Chatting with the Famous Ms Vegas
This Ms. Vegas: Pole Joy honoree, school administrator, athlete, soon-to-be-mama, and all around a warm, grounded, fun person to talk to. A high-level performer and competitor, she fell in love with pole dance during a visit to a strip club for her 18th birthday and never looked back. We muse on pregnancy, childbirth, fear of loss, and the specific challenges that come with being a pole dancer at this phase in her life. She highlights how important seeing other fat polers in the community has been to making peace with her own body, and shares her desire to be a part of bringing more representation into the mainstream.
Edited for clarity and brevity.
Photo credit: Alloy Images
View a pre-pregnancy performance including Ms. Vegas's signature Fish Flop here
(Video also by Alloy Images)
Let's start with how you started pole dancing.
When I turned 18 I went to a strip club with a few friends, because that's what you do when you turn 18 in Vegas. I remember being in total awe of the dancers that I saw there. No two had the same style, but all of them just commanded the stage in a way that I could only dream of because I had such intense body image issues. And I thought, hey, I want to learn how to do this. I want to learn how to shine. So that's what sparked it. I went to college in DC, and when I came home to Vegas for the summer I found a pole studio that had an open house while I was in town. All of the instructors were strippers in Vegas, so it was kind of a cool, very, very old school set up there. I took classes there every single summer when I would come home from college, and then once I graduated college, I stayed in DC and I found a full studio there. I actually still dance with that studio virtually even though I don't live there anymore. So I got into it and I just never got out of it.
You talked about going into it struggling with with body issues and with your self esteem. What was that transition like for you—because I know it's not instantaneous. It's not like you take one class and then all of a sudden you're like, oh, I have confidence now.
Here I am, 13 years later, and I still have moments of poor self-confidence. I think that's something that we naturally will feel from time to time. Back then there weren't a ton of people who looked like me—and I was fat, but I wasn't as fat as I am now. As time went by and the more I started to see people who looked like me there was a transition. Then my studio, Pole Pressure DC, had its very first in-studio competition. I thought, whatever, I'll just sign up and it'll be fun. I danced to Fat Bottomed Girls. My routine was literally body rolls and butt shaking and a little fake split because I didn't have my full splits then. I did not get off the ground. I could not climb, I did not invert, and I was in full clothing. And people lost their minds. So that made me go okay, well, no one laughed. That was fun. This feels good, people cheer for you. From that moment on I thought: I have to be on stage. But I still was struggling with costuming and feeling afraid that people would laugh at me. I think the next competition I did was Dangerous Curves, and I was in awe there as well because I realized there are people like me all over and I just didn't know. The more I started performing, the more accolades I got and love I got from the audience, the more I was like, what, am I gonna hide this? This is fun.
Fat Bottomed Girls is such a great song. I feel like you can't listen to that song and not smile.
It made people smile as soon as the song started and I did a little butt wave. I didn't do anything advanced. Just one of those headstands on the ground that you learn in Pole 1.
Ooh I struggle with those. My neck never likes them.
Yeah, as I perform more I've started to realize I actually have some strengths that other people don't have. And you keyed in on this as you drew my picture: one of those strengths is flexibility. That's something I didn't realize I had an edge on. If you look at pictures back then, I wasn't as flexible as I am now, but I had more of a natural inclination to it. And I made a decision. I was like, listen, I don't know if I'm ever gonna be one of these tricksters. I don't know if I'm gonna do a chopper with my big gut in the way, but I do know that I might be able to start shoving my head towards my butt, so let me just focus on that in my training.
"Not only are people kind of amazed that a big body can do this, some of the things I do people are amazed that anybody can do."
The shapes that become available to you when you have flexibility are so varied and beautiful.
Oh yeah, when you get flexible it really helps you stand out. I think that's what ultimately has gained me notoriety—because not only are people kind of amazed that a big body can do this, some of the things I do people are amazed that anybody can do. Like, you're not flexible for a big girl. You're just flexible. I think I had an inclination to it over things like deadlifts and strength stuff. I've worked my ass off over the last 11 years getting proficient at it, getting safe at it, getting better teaching it, getting really deep with it. And like I said, even when I started, I was very self-conscious, but I was like, 60 pounds lighter. I was still a big girl, but I'm a big big girl now. Even pregnancy aside, I was getting bigger; but no matter how big I got, I still wanted to be doing weird shapes and stuff.
How has your pole experience changed now that you're pregnant?
