Monday, March 17, 2014

March 2013 Blog Hop: My Men of Pole

The PDBA blog hop this month offered us choices...either write about some very personal stuff ("the great reveal") or do an interview piece with someone ("the profile feature").  Since last month's topic regarding men in the pole industry was so popular and controversial, I decided to interview two of the men I discussed in my first blog hop post for February (my second piece was a bit more personal). I guess since I often write about very personal topics on this blog, there really isn't a "great reveal" that I can share with you. 

So I would like for you to meet two Twirly Boys who are very near and dear to my heart. I guess you could call this a Q&A with the Men of Twirly Girls!  

Meet AJ and Seanmichael - the dynamic duo:

Tell me your name and a little bit about yourself - where you are from and what you do for work. That kind of thing!

Street poling with AJ and SM
SM: My name is Seanmichael Richard Rau.  I was born in Oakland, California and have lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for the majority of my life.  When I'm not on a pole I work in the natural foods industry doing training and education.   


AJ: My name is Job Bautista. I graduated with a BM in Voice and I dabbled in local theater in the Philippines. During my days off from the university I trained and worked as an aerialist and contemporary dancer under Airdance Philippines.  

I've only been in the United States for 10 months but I was fortunate enough start working as a Pole Fitness and Dance instructor as soon as August of last year, 2013. Before then I taught and coached company members of Polecats Manila and spearheaded their Men's Pole Fitness class.

How did you first hear about pole dance and where did you take your very first class?

SM: The very first time I danced on a pole was at a club in Cairns, Australia I thought it was lots of fun but didn't realize that the pole industry or classes existed at that point.  Years later, my coworker, and dear friend, Lizzie Robillard took me to a pole workout class at a circus training facility called Kinetic Arts Center and it was love at first spin.

AJ: I first heard of Pole Dancing back in 2010 when I worked under a contemporary dance company called Airdance. They organized an event for International dance day wherein local dance companies would come together and celebrate dance in public spaces along the local railway transit and boarding stations in the city. Amongst the groups attending was Polecats Manila who was then in the beginning stages of creating their school. 

My first informal lesson was with one of their members teaching me how to do a skater on the vertical handrails in the train station. After an introduction to a few of their members they then invited me to a trial session for their Men's Pole Fitness Class. 

How long ago was that?
 

SM: My first class at Kinetic Arts Center was on December 1st, 2011.  

AJ: Roughly 4 years ago.

How did you know you were hooked?

SM: I credit my initial love of pole to my instructor (now friend) Luiza Silva.  She created a space that was all about getting fit while having fun and being creative.  I have always hated working out but loved physical play.  That class was also a lot about community support.  We encouraged and celebrated each other and ended every class with a lights off freestyle - the first time I had ever let my body speak my emotions for me.

Can you find AJ?
AJ: I knew I was hooked when I just kept on wanting to learn more and took every opportunity to do so. After that fateful meeting in the train-station events just seemed to roll over one after the other. The girls invited me to their first trial Men's Pole Fitness Class and then a few weeks after I joined an international pole workshop held in Manila. Soon after I was called back by the Polecats to became a guest Male Solo pole artist in a Contemporary Dance Festival called Wifi Bodies. It seems as if I always kept on saying yes to all these invites and the opportunities just kept on coming till before I knew it I was training for a competition overseas. 

The world of pole dance is heavily dominated by women. How does it feel to be a man in a world where men can sometimes not feel welcome?

SM: This question for me is more about being a part of a community where not all people are welcome.  As a side affect of our larger societal community I worry about things like cultural appropriation during "themed" competition pieces or some competitions' judging bias towards male bodied performers and perceived "masculine" movement.  I also worry about our trans community members and how heteronormativity and gender binaries are negatively affecting their ability to feel included.  I want this to be an inclusive community where all people get to come together to create and share and have fun.  I do not always feel like that is the case and I am hoping that more dialogue is opened up on these topics so we can bring awareness to the issues.


