about two or three days after returning from our fateful trip to Vegas -- I didn't think we had room for it. But ultimately I felt that I needed to be able to practice at home much more than we needed a second couch in the living room or the use of our dining table, so we pushed everything out of the way, and for a few months I was able to practice whenever I wanted to.
Now I have a very narrow strip of space next to my bed to work with. On my first attempt to work out here I ended up putting my foot in a litter box. Needless to say, the space leaves something to be desired. It's much more difficult to stay motivated now, but I keep reminding myself that even if I can't work in the way that I'd like to or at the pace that I'd like to, every day I have the opportunity to take another step, however small, toward my goals. That's really all I need to think about to keep going.
But whenever I do find a more appropriate place to work out and practice, I'm sure I'll appreciate it even more than before.
Talking about your blog "Push Past", what else have you done to help you push past barriers in your life? Has pole been a big part of this? What else?
Stephanie NoApologies: Given my background, I always felt like I was starting from behind and probably felt compelled to work harder because of it. When I finally had the opportunity to go to school I really pushed myself and ended up completing my program in record time, and when I was asked to speak at a banquet for myself and a few other students, people were surprised to learn I had to get my GED at the same time and that I'd missed an entire semester when my car broke down. My classmates seemed to have this idea that I must not have had any obstacles in my way, but that was never the case. I always try to remind myself that I can't control the cards I was dealt, but what I do with them is on me.
Still, that was always easier to apply to work and school. When it came to sharing who I was, I had gotten very used to retreating when it was scary or painful and eventually settled into not trying at all. Some of the people I'm closest to really don't know me well because I've been so afraid to really be seen or heard. I'm still struggling with that, in fact. But like so many things in my life right now, I'm doing it anyway and hoping to shake those worse than useless fears.
How often do you train?
Stephanie NoApologies: I usually do some form of training four to six days a week. I've always struggled with forcing myself to rest, but I try to take at least one day off every week. I'm also working on a regular workout schedule to try to incorporate more cross training into my routine.
When I had my pole at home I usually spent about 90 minutes to two hours practicing three times a week, including about a half-hour warm up consisting of jumping jacks, running, push-ups, sit-ups, planks, and dynamic stretching. But even on my "rest days" I often couldn't help doing a few quick spins or climbs whenever I walked through my living room.
It looks like you recently had to pack up your pole - I know that feeling! So you've taken up some other things like Cleo's DVD...how is that working out for you? Are you doing any upper body exercises to keep the strength you've gained? I know I always lost strength when I stopped poling?
Stephanie NoApologies: That's honestly been so disappointing for me. But since I can't practice at home or take classes right now, I'm focusing on improving my flexibility and strength. I started using Rockin' Legs N' Abs a few months ago, but between moving and looking for work I wasn't using it consistently. Once we were settled in I started following the 30-day challenge for absolute beginners which I'll complete in a few days, and I think there's been some improvement, but it's difficult to tell when you're as inflexible as I am. I’m taking progress pictures when I wrap up this challenge, so hopefully I’ll be able to see a little improvement then. I can tell you it's a really challenging workout. And I've seen other people make amazing progress with this DVD, so I'm hoping it will work for me too.
I try to do some push-ups during my warm up and occasionally get my dumbbells out to do some weight training, but I'm sure my upper body strength has declined since I put my pole away. Lately I've been focusing more on flexibility than strength training, but it's always been easier for me to develop strength and muscle definition. That probably tells you something about the makeup of my muscles and why flexibility is so challenging for me.
Do you have any favorite pole products such as grip aids, clothing, equipment?
Stephanie NoApologies: I just recently got my first pair of shorts from Bad Kitty after I won a gift card giveaway, which was so exciting, and I was really pleased with the quality. I haven't tried the grip aids or really purchased a lot of pole clothing just because times are tough, but whenever I did buy anything I always went to PoleAmor.com. Their service has been great.
What advice would you give to a beginning pole dance student?
Stephanie NoApologies: Try to enjoy the learning process and give yourself permission to go at your own pace. I have a lot of bad mental habits, and it's hard for me not to compare myself to others or to expect to do everything perfectly on my first attempt.
Most of the time pole dancing has been really fun for me. The times I've focused on what someone else is doing and why I can't do it yet have robbed me of that joy at times.
What new goals or aspirations have you set your sights on?
Stephanie NoApologies: For the first time in my life I'm not entirely sure where I'm heading, and that's really difficult for me to accept sometimes. But I've found something that makes me feel inspired, and I want to see what that might lead to. Obviously finding a new job takes priority right now, but I'm really hoping to find an opportunity that allows me to help other women discover pole dance. I feel a bit like a missionary knocking on doors these days. But I sincerely want to share what I've found with other people.
In the meantime, I'm working a lot on my flexibility in general, but I would really like to get my splits. I'm also working on handstands and backbends. I know that's going to take some time though.
Recently I went to a local Amateur Pole Arts Showcase and saw some amazing women perform, many of them for the first time, and now I'm trying to figure out at what point I could be ready to perform. I'm getting way ahead of myself on that one, but I would be really proud of myself if I performed anywhere really.
Even at Stripper 101 I thought leading women through this fun and challenging experience would be really fulfilling work, and in the back of my mind I think if I was ever able to, I'd love to teach. Maybe even open a studio someday. But, again, that's a long way down the road.
Please include anything else you'd like to share as well...
Stephanie NoApologies: One of the most important things I've discovered since I started pole dancing is that if you look in the right places, there are actually women willing to be supportive of one another. That's something I've really struggled to find my entire life, but the women in this community have been incredible, and I'm really grateful for that.
Having experienced that sense of unwavering support, it makes it especially sad that so many people misjudge what pole dance is about and that so many would be dancers never allow themselves the freedom to try it because they fear being judged by people who know nothing about this beautiful art form and incredible sport.