There's a lot I can't do. I want to say the beginning of the second trimester was when I started to realize I was losing things. Climbing is difficult because it pulls on your abdominal muscles and that's where the child is sitting. Inverting gets really hard as your stomach expands. I still do a lot of stretching, but certain extreme back flexibility things that I was doing are off limits, because again, it just pulls on the abdomen. When I first started to realize I was losing skills I've worked for years to build, it depressed me a lot. I talked to other pole mamas out there about it, and all of us get to a point where we're mourning the skills that we've worked hard on. You understand it's not for nothing, but you give yourself an opportunity to be a little sad about it. Now that I'm in my third trimester I'm losing things week by week. It's caused me to be creative: to still stay active, but in different ways, and be very cautious of how my body feels. Prior to my pregnancy I would do stuff even if my body needed a break. My wrist might hurt, but I'd do a handstand class, or choreograph a pole routine. But when you get pregnant, you have to take note of the fact that this is a shared body, and you want to take extra care of it. So it's given me a chance to slow down. If I think too much on it I might get a little sad, because I realize it's gonna be a while before I get back to my peak, but it's for something that I wanted.
I think it's a thing as pole dancers we have to reconcile with as we go through it: what are our expectations of what being pregnant and doing this is? What's the reality?
That's it exactly. It made me very sad at first. And then I started to come to terms with it. I had to start forgiving myself, because you get so tired. Your body's like, we're busy. I'm burning through tons of calories just existing. Some people say you get energy back second trimester, and yeah, but also stuff starts to get in the way. Your boobs are hurting and your belly is getting bigger. But it's really easy to get like caught up in watching other women and their journey and getting a little bit...is jealous the right word? I mean I'm not like, I hate you Bendy Kate!
"I was just like, look at you, you're spending so much energy wanting to be who you were; don't let it be at the risk of something that you're trying to become. "
She's pregnant? I didn't realize!
Yeah she's 10 or 12 weeks behind me and she's doing like, Janerios, deadlifts, handstands—but you know, she's been a gymnast her whole life, so it's not like we were at the same starting point. But yeah, to watch her still go high on the pole and go upside down at 16 weeks? That's impressive. I stopped climbing really early. On the same token I've had mothers message me and go, wow, I had to give up back bending at nine weeks, and you're still back bending! We all have our experience.
It's actually kind of interesting, because I feel like my mental health is the best it's been in years during my pregnancy. Maybe I'm an alpaca, you know? Because I've always struggled with my mental health. I use pole dancing as an artistic way to cope with extreme depression and anxiety. I've battled with suicidal thoughts, feeling a lot of worthlessness, and stress in my career in education that's all really impacted me. Pole was always that constant thing that I went back to to feel good, to get moving, to be in a community that made me happy. Then I got pregnant and my mental health in the first and early second trimester was hard, but finally I got to a point where I was like, oh, cool. This is fine.
I'm really glad to hear that.
I was afraid too because I was on my anxiety mood stabilizing medication and they told me very early in my pregnancy I was going to have to cold turkey it because it wasn't a good med for pregnant people. So I was like, no weed, no meds, I'm gonna go crazy! But then something about my pregnancy hormones...it just kind of took care of itself after a couple of weeks and I just evened out.
"When I was 18 everyone just made it out like you're gonna get pregnant, left and right. There's just gonna be babies everywhere. But no one really talks about loss."
A thing that I have been needing to remind myself over the last year is that your body is there to care for you, and this seems like such a beautiful example of that. In this moment, when you need it, as someone who doesn't have access to your usual meds and doesn't have access to your usual modes of self-soothing—it's amazing that your body just kind of figured it out and is taking care of you in this moment of need. I think that's really beautiful.
It's interesting you say that, because one of the things I struggled with early in my pregnancy was the fear of losing the child. I had four friends and we all got pregnant around the same time. My pregnancy was the only one that survived the first trimester, and I felt a guilt about it, but I was talking to one of my friends and she was like, this is nature. Your body will identify if it's not going to work out and do its thing. That's how her doctor put it to her and how she coped with it. People don't talk about loss at all, so you don't know how common it is. When I was 18 everyone just made it out like you're gonna get pregnant, left and right. There's just gonna be babies everywhere. But no one really talks about loss. Because of that, it was something that circulated in my head a lot early in the pregnancy. That also impacted how I viewed my fitness, because I was like, you can't be going balls to the wall. You have to listen to your body, because it's going to tell you if you're doing something unsafe. Before I even told people about it, I was teaching a workshop with my signature move, the Fish Flop. I demonstrated it several times. After that, I felt a ton of pain, I was bleeding, and I was just like, look at you, you're spending so much energy wanting to be who you were; don't let it be at the risk of something that you're trying to become. I had to sit back and be like, you might have been the Queen of Fish Flops, you might have been the Queen of Backbends, but you've got to sacrifice the crown for a while. So I've been very, very cognizant of just listening to my body; it makes me sort of sad that I never really listened to her before.
