Danielle Christine is one of those clients who started out as purely a business connection and over the years, has become a friend. We first photographed her at Pacific Pole Championships 2013 - a critical moment in our business, when we were first starting out with Pole Sport Organization and didn't really have a reputation in the pole competition world for live event photography. Danielle brought a Cheshire cat piece to the stage, wearing stick-on Bad Kitty pink and purple glitter stripes, ears, and a fluffy tail. We loved her adorable, high-energy, colorful performance, and we were so excited when she ordered pictures. I squealed to Joe when her name showed up on my class roster a few months later. I was so nervous to meet and dance with her!
Danielle, as it turns out, is so grounded and unintimidating. Fiercely loyal, fiercely determined, fiercely kind, basically just fierce all around. In Danielle, I've found a friend as passionate as I am about teaching ordinary people - not only the naturally gifted, or the former gymnasts. She's more interested in building students from the ground up than adopting just those special students who take to pole like they were born with wings. She's also a huge proponent of the growing, but still somewhat underground, pole freedance/contact improv movement.
Freedance lends itself to beautifully weird, unpretentious images. Danielle's own consistent freendance practice means that she can put on a good song at a shoot and make magic in front of the camera, on cue. She's the kind of dancer who still talks about her perceived disadvantages because of her lack of formal training, her "average" body, her asthma, her weak wrists, her tight shoulders, her anxiety - but working with her has taught me that her very "normal" human quirks have only primed her to be extra creative; she's an incredible problem solver. She's also great at not taking herself too seriously at shoots. As pole, and pole photography, becomes more 'professional' and 'respectable,' the ability to laugh at yourself when a piece of fabric eats your face during a shoot is just lovely.
We asked Danielle to talk a little about her dance journey, her joys and frustrations, and what her future in pole and aerial looks like.
"Prior to pole, I had very little movement in my background. I did some ballet and whatnot as a child, but quit dance around the age of 6, and focused on other arts. I was very involved in visual arts through my early college years, which faded when I fell in love with acting. Acting brought me to writing and producing, and it brought me to pole!
It was through some of my old acting friends that I first discovered the pole world: around 2005 or 2006, a mutual friend introduced me to erotic movement classes run by her good friend. These classes were a combination of movement and life coaching. This was pre-acrobatic pole, pre-mainstream pole competitions, pre-almost-everything in the pole world as we know it today. To say that the classes were life altering would not be hyperbole – they were phenomenal on so many levels. Incredibly challenging, earth-shattering, absorbing, intriguing, inspiring…and above all, they created a fertile ground for growth that I have yet to see be matched in this industry. "
"After my teacher shut down her studio and moved, I left behind movement for a few years, unless you count dog walking and waiting tables. It took a chance meeting with a pre-USPDF Champion Natasha Wang to get me back into pole. I started my aerial pole journey at The Pole Garage in Santa Monica, around 2010, and still pop in there whenever I get the chance. I’m currently an instructor at The Vertitude, where I co-teach a freestyle class called Movement Lab and a beginner class that focuses on Level 1 – 2 techniques. I also sub lyra from time to time. I’ve been doing lyra for about three and a half years, and currently take lyra classes at Aeriform Arts.
When I was new to pole, so many things were inspiring for me, but as I’ve gotten older and seen routine after routine, it’s been harder to be wowed. My tastes also seem to run a little different than what feels like the norm. I could give a shit about fonjis, but weird shapes? Cool transitions? Superbly executed classics? Incredible heart or stage presence or story? Those things move me and make me want to move."
I have to work quite a bit at accepting who am I and what I can do, and seeing it in a positive light, as opposed to thinking that I suck because I can’t do All Of The Things.
"I’m very quick to get lost in my own head. I have to work quite a bit at accepting who am I and what I can do, and seeing it in a positive light, as opposed to thinking that I suck because I can’t do All Of The Things. I do think it helps to not be perfect, but it’s still easy for me to get lost. I try to always remind myself of this saying that my original movement teacher had: “Get out of your head; it’s a bad neighborhood.” She was so, so right.
