Looking back on 2014…

In the beginning of 2014, I returned to Singapore after leaving a toxic relationship and failed attempts to pursue a professional career as a pole dance instructor, humiliated and at rock bottom. Needing to get away from familiarity and start again in a new community where no one knew me, I picked up my BJJ belt and tentatively started again from where I had left off months ago, this time at Fight G MMA, under then-brown belt BJJ talent Shane Suzuki’s tutelage. And then my life took a completely different turn from the way it was before.

The following link is a pictorial representation of my entire year in BJJ photos: http://jiujitsue.tumblr.com/post/105495536238/2014-in-bjj

While I acknowledge that there were so many other achievements that I saw this year, including taking home a unique award for my last pole dance competition, as well as becoming an owner of a pole studio, I think that nothing could have helped me to pick up the fragments of my dignity and change my life in the same way that BJJ did.

It was my choice to put my life in God’s hands and walk according to His ways and Word that led to the turnaround. I realised that everything I had done last year that led to failure, was because I was so insistent on forcing my own path to work, that I was hapless and wrecked when things didn’t go the way I wanted. This year, I sought peace from, reliance on, and acknowledgment of a greater power, and though I’m still so imperfect, I realise that I am very much blessed and redeemed by His grace and love. And I’m awed by how His path for me has gone in this direction.

As new journeys require new spaces (in my opinion, anyway), I am officially signing off from this blog to signify the end of an old journey. I will be continuing the new adventure at the link above, who knows where it will take me. I hope that you can continue on the ride with me.

Advertisements

When I decided to open a pole studio.

Been keeping it under wraps for a while, but the news is finally official and I’m happy to say: I have opened a pole studio in Singapore!

It’s really funny how things have worked out – because when I first started dreaming of taking my love for pole to greater heights, I never entertained any idea of running my own studio. It was always a very simple dream – just to be able to go pro. It started out more inward focused (to put my name out there in the scene), and then I decided that no skill will ever get better if it isn’t shared with others, so I decided to get together a bunch of girls to work regularly on their pole abilities and aim for the stage.

But back then there were three pole studios in Singapore and a lot of us were longing for more variety. There were rumours of some new Australian pole studio coming in, but it never happened. I started to dream of all the pole studios that I wished could be based in Singapore, and then something struck me – why wish and wait for something when I could make it happen myself?

And so my friend Jaclyn and I decided to talk to Michelle Shimmy from Pole Dance Academy Sydney when we were there for Dance Filthy earlier this year. I remember not having too many high hopes at that point, because I just wanted to try anything to get a new start at a career. But we popped the question to her one evening after her workshop, and well, the rest is history.

Fast forward a couple of months later and just yesterday, I found myself standing in the middle of the pole room of our brand new studio with Jaclyn, just wanting to pinch myself because I what three years of my passion and hard work had materialised into.

I can’t even begin to talk about the crazy challenges that Jac and I faced over the months. We had loads to juggle alongside the studio plans – recognising that this new baby of mine would require much more of my financial investment, I decided to go back to copywriting in the day (so now you see, there’s only one thing that would get me back into a desk job – to finance my own start-up ha!). Then my involvement in BJJ increased for some ironic reason, all the way to the last competition when I decided that it was time to slow down because the studio needed my attention for real. Jac has a day job too, so she had her commitments to sort out as well.

We spent a lot of time together in discussion and often ended up at bars for a glass of wine (to cure that headache). We encountered the funniest characters and personalities along our journey. People who wanted to work with us, contractors, real estate agents, and many more. We fussed over finances. We discovered that our studio plans had been leaked to our alma mater studio (yikes). And  of course, we made a ton of mistakes too.

They all say that you’ll make loads of mistakes in the initial stage of entrepreneurship. The more you grow, the more you realise how much you do not know. The entire process made me realise how much of a kid I was before, and how much self-ass-kicking I had to do to buck up for the sake of my studio, my baby. If that wasn’t enough, I was facing my own personal drama on the side – sigh!