That sounds like such a terrifying experience.
It was terrifying! I had such tremendous guilt. Then the next week I went to the doctor— because it was even before the point where they take you for the doctor's appointment. So now I'm a lot more careful. I figure the splits aren't gonna hurt anything. The splits will hopefully get me ready for birth.
That'd be an interesting scientific question to know, if that extra hip mobility has any effect on the experience of labor or anything like that.
What I'm told is that if you stay active during your pregnancy it tends to help with childbirth. But from what I see, childbirth is sort of a roll of the dice. You can be active all you want and you still might have complications. I've really been following the polestar mamas, like Sarah Scott, Michell Shimmy, Amy Hazel and Felix Kane. They all had babies sort of back to back. They told their birth stories, and a couple of them had a really long, painful labor, or had to be induced, or had to get a cesarean—and these are the top athletes on the planet in our sport. They still needed whatever they needed that day; so I've come to a place where I'm gonna stay active, but I've accepted mentally that anything can happen. I really hope I don't have to get a cesarean because it takes a while to recover, but if I do, que será, the kid comes into the world.
"I actually kind of like being pregnant and quarantined because I don't want a bunch of people trying to touch my belly all the time. So this is kind of cool, I get to just be in a cocoon for nine months."
I'll definitely be crossing fingers for you that it goes smoothly.
I want to just say, hey, Doctor, grab my ankles and pull my legs open, and just have her slide out. Like, I've been practicing for this.
Yes! Be the first person to ever give birth in a full split.
The funny thing is you get that relaxin hormone which improves flexibility. I always struggled with my center split, and then I got pregnant and all of a sudden my vagina touched the ground and I was like, yes! I hope I'm not injuring myself.
Haha I hope not! I found all it did was make all of my joints really unstable.
Luckily I haven't experienced that, but I've heard of people rolling their ankles more. I was never a heels dancer anyway, but I definitely wouldn't try to venture into that right now. I think I saw Amy Hazel and maybe Michelle Shimmy doing stuff in heels while pregnant and I was just like wow. I feel like even as a not pregnant person I would constantly roll my ankles in heels. Luckily, I think because I train flexibility all the time it's like, I'm not gonna pull a muscle that's already flexible. When I asked what was off limits I was told I could keep doing what I've been doing as long as my body doesn't start screaming no, but don't go crazy and try new stuff.
You have asthma, you were a smoker before, now you're pregnant—has that been intense for you with covid going on?
I actually kind of like being pregnant and quarantined because I don't want a bunch of people trying to touch my belly all the time. So this is kind of cool, I get to just be in a cocoon for nine months. But obviously, it can be a little bit lonely. It would be nice if my friends could visit, but I've been pretty cautious. Before I was cautious because I didn't want to expose people to it and who knows how bad it would be for me as a person with asthma. There was a pole dancer who posted about how she had covid and then in the months after it was so hard for her to choreograph a routine and perform because the after effects on her breathing were so pronounced. So that made me go, do I want to get it and never perform again? I don't know if I'd pass away, but I do know if it impacts my ability to perform I'll be super sad. I love performing. And then when I got pregnant—I've read too much about women being hospitalized and I don't even want to go there. All my work is from home, so it hasn't really been an issue. Uber Eats is alive and well. I'm lucky, because the people I do see in person are all vaccinated. I'm like, well, that's great. I can just sleep on my couch until I give birth. People don't touch me. Because you know people love to grab a pregnant woman's stomach. I don't like being touched. That's something I've learned about myself.
I don't know why the moment there's visibly a baby inside of you people are like, oh, it's okay for me to touch you.
She kicks downwards. She kicks me right in the pussy and I don't want you to put your hands there!
So straight up the baby's kicking your bones. Oh my god, is that painful?
She can be painful when she kicks, yeah. There's a variety. There are times when I'm like, are you stabbing me? Are you just yanking the umbilical cord and trying to pull it off the wall? And then there are times when it just tickles. You know it's funny, she will tell me if she's pissed at an exercise I'm doing. I'll put pillows around so I can do a light cobra, and then I'll come out of the cobra and she'll be like, what are you doing? Stop messing with my house.
Have you had to change the way you teach?
