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Hey there! Sooo excited to have the awe-inspiring Greta Pontarelli on for this edition of the Off The Pole Podcast – she started pole at 59 and since racked up 5 world championship titles. We go over artistry, her training regimen and how she keeps her body performing optimally.
Really hope you guys enjoy the 5th episode in the podcast series – you can subscribe to our pole podcast on iTunes to keep updated with all the latest episodes and it would mean the world to me if you could leave a review!
Hit play above or watch or read the transcript below.
Sarah: Well, welcome Greta. Thank you so much for being on my podcast and giving us some of your weekend.
Greta: Oh, it’s an honour to be here, thank you so much.
Sarah: Now I’ve done a bit of an intro, and I’m sure that many of the pole industry already know a little bit about you already, you’ve done lots and lots of things in our community. Am I right in saying, and correct me if I’m wrong, have you won five world championships at the masters level? Is it five?
Sarah: That’s incredible, are you going to go for a sixth?
Greta: People ask me that, and I have to say, it really isn’t on my bucket list. I would like to use my energy to cast our net a little broader beyond the pole industry and show the world what a fantastic art form and a form of fitness this is. I think it’s more into trying to inspire other people right now, but, I’d never say never, maybe.
Sarah: You’re keeping it open. I like that, that’s fine. You’re not going to commit to too much. You’ve said, I’ve watched quite a few of your interviews and you’ve done some different videos and things as you say, you’re getting out there into not just the pole industry but into the wider world. And you’ve spoken how you can inch closer towards your goal, so it’s all the little victories that build towards something a lot bigger. So is there anything that you’ve been working on recently that you’ve had that feeling where you’ve triumphed over something that you’ve been working on for a long time?
Greta: Oh yes, deadlifts!
Greta: Because, yeah, that was my nemesis move for so long. I would say, “Okay, I’m one inch higher today.” Or I felt more stacking in the muscles or something about it that felt better. Maybe the next day it went back again, but I’d say, “Okay, it’s probably… my body is recovering from yesterday, just give it a few more days. Let it rest,” and then it would come back and I would see if I could keep getting further and further.
I started expanding, I don’t use weights but I do like pull-ups and I found out by doing pull-ups and by really looking at the biomechanics of the move, it really helped me. So I really had to be a bit analytical and I really had to just look at it, watch and see how to stack my body because it is difficult at my age, it takes a tremendous amount of strength and people like you that make it look so effortless. I just look at that-
Sarah: Its difficult at any age I think. I think we all struggle.
Greta: It doesn’t look like it though, it looks like you’re just are weightless, seriously, and I love … That’s what’s so beautiful about that art form. It looks effortless and it looks like everybody’s flying, so that’s what I aspired to do. I think for people that no matter where they are, even if it’s something very simple, I think that there’s always something you can come back from a workout and say that I got better. Even if it’s maybe I feel that my line’s a little better, my form, and how to build on this level.
Sarah: I think that’s really, really important point to make and I think we can all get quite bogged down with trying to improve all the time and see big changes, but it’s actually the little ones that all accumulate and actually add up to the long-lasting changes.
Do you ever feel that you get unmotivated, do you ever get those days where you feel that it’s a bad training session and you want to try and turn it around? Do you have any tips for making it a bit more of a positive ending to a session if you’re not having not such much of a good one?
Greta: I think everyone has these moments because sometimes you get in the studio, maybe it’s very cold, or it’s hot, and you’re slipping and the air conditioning is not on so you think, “Oh, nothing’s going right. I can’t do anything.” What I do when that happens, I usually put on music that is really inspiring to me and I put the … myself put it on video and I start videotaping. So just basic things I do, and then I always find tonnes of things I could do better. Oh, that line could be better, I wasn’t quite lyrical enough, I moved too quickly through this, let me try it in slow motion, or try a different approach. Then I watch the videos after every pass and I see all these things that I could refine and so that motivates me because I go, “Oh, I’ve got to fix this.” I’m sure you do the same thing.
Sarah: Yeah, that’s very, very similar to what I do. I always start with good music and then video and then look it back and then I find all sorts of things that I can either play with or explore or things like that, that’s very, very similar.
