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Michelle Stanek

Michelle Stanek

Michelle Stanek

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I live in a fabulously small studio apartment in Manhattan with a view of the Empire State Building and a lucky 12-minute walk to Body & Pole, where I train, teach, sweat, cry and laugh most of my days away. A little over a year ago I won the PFA’s East Meets West “Pole Drama” competition with a modern, angsty, sassy and dramatic performance to “Veronika” by Tricky. This was just a few months after I won the inaugural Polesque competition in Brooklyn with a gender-bendery performance to Leonard Cohen’s “I’m Your Man,” complete with a hat, vest, pasties, Groucho Marx mask and the not so subtle phallic use of a cane. It’s hard to believe that at this time I was also the program director for AIGA, the professional association for design and an art history professor at Pratt Institute and for the Assisi Conferences in Italy each summer. Following the devastation of a lay-off (that lasted about a day) in December 2009 I picked up the pieces and channeled my energy into what has always remained my true passion, although often suppressed by the “American Dream”—dancing. And this time, pole dancing. I started taking pole dance classes with my best buddy Kyra Johannesen at Crunch Gym about 4 years ago after work on Friday nights (thank you Kelly McLaughlin for dragging me into class). That simple, one-hour class one night a week awoke something deep inside—something that was, sadly, almost entirely abandoned—my love of dance. I grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania, where I took advantage of the best ballet programs I could. I danced almost every role in the Nutcracker from ages 8-18 and loved learning a new traditional story ballet or original piece each Spring. Then I hit the proverbial wall and swore off ballet to focus on contemporary movement in college, where I was so lucky to work with incredible choreographers in the contemporary dance world every semester. But I majored in art history and then went on to graduate school to get my MA in art history as well. I dabbled with a small modern company in NYC in my early twenties. But, once the burden of student loans and the desire to earn more money and advance in my design/art world career (which I did love!) became the priority, everything else fell to the wayside. But it was dance that has always made me feel complete and alive and honest. When pole dancing came back into my life and I lost my job (funny how things happen, isn’t it?) my life took a dramatic turn into something even I couldn’t have even dreamt up. I moved to Stockholm, Sweden as the lead instructor for a pole studio there for 4 months. Upon my return I took a chance and applied for the USPDF National Competition. I got accepted (eeeek!) and then trained. I trained my butt off for 4 months. USPDF stress nearly killed me. Seriously. The pressure of that competition was for some reason, terribly heavy. But, the hard work paid off and I won (again!). That moment may very likely be the best moment of my life. My friends showed me the most amazing support, holding up light-up signs (I can’t tell you how much that meant to me to look out into the dark audience and see “We <3 Michelle!") My mom and dad were there to see me pole dance for the first time too. My first, compulsory, was routine to "Hang on St. Christopher" where I *had* to wear stripper shoes and I was able to serve up some sass, smack my things and flirt with the audience. Then I was able to sort of release a bit of my soul into the theater during my optional routine to "Ballad of a Paralyzed Citizen" by The Faint." Again, this piece was modern and aggressive yet soft and defeating. Right after USPDF a new, unknown competition called Pole Dance Universe was accepting applications so I threw a video into the mix (why? this still remains a mystery!). I was accepted and immediate stress ensued, again! The theme for this entire competition was "Film and Movies," since the venue was a historic movie theater in Denver. Films that immediately came to mind as inspiration were films like "A Clockwork Orange, and "Pulp Fiction," but then I realized I didn't want to go so obvious or literal and pick one movie. So, I decided to pick a class film genre, Film Noir. I played the sultry, flirty and dangerous femme fatale. I had my brother and good editor friend create a movie montage of classic film noir footage to show on the screen behind me. My costume was designed by Carolyn Peters, a student of mine and extraordinary designer. ANd I had a friend remix the theme song to "A Touch of Evil." While I was stressing and preparing for this competition, someone gave me one of the best pieces of advice ever: "Competition performances go by so fast that all of a sudden it's over and you're like, what did I just do?" So, I decided I did not want that feeling. I wanted to be 100% present on that stage and live in and enjoy every single moment, spin, smile, gesture, kick, handspring, jade, climb and step! And I did. I *lived* up there on stage for my 4 minutes! And I won. I didn't have the most mind-blowing strength or flexibility tricks in the world. But I performed and danced my heart out. And that's what made the difference. Now I cannot believe it is already October. And I am the UPA Pro Poler of the month! This summer brought me to Sweden, LA and Rome, through the awesome X-Pert pole instructor certification program, and Dubai, where we were the first to bring pole dancing to the UAE! Next up: Competing and performing with AERA in Pole Art in Helsinki, Finland, with a few of *my* personal pole idols! (Stress ensuing...) I have a BA and an MA in art history. I once had a nice office job with a desk, 401k, dental insurance, yearly bonuses, and conference calls. But returning to my love of dance has literally opened up the entire world to me; it challenges me every day; and it brings so much excitement and love into my life. I am very curious to see how the pole dance industry will grow and what jobs are created, other than studio owner and instructor. I am curious to see how standards and ethics (staples of any profession) are developed, codified and applied in studios, competitions and events in the pole profession. And I am very curious to see where my life takes me next and how I can keep contributing to this remarkable community of pole dancers. It is an honor to be among all of you!

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