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From One Twenty-Something to Another...🤸♂️
Self-growth and women empowerment and taboos, oh my!
Happy Wednesday, my Dearest Twenty-Somethings! This week’s newsletter is a bit of a change of pace, and I welcome your feedback! I had the pleasure of interviewing Casey Tolentino, a 24-year-old first-generation Filipino-American from San Diego, California. She’s a technical consultant in the integration space who got into pole dancing as a hobby during the pandemic. If you’re wondering what pole dancing has to do with anything—let me explain.
The art-slash-sport-slash-exercise-slash-job has been popularized in recent years by artists like the beloved FKA Twigs, features in Vogue, and it even seeks a spot in the Olympics. Needless to say, poles aren’t only in strip clubs anymore, and you can likely even find a class in your neighborhood. The trend, simply put, encompasses a few of our favorite things: taboos, media criticisms, self-growth and women empowerment. So please, welcome Dear Twenty-Somethings’ first interviewee!
How’d you get into pole dancing?
In November 2019, I went to a Summer Walker concert and that was the first time I had seen pole dancers in real life. I haven't been to a strip club and I feel like for the majority of people, your first interaction with seeing pole dancers, or just even seeing strip culture, is in media, and it's just so raunchy and different from what I saw in real life. I felt so amazed, they were so beautiful and just looked like angels from above—I swear, I was in a daze. I started telling my friends that I’d love to try it, and then a friend gifted me a private pole dancing class for Christmas. Following the initial opportunity, I probably took two or three classes before the pandemic hit. I was also living at home at the time, so I was still with my parents and I was just like, you know what, I have my own money now. Let me just ask them if I can buy a pole for the house, and surprisingly, they were 100 percent okay with it. I was a little hesitant to bring it up to them because, again, pole dancers in media just had a negative and very sexualized perception. I used to dance when I was younger, so I explained that I wanted to get back into dancing, but just with a totally new avenue. Having to navigate that conversation was new for me, but ultimately I can say that it's brought me closer to my family because I think they see how much it means to me, and it’s something I'm really proud of. They've gone on my pole, even my dad, I won't lie! And my older brother, I'm like, this is definitely not your first time on a pole!
I think because everyone at that moment in time when the pandemic hit was just kind of trying to situate what their near-future was going to look like, so from my parents' perspective, they were just like, okay, if this is what’s going to anchor you while we're entering a pandemic, go ahead and buy it. So I bought the pole and my dad helped me set it up in our loft upstairs and for about a year I was just pole dancing at my parents' house, and that's kind of where it started.
What do you feel you've gained from pole dancing? What have you learned about yourself?
I think initially when I wanted to learn how to dance, I was just like, “I wanna do this move and I wanna look like that and make this shape,” but honestly, having this type of hobby, it’s very expressive. I danced when I was younger, but through high school and college, I didn’t really have an expressive outlet and so now, I've just been able to appreciate myself outside of a productive lens. With everything other than pole dancing, essentially, I'm working, I'm being productive, I'm running errands. I always have something to do or I have a result I need to meet. And I think with pole dancing, there’s a similar structure of wanting to nail this move, but there's also so much beauty in just being able to get on the pole and spin to a song on repeat. I feel like when I'm on my pole, I don't have to create for a purpose, whereas in all other aspects of life, I kind of have to. So it's just so nice to have that outlet and I hope that everyone has an outlet like that, because it's so necessary when we're working 40+ hours and just being an adult in general, especially in a pandemic. I think movement is really helpful for my mental health and something too that I often think about is just really the strength it takes to be on a pole is ridiculous. And to look graceful while doing it, I feel like balancing between feeling masculine and feminine at the same time is something I've explored while pole dancing. It’s about exerting all this energy, and then at the same time, feeling graceful and just flowing with the moves.
It's also just so personal and I've found a lot of peace in being with myself. That's something that as I'm getting older, I'm trying to discover peace in my solitude, and with pole dancing, I'm just totally by myself, but I can have such a good time with it. I feel like at this point in our lives, after graduating college, I recently moved out, and just even managing my own lifestyle is very new and it's definitely different than in college because we had so much more built-in structure and I wasn't even really checking in with myself. So pole dancing definitely gives me that grounding and the time to actually check in with myself, which is so necessary that we do that at this age.
How do you feel about the perception of pole dancing and how it’s changing?
