Jenna May | Competitive Pole Dancer
Posted on March 16 2019
Meet Jenna May, our Sweatspiration this month! Jenna is a competitive pole dancer & pole instructor. This woman is seriously talented. She exudes confidence and passion when she dances. But she wasn't always an athlete - before pole she had only ever had an irregular yoga practice! Read her blog below to learn about how she got into pole dancing & competing, and how she wants to help other women (and men) find body confidence in themselves.
When/How did you first get into pole dancing? When did you become a pole instructor?
I first started pole dancing in the spring of 2016. I had seen some very inspiring pole athletes on Instagram and was keen to try it out. I have always been a performer at heart, and had visions of me scaling the pole in a beautiful costume, performing to my favorite music. So I began taking lessons at a local studio. I had no real athletic background other than an irregular yoga practice, and when I started pole I had very little upper body strength. However, even though it was challenging, and frustrating at times, I was completely hooked. I didn't have a pole at home when I first started, so I would go to playgrounds and practice on the poles there, and used the monkey bars do pull up negatives. I was determined!
A few months later I bought a pole and installed it in my house: that was a game changer. I started to make a lot of progress: I was on my home pole nearly every day! I would wake up and pole, practice throughout the day, and most of all, pole at 4 am when I got home from my bartending job. 4:00 am was my pole witching hour! Eventually the studio brought me on as a receptionist and then a teacher. Teaching made me fall even deeper in love with pole dancing: nothing improves your own skills quite like teaching, and it was so gratifying to help other women discover the strength that I had found.
I am no longer with that first studio, and took a break from teaching last year to focus on my own training. Now, I am very proud to be instructing at Calgary's newest Pole Fitness studio: R. Song Studios! We have been open since December 2018 and it is an incredible place to train and teach!
Give us a little explanation/background about the different types of Pole dancing... (exotic, etc?)
So when I first started pole dancing, I was very adamant that I was only doing it for fitness. I swore I would never wear the heels, or do the sexy pole dancing that many people think of when they hear about pole. However, as I explored the pole community on Instagram, I quickly became drawn to the "sexy" side of pole dancing. There was something about those 8 inch heels, the way the girls could slink around on the floor then execute powerful pole tricks, bang their heels against the ground, commanding so much attention and radiating such confidence...
As I came to learn, there are several different styles of pole dancing. Some people really focus on the tricks, and the sporty, athletic side of pole dancing. They typically don't dance in heels, and really focus on the aerial elements of pole dance: that is, performing tricks in the air. Some people incorporate existing styles of dance into their pole work, giving it a very artistic feel. A dance style that is often combined with pole is lyrical or contemporary dance. Other people, myself including, find themselves inescapably drawn to the sexy side of pole. In the pole community, this style is often called exotic pole. Dancing in this style requires heels: and not just any heels! They have got to be Pleasers: the sky high, single sole platform shoes with that iconic silhouette. Exotic pole often combines dance elements performed on the floor and low around the pole in addition to aerial tricks, and the focus is on sensual movement, stage presence, and flow.
There are of course more styles of pole, and individuals bring their own style to their dancing and pole work. Some pole dancers really try to make a distinction between exotic and the other styles: however, I do not see the need for such a strong distinction. I would encourage pole dancers to try different styles and most importantly, dance and train by yourself, to your own music, and see what moves you!
Tell us a bit about your personal experience competing in Pole dancing.
I became aware of competitive pole dancing quite early in my pole journey, and knew immediately that it was something I wanted to do. I thought it would be a great opportunity to take my pole dancing out of the studio and onto a stage. However, as pole became a bigger part of my life, competing began to mean something more. It gives me something to strive for, a chance to get my name out in the community, to see how I stack up, and in a sense, validate this activity that has become my passion, that I pour so much time, effort and resources into.
There are quite a few organizations that hold competitions. A few of the ones I have competed in include the Canadian Pole Fitness Association, Pole Sport Org. and the North American Pole Dance Championship. In any given competition there are different categories, based on the style of pole dancing, and may include pole art, championship, exotic, or entertainment. I usually compete in exotic, as well as one other category to challenge myself. I am proud to say that I have placed several times so far in my pole career, including 2nd place in my exotic category last September. I am competing several times this year, starting with the CPFA in Vancouver at the end of March!
What kind of cross training do you do in addition to Pole dancing? How is this helpful/detrimental to your pole practice?