Greta: It’s what inspires me because I never want to leave a session if I’m not feeling like I’ve corrected something. There’s always ways where I feel like I could have a better line through the ambiance or bring more artistry to it. Sometimes it’s just the expression, the difference between doing a port de bras around your head where you are doing something like, instead of just this you are, you’re following the hand or you’re reaching deep inside, giving something to them. So I look at that and say, “Am I really reaching deep to the core of my being and making this an art form or am I just going through the motions? Is it just a trick?” I aspire so much, to bring artistry, meaning into the tricks and that’s a challenge sometimes because sometimes you’re doing a difficult trick and you’re just focusing on getting through it, right?
And so then later you look at it, okay I did the trick, but what was I saying? What did it mean? And sometimes it’s just the glance at the audience or a glance here or something. There’s some tiny thing that brings it to life and allows you to connect more deeply with the message that you’re trying to share in the choreography.
Sarah: Is that part of your choreography process? Obviously, you’ve performed a huge amount all over the world, competing and performing and things, and do you have a specific choreography process? Do you start with the song and kind of work from there or do you more start off with an idea, and then find the song to suit that and then suit your movement to the song?
Greta: I think it works in different components. Music is challenging because you want music that inspires you and you also want music that if it’s live streamed, it has to pass through clearance, some music won’t clear and you can’t use I, right? So I think that’s one thing. The kind of music I like, I tend, of course, things are a little more lyrical, a little more classic because I like crescendos. I like things to go up and then sort of move down, things to have moments where we take things down almost in slow motion, and then moments where maybe you speed up and do something that is a little bit more exciting because I believe it’s the kind of play of different colours and textures that really turns into an art form, so that is a challenge.
If I find music that moves me, then I try to say, “What does this say to me?” Somehow that music has a message, and it seems that all my choreography seems to be around the muse of transformation. Somehow, it just always comes back being the phoenix that rises out of the ashes and looks at those ashes and sees, like in our own lives, the blessings that are there and water them so they germinate and grow and then this phoenix is reborn. We go through those struggles in our own lives, we go through challenges and if we can turn those challenge’s into thrusting blocks that creates success in our lives, that’s what it’s all about.
So I love doing pieces that people look at and somehow they go, “That’s my life,” or “yes, I’ve been through that,” or “I’m going through this,” and seeing that tells me what I need to do, and I get these beautiful emails from people, and that’s what’s so inspiring because I see so many people in the world are looking for inspiration.
Sarah: I think pole does that with a lot of people that they can express themselves in so many different ways that you can’t normally do in everyday life and that gives people the opportunity to have that release, which I think is why it’s so therapeutic.
Greta: Yes, and I believe that there’s something really truly in it for everybody. The reason that I love pole so much is that I look at my age and I can’t tumble anymore, my body won’t let me do it, I just don’t have the vascular muscle to rebound. I mean on springs, I could, on a spring floor, but competing I could never do that, but you can learn to fly. You can do things on the pole, you can develop your upper body and your core. And that’s what’s so beautiful about it, is that you could just keep going and you can use it as a means of expression. You can use it as something that really can heal and unfold the inner spirit.
Sarah: A lot of people use age as a reason not to start, they say, “I’m too old, I haven’t done this in my youth. I wasn’t a gymnast.” So what would you say to maybe people that are maybe using age as an excuse not to take that leap and actually try it for themselves?
Greta: I think that everybody has to start somewhere. They look at me and they go, “Oh, you use to be a gymnast,” but I’m like, “Gee, that’s 45 years ago.” That’s like another lifetime to me really. So I look at that and the same thing with … I did martial arts and I did dance. Gymnastics gave me a lot of body awareness, of course, but in certain ways, it’s made it more difficult for me today because I competed on cement floors, and cement floors ruin your cartilage in your hips, and in your knees.
I don’t think you’re ever too old to start anything because you have to compete with yourself. Your competition’s in the mirror. You can’t start at my age and look at … for me to look at people like you and say, “Gosh, I could never be like that.” Of course, my body is never going to be able to do some of the things that you do and some of the things that some of these ladies who are uber flexible do, I know that, but I can find out what I can do. So the road turns left, you turn left so to speak, and you find those things that your body will do and you try to perfect them and make them better and maybe take the same move and create new shapes with it, or create more meaning or a different approach.
