Friday, December 21, 2012

Pole Pro: Meet Michelle Stanek!

It seems that 2012 has been a pretty amazing year for you.  Your Pole Art performance from Sweden in August was beautiful, and congratulations on your USPDF win in New York!  I'd love to hear about your journey this year.

Thank you! Yes, 2012 has been incredible. I think my Pole Art piece and my USPDF piece were two of my favorites so far. They were both so different and only a 4 weeks apart so it was very stressful to separate the creative process in two and inevitably have to push one to the side to focus on the other.  I did not want to neglect either piece even for a second!

I pitched my idea for Pole Art and I am so glad they bought it and allowed me the opportunity to bring it to life. Long story short: I was a college art history professor for a hot minute and I always had an affinity for Bernini, the Italian Baroque sculptor. In particular I have always loved his "Ecstacy of St. Theresa" in Rome. It's an image of St. Theresa in ecstasy, or mid-orgasm. She wrote about this experience— a vision of an angel piercing her heart and inflaming her insides over and over. For a 16th century nun, it was highly sexual. So, I wanted to create a pole dance interpretation of that. And I thought what other place that Pole Art to do this?! It brought together my love of art and pole dance. I loved it. It was very fulfilling.

For USPDF, I saw "Crazy Horse" in Paris in January 2012. Seeing that show brought me back to life in many ways. I had been in a drought of creativity for months. I had done USPDF Amateur, Pole Dance Universe and Pole Art and worked and traveled a ton. My well was dry. And it was sad. That is the worst feeling. I had nothing I wanted to create. No inspiration. Then I saw "Crazy Horse." The girls were unabashedly sexy and topless yet so clearly classically trained and refined in their dancing that I don't think I blinked the entire time. Every piece was more intoxicating than the last. The music went right through me and made me want to get out of my seat and into the studio and dance. So I bought the cd of songs and I was particularly attracted to the "Jungle Fever" piece - a desperate, wild, sexy girl trapped in a cage like a leopard in a zoo. My mind started racing with ideas and I knew I would create something with this. And months later when the deadline for USPDF arrived and I decided to submit (which was wrought with unnecessary drama fueled by the passive aggressive and dangerous viral nature of the internet. But I digress. That's for another interview!) I knew if I were accepted this would be my piece. This piece would be sexy, animalistic and fierce. Perfect for me, my style and for a competition I knew I had to try to devour. I labored for hours upon hours in the studio to choreograph the beginning and so much got left of the cutting room floor I could've created a whole other piece. Making choreographic decisions was really, really hard for this one. It took a very long time to put together. During the performance I channeled my inner caged animal and the sexiness and refinement of the "Crazy Horse" dancers. And every moment when I felt muscle fatigue and exhaustion, I chanted my friend's name who was going through chemotherapy. And her strength kept me going.

I think one of the best moments of the year was being awarded the winner and looking out into the audience to see my family, friends, students and colleagues stand up and cheer for me. They all help, support and inspire me everyday. And I had done them proud. Tear!

Being part of the USPDF legacy and being listed among Jenyne Butterfly, Natasha Wang and Alethea Austin is really important to me. We are all so different too, and I love that! We represent a diversity in styles and the inclusive nature of pole dance. Part of the USPDF legacy is to go to Australia and perform at the legendary Miss Pole Dance Australia competition. And that was one of the best experiences of my life! I love the Australian pole dancers so much. They reminded me, too, of something I often forget about - that pole dancing is a room full of girls in little outfits, high heels, being wild and crazy and free! And MPDA was by far the most amazing production I have ever been a part of! The opening number even had pyrotechnics!

Now I am back and it feels good to be home and able to focus on my training and the next steps in my career.

I saw AERA perform Chasing the Sun in Los Angeles in June and it was an experience unlike any other.  How did AERA come together and what does the group want to accomplish in the aerial world?

Well, you would really have to ask Kyra Johannesen! She is the co-owner of Body & Pole, who created AERA with her husband Kyle McBeth and aerialist Jen James. I'm so glad you liked "Chasing the Sun," that was a labor of love for all of us. We were so excited to show the pole world what we like to do—create performance art where we dance and interact with every element of the stage—the pole, hoop, hammocks, silks, lighting, sounds and even the truss. AERA forces me to be cross-disciplined and I love that. I look forward to whatever crazy gig is next!

You teach at Body &Pole in New York.  It seems like you guys are one big, happy pole-star family.  Tell us about your classes and rockstar co-workers.

I am so lucky. I cannot say that enough. What started as one pole in Lian Tal's living room has grown into one of the best studios in the world. It's become a destination for many who want to come to New York City and study at Body & Pole for a week or a month or a season. We have A LOT to offer — from a variety of pole classes to hoop, hammock, silks, ballet, flexibilty and more. I know people know Marlo, Kyra, Steven and Tracee but every single instructor is incredible and highly experienced in what they do. It is an extraordinary place to be and learn and grow.

