As you might already know, some of the drawings in my new coloring book, Pole Shapes, are based on specific dancers. There's been interest in getting to know them a little more, and what better way to do that than by interviewing them, I ask you! So without further ado, welcome to the first of hopefully many chats with coloring book honorees.
Please note, portions of these interviews may be edited for clarity and brevity.
Our first chat is with Da Undertakah, a self-identified curvy poler and blooming yogi, not to mention a beautifully artistic mind. She has competed regionally and nationally, winning in the Exotic category at PSO Southeast in 2016 and taking home first place at Dangerous Curves in 2018. She played a role in inspiring the creation of Kiss My Curves, another pole competition for plus-sized athletes based locally in Mississippi. You can see drawings referenced from her bewitching movements on the first and tenth full coloring pages in the book. We took some time to talk about pole dance, self-empowerment, and creativity in the face of grief.
Photo credit: Alloy Images
View a performance by Da Undertakah here
"Just as undertaker prepares a body for the afterlife, when I step on stage, I want to take you on the journey with me. It's a welcome to my world type thing. "
Thanks for taking the time to do this with me! How did you get into pole?
I got into pole around 2013 because I was looking to become active in a new way. I didn't really like going to gym. I came across a pole video on YouTube and wanted to try it out. I ended up at a pilates studio that offered pole classes, but a certain number of people had to have signed up for the instructor to do the pole series. When the series finally happened, I was HOOKED the first class! Classes were expensive so I only did 4 weeks, but pole lit a fire inside me and I didn't want to give up on it. Fast forward to October of 2014 and an old member of the pilates studio told me about a new pole studio that she was a part of and said I should check it out. I started classes in January 2015 and pole has consistently been in my life since.
What's the community like down in Mississippi?
The pole community is quite small in Mississippi, with only two operating studios that I know of. Each has different styles and offers different types of fitness and/or fitness based classes.
Tell me a bit about what pole dance has meant to you.
Pole was definitely a game and life changer for me in so many ways. It allowed me to discover myself. I'd come out of a toxic relationship and I felt like a shell of myself. I knew my worth enough to get out that situation but pole helped me REALIZE my worth because it was so empowering and just made me love myself that much more.
Has it changed the way you think about yourself?
Pole truly changed the way I feel about myself and how I see myself. As I got stronger and learned more moves regardless of my size, I started to celebrate what my body can do. I am PLUS-SIZE and STRONG and I can defy the odds. I also became the only plus-size instructor at the studio I was attending and I began to compete. I later transitioned to being a home poler.
How has pole challenged you creatively?
I made a quote to say, "I dream my dance, then dance my dream". I was always seeing new flows, new characters, and wanting an audience to feel what I feel. Pole was the canvas and I just let my movements be the paint. As with all the good, pole has definitely challenged me creatively, especially lately. I experienced the loss of my mother and grandmother only a month apart and even though pole has been there, its like having writer's block. You know something is there but nothing is coming out. As of late, pole has challenged me to grieve and really grapple with these raw emotions and complex feelings, so creatively my movements reflect as such. It's therapeutic actually, now that I think about it.
I know we all deal with grief in different ways but in my experience it can be hard to push yourself to do the things that are good for you—even things you love—when you're going through a loss.
Grief can extinguish that passion for the things you love but hope can reignite it. That's what I'm currently learning in this season.
I'm guessing you've inherited some of the qualities that make you such a compelling artist from your mom and grandma. What kind of influence have they had on you as an artist?
Believe it or not, I think I get all the artsy stuff from my dad. He plays the guitar, piano, and can draw and paint. My mom always said, "Girl, you didn't get that creative side from me". Now when it comes to presentation as an artist, I do believe I got that from all of them. My mom, dad, and grandmom all have their styles and flair. They knew how to draw attention without saying it, if that makes sense. They are true to themselves, so they inspire me to do the same.
"I've colored little pieces of myself, and the process accurately reflects my life: rediscovering myself, adding a little color to my own life, and that's healing in itself."
How did you develop your stage name and persona?
Back at the studio when you got to a certain level you earned a pole name that your instructors would give you based on your personality. I was given "The Undertaker". Considering I'm introverted, I thought I would have something more dainty. I really don't know the reasoning it was chosen for me but I took it, changed the spelling and made it into an experience for the audience. Just as undertaker prepares a body for the afterlife, when I step on stage, I want to take you on the journey with me. It's a welcome to my world type thing.
Now that I've heard the intention behind your name I can see how well it fits, because I do feel transported to somewhere ethereal and otherworldly when you dance. I see some belly dancing influence in there, so now you've got me curious: what movement styles have you explored in your life and which do you feel have influenced you most?
I never thought about belly dancing till now. I hadn't explored any type of movement style until I started pole dance, actually. I just love music, dance, and just let my body go with it.
Are there any performances you're especially proud of?
I'm my own worst critic when it comes to my performances, but the two I'm most proud of is winning 1st place in my first competition (exotic) at PSO Southwest 2016 and being the overall winner and reigning champion of Dangerous Curves (2018).
Tell me about your experience at Dangerous Curves! What's the vibe like?
I actually competed in Dangerous Curves back in 2016 in Colorado, but I didn't win that one. The vibe then was cool and the audience gave me so much support. Flowers, hugs, and words of encouragement from strangers who thought I was going to win. It was heartbreaking then, but I kept pushing and practicing. I was taking a break from competing until 2018, when a small voice said, try again for Dangerous Curves New York. I entered and this time, I won the competition! The vibe before I touched the pole was lit. The crowd and support was unbelievable. I will never forget that experience, especially since this was the beginning of the final moments I would share with my grandmother and mother. Everything that year had great significance actually.
Who inspires you?
You actually. When you share your art, your passion, I'm inspired to do the same. My mom and grandma as well. They are no longer here, but everyday I'm inspired to be better and realize my full potential in their honor.
Other than pole dancing, what fills up your time?
My full time job as a Dental Hygienist. I wish I could play around the pole all day though!
Coloring pages honoring Da Undertakah from Pole Shapes
Have you colored yourself in yet? I've colored little pieces of myself, and the process accurately reflects my life: rediscovering myself, adding a little color to my own life, and that's healing in itself. I'm grateful for the book. It definitely serves as a self-reflection point for me.
I feel like I have to throw in one bonkers question, so...a snake, a cake, a rake: what order do you eat them in? (And why?)
They are all members of the -ake family, so alphabetically. C-ake (because why not); R-ake (why would you eat a rake, unless it's like a fork I could use to eat the cake); Sn-ake...(eww, but in some cultures it's a delicacy. I don't trust the serpent. It would be the last thing I would eat).
Is there anything else you'd like people to know about you?
Well, to all my cool cats and kittens, I'm just a southern girl with big dreams who loves to pole dance and want others to feel confident and empowered regardless of size.
You can follow Da Undertakah on Instagram @d_undertakah
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