You can always take the simplest moves even a spin around the pole, like even doing a chair spin and create new shapes with your legs and with your hands and bringing your body into it in a new way, like the transition in and out of it. So you can take the simplest things, and I think people starting out, if they look at that and allow their creativity and their artistry to flourish, they will find that they can do some really meaningful, beautiful things. It’s not all about the tricks.
Sarah: Yeap, that’s a really, really good point. Very, very good.
For you doing pole, you say it’s a lot about the creating and the artistry when you were in your competing phase which your not necessarily in at the moment but, was it all about … was that what … I’ll start again. Is that what was driving you like competing and winning the medals, or was it just part of, that was kind of an added bonus to the creativity side of it?
Greta: I think it really was an added bonus because the way this all started for me with competing is, I was on American Ninja Warrior, I was actually on it twice. And the first time that they called me to be on the show when it aired on television they said, “This is the oldest person to ever attempt the course,” and I thought, “really? Where is everybody else?” Then I realised that people were kind of encouraging me to compete and of course, I didn’t think I was nearly good enough and I thought, “Well, I want to give visibility for my message.” So it’s not about winning, it’s about showing somebody that my age can go out there and do it, and it gives me a goal and a challenge.
The first competitions I had to compete with, because they didn’t have masters division at that point, with some 18-year-olds. I was competing against very young, great flexible, wonderful ladies, and then pretty soon they had masters division. I think the first time when I qualified for worlds, and I said to them, “I would love to go, but I don’t think I’ve really qualified. I don’t think I’m really good enough.” And they said, “Well, we think you’re going to do pretty well.” So I was getting on that aeroplane and I was waiting to sit down and I go, “I must be out of my mind. I have no business going here.” And I have to say, I never expected it, it was totally surreal and the fact that I kept doing well was really overwhelming to me, I wasn’t expecting it. And then I realised, okay, the reason I’m on the stage is that’s a platform to somehow inspire other people to not let age or any limitation for that matter, keep them from finding a passion and going after that passion with their entire being.
Sarah: I think it’s really natural to have a lot of kind of inner voices telling you, you shouldn’t do something, and it takes a lot to step outside of that and actually make the jump to do something out of your comfort zone. It could have gone wrong, or there are many things that could have happened, but in the end, even if you don’t come away with the silverware as it were, or the gold medals, I think you can still learn a huge amount from going in to a pole class for the first time or compete for the first time. Those little challenges that you overcome in everyday life can be hugely beneficial, so it’s really inspiring for sure that you put yourself out there. As I say, most people would say, “Oh you know, I can’t do that, I can’t do that. I can’t possibly get on a plane and travel to another continent and compete in a world championship,” but you did it and here you are, so it’s very inspiring.
Greta: I think Sarah, I think you’re right. You have to have … Everybody’s going to have some whatever’s, that didn’t turn out the way you want, right? But I’d rather have a few of those than a few of, what ifs. What if I had? So I look back at it as if I don’t do this, I’m going to say there is a missed opportunity. Sometimes opportunities don’t re-present themselves and so I look at that yes, I have to push myself through that. We all have moments of hesitation or feel challenged by something and I tell those people that although they’re having struggles moving through them, you just have to do it. Stop, let go and you go after it. You have to be determined to move through it because we all have challenges in life, but you have to build those muscles. It’s not about asking for a lighter load as you know, it’s just building stronger shoulders.
Sarah: Do you have any specific favourite exercises that you do for building said shoulders or your strength? Is there anything that you do specifically for your own strength training?
Greta: Pull-ups, that’s about the only thing I do. I don’t lift weights but my husband has a pull-up bar into this office and I stay there and talk to him and then I do some-
Sarah: Just rep out as your talking to him.
Greta: I’ve learned to do them without cheating. I use to cheat when I started out doing them, and my son who’s very much into the biomechanics of sports and he said to me, “Mom, you have to take it the whole way up to here. The slightest bend, not this.” You’re like not this?
Sarah: Yeap, you’ve got to fully extend your arms at the bottom before you kind of go back up again.
Greta: And planks sometimes. Planks are a little bit boring for me, but I like push-ups actually better because I’m moving.
Sarah: A bit more dynamic.