AJ:  This question is strange to me because I always felt welcome since the first day I started. Back in the day I was one of the few men practicing the craft not because there were a lack of co-ed studios but simply because it was just starting to take off and hardly anyone knew about it. Together with the girls we spearheaded the first Men's pole class in the Philippines and since then we've had mixed level co-ed classes. I'm proud to say we have around 10-15 men regularly attending our classes and the women have been very supportive of them.

  
I've been lucky because I have always found my way into finding studios with such a welcoming environment. I dropped into Twirly Girls and was greeted by quite a few men and the women were just as warm to having that masculine energy in the crowd. 

There have to be a thousand websites with pole clothes for women. Where do you buy your pole clothes?
 

SM: My go-to comfy pole shorts for everyday use are the wide band boy shorts from kurve dancewear.  They come in dozens of colors and are very well priced.  Competition and performance costumes are a combination of swimsuits, custom designs, thrift store finds, and fetish wear from all over the place.  I spend a fair amount of time searching the webs for interesting pole pieces.  Even though there are less go-to spots for me to shop (bad kitty, mika etc.) I like the challenge of finding something unique.

AJ: I buy them everywhere from the most popular brands to the most unknown. Lululemon is a staple for me coz they are able to shorten and hem their bottoms for free. As for tops, well, I hardly teach topless so I just cut up nice loose shirts on the side so I have a bit of side and waist grip.


Tell me about competitions in which you have participated. What did you learn about yourself during the training process?

Seanmichael
SM: I've competed at The Pacific Pole Championships twice, National Aerial Pole Art and Pole Expo.  The decision to compete was a challenge I posed to myself to become a better performer and athlete.  I will admit that there are times when getting ready for these events that I have completely lost sight of the love and joy that I have for movement and I have gotten caught up in the details of scores and titles.  I am learning not only how my body operates physically but also the mental exercise of being reminded why I do this. David C. Owen sent me a lovely message that I hope he doesn't mind me sharing here "Just be your weird self and enjoy being on stage and doing something you find meaningful.  Be the best you." I think that sums up quite nicely how I feel about competing.  I'm not up there for fame and glory.  I don't need a gold medal or a worldwide workshop tour or 1000 likes on Facebook.  I am there to become the best artist that I can be in order to share my story with anyone who is willing to watch.

AJ: I've joined quite a few competitions and was lucky enough to place in a few of them;

Best Choreography- Singapore Pole Challenge (2011)

  • Champion- Singapore Pole Challenge (2011)
  • 1st Runner Up (Pole Division)- PPS Aerial Performance Tournament (2012)
  • Pole Fit Runner Up -International Pole Championship (2012)

I think more than anything I learned to be fearless. To be fearless of whatever critique comes my way, to be fearless of my capabilities, and to be fearless as a person in general. I've learned to take risks and learned how to trust in myself and in the faith of others who believe in me. During a lot of the competitions I've joined I have been held back by a lot of self doubt but then I put my trust and faith in those who believe me. Sometimes it takes someone else to put you into perspective and it sometimes is scary because their perspective of you is far greater than you have ever imagined. You just have to be fearless.

Do you have an opinion about pole getting into the Olympics?
 

SM: I am more interested in pole as an artistic expression than an athletic competition so I do not feel strongly about seeing it become a part of the Olympic games.
 

AJ: I think it's a great thing that we're driving pole into the Olympics. It's such a young sport that I think it will take quite some time till it makes its way but I believe it's a good thing. Some people will think that it will stunt the creative process of pole to becoming more of athleticism and technique as opposed to creativity and artistry but I think there are other venues for these creative processes. As for now I think that pushing pole to the Olympics will help widen the understanding for Pole as a form of art and sport.

What would you suggest studios do to make classes more welcoming for men?

