For Jenna Melby, Rihanna’s “Pour it Up” video changed the course of her life. She had recently graduated from college, but didn’t have much of an exercise plan. Her boyfriend worked out every morning, and she wanted to have some kind of fitness regimen, too. That’s when she saw the Rihanna video, which featured several acrobatic pole dancers.
“I signed up for a class three days later,” she says.
At first, Melby was attracted to the taboo nature of poling. But she soon learned to love it as something she could use to express herself, even without a dance background. “I get to pour emotion into an art form that I can excel at,” she says. “I can create this routine and show emotion and how strong I am, and convey it in a more interesting format than writing a play.”
It took Melby five months to climb two climbs on the pole. “I had no muscle tone,” she says. “I was not athletic." When she was finally able to make those climbs, she couldn’t get out of bed the next morning because she was so sore.
Now, two years later, Melby can see the muscles in her body. “I have biceps that are actually showing,” she says. “To be able to look at myself three years ago… Wow! I have changed.”
This weekend, Melby will be competing in the first annual Minnesota Pole Competitions, where pole dancers from around the region will take workshops and compete in numerous levels and categories for men, women, and couples.
Over 40 competitors will be kicking off the event, with 40 volunteers helping out to make sure the even will run smoothly.
“Myss Angie” Lofquist, the main organizer for the event, started poling five years ago. “It definitely made my life better in so many ways,” she says. “I’m more confident, I lost weight, and I found my true friends in a room full of a women cheering each other on.” If it weren’t for pole dancing, Lofquist would be in a much different place. “Pole dancing saved me from drugs and alcohol — you can’t do both,” she says. “You have to choose.”
Lofquist has also helped to organize a series of events, called “Shake, Rattle and Pole,” which included pole dancing, belly dancing, and aerial arts. Those happenings served as a fundraiser for the regional competition this weekend.
Even though MN Pole is a competition, Lofquist says it’s really all about connecting people in different ways and growing the community. “We are beautiful because we are doing it together.”
This weekend, Jennifer Michelle Torres is competing for the first time, though she’s been teaching pole dancing for about a year. Torres began poling four years ago, when she wandered into a class at Knockout Bodies, a studio in Minneapolis. “I was hooked,” she says.
At the time, Torres had been recovering from a running injury, so she was looking for a different type of fitness. She had tried aerial and hooping, but she loved the combination of art and sport that pole dancing offered. “It’s expressive and the more you do it, the more you are able to personalize it and make it your own,” she says. “I also love that you become super strong doing it.”
At first, it was hard for some of her family members to accept her pole dancing. “It was difficult for my father and stepmother to understand initially,” Torres says. “But when I started teaching, images of me doing pole ended up showing up more on Facebook. I had to explain that I was teaching pole to my dad. He didn’t get it at first.” Since then, her family has come around, and Torres says her dad plans to be at the competition to support her.
The Minnesota Regional Pole Competition take place Saturday, January 9 at Maplewood Performing Arts Theater. See here for info.