But the only thing to do was to keep going and staying strong. There was no way we were about to give up. And the one thing that kept me afloat though it all was my faith in God. Anyone who’s known me for the past five years would not see me as someone religious or devout, but I have to admit that it was letting go of my pride and trusting God in the past few months that opened the door to many positive things, and a huge boost in the way I viewed my self-worth. And because I can say that I’m genuinely happier and more open to learning from mistakes, it’s made the journey of setting this studio up so much more enjoyable.

So… The studio officially opens on Sunday, and I’m very excited to see the events unfold. It’s going to be crazy juggling so much on my plate, especially once classes begin, but I keep reminding myself why I’m here – to have my own space to pole and dance and get stronger, and to inspire women to find themselves through pole, the way it did for me.

I wouldn’t say I’m quite there yet, but I can daresay that the adventure I’ve been dreaming of is finally kicking off, and there’s no turning back now.

 

Follow Pole Dance Academy Singapore on Facebook for more news on our classes to come!

I joined a BJJ competition and it changed my life.

It’s been a crazy four months or so since I last posted, because so much has happened and I can’t even remember having time to sit down and relax! Because in May, I wrote here about preparing for my very first BJJ competition, and fast forward to today in September, I have ended up with three competitions under my (white) belt. WHOA!

So weird how it happened, right? When my BJJ girl friend Jana challenged me to go for a BJJ competition, part of me was doing it just to prove to others that I wasn’t “weak”. But oh boy, did I prove that to myself instead. If there’s one thing I learnt from my very first experience, it was that I did have a fighting spirit. It reminded me that I’m a girl that would go all out to get what she wants, and nothing – even mental and physical boundaries – would stop me.

After the first competition.

My first competition was an amusing experience because I walked into my first fight frozen with terror – and it ended in a minute with me tapping out to a triangle. Because there were so few girls in my division, I actually received a bronze medal (what I would call a ‘consolation prize’) for it. Not a medal to be proud of since I hardly earned it – maybe it was a medal for my acceptance of this challenge and actually training for it? But anyway.

 

There was some talk about the annual Hong Kong open in August, so I decided to train for that. Hey Hong Kong, my old friend: Remember how some of my dreams burned to the ground the last time I was there? But by this time, I felt bulletproof. I was totally unfazed over my past failures or shame.

Hong Kong came and went – it turned out to be the best experience of the year because I ended up building strong bonds with my teammates and my coach – friendships that became even more precious to me than any other relationship I went through in the past year. And just getting that opportunity to be fighting in a foreign country, with participants from around the region. That was priceless! This time, I actually managed to win a fight, and got myself another BRONZE – this time, one that was so well-deserved.

With two of my baby brothers from the dream team. Sharing victories are better than experiencing them alone. ❤

You know they say that as you advance in your BJJ journey and take part in countless competitions, you end up not keeping all the medals you’ve earned.

But I would always keep the Bronze medal I received at Copa de Hong Kong 2014. It makes me so proud.

 

I hadn’t planned on competing anymore after that but there was a small local competition happening two weeks after our trip to Hong Kong, and Shane egged me on to give it a go. I had originally planned a two-week long trip to Krabi to take some time off for myself, but after some thought, I decided to return home earlier because something in me felt like I could do a lot better this time around.

I’m so glad that I made that decision, because I ended up taking home a Gold. Sure, it isn’t much to boast about because the competition organisation is still in its infancy stage and no one knows where it’s headed yet. But small victories are better than none, and it encouraged me to pursue even greater ones.

Tiny prize, but gargantuan satisfaction.

And I daresay that I don’t want to stop here. The experience has been amazing and eventful, and I have learnt so much about myself and the people around me in such a short time. Because of this I have learnt to become more patient, appreciative and gracious of the people around me.

I love how BJJ competitions are a lot like life. Whenever you compete against someone, it’s so easy to put him or her on a pedestal and worry about what he/she would do to you. In reality the only thing you need to worry about is what you’re going to do to achieve your goal (which is to succeed). And if you lose, it’s never about them being better than you – it’s just about your mistakes. And the only way to get better is to learn from your mistakes, get rid of your pride, and make changes to be better.