As I mentioned, prior to pole I had no real athletic background. I was mindful of my nutrition and tried to live a healthy lifestyle, but was never particularly fit. Towards the end of my first year of pole dancing, I started to get a lot of nagging muscle injuries. I constantly felt tweaked, and was frustrated by the limitations of my body! My chiropractor looked at me one day and said: "I think we need to put some muscle on you!" He introduced me to weight training, which was a brand new adventure for me. He taught my the compound movements and I slowly gathered more knowledge. I remember being so excited when I could squat the bar! To my surprise, I fell in love with weight training.
What began as a cross training endeavor quickly became its own passion, with its own goals and challenges.
I currently lift 2-3 times per week, depending on my schedule in the studio. I focus on heavy dead lifts and squats with body builder style accessory work. I love the challenge of getting stronger and I am thrilled with the muscle I have been able to add to my frame. Also,my chiropractor was right: the added muscle and strength has led to far fewer injuries! However, the weight training can work against pole: I find heavy lifting is not exactly conducive to the type of flexibility some advanced pole moves require. I love it too much to stop though: I just have to be diligent with my stretching!
What is the most rewarding part of pole dancing/instructing/competing? Most challenging?
There are so many parts of pole dancing that are rewarding. First and foremost, pole dancing has completely changed how I relate to my body: it turned me into an athlete! That was a mindset shift that I don't think would have happened with any other sport I tried to pick up: pole motivated me to do everything I could to be better: take care of my sleep, my diet, cross train, and get strong! Teaching is incredibly rewarding in several ways. I have quite a few students who have had from the start of the pole dancing journeys, and seeing them get stronger, week by week, doing things they never dreamed their bodies could do... well, I remember that feeling! Teaching also pushes me creatively, especially when I teach my exotic classes.
Competing is rewarding too, but it is also where the challenges come in. Of course there are physical challenges every single day in pole, as there is in any sport. My hands may be slippery, flexibility or strength needs to be improved, minor nagging injuries need to be dealt with. The biggest struggle for me with competing is my mindset. I suffer a lot of self doubt around my pole dancing: it is my greatest love and my greatest insecurity! I struggle to find the balance of believing in myself while constantly striving for improvement: I struggle to find a competitive desire to win while being ok with outcomes that are beyond my control. I think there are a lot of mental struggles in any competitive sport: but competing makes us all stronger!
What would your advice be to other women (OR MEN) who want to try pole dancing?
My advice to people who may want to try pole dancing is to TRY IT! Women who want to try it often tell me they would do it but they have no upper body strength: well neither did I! Like any sport you build your strength by doing it! As your question highlights, it is not just women who I would encourage to try pole. We may not see a ton of male pole dancers in North America, but internationally there are many very accomplished male polers. The studio I teach at now is owned by Robbie Song, an incredible pole athlete who is a perfect example of what men can achieve in pole dancing! He runs a men's class once a week but all of our classes our co-ed!
Who inspires you?
In the age of Instagram, I have no shortage of pole inspiration! There are incredible pole dancers all over the world. However, I am particularly inspired by those who marry the athletic sides of pole with the show girl side of pole, as that is what I try to do! Equal parts athlete and showgirl, I always say. I am also very inspired by Robbie Song: not only is he an accomplished competitor and a straight up amazing pole athlete, he also took the leap to open his studio and create an incredible space to train, teach and grow. He really gives a lot to the pole community, both locally, nationally, and internationally.
What are your goals this year? (Personal, Work, competing, etc)
I have several competitions coming up this year, but there is one I am particularly excited for: Pole Theatre Canada, which is in Edmonton on June 21st and 22nd. Video auditions were required to apply for this competition and I was very honored to be one of the chosen competitors! The focus of this competition is high production value, visually stunning performances: just type in 'pole theatre' on youtube and you will see what I mean! So having achieved the goal of making it into the competition, it is now my goal to deliver an unforgettable performance, and win my category!
Where can people find you? (instgram, studio & class times, etc)
I am on instagram! @jennaellissapole Follow me to stay in the loop as my busy competitive season unfolds, as well as what's going on at the studio. I teach at R. Song Studios: @rsongstudio and www.rsongstudios.com. I currently teach classes on Sundays and Wednesdays: the schedule is available on line. I am also available to teach private and semi private classes: contact me on instagram or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Hope to see you all at the studio!
Location: R Song Studio's
Photographer: Katt Wyllie