Greta: But sometimes I do planks. I mean I think planks are wonderful and for people that can get through them and light them up, I think it’s a fantastic way of doing planks on each side and doing them forward. I think that’s really about it. I believe that just working on the pole, going around the pole doing pull-ups, right? Just doing spins and then pulling up as many times as you can with proper form, engaging the shoulders, the shoulders down and try to make it as beautiful as possible, that’s another thing going around on a pole and really trying to get the shoulders back so you look lyrical in what you’re doing instead of-
Sarah: Shrugging the shoulders up, yep.
Greta: That’s always them you think, okay just get the shoulders down and get my legs back and have it look like I’m flying and doing something effortless, I mean that’s the goal. And so I keep practising getting the form right and then in the interim, I’m exercising. I don’t think I’m doing a pull-up, I think I’m trying to perfect my lines.
Sarah: Repetition is so key on the pole. I think again, there’s quite a big culture of doing a trick once or twice, and then moving on from it quite quickly and not necessarily focusing on the transitions and doing something for many, many, many times until you master it truly. So things like climbing, simple spins, making your inverts look clean and controlled, dismounting really controlled, all of those you’re still working the muscles and building strength, it’s just not maybe as fun as learning a new trick, but it’s going to make your whole pole expression so much cleaner in the long run. So that’s a very, very good piece of advice.
Greta: That’s totally where my focus is now. I remember several years back maybe, five years ago when I met Oona Kivela, and I said to her, I said, “I need to learn more sport tricks. And I was doing the Russian then and things that were fairly advanced and she goes, “You don’t need more tricks, you have to work on your transitions,” and she was right. It’s the transitions, and that’s what people forget about.
Sarah: It’s nice when you watch a routine and it’s not even like … It’s clear what’s a trick and what’s a transition like they almost merge into one. It should be fluid throughout the routine rather than just like, oh they’re building up to something, trick, get down, walk across the other pole, trick. It’s nice if it’s just, the whole thing has been thought of and all the little details make so much difference.
Greta: That’s something that I keep working on all the time. I mean I see there are so many areas that I could not telegraph what I’m going to do next, and like you said, that’s the beauty when they just drop it something or flow into something. So it’s a journey. It’s a journey, it’s something you keep exploring new ways and new possibilities.
Sarah: That’s why it’s so fun, that’s why we love it so much.
Greta: I think it’s such a fabulous industry. I mean the women that are in the pole art form, they are just so empowering, they’re such hard workers. It’s not an easy sport, and they rise up to the challenge and they work so hard and they’re such a positive, inspiring group of people for me, and I just feel so blessed to have been drawn to this industry.
Sarah: We’re blessed to have you in it!
Sarah: Cheesy but true…
Greta: No, I do, I feel so immensely grateful. The reason that I actually got into this is, both of my sisters were diagnosed with the beginnings of osteopenia, which is the beginning of osteoporosis and they’re younger than I am, and my mother had it pretty terribly. So they said, “We’ve found out we have the beginnings of this and we do, I’m sure you do too,” and I said, “okay, what can I do to offset it? I’m in pretty good shape.” But I realised I didn’t have a programme that was giving me enough weight-bearing exercise. So I researched that I could lift weights, which didn’t seem as creative, it didn’t seem as much fun to me. Or I found that you could lift your body, and then I went to YouTube and I saw these amazing videos, and you’re probably one them-
Sarah: Oh, I don’t know about that.
Greta: Oh, I’m telling you. I looked at them and I went, “Oh, this is so beautiful and so artistic. This is what I want to do.” So, the rest is history.
Sarah: The rest is history, exactly. Is there anything, obviously, you train quite regularly still, is there anything that you do help your body recover so that you can continue for, have longevity in your pole career, or do you find that your body recovers quite well?
Greta: My body recovers fairly well if, I listen to it. I used to overtrain and I used to be sore all of the time and I think you’ve heard a lot of complaints from people, “I’m always sore.” Well, that’s because they’re not giving themselves recovery time. So the way I train now, I have a studio in my home, so I train every other day and I train lots of passes, so I don’t train particularly routines, I’m not working with particularly with them right now, but I work on the passes that I would do in a routine and I videotape and work on those. And the next day, I do things like, I had a hammock so I do yoga, more stretching. Things that allow my body to recover, that keep the movement because your body loves to move. Moving offsets arthritis, it helps the lactic acid leave your body faster, so I do that.
