I dance. I do acrobatics. I use a wheelchair.
Competing in wheelchair pole dancing was a process of exploring the relationship between aesthetics and deformity, intentional movement vs limits of movement, the value of adaptation in art and sport, performance quality in unfamiliar bodies and types of movement, and the very personal terrain of inclusion.
The relationship between me and my coach, Salima Peippo, who helped me develop new moves and sequences as well as navigate the competitive environment (both as an athlete and one of the pioneers of parapole and adapted pole dance) was an active and evolving example of the collaborative nature of inclusion of disabled people in events, athletics, social environments and personal relationships.
I've been an aerialist for over 13 years, but it's the pole dancing that catches people's attention. Taking it out of its context reveals the story people want to tell, the one that holds some meaning for them but has very little to do with me. That story tends to be me as a shining example of overcoming limits, me as a proof that pole sport is for everyone, me as proof that you just have to believe in yourself. The story is often that I must have felt very unsure of myself and very insecure and I gained confidence and empowerment through pole.
I already knew what I could do before I even considered a pole. I was already strong before I touched a pole. I had been training in aerial rope (cordelisse), a notoriously demanding aerial art. Rope requires of me intense grip strength and shoulder flexibility. On the rope, I deadlift my body weight over my head while 15ft in the air for three or four minutes at a time. In comparison, I thought pole looked boring. The pole having none of the rope's flexibility. The rope wraps around my body, moves wherever I want it to be. The pole just stands there.
When Salima eventually talked me into trying it, I went from never having touched a pole to competing in three weeks. Not because I'm a miracle, but for the very mundane reason that my previous training and aerial skills were transferrable.
I didn't find myself, learn what I could do, or explore my sexuality on the pole. I already had those things. Myself, what I could do, my sexuality were already with me. I competed because all my friends were there and it was fun to be on a team. I did it because the unsolved questions about how to judge a disabled body, and what does it mean to be 'good,' drew me into the process. Because a disabled artist doesn't need to be making a statement in reaction to the non disabled ignorance every time they take the stage. There are other things we are compelled to express.
When I left Spain (where I competed), I went back to focusing on performing arts and my rope and silks work. I'm happier in the circus than I am in the pole studio, but I remember my time with the Spanish National Pole Sport team and Salima Peippo fondly.