Stories of Impact: Angela Chandra

Stories of Impact: Angela Chandra

“For my overall happiness, if I’m not at the studio, I’m not going to get to where I want to be on a daily basis.”

Name: Angel Chandra
Location: Portland, OR, USA
Pole epancing for: 5.5 years
Training Facility: Diva Den and Ecdysiast in Portland, formerly Entangle & Sway in San Francisco
Instagram: @angela_sha_

Why did you start pole dancing?

I had seen pole dancing at a strip club and I was like, “that’s cool, I feel like I could do that, but I don’t know, we’ll see.” Then I was chatting with someone I met randomly at a dinner party and told them I wanted to take a pole dancing class and he said I should. A week later he found me on Facebook and had found a Groupon for pole dancing classes and I took a class and that was that.

It was the best thing ever. The gym has never been the place for me—I feel way too alone at a gym—and with yoga I felt like I was not being pushed creatively. I felt like I had hit a wall. Pole for me was kind of this new world of movement that was sensual, and allowed me to tap into parts of myself that I have never expressed before.

Pole has completely changed my life. I was acting and auditioning and doing all of this stuff in my free time and then I found pole and I haven’t looked back. I don’t miss it.

You mentioned you experience anxiety. When did that start happening?

I had been in a job that was not a good fit for me and I found myself being excessively stressed out and worried. I ended up having a panic attack at work. I had experienced maybe two or three panic attacks prior, but then I had this one at work and it effectively had me lose my job. I was let go after that. It was pretty traumatizing. This was about two years ago. I had already been seeing a therapist, just for relationship and behavioral things, and she had been suggesting to me that I could benefit from anxiety medication.

For a long time, I was like, “I really don’t want to put things in my body that are going to control my brain like that.” I worried that it would inhibit happier feelings as well as lower my moods and I didn’t want that, but after having this experience with my job, I figured it was a good time to give it a try.

It definitely made me feel like I was more in control of my own feelings, but through this process I had found a wonderful studio and a really strong community of people who I felt like I could be very vulnerable around—people who didn’t judge anything that I had going on in my life. It was like a safe space and a secondary home that felt so comfortable. I felt like I could really be myself on my good days, and on my bad days I could have this network of people who could really support me and help me get my mind off things. It was a really, really big help.

That was at Entangle & Sway studio in San Francisco, before you ended up at the Portland studios you’re at now. What else was your experience like there?

I was teaching there, so I was there two to three times per week and it was incredibly impactful. I did go through a period where I was feeling a little bit overworked, so I took a break from teaching. I was only attending the studio once a week as a student and I noticed a change in my general level of happiness. Being further away from this place that was like my home, that allowed me to be myself and process my own shit, was difficult.

Why did it feel so much like something was missing?

For me dance is very meditative. It’s kind of my escape. I’m able to disappear and really go inward during a dance and come out of it on the other end and be like, “alright, I don’t even know what just happened, I don’t even remember it,” and it feels like this way to kind of process emotion without having to confront it really directly.

What extra benefits do you get from teaching versus just dancing?

I really love teaching. I think it gives me more of a sense of purpose and I think my own anxiety came from not having a good sense of that. For example, in my work, it was just not a good fit and that really went to my head. It was really difficult for me. But having a place where I feel like I’m in my element and I’m with people who I can relate with and work through things with is really challenging but also really rewarding for me.

Also, being able to watch my students grow and progress is so amazing. I love teaching beginners because I feel like you can help them learn to love themselves more and that, for me, was one of the biggest things about pole. I had always felt so self-conscious, and pole was the first time in my life that I felt like I was doing fine on my own, on my own journey, and it was OK.

You just recently started teaching in Portland. What was it like, anxiety-wise, joining new studios?

The studio I came from had no mirrors and it was more freestyle dancing and everyone kind of watches each other, so the experience has been really different. In general, the community has been great. I feel like I’m able to bring something a little different into the instructor teams, so that’s cool.

At the same time, I feel like my skill level isn’t as high as some of the other instructors at Ecdysiast, because the studio I come from is more fluidity based, and Ecdysiast is kind of focused on strong tricks and that’s just not what my background is. I feel like part of me has imposter syndrome, but that’s been getting better in time.

As an instructor, you can’t really decide not to come in if you’re having a bad day. What do you go through in order to get to the studios when you’re not feeling well?

It’s never been difficult for me to get to the studio, actually. It’s difficult for me to get to other places. But the studio—any studio for me, honestly—has felt like a safe space. Even on days when I’m not feeling it, I know by the end of class I will feel so grateful that I was there. The more I stay in the house, the worse I feel, whereas getting to the studio and getting my body moving and getting it out of my system makes me feel so much better. That’s been proven to me over and over again. For my overall happiness, if I’m not at the studio, I’m not going to get to where I want to be on a daily basis.

How else has pole dancing helped you?

Pole has completely redefined my sense of feminism. It wasn’t until I found pole that I saw the amount of support that women can show each other at any point, and it’s really beautiful.

As an instructor, being able to help people who are nervous or don’t believe in their bodies discover parts about themselves that are sexy and fluid, to see that kind of confidence come through in somebody else, is the most rewarding experience for me.

Where do you think your mental state would be had it not been for pole?

There was a period of time where I wasn’t teaching any more and I wasn’t really taking classes because I was broke, and during that period of time I was pretty unhappy. I was trying to focus on other things, like my office job or getting settled in my new house because I just moved. All my creative energy was channeled into decorating and nesting and that was not enough. I didn’t feel good. I felt irritable and on edge and anxious on a low level, but just constantly.

Then things started picking up and now I feel so much better. I feel much more at home and relaxed in my own body. I feel like I have somewhere to go and somewhere to be and some kind of purpose. Without that I just felt so lost.

All images from @angela_sha_, used with permission by Angela Chandra.