Meet Noelle: a dancer, teacher, artist, and star napper. Although we came to pole dance around the same time, as newbies to the dance world, that's where the comparison ends, because Noelle exists in a league all her own. She began competing not long after starting her pole training, winning an impressive second place at her first competition in the 2018 Pole Championship Series in Melbourne, Australia, as well as winning at Pole Legends 2019 in Drama. She now teaches at Altitude Pole Redwood and at the Altitude flagship studio in Christchurch, New Zealand. We talk about her new career path, her love of the pole community, and the role they've played in helping her combat depression and anxiety.
Some text edited for clarity and brevity.
Photo credit: Reality Dysfunction
View a performance by Noelle here
So this is exciting! You're the first person I've interviewed who I actually know in real life. What's been new for you in the last couple of years?
I have changed professions! Three years ago I was a graphic designer—I freelanced, but it didn't really go well for me. Last year I become a pole instructor. I transitioned from just covering classes to making it my full-time job, and I could not be any happier.
What drew you to pole dance initially?
I was in a strip/burlesque club when I saw these amazing women dancing and flowing and doing all these amazing tricks on the pole. They were so graceful and they had so much confidence, I wanted to be like them. Not to mention once I got into it, I learned the community is absolutely amazing and supportive.
I actually remember our first class together pretty vividly. For one, I think we were stretching partners. And two, I remember Karry [the owner of the studio] basically telling you that you were made to do this. What was that like for you, as a total beginner, to be singled out by someone so accomplished?
I remember that one of your legs shakes so much more than the other one haha! I didn't believe Karry honestly, but it also gave me hope that I could be good at something. It was also a good push to work harder and "prove" myself—especially coming from someone I totally look up to! It was thrilling and scary!
"I always want to make something different or do something I have never done before. It's terrifying being out of your comfort zone but that's how you develop as a better version of yourself."
Has it changed the way you think about your body? Yes, definitely. I started appreciating and taking care of my body, and listening to what it needs. People have always told me I'm too thin, that I'm underweight and I need to see a doctor, so I wasn't always happy about my body. But then after discovering pole, I started not to care about what other people said because I was learning cool stuff on the pole, starting to gain strength, and becoming happier. That's all that matters.
What surprised you most about the experience? The community. I was never discriminated for my skin colour, my ethnicity, my sexual orientation...I was never judged—I was accepted for who I am. This kind of community is what the world needs. You're also a skilled 2D artist. How does your relationship to dance compare to your relationship to drawing and design?
The purpose of my dance and my art are the same—I want to make my audience feel something. For a pole dance routine I aim for a few specific emotions to draw from the audience. For my art, it tends to be more open. It doesn't matter what emotion my audience feels, as long as they feel something...I consider that a win.
How has pole challenged you creatively? The greatest challenge was finding my style. Being a 2D artist, I have my own style of drawing and it's the same with pole dance: you gotta find the style you enjoy doing. I have found my style over the three and a half years of doing pole, and now the challenge is how to evolve and to progress. I challenge myself in every routine I make. I always want to make something different or do something I have never done before. It's terrifying being out of your comfort zone but that's how you develop as a better version of yourself.
"I have made amazing friends and met the love of my life because of pole."
Tell us a bit about creating your Pole Legends routine.
I was and still am very attached to that routine. It's based on my own struggles with depression and anxiety disorder. I had Lana Panfilow help me create it. She's so amazing, I love her. She choreographed the dance/floor part of that routine, and her portrayal of it was just so beautiful that I spent hours on end working to give it justice on stage.
Has teaching changed anything for you? Before, I was so lost in what I'm supposed to do with my life. I tried to be a full time artist and a graphic designer, but I wasn't motivated. I was feeling depressed about my life, and I started hating making art which made me more depressed. When I became a pole instructor everything just fell into place. I was more relaxed and happy. I take care of myself more than I used to, as I need my body to be in the best shape to teach, and my mental health has gotten way better. I am the happiest I've ever been.
I feel like a lot of us come to pole with heavy things to work through and find almost a form of therapy in it, and it's interesting to hear that teaching took you that final step further. What was it about that shift that clicked things into place for you?
I just did not dread waking up the next day. I didn't feel like utter shit going to work. I love my job. It is physically and emotionally taxing giving my energy to others every time I teach, but it is so worth it.
What's been your proudest teaching moment to date?
Every time a student gets a move, even tiny progress towards a move—I always feel proud, not of myself but of my students. I believe in them. Every time they go on stage and show what they can do—always, always proud of them!
Do you have a favorite warm up or pole game?
I think my favourite pole game would be freestyling while being given instructions like 'stay low', 'go up the pole', 'STOP', 'move faster'—it's such a challenge! Like Simon Says, but for pole!
"I love waterfalls, the sea, the ocean. I would definitely dance and flow with water."
How did you get into poi? This guy from Wellington was in Christchurch who teaches it and I was like, "hey, please teach me." And so it began from there and I just got hooked and tried all of the things—now I have a collection of different kinds of poi.
Is there a poi pole performance in your future? It's in the back on my head, yes. I've got an idea, but it's not solid. I need a special kind of poi for what I want to do and that means I need to save money to get it made!
What's the mood been like in NZ with Covid coming and going and coming again? Has it changed your day to day?
We just got out of Alert Level 2, but it didn't really change anything for me. Even when we were on lockdown—yes, I missed pole and teaching but I was also thankful that my body got some proper rest.
Have you colored yourself in yet? Yes, I have not finished it yet though!
You like to joke about being a cat. What's the most cat-like thing about you? I've been dubbed the "studio cat" at Altitude. I just curl up anywhere that looks comfy and fall asleep.
Pole Shapes coloring page featuring Noelle
What would you like to share about pole world that you think most people don’t know? You can do anything with pole—tell a story, dance in high heels, do mind blowing tricks, flips, tumbles, experiment with dance styles—the possibilities are endless. Pole dancers are creative artists and performers with an amazing community behind them. It's a big, close-knit family all over the world, and the most supportive bunch of people you'll meet. I have made amazing friends and met the love of my life because of pole. I could not stress enough how amazing the community is.
If you could choose one element to control, what element would you choose?
Water, definitely water. It's so calming. I love waterfalls, the sea, the ocean. I would definitely dance and flow with water.
You can follow Noelle on Facebook here
Find her on Instagram @xmaskitty_poledancer
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