It’s also not an individual effort. Though it’s just you fighting against your opponent, you have your team looking out for you and guiding you along. In training, it is in helping each other that everyone improves. BJJ, like life, should not be selfish. You gain so much more every time you reach out to genuinely support the ones around you.

 

I like the positive changes I see in myself, and how much hardier I have become – even more than when I was doing competitive pole. Many girls from my pole studio have asked me why I didn’t try out for the upcoming pole competitions in Malaysia and Hong Kong, and… I guess I have to be really truthful here and say that I don’t feel that drive to do so anymore. I still enjoy pole dancing and I really miss my freestyles and tricks (I haven’t been doing much because of BJJ training). But if I had to choose to be competitive in something, I would choose BJJ, hands down. It’s that much more rewarding, and I love how I have a team to celebrate my victories with.

Nonetheless, there’s a bit more time to breathe now and I’m excited to get back on the pole for a few spins this coming weekend!

Facing My Biggest Opponent on the Mat

The first thing I did when I returned to Singapore earlier this year, was join a new martial arts gym. I needed to get my mind off pole for a bit, and become a complete stranger in a new place where people didn’t know too much about me to have to ask too many questions. I had trained with some folk from this gym a few times last year, but never really made the commitment to become a member till that moment.

So, new martial arts gym, which meant new BJJ class, teammates, and instructor. I enjoyed the process of being a new kid on the block, getting acquainted with a group of very warm, friendly, and helpful classmates. The team was hardcore. They drilled and sparred rough, giving their everything, helping each other with no obligation, and finishing each class dripping wet in perspiration. It was a culture shock considering I came from a gym which was so air-conditioned that no one ever sweat a drop… and being a little rough was frowned upon because it was a pretty self-preserving culture there.

One with the new team. Come to think of it, it might be the only team I’ve ever been in.

So I loved the vibe of the team in this new gym. But the one thing I was really afraid of was – committing myself to progressing in the class. I kept my demeanour casual and fun and playful like I usually do on a social setting, but I was too insecure or shy to ask my teammates to spar with me or help me in sticky positions. I guess the fear and insecurity came from being a student to someone who constantly downplayed my interest for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, probably thinking I was just in the class to laugh with the girls and ogle at him (LOL!… no?). I was never told how I could improve on my techniques, and when I once asked how to execute a certain sweep from the bottom, the response I received was, “Why do you want to know this? Take your time man.” The time never came, and this particular instructor paid more attention to some other students whom he deemed were ‘better and more serious’ at the sport than I was. Over time, I grew to be constantly fearful of trying anything new, or asking anyone for help in Jiu Jitsu. Whenever I was made to spar with someone who intimidated me, I would become a dead fish, much to the frustration of my partner.

So after my pole competitions I spoke to a couple of trusted buddies from my new team, who encouraged me to work harder at BJJ and…. try out for the upcoming local BJJ competition. I’m not sure why or how, but I agreed to it. I guess it was something I felt like I would need to do to cross that hurdle of being afraid and weak, to put the bad memories I had with my previous BJJ coach behind me, and to truly make this sport mine. Besides, I was tired of not being taken seriously by my team.

And so the preparation and training began a couple of weeks ago. I then realised how much of a breeze pole competitions are – because they have absolutely nothing on a martial arts competition training process! Because I literally slacked off on training for the past couple of months, it felt pretty crazy going from near-zero to absolute beast mode. Every training night, I felt like I was about to pass out from sheer exhaustion. And then there’s the weight cut – which felt like slow death in the first week because I loooooove to eat.

But two weeks in and I can see how consistency makes a huge difference. I feel my stamina and control improving with each sparring session I add into my training, even though I still feel like either throwing up or bursting into overwhelmed tears towards the last few rolls. And after gritting my teeth and telling myself to enjoy my all-new carbless diet (sobs!!), I finally see and feel the effects of much cleaner eating, like a better complexion and feeling energised all day, but most importantly, weight loss!

