Pole Dance Performer: Colleen Jolly
My name is Colleen Jolly (yes, that’s my “government” name!).
2. Where are you? Where do you live now?
I just moved out of Washington, DC into the Maryland suburbs in May of this year after almost 20 years in the District! I moved about 15 minutes east from my old house =)
I have almost 20 years of experience in marketing/visual communications. Right now, my full-time “day job” is with a boutique, international marketing agency as a senior consultant. I previously owned my own small international, graphic design company with three other business partners. I teach pole, lyra and flexibility classes weekly while maintaining a small set of private marketing clients, mostly in the pole industry. I also run the International Pole Convention (PoleCon), an annual event for the pole industry.
4. When did you start pole dancing?
I took my first class on a lark with a friend in 2011. I was quickly hooked and bought a pole for my house to practice within a few months. Now my entire life revolves around pole dancing!
5. What’s your favorite song to pole dance to?
Honestly, most of the time I practice without music. I just make movement stuff up and tell my students to adapt the movement to their own music. During class I often put on generic “pop” music which most people can agree on. I could and have danced to just about anything.
6. What is your favorite pole dancing move?
The move I’m most known for is called “the Bird of Paradise.” It’s based off of a yoga move where you pull your leg behind your shoulder. When I first learned it, I was the only person in class to “get” it. I’ve always been naturally flexible in all the directions this wacky move needs. It usually shows up in every performance I do, and it keeps getting better and better! I have tutorials on it on 123poling.comfor both upright and inverted versions.
7. How would you classify your dance style?
Uh. I don’t really know! Probably “misdirection.” One of my students liked my choreography and I am trying to get on or off a particularly tricky highway with lots of clover leaves, jug handles, access roads and fly aways. You can see your exit but no matter which way you go, you just can’t get off! I prefer twisty/turny choreography-type movement and close pole work. I like to make shapes with my body and find new wacky ways I can wrap myself around the pole. Generally, I also like doing competitions or performances that people don’t expect based on their traditional notions of pole dancing either in terms of content or in music. I danced to the theme song to “Green Acres” once. I’ve also danced to Weird Al songs and Monty Python. I once performed while a poet recited a spoken-word piece. That was pretty neat.
8. How has it been managing the International Pole Convention?
Really f-king hard. I’ve always been good at managing logistics, coordinating people/things, etc., so that part for me is easy. It’s been hard over the years to find the balance between creating an event that is very high quality and elevates the industry to something more like an association event while also respecting the price point of an industry that isn’t really even an industry yet. Pole for most people is still a hobby and for the people that work/try to make money in the industry, this is usually their second or third hustle. I previously was the CEO of an association (volunteer position) and use that experience as a template. We charged attendees $700+ for my old annual association event and had sponsors paying thousands. I cram that quality, including food and into a $195 package for pole dancers. I enjoy listening to members of the community and working to ensure all the content of the convention represents the diversity of the industry. That part is fun and constantly evolving.
9. Aside from pole dancing and fitness, you also have extensive experience in the business field, specifically as Art Director, how has that been like for you recently?
I’d say I have a lot of general business experience with a specialty for managing creative folks whether that be graphic designers, dancers or other artists. In September, I’ll have been doing some sort of art-management role for 20 years in both a paid context and on volunteer boards. The older I get; I’m discovering that the type of work I do is more important than the pay check. Sometimes supporting the corporate world, or defense contractors (which used to be my “bread and butter”) doesn’t feel capital G “Good.” I’d prefer to do more “Good” in my life and help as many people as I can, as directly as I can.
10. You’ve won several awards over the years, how have they inspired you to keep going?
Awards don’t actually inspire me. I’m a skill and an award hoarder though and like to learn new things and be recognized for my knowledge/experience. I also know that in many industries, awards are useful symbols to communicate that you have a level of expertise. One of my former business partners hated awards and no matter how many I got, he refused to recognize that they actually meant anything. In the pole world, like in many other sporting communities, we get obsessed with competitions. I personally compete at the lower end of our pro-level and find it very stressful. There are few other ways to “get your name out,” though and it remains one of the best ways for newcomers to start making money in the community. Not from award values directly, but from exposure that leads to teaching higher paid workshops around the world. My issue with competitions as one of the only ways to be recognized in our community is one of the main reasons that I’ve made PoleCon a non-competitive environment. Every performance is a showcase. While it still can be stressful to get on stage, amateurs and pros alike are all treated the same and not ranked or judged.
11. Whats the best piece of advice you were given?
My parents separated when I was young, and we went from being working class to living just below the poverty level. Neither of my parents graduated college—my dad was kicked out of high school—and both had really rough upbringings. Despite all of this, my mom always told me that I could be anything that I wanted to be when I grew up. We’ve had a rocky relationship over the years, but I guess that always stuck with me. I never saw limitations when I was young. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve left some expectations about what life “should be,” bog me down. I’m looking at changing that in my next decades.
12. What inspires you?
I’ve had several people tell me that PoleCon “changed their life.” I’m a closet optimist and I struggle with believing that something I built—just an event around a metal rod—could have that profound an impact on people. Giving people space to be themselves and be accepted is powerful, though. And sometimes even a few days of being yourself can have a huge impact on your entire life. Those messages and knowing that I’m helping people in a very direct sense, inspires me to keep going and keep doing this event, supporting this community.
13. Whats next for you?
Hopefully more pole dancing! I want to focus on expanding the PoleCon community and maybe in other countries, maybe more digital. I’m not quite sure yet. I still have boxes to unpack from my move, so I might do that first =)
14. Whats your motto in life?
Never, never, never quit.
Street Talk, which supports emerging artists that merit being discovered.
Interview by Alison Hernon, Editor-In-Chief, PhotoBook Magazine.