I eat pretty much a Paleo diet, I eat a pretty clean diet. For people that don’t know what Paleo is, it’s organic vegetables and fruits, and if people eat meat it’s all grass fed, the fish that I eat is freshly caught. I really don’t eat any flour, white sugar, processed products, most of the time. Every now and then, yes I’ll have a bite of cake or something like that, but we never eat it at our house, we never make it and I find that it really does keep my inflammation down. I think that diet is really important. Take some supplements, I don’t overdo it. I think everything in moderation, everything’s a balance, but I do take supplements. I do take things that I feel are relevant particularity for somebody my age.
Sarah: Are there any that you would recommend that people look into? Or is it more do you think it’s a personal and they need to maybe have a look into what they’re lacking first or is there any kind of like staple things that you would recommend?
Greta: I personally, besides the regular really good multiple, organic, multivitamin, I like Curcumin, which is turmeric, I feel that really helps me a lot. Omega-3’s, there are some other ones that I put in that I think really help. I don’t overdo it but I do have some really good supplements that my husband gives me that are for people that work in with sports and it combines a lot of those things in high dosages, appropriate dosages rather. That really helps me recover.
You really can change your body at a cellular level because I don’t desire things that aren’t good for me. I just don’t desire them. I don’t feel like eating things. I mean it’s kind of like if you know you’re going to train, you’re not going to go eat a big meal before it, right? Because you know if you train with a full stomach you can’t train as hard. It takes your energy away, so you know that. So before I train I eat something very, very light, maybe a little fruit or something, but I know that. And so, in that respect, you’re always listening to your body and you’ve got to train it, and then it expands over to your whole life. You say, “Okay, you start listening to what your body needs, you start listening. What do I eat before I train that helps me, gives me a little more energy? Is it something with a little bit of carbohydrates in it? I love bromelain too, I guess that’s something I missed. My husband makes me these drinks, that’s what I should have mentioned. He-
Sarah: We all need your husband come and make us stuff, feed us supplements.
Greta: He’s wonderful, he’s a fabulous cook and he makes these fabulous drinks where he puts whatever we have, but it’s usually fresh pineapple because of the bromelain in it, it’s really good for inflammation. But whatever we have if it’s kelp, if it’s cilantro, he puts different things in it. And he puts it into the blender and its kind of thick. Most people might think it’s a little thick because it’s not like most of the juices that you get because he says I need the roughage. It’s good for me. He sometimes put other little berries in, or whatever we have. They’re wonderful and it feels when you drink it, it just feels so alive and so fresh. And whenever he makes his organic garden, he tries to grow a lot of the things too, and that makes a difference too because not only … we always get organic food, but when you get it right out of the garden, it’s completely fresh. I mean it was growing minutes ago, and now it’s in your body. So you feel the chlorophyll you feel the aliveness. So I believe diet can make a real big difference.
Sarah: Is there anything else that you would like to, kind of last piece of advice you would like to give for the Off the Pole listeners, any nougats of wisdom that we can pull from you before I let you go?
Greta: I think you did fantastic, you covered so much. Is there anything else? Well, I just want to inspire people no matter where they are, to remember like I said earlier, that your competition is in the mirror, that every day is a chance to improve on something. Look at it like an art form. Look at is as a way of bringing more creativity into your life. Of going deep inside and touching that inner muse. We all have a muse within that inspires and empowers us, and that muse is what brings us passion into your life. So if you find a piece that you’re working on, whether it’s choreography, and you touch that and allow that to not just, that muse to connect with it while you’re doing the dance, but bringing it into your life, are things that are meaningful.
Like many people I’ve seen, they have worked through issues in their life and the dance allowed them to heal that. So I really believe that you can use this art form to enrich and empower our lives at all levels, if we allow it and if we go deep inside and find something about it that is going to give them a different vantage point of what they’re going through and at the same time, empower them at levels that they didn’t even know existed.
Sarah: That’s a perfect ending, perfect ending to the podcast.
Greta: Thank you so much for the opportunity. I’m immensely grateful for every opportunity to somehow inspire people to go after their dreams.
Sarah: Well, I’ve loved having you on so thank you so much.
Greta: Thank you so much.
Greta on Instagram: @aerialzen
Greta on Facebook: Greta Pontarelli