I’m not entirely sure if I’m all ready to compete in a BJJ tournament, given my current abilities and experience. But the process so far has taught me that it’s not just about improving my BJJ skills, but it’s also a test of endurance, patience, and discipline. I’m learning to push myself physically in a way that pole dancing wouldn’t do, and to keep going even when I feel like I have nothing left in me. It’s also looking my past bad experiences in the eye and giving them a big Screw You.

At the end of the day it’s not about whether I win anything during the tournament itself. The real opponent in this entire experience is really my whole bunch of old fears. But guess what? I have proven over the past few weeks that I can conquer them.

11 more days to Competition Day!

Shine Brighter; Dance Your Way.

So, it’s been nearly 5 months since I last updated here. Mostly because, as most of you would have known, I underwent a personal relationship crisis that changed, and set back a couple of big plans in my pole journey. I won’t bore you with too many details of what happened, except that I felt my entire life and perspective go into a major RESET mode, and I spent the first month of the year in hiding and recovery. Talk about a true Quarter Life Crisis!

But why should I let a relationship crisis knock me down when I could turn the painful memories into something useful with my love for pole dancing?

I decided to make use of the experience to do different things.

I’ve stalled for the right time to start posting up here again, but mostly because I’ve been really busy with competitions (three pole competitions and it isn’t even June yet?!). Now that I’ve managed to find time to take a breather, and I feel very much over the traumatic experience from before, I’d like to come back into the radar and share what’s been up in my ever-so-unique fit journey!

But first, an update of the new stuff I’ve been up to at pole….

1) Paying it forward.

Because I realised that I had inspired some people last year with my big dreams, and I didn’t want inspiration to run into a dead end just because my plans had failed. So I rallied up an unofficial ‘pole performer team’, where I got a bunch of aspiring pole performers together, and encouraged them to perform and compete with a few group practices and even ‘spin sessions’ (where we would learn a couple of fun and simple new spins on the pole!).

Honestly, I might have annoyed some folks with this movement. I knew it when I encountered a couple of less-than-pleasant incidents at my studio. But there was no intention for me to claim any fame or authority in any way; I just wanted to be able to inspire and help. And I would continue to do this because there just aren’t enough outlets for pole dancers to take the stage in any style that they love.

This is Jenna, whom I have coyly nicknamed Lolita. Here she is performing for the very first time, only six months into her pole journey. We were friends before, and I introduced her to pole last year, where she said that she would love for me to personally train her as my novice. I will never forget the trying moment when I was in Hong Kong, crying my eyes out to her over Skype, and she said, “Don’t give up on everything, you’re my inspiration.” And ever since, I’ve decided to make it a mission to groom her as a pole performer. Her first performance was definitely nerve-wrecking, and she didn’t make it past the semi-finals, but I think she was pretty fab. So proud of her.

Maybe I made a teensy bit of difference in the lives of the ‘pole performer team’. A couple of them took part in the semi-finals of our amateur pole competition (most of them, their first time performing), and some made it through to the finals while others did not. Never mind if they didn’t. I’m sure the girls felt that little spark ignite from their experiences, and would definitely not stop at one. They were given the opportunity to shine as a pole performer, and they will not be stopping till they shine even brighter once again.

That’s what I meant to do. I wanted to stir things up inside them, give them a kickstart to see their potential, and let them feel what I had felt for the first time 2 years ago when I took to the pole stage as a fat chick in red.

Everyone deserves that opportunity to shine bright, the way they want to, and no one should ever deny them of that right.

 

2) Finding a new way to dance

So I’ve been working on the sexy ‘stripper’ style through my entire pole journey. After all, I am from a studio that advocates that. My pole life has been filled with sensual chaturangas (hahaha), bum rolls and body waves, and somehow or another, removing a certain article of clothing for the sake of a tease.