There's definitely still a huge stigma and so it's hard, but even sharing with my family is a roadblock that I'm happy to have overcame, because I think for me, to have first brought it up, it felt very out of the blue. But now that my parents know, my mom often loves the videos I make, just because I know that at the end of the day, she just cares that I'm being safe, I look good, I’m having fun. It's still taboo and hopefully even having conversations like this, it can just normalize this hobby a little bit more. And something else, and I'm not perfect about it at all, but I've seen online that people will want to recategorize pole dancing as “aerial art” or will have some weird coded language, when at the end of the day, it’s pole dancing—which is in sex work, it's in strip clubs. I just don't want to take away from it, even though I'm someone that likes to do it as a hobby.
Something else that I've been learning and exploring is being sexual versus being sexualized, and I feel like the distinction is something I've learned from other dancers. I think about it a lot because pole dancing is a very sexualized form of movement, but that doesn't mean just because I'm being sexual means I want to be sexualized. I think trying to distinguish that can be very empowering, having ownership over your own sexuality.
I can't help but include myself in those commodifying pole dancing, but I try to participate in classes that are held by sex workers or buy from women of color and Black women. But at the end of the day, I'm still someone who just does it as a hobby, and that's why I try to be mindful of the attention I'm putting towards the pole community. Whether they're strippers or have been in sex work, I feel like people are able to view pole dancing as a hobby as something different from people who are doing it for work, which is definitely an issue in itself.
What would you recommend to someone just getting into pole dancing?
First of all, you should definitely try it because there’s so much more to it, it's such a personal journey. It’s also just a lot of time you spend with yourself in such a new way. It’s physically very hard, but our bodies will only let us do what we're capable of. I know it can be intimidating at first, because I felt the same way seeing people who have been doing it for years and going upside down and doing all this craziness. But when you first start, you're gonna learn the basics and you're gonna build your strength up to where it needs to be in order to eventually go upside down or do crazy tricks, and it’s really about taking baby steps with it. And from my personal experience, I was able to take a private class my very first time, and I think that could be something really helpful for people who are curious and want to get some one-on-one time with an instructor.
I would also highly, highly recommend if possible looking even further and seeing if you could learn from someone who is a current or a previous sex worker, like a stripper. That’s something I've been trying to be mindful of, is that people pole dance as their job. It’s important that if anyone wants to get involved, that people are understanding the origin story and checking themselves—like their own thoughts on strippers and sex work, and just making sure that we’re still giving respect where it’s due. The work, especially on social media, is sometimes hidden because it’s seen as explicit or sexual, when what I've learned is that our skin is needed for the moves we do; the friction that our skin has with the chrome pole helps us grip the pole better.
How incredible is she?! Follow Casey’s pole-dancing journey on Instagram here, and check out the playlist she dances to here. All bops, can confirm! All of this is to say: Try new things. Things that scare you. Things you’ve always wanted to do. Open new doors. Discover yourself!
I’d love to know what you think about today’s feature. Give me feedback here—and let me know if you know of a twenty-something who deserves the spotlight and would be a great interviewee for an upcoming newsletter.
In case you were wondering, I’ve been listening to the new TV Girl and Jordana album on repeat after seeing them last week. Too good! With that, here are a few picks to get you through the week:
VICE: “The Death of Ronald McDonald” - Once more recognizable to American children than Jesus Christ himself—remember that guy? Where’d he go?
PureWow: “The 19 Best 24-Hour Restaurants in NYC for Your Round-the-Clock Cravings” - Shameless self-promotion! This piece was a lot of fun to write—satisfy your late-night hunger in any of the five boroughs with these picks.
The Poem I Didn’t Write by Raymond Carver
Here is the poem I was going to write
earlier, but didn’t
because I heard you stirring.
I was thinking again
about that first morning in Zurich.
How we woke up before sunrise.
Disoriented for a minute. But going
out onto the balcony that looked down
over the river, and the old part of the city.
And simply standing there, speechless.
Nude. Watching the sky lighten.
So thrilled and happy. As if
we’d been put there
just at that moment.
Affirmation of the week: I am comfortable in my own skin.
Question of the week: Do you have a creative outlet that allows you to express yourself?
Thank you all for reading this week’s newsletter! I’m always looking to improve my work, so leave a comment, send me a message, or fill out this form to tell me about what you want to read about in upcoming Dear Twenty-Somethings! I’m all ears. Connect with me on Twitter, LinkedIn, Goodreads or online if you feel so inclined. And check out last week’s newsletter here in case you missed it.
If you liked what you read, send this newsletter to a friend! Heck, send it to 10 friends! Sending love and light to you, wherever you are. 🌟
Cheers & happy Wednesday! Stay well.
xoxoxo, Quinnie <3