Stories of Impact: Erica Schildmeyer
“The few years right before I started pole were my absolute worst.”
What got you into pole dancing?
Actually, a friend did. I had a friend that was a dancer in Portland and had said it was a lot of fun. She mentioned the name of a studio so I wanted to try it. After my first class I went and bought a pole [for my home].
What was it about pole that hooked you?
I think it was just the environment. I went to Kiska for my first class and I was so nervous. I have always had anxiety and been self-conscious but [the people at Kiska] were so welcoming and very helpful.
I also used to Irish step dance and I had wanted to get back into dance anyway. After the first class I recognized how much strength it would give me to continue it.
Do you experience mental health issues other than anxiety?
I have—all clinically diagnosed—anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
What was life like for you, emotionally and psychologically, before you started pole dancing?
I lost a son a few years ago and have since had another son, and with both of my pregnancies my body has changed a lot. Plus, I have chronic pain issues, so with all of that it was kind of becoming a downhill spiral. I was having a really hard time regulating my weight and my body was getting weaker because of my pain problems.
I see a specialist and rheumatologist for my pain and I’ve been going to physical therapy for years too, but it wasn’t really helping. When I started doing pole, I actually made more progress in 10 months than I had in seven or eight years of physical therapy.
I think pole, for me, was really something to push myself and force myself to be accountable and it makes me feel good. My son also loves to play on my pole at home. He gets really excited about it.
How else have you noticed a change within yourself?
I am a lot more confident in myself and just being able to do tricks I never thought I would be able to do. Even at work I’m more confident talking to people and I feel like I kind of just project that a little bit more now.
Has pole helped your anxiety or depression or any other aspects of your life?
It has. I’m going to be competing at PSO Northwest in November and that’s given me a lot to look forward to and redirect any negative thoughts. I also have a really good support group. My whole family has been supportive, my husband’s supportive, my work is supportive and clients are supportive. It’s been very good to have that.
When did you start noticing a change within yourself?
I noticed a change, emotionally, pretty much right away. I was very excited to keep going to classes and working on my pole at home. In my second or third class, my instructor basically told me that I’d be able to do more [tricks] if I took my shirt off and had my skin exposed, and I was like, “I will die before I take my shirt off.” I was wearing shorts and a big baggy shirt and low heels, just not showing anything. The first day that I I wore pole shorts and a sports bra to class my instructor was like, “this isn’t even the same person!”
I did start noticing my strength a couple of months into it. Actually, I started doing the more Russian exotic style in the last few weeks and since doing that I’ve lost 18 pounds. I was building muscle [with other classes] and now the fat is dropping off, so that’s great.
How is pole dancing different, as form of therapy, than Irish step dancing or any other physical outlet you’ve tried in the past?
I did Irish step dancing growing up and I loved it and competed when doing it, but with Irish step dancing, you’re doing a lot on your tiptoes and jumping and just being very straight. The more I was trying to practice, the more in pain I would be, whereas with pole, it’s a lot of upper body and doing things where you’re just free for a lot of the movement.
When I did Irish step dancing, I was still an adolescent, so I would say at the time it was the right thing for me. It gave me confidence and was something not a lot of people could do. I did parades and stuff and it made me a little bit more open and comfortable being in front of people. With pole it’s the same thing but I guess just better.
Did you experience mental health issues while you were doing Irish step dancing?
Yes, but not as severe as they had become. After my son passed away in 2014 it got more serious. I had gotten depressed and over time it kind of got worse, and then I got post-partum depression with my second son. Definitely the few years right before I started pole were significantly worse and my absolute worst.
Where do you think you would be today had you not found pole dancing?
I think I would still be driving up to physical therapy three days a week and being frustrated that my pain is not under control and that I’m still heavy and weak and still relatively self-conscious. I think overall I’d be a happy person, but knowing what I know now about [pole dancing] and meeting the people I’ve met through it and just the entire environment alone, it has been very comforting and freeing. I’m very passionate about it.