But I’m sick of making it the primary theme of every pole dance that I do. Because most times, I just want to express myself in another way. Something that’s a little more raw, emotional and heartfelt. I must confess that I’m a girl who has a major case of the ‘feels’ – I love songs with meaningful lyrics, and movies with tragic storylines. Every emotion needs to go on overdrive in whatever I do. In fact, that’s how I pretty much am in my real life, and that’s how I became a novice storyteller as part of my day job not too long ago. So, you know…. I’m not really interested in putting on a public sex show and giving people the stereotypical impression of pole that they always have anyway. I’d rather tell a story, stir something up in the hearts of the audience, and make them sit up and respond.

I came to this conclusion after taking part in Dance Filthy again this year (for the benefit of new readers, here’s my experience from Dance Filthy last year). So I thought I’d give the competition another shot because I had placed last year, so why not try to go for gold this time around? But as I worked out my routine, somehow, I just didn’t feel it. My friends were telling me that I needed to be ‘filthier’, but all I could think of was, “I don’t want to be filthy! I want to do something else!” I went ahead to compete in Sydney anyway, and unsurprisingly, I did not even place in top 3 this year. While I had fun, and had loads of respect for the girls who put themselves out there with sensual and naughty pole routines alike, I felt like perhaps it was time to give this genre a rest.

Hairography at Dance Filthy 2014 – cutting back on the sexy but I would keep the crazy hair actually.

I came back to Singapore to prepare for the finals of my local amateur competition, and this time, I decided to go something completely unorthodox. I wanted to live out a ‘music video of my life’ kind of fantasy that I’ve always harboured, so I choreographed a hilarious Train scene as my competition routine. It was silly, and complete with a theatrical flash mob! It was super dramatic, exactly how I wanted it to be.

I got my instructor (who was also judge for the competition) to review my routine before the night itself – and she said this, “This isn’t something you would use in a competition, not to win, at least. You wouldn’t win. But who really cares? It’s what you want to do, it’s the kind of show YOU want to put up. Just do it.”

I have always wanted to win a pole competition. And of course, I still do, because I am competitive like that. But at that moment, I just wanted to prove  that I could dance any way that I wanted. Even if it was a tacky, cheesy and slapstick pole comedy routine that might make certain people frown and most others laugh.

And what do you know, I actually managed to clinch the title of Miss Show Pony for the competition! (Sometimes I think about how they created that title out of thin air and that perhaps it might have been God’s divine intervention that the title was created just for me… Hahaha.) And I’m pretty damn sure no one has forgotten about the “MRT Girl” routine just yet.

That flying feeling – my most favourite moment

And as it turns out, I wasn’t the only one with that vision – three other girls in the competition really wanted to do their own non-sexy, awesome self-interpretation of pole dancing, and not only were they beautiful, but they scored the top 3 positions of the night! Yes, 4 completely un-sexy pole dancers who basically owned the night with awards.

I don’t know about you, but I do feel like a slight shift in our scene is very much needed – for girls to abandon the ‘right way’ to pole dance, and just find ‘their way’. Flawless lines are a bonus, but not a requirement.

 

So time flies, and imagine that – I’ve reached the middle 0f 2014 with new achievements. I’ve competed three times already this year (Amateur Night Semi-Finals and Finals, and Dance Filthy). And perhaps it’s time to give my over-ambitious self a short break while I work on the two things that have, by far, given me the greatest kinds of satisfaction in my pole journey.

With that, I’ve actually decided to finally leave my studio. Well – actually, I’m still planning to go back and play with the 38mm brass spinny during practice time, but only because I love it and would want to catch up with my pole friends. But mostly, it’s time to move on, drift, and discover a bigger pole universe out there.

Like I had mentioned at the beginning of the year, sometimes the best things happen not when you are trying to gain things for yourself, but when you let it out, let go, and give.

Rock bottom is always good.

If you’re looking for a ground-breaking life change, dying to your old self and losing it all might be the best way to do it.

It is when you lose a huge part of your old self that you find the capacity to rebuild the new you.

So it sounds majorly fluffy right? I’ll explain.