SM: I would change the word men to "people" for starters because men and women aren't the only options. Then I would make these requests: 
  • Please do not perpetuate stereotypes about how society expects different bodies to move. "We're working on this movement but it's really girly so you can try something else."
  • Instead let the entire class know that we all have unique bodies and what works for one of us may not work for another. Create a space that is safe for everyone to explore their own unique style of movement.
  • Please do not downplay someone's abilities because of their body. "Deadlifts are easier for you because you're a boy." Instead, acknowledge the hard work that everyone has put in to achieving a skill or movement.   
AJ's hiding again!
AJ: Well, just like every business you have to reach out to your audience. Nothing sends more of a welcoming message then a hand that reaches out and makes you feel you are wanted and just as special as everyone else.


What is your pole dream and how do you plan to reach it?

SM: My dream is to continue to create movement based art that touches its viewers and provokes thought and to help others find the potential in their bodies' ability to move and express emotion.  Before pole, I had no idea what my body was capable of and I want to continue to push those limits.  

AJ: My dream is to spearhead a show built on artistry and concept. It doesn't have to be a big show. It can just be made in a simple space but I'd like to make performances that make you feel distraught to those that elate you to euphoria from the most whimsical to the mundane. I just want to make people feel and step out of themselves for a moment.  

As of now I'm immersing myself in circus and theater to build on that concept and we'll see where inspiration takes flight. 

How did you each find Twirly Girls and each other, my dynamic duo?

SM: I came to Twirly Girls for a private lesson with Nadia Sharif and was welcomed onto the team shortly thereafter.  The community that Bel Jeremiah has built is astonishing and when AJ came to visit from the Philippines he immediately fit in with our family.  We trained together with Phoenix Kazree before he flew back home and I was heartbroken because I felt like I had found and was about to lose my kindred spirit.  Luckily for me, he moved to the Bay Area and became an official part of the studio less than a year later. AJ is a tremendous artist, dancer, friend, and support.  I admire his skills but even more-so his humility, and compassion.  He has always pushed me and believed in my ability to compete even when I've lost my way.  There is something about the way that this apparatus has managed to create an international community that brings people together and it's comforting to know that even when our bodies are no longer capable of throwing fonjis, we'll still have the relationships that pole brought into our lives.  I affectionately refer to AJ as my "pole boyfriend" but he is so much more to me than any title can explain.

AJ: I was then residing in the Philippines and was teaching part time as a pole instructor and finishing my Bachelors of Music in Voice in the year 2012. My family decided to bring me over to the U.S. for a Christmas break vacation. We headed to Las Vegas where I met David C. Owen who was then teaching in Shine Fitness. I hardly knew any pole studios in the Bay Area where my family lived so I asked him for some help. I figured that just like my home in the Philippines that I could simply step in to the studio and drop into a class. Little did I know that there were a few studios who had co-ed classes and he sent me a list of them through facebook. I wanted to go to each and every studio who accepted men in their classes but since I was pressed for time I only went to one. That led me to Twirly Girls where I met SeanMichael and the rest of the Twirly Girl team.


We only met once that day but I guess we were fated to train with each other since. Phoenix Kazree was in town and SeanMichael had signed up for a private with her in preparation for a competition. Being such a fan of hers I asked to tag along with him for a semi-private. That would be our second pole play date together.


The moment I decided to come back here after my graduation in the Philippines I sent him a message that I was in town. We've been Pole Boyfriends since. =)

*****

I really appreciate both Seanmichael and AJ taking the time to be part of my blog this month. I know they are both very busy and I want them to know how much I enjoy the time I get to spend with them at Twirly Girls.

If you know AJ and SM, leave a comment below and tell me how you met them! 




6 comments:

  1. Loved this blog so much I want to print it and put it on the wall!!!!!

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  2. I wish you had a solo pic of idol AJ! My fave is his Hummingbird pose. :D

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    1. I gave him a hard time about that!! :)

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  3. I stumbled across your blog and have been reading it for the past hour! I was looking up information on silks classes to try! Your blog is inspiring! Keep it up!

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    1. Welcome!! I'm glad you're enjoying this!! Where do you live? I might be able to suggest a studio!

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