And we do all respect, admire, trust and love each other. That seems to be the most rare and valuable thing that keeps the studio growing strong. I love going there, everyday.

Do you do a "different" workout than normal to keep your "pole muscles" in shape? 

Well, not to sound like a fitness geek. But like the SAID exercise principle explains, if you want to get better at pole dance, pole dance more! If you want to get your splits, do the splits more! If you want to improve your golf swing, practice your gold swing! So, when I am focused on my pole progress, I focus on that. And to keep my "pole muscles" in shape, I take more pole classes. Luckily at Body & Pole our instructors all understand how to give a comprehensive 30-minute warm-up with exercises selected for specific muscle activation needed to perform specific pole techniques. I often think that is a major gap in a lot of pole instructors' toolkit of knowledge.
Having said that, I love working out! I take spin classes for pure cardio exercise as well as visualization. Sometimes spin instructors can be really motivational! And I like to take as many dance classes I can. Usually it's contemporary classes that help broaden my repertoire of movement, especially floorwork and traveling movement that I can utilize in my pole choreography. I've also started taking a Capoeira-based dance class with Amy Secada who comes to Body & Pole to give us the class. It's amazing!

And of course, I try to take 2-3 flexibility training classes per week. That's what I miss the most when I am on the road. It's so necessary to succeeding in pole and it just feels good!

What kind of food fuels a body like yours?

Clean, unprocessed foods of mostly plants, animals and water! When I am training, I eat eggs, veggies, chicken, turkey, fish. And repeat! I need carbs to get through training, like a banana, nuts, sweet potato or trail mix. I've also recently fallen in love with shakes - it's the easiest and most delicious way to get my veggie nutrients! My current favorite is: Kale, spinach, banana, orange juice.

It feels like some pro/competition pole dancers are all going the route of contortion and extreme tricks. Do you feel like something is lost from pole dancing when it is all tricks and no dance?

Yes! I think that's the general consensus too. Pole dancers are really pushing the limits of their bodies and that's incredible. The things they can do now are mind-blowing! But I feel like I am left flat when there is nothing more they can give on the stage than flips and tricks and drops and contortion. At least use the music-?! And vice versa. Dancing is great too. But if you rely too much on how "dance-y" you can be and neglect the tricks, I also feel disappointed. The greatest performances are those that have it all and really know how to highlight, but not overkill, their strengths. That is rare. And that's why they are special.
Do you prefer competitions or showcases?

Showcases! Anxiety is replaced with enjoyment!—As an audience member and performer. However, nothing pushes you more than an upcoming competition to make you train harder and get those moves you've always wanted to take you to the next level. But in a showcase, you can do whatever you want! If you want to tell a dramatic story you can! If you want to showcase all tricks, you can! And I think when polers are given freedom to perform what and how they want is when you get the best. I recently performed in the Gravity First showcase in Mexico City and I loved it so much. I wish there would be more events like that.

What do you do for down time?  Wait, do you get down time?? 

Sort of! I feel like with my ipad and iphone glued to my palm I am always "working," even that means just connecting with people online, sharing my thoughts, posting videos, booking classes, etc. To me that's all "work," and thank goodness I love it. When I have significant down time, I am creating new programming, classes and workshops for both Body & Pole and my specialty touring workshops.

When I *force* myself to have down time from that, I spend it with my fiancé and friends. I like to explore the city, go to the movies, go to a museum or exhibit, check out a new restaurant or bar. Or just stay home in my jammies and watch tv.

What advice would you offer brand new pole dancers?

Don't give up! It will hurt a lot, but I promise it's worth it when you get to the other side of that pain!

Tell us one thing about you that people might be surprised to hear.

I always carry Benadryl and gum. I have an irrational fear of surprise allergy attacks and bad breath. The gum things goes back a long way. The most detentions I got in school were from chewing gum.
What does 2013 hold for you?  Are you planning a world tour of workshops??

I think 2013 is the year I stop underestimating myself. Even with all my pole and non-pole accomplishments, I still underestimate myself. I think somewhere in there is because I am afraid of becoming big-headed, which I will still avoid! I've always hated that characteristic in people. But I think I need to own my accomplishments and understand my value in a proud yet humble way.

I will definitely be traveling! I am looking forward to it. So, please contact me if you would like to for me to visit your studio!

I also need to plan a wedding. WHAT!?

Thank you so much for taking time to answer my questions.  I hope to see you soon and would love to visit you in New York!

Thank you Lori!

Make sure you connect with Michelle, either through her website or on Facebook.

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