In my late 20s, I struggled with some fairly serious and crippling anxiety, and while I sought help and had support to work through it, much of that journey was done alone. I had to retrain a lot of the way that I thought in order to pull myself out of that nadir. Those skills come in handy when I’m having a particularly crappy pole practice or class. I also think it helps my instruction of students to have someone who will flat out admit when shit is hard or they aren’t perfect at it."
"I don’t have any long term goals. I don’t think long term, not in any way that is serious. I’m not a competitor, and I don’t see myself committing to that life. I enjoy producing events, but I don’t have the time or blood/sweat/tears available to take anything like that on at the moment. Mostly, I think I’d just like to do what I do now, enjoy my time with my friends, stay healthy, do all of the freedancing, and maybe make some art, if I’m lucky.
I would like to take our freedance class on the road and teach to interested students, but without the fame that comes from competition or intense social media scrutiny – and [expectation of] mad skills – but I’m not sure whether that’s realistic. But I love freedance, and I love watching people explore it. It’s such a gift to be a part of that journey, with our students."
"When I was in Paris [earlier this year], we walked into a little courtyard off Rue du Temple, and I found myself looking up at the second floor of the building. The ceilings were high, the walls were that perfect idea of Parisian stone, the windows were big and airy, and I absolutely fell in love with the idea of having a little studio in Paris, tucked away from everything. Not the most realistic of ideas, but it’s high on my “If I Won The Lottery” list."
"I don’t use a lot of product, nor am I devoted to any particular pole-wear company. If anything, I find that the majority of pole-wear is cut for very tiny people, and it’s either difficult/impossible for me to wear, or just not that flattering. There are definitely exceptions out there, but I have learned to not expect much for anyone with curves like mine. The one thing that I wear almost religiously, in nearly every class or practice, are my Vertical Swag wrist wraps. I have a lot of grip issues, particularly in what used to be my dominant pole hand, and I wear the wraps to give me a little more support."
"I would not say anything like, “pole taught me to love my body.” I gained weight after starting pole – about 30lbs – and not all of it is muscle. I struggle with that a lot, particularly in an industry where everything is marketed to tiny polers, and frankly, a lot of the shit we do is just plain easier if you’re tiny or extremely fit. I am neither. At 5’6”, I’m around 160lbs, give or take, with big hips and thighs and boobs and shoulders, and some extra fluff – really average for the US, which does not feel average for pole.
"what I found was that all of the things that make me different from other polers – like my limited and selective flexibility – actually help me be a better instructor, because I have had to ask more questions and think more about unlocking things for my body."
Last year, I was asked to take over a class at The Vertitude, which marked my first regular gig as an instructor. I had to be talked into it. I truly did not understand why anyone would want to learn from me, when I have so much to improve on and learn myself. Also, part of me wondered if anyone would want to learn from someone who doesn’t look like a ballerina or a gymnast in their prime.
I naturally like to help people figure things out, which lends itself to instruction, but what I found was that all of the things that make me different from other polers – like my limited and selective flexibility – actually help me be a better instructor, because I have had to ask more questions and think more about unlocking things for my body. Am I perfect in my technique? Not on your life. But, I am curious, and I love instructors who are open to playing with things to make them work for me and others, and I aspire to be that way for my own students. I would much rather have a curious, open, and imperfect instructor, than the walking embodiment of perfection, who checks out the moment that they realize I don’t understand what they’re teaching."
Danielle is also an unabashed cat lady and superstar cat mom to up-and-coming Purina model Kiele Dru, who has her own Instagram account. If you're a Neko Atsume addict, she'll commiserate about Tubbs with you (it's a Japanese cat phone game, for the uninitiated). And she'll teach you how to nail your invert like the sweetest, friendliest drill instructor ever.
We love you Danielle! Thank you for always supporting us and our business.