I still demonstrate quite a bit but a lot of my teaching has become more verbal. Some of my clients have been with me for so long I could do 100% verbal with them. I'm kind of interested to see how this all turns out, how my life will change after. I'll be one of those moms on Instagram with a with a baby in the background while I'm on the pole.
What are you excited to teach her? Is she gonna be a pole baby?
Yeah, I think she will. One thing I noticed, because I have I have a lot of nieces and nephews, is that whenever any of them would come to visit me, they'd see the pole and take to climbing it so naturally. I have a feeling there's no way she's gonna see a pole in this house and she's not going to curiously go climb on it, because I think that's just what kids do. I want to do mommy daughter yoga stuff too. Do cute little up dogs in matching outfits. But I also want to let her be whoever she wants to be. If she's like, I don't want to be doing stuff my mom does. I want to do other stuff. I'll be like, okay, do that. I don't want to project too much on this poor kid. I want her to be like a blank canvas, where she gets to discover who she is. I wonder what her personality is going to be like. Is she gonna be cool? What if she's not cool?
She'll be cool to you.
Do my parents think I'm cool? I wonder. If anything they think I'm weird.
Yeah, I guess, coolness probably doesn't factor in as much for a parent as probably like, just general well being.
I think with my parents, they were always sort of weirded out about my pole dancing. In the beginning my father wouldn't even acknowledge it. Then I got on America's Got Talent and my dad was like, whoa! Then he came to both episodes filming, which blew me away because he always was like, I don't want to see my daughter do the split, that's weird. He drove from Vegas to California to come watch me do it and he was telling the people in the hotel, "My daughter is going on America's Got Talent and that's where I'm driving! She's dancing on the pole!" Then when I got cut from the second round, he was like, you really put yourself out there and that's amazing. I'm proud of you.
Yeah, it was really beautiful. I was like, thank you Simon Cowell! Because they were never super duper interested in it, but once I was on the show my parents were like, wow, people on TV want to see you! And I was like, yes they do, because I'm fat and flexible!
"Even though I'm in a better place with my body, I always felt like, well there's not space for me. They don't want me, because I'm not what they're looking for. But it'd be cool if I was what they're looking for."
We know people have a lot of harmful attitudes about fat bodies. Have you found any particular coping mechanisms that have helped you—not just online but out in the world?
I think my coping skill in general is to laugh it off, or at least to understand that this person's opinion is meaningless. When it's a stranger, I usually ask, what enhancement is this stranger giving to my life? When it's a loved one, I usually have to have a very difficult conversation with them where I make it very clear what their impact is on me. It's happened to me recently; I told them how they made me feel and essentially they gaslit me and were like, I don't know why you feel that way. Nothing I said was wrong. And I was like, you're not gonna apologize, you're not gonna see it from my perspective, so I'm going to set these boundaries here right now. I just try my best to rationalize that these things never come from a place of love. People love to say they're concerned about your health. If you were concerned about my health you wouldn't be bothering me on social media, because you're affecting my mental health. There has been more than one occasion where I just won't respond, and then an outpouring of people who love me come in and defend me. I don't know if that's a recommended coping skill, but it's certainly more fun.
I guess it does say something about how building a community around yourself that does support you kind of immunizes you in a way.
That's why I love the pole community. There are things within it that people have conflict over and there's some drama within it, but it's one of the things that has continually helped me throughout my whole adult life. Even when they misunderstood me or there were things that were a little ignorant, they were still in my corner. They made space for me. And they had to make extra space for me because I'm bigger than most, but they always make space for me so that's cool.
What are your hopes for your future as a dancer?
To perform more. Once before becoming pregnant I performed in a Level Five Professional category, and I would love to do that again, because I think it matters for a big fat girl to be in the Pro Division. Even if I come in last place. And I would love to be chosen to do one of these mainstream things, like be in a music video, or be featured in something. You know pole dancers are now getting parts in movies and TV shows and stuff like that. Even though I'm in a better place with my body, I always felt like, well there's not space for me. They don't want me, because I'm not what they're looking for. But it'd be cool if I was what they're looking for. I didn't submit for the Lizzo thing because I'm about to give birth—also I think she would prefer hip hop dancers, and that's not my background. I want there to be something like, Quentin Tarantino needs a fat pole dancer for his next film.
I'm just going to ask one more question and it's going to be a silly one. If the Hulk was made of candy, what flavor would he be?
Jolly Rancher? Yeah, a nice green apple Jolly Rancher.
View a performance by Ms. Vegas early in her pregnancy here
You can follow Ms. Vegas on Instagram @thefamousmsvegas
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