Ever since I made my instagram profile public and appeared on America's Got Talent, I often get comments or DMs from people expressing the same shocked question: "How do you even __________? I could never _________." It's always the same - whether it's someone asking me about handstands or how I was capable of attempting a trick at my size or how I am not shy about showing my body. The intent is never to be rude or negative, but I can't help but get similarly frustrated each time I am asked some variation of this question. This question presupposes a few things that I would like to debunk: 1) That I have some sort of natural ability or inherent comfort in the final product I am sharing on IG. 2) I have reached some sort of "success." And finally 3) They cannot attempt something unless they have initial success at it.
Social media is a funny thing. Often times, people are selective about what goes on it. I am not ashamed to admit that my social media often is a space for me to show things I am proud of, i.e. my successes. Absent from mine and I am sure many other dancers' profiles are the falls, the inverts that didn't stick, the injuries, the feelings of inadequacy as we watch all of our peers master material in class we can't even access. Yes, I post video after video of big smiles and high fives after mastering something I am working on. But don't get it twisted - I live in a constant state of failure. I eat failure for dinner weekly, standing in evening tricks classes I cannot access. There are many days that I have nothing "gram-worthy" to show because I stood in class feeling like a failure. Although arguably this happens more frequently to me because I am a plus-sized athlete, I am sure it is a feeling you have felt at least once in your journey. I have felt the pressure of everyone in class succeeding then looking my direction for my attempt, only to watch my feet slam to the ground. I know when an instructor is a little annoyed with me because it appears I am not trying when I stand around, not even able to do the prerequisite move. That's not captured on our profiles or our hashtags, but it is a reality anyone can experience. There is nothing inherent about what I do. Most of what the public sees is the product of hours upon hours of training; sitting in uncomfortable stretches; sweating my way through strength exercises; or even after frustration and giving up and returning to it at a later date. The confidence you see in videos and on stages took what feels like my entire lifetime to cultivate. Whenever I see a king or queen post something about how they feel frustrated with a lack of progress or a plateau, I understand because I feel like I've been living in a plateau for the last two or so years.
But let me be clear, none of that bothers me. If the sole reason I pole danced was to see results or master all the moves, I would have quit ages ago. Sure, you see a pic on IG of me with a trophy from a random competition, but I have plenty of routines that remain forever my favorite that earned me last place. I am nearly a decade into the game and I could argue that I am not much further along than I was five years ago. I have watched people leave the aerial arts for that same reason. I have seen people give up on competing because they worked for months on a routine that was not met with a medal. It’s an unfortunate thing that happens. Failure sucks; it hurts. I am not here to tell you not to feel disappointment. But I am here to encourage you to take the pressure of progress and perfection off of you and just enjoy the sport. Wayne Dyer states it best in his famous quote, “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” In the context of what we do (and really any area in your life that has risk and failure), these failures can be looked at as just that – failure. OR, you can change the way you look at failure and change the way you define success and see each of these disappointments in a different light. When I first started pole, it was easy for me to feel frustrated when I didn’t master things in class. Now, I view my classes as a piece of a totality – a journey. It is trial and error to help me understand my strengths and areas that need work. It is also a place to feel supported in a loving community, so if I am having a bad pole day, it is still worth it for me to be there in that positive setting. I stopped looking at winning every competition and just did them because no one loves the stage more than Ms. Vegas. Truly, as long as I could be proud of my product and put on an unforgettable number, who cares if some random people with rubrics pick me as the winner or not?
In the same way we need to change the way we look at failure, we need to consider the way we look at success. I get a good amount of positive attention for my wins or performances that others perceive as “successful.” But, honestly, I have just learned to master something the great Lux Atl teaches in her Stripcraft series which is, “Only you possess what you possess.” Essentially, this principle maintains that, since there is only one you, no one can deliver the product (dance, song, talent, etc.) you can as well as you can. I learned very early on what my strengths were as a performer – the things I am the queen at and no one else can do the way I do – and packaged it and capitalized on it my entire pole career. I am the poleformer I am today not because I am a technically good athlete, but because no one knows how Ms. Vegas moves best more than Ms. Vegas. Literally, if there was a checklist of things the basic “successful” pole dancer is capable of, I would have probably none of those things checked off (Fun facts! Did you know I cannot even attempt a layback without sweating and fearing for my life? Did you know all the damn flexibility in the world just will not get me into a jade? That even though I can handstand on the daily, I still kick into my inverts a decade in? Ikr). But, none of that matters because once you realize that success isn’t a metric to compare yourself to others but rather a journey to understanding your best self, you free yourself from a great deal of negative self-talk. I get it that we have people that inspire us or we use as a goal (God knows I see Amy Hazel in her bendy glory and dream of doing her moves). But wouldn’t it be nice if, just for once, we were our own goal? Not a goal to be someone else, but to learn to be your best self. Not a frustration against not attaining something someone else has, but learning to be confident in what you have.
As an educator by profession, I look to the type of positivity I would empower students with. If you ever get a chance, I suggest reading some of the work of one of my favorite famous psychologists, Carol Dweck. Dweck introduced the idea of “Growth Mindset.” A fixed mindset is one that believes talent is inherited and your potential is fixed due to whatever “natural” abilities you have. You may have heard a lot of fixed mindsets before such as, “My body will just never work like that” or “You’re naturally flexible” or “I’m just not as coordinated.” A growth mindset does the complete opposite. It is one that believes talent is the result of hard work and, yes, failure. A growth mindset encourages people to try, fail, try again, and grow from these experiences. It’s a focus on the power of “yet.” “I have no level 4 moves for this routine….yet.” I subscribe to this in my practice and in everyday life, and it works! It keeps you going in the face of failure; it makes you put aside fear of risk-taking; it reminds you that nothing just comes easily all the time. In a nutshell, a fixed mindset is what causes people to feel defeated while a growth mindset allows the defeat to build us into our better selves. I could stand in tricks class and allow it to be an assault on my self-esteem twice a week, or I can embrace the risk and take a chance while I chase my “yet.” Am I claiming that genetics and natural ability do not have influence on what we can do? No, not at all. Some things are very clearly influence by that. However, what I am saying is if you do not naturally possess it, it can be built. Talent is like a muscle – you need to work it out so it grows. Failure is the weight that you flex to build that strength.
In the end, I know this will not rid us of our insecurities or frustrations when we do not meet our goals. I have to take my own advice constantly – it is impossible to take away a person’s natural tendency to be their harshest critic. However, with a little change in the way you look at success and failure, you will have more room to just love yourself and enjoy the ride. Failure is something I am no longer afraid of because I know it’s only a small portion of a larger product or it is even a mechanism to brilliant discovery. Funny enough, some of my signature tricks were discovered when I was attempting to do another trick I failed at. I will always keep trying and failing because, if I reached a point of only having successes then clearly I am no longer challenged. Do not let the fear of failure stop you from trying. Failure is healthy. The next time your friend says, “I wish I could try pole dance, but I just have no (upper body strength, core, flexibility, etc.)” you tell them to put on a growth mindset, take the pressure off, and get ready to just enjoy the journey.