I feel like the biggest part of me died as 2013 came to a close. I looked at the rash decision I had made which was the quick dash to Hong Kong to chase a dream, and my irrational, whirlwind romance. I realised, okay, this might not have been the wisest idea. Long story short I thought it might be a good idea to backtrack my steps and return to Singapore to ‘wait it out’. By then, the thousands of dollars I had so painstakingly earned over the last 3 months were washed down the drain. I had given too much of my heart, along with my childish optimism and blind hope that fairy tales do come true… And all of that was squashed flat. And most importantly, I had taken a huge leap of faith for my dreams, but because of my failure to plan and think ahead, I felt like they got washed out, too.

I returned to Singapore, as good as dead because that’s how I felt. And day in and day out it was like I didn’t have anything left in me to give anymore. So I prayed HARD. And I think it was only then that I realised what it was like to truly pray.

It took me a while to realise that perhaps, losing the things closest to my heart was essential for me to make way for bigger, better things. Maybe I had to make silly, stupid mistakes in order to destroy my old self. Because come to think of it, as much as losing all of that actually hurt a lot, I feel kinda liberated knowing that now I can finally start anew with the RIGHT choices for myself. Such as making informed decisions, helping other people, and trusting God to pave my path.

It is sometimes scary to look ahead and think, “What now, now that I have to start over from scratch?” But realise that dying to yourself gives you the chance to be who you REALLY want to be. You have that space now. Now draw up that blueprint for an amazing life once again.

Ask not what others can do for you… But what you can do for others.

Out of the tons of role models I have in my life (one can’t have too many… Right? Hehehe), one of the biggest influencers happens to be the amazing Tara Stiles. I’m not sure if I ever managed to emphasise enough how much she inspires me.

Photo credit: Stretch City

For those who aren’t familiar with her, in a nutshell, she’s one helluva yogi. While every other yogic personality is somehow connected to some level of hippiness or spirituality and all that, Tara is the chick from New York who creates yoga for everyone, everywhere. I chanced upon her a couple of years back when I was seeking out fitness practitioners who used social media to share their knowledge and skill with the world. Tara attracted me with her fun and simple practice videos, including the Yoga in Bed video which totally works for me during lazy days, or when I feel stiff as a board upon waking up.

So last year I got to interview her on behalf of Stretch City, and after having the most awesome chat with her, I discovered that she’s really who she is on social media – simple, down-to-earth, and unpretentious. (Read the interview on the second half of the page here.)

After all of the excitement with her died down I went on with life as usual but forgot all about our interview until recently, when I was brooding over my path to take this year. As you might know, I recently made the impulsive decision to look for a pole-related job in Hong Kong but after facing some heartbreaking circumstances that hit me where it hurt most, I started to doubt and rethink whether this was truly the path that I should take.

I was reminded of Tara after seeing some of her heartfelt Facebook posts a couple of days back. Her kind, sincere thoughts started to remind me of what she said in our interview:

“Start by being authentic. Ask what you can do for others, rather than trying to create a huge… presence for yourself. And when you do this, your audience responds more positively.”

And then I remembered why I love her so much! Tara’s business model for Strala Yoga, as well as her YouTube site, circulates around the whole idea of helping others achieve something on their own. While profits are, of course, important, she truly possesses a passion to help people love and practice effective, positive yoga in their own way.

What a super wake-up call. In this time and age where most businesses are calculative and money-minded, it would be helpful to stand out by choosing to build our careers/businesses based on how we can help others, and how we can inspire them to be the best that they can be.

I’m definitely not up there with the pros, and am not sure if I’ll ever end up becoming a teacher in the pole industry because I don’t even know if that’s what I want to do. But what I do know is: if it’s within my ability, I want to be able to help and inspire other pole dancers discover their best potential and the style that they are most comfortable with. As it is currently, nothing makes me happier than trying to help my friends find their sweet spots and be the best types of pole dancers they can be, be it through spins and variations that work well for THEM. And really, I don’t have to be some kind of rockstar or teacher to do that, right??

I still don’t know the path ahead but no matter where it brings me, I want to make the most out of my God-given gifts and abilities to bless and benefit others. And I have Tara Stiles to thank for this decision!