Sexy is the New Black: A Chat with Carmine Black
She’s uninhibited, uncensored and the undisputed Low Flow Queen. Poletry in Motion caught up with Carmine Black over brunch in sunny Los Angeles, Calif. Much like her dance style, our conversation felt less like a scripted interview but more of a free flow. Get to know one of the pole community’s most misconceived dancers like never before.
PIM: Sometimes when we see sensual movement and it looks so effortless, we don’t think about everything that goes into getting to that point. It’s very clear you had to pour a lot of yourself into your movement. Can you elaborate on this?
Carmine: I feel like it’s a blessing and a curse when people see my stuff because I think there is this expectation that if it's not acrobatic, then it's got to be easy. Or that putting on some heels and being sexy is easy. And I'm like, no, that's hard. Doing a trick is easy for me; just give me a fongi and I'm fine. If you just want me to put some heels on and actually move in an honest way and explore something that resonates with people, I think it’s way more vulnerable.
I tell my students, certain moves can take me six months of getting it in my body where I can move in a proficient way that looks seamless. You see a minute of someone's life, a snippet of someone's day — but you didn't see all of the work that was required to get there.
PIM: Did you ever see your dance journey evolving this way?
Carmine: No. Not at all. I was just a hobbyist, I was somebody who really loved to dance. Then as Instagram started blooming, I reached out to a few dancers I admired and we built this really low-key community. Then I started teaching and I thought, okay this is cool. Once I started getting asked to teach outside of Los Angeles, everything just kind of grew fast from there. It was an interesting time because no one was doing floor, low flow progressions and not in the way I was doing it because it was pretty much non existent. More than anything it was just timing.
PIM: How would you categorize the phases of each year of your pole experience?
Carmine: I think of it like a relationship. At first, I was enamored and in love with it and then it was a habit and I was comfortable. Then I became jaded and was like, I don’t know if I want to date you anymore (laughs). Now I’m kind of in this weird phase of I really love you, but I don’t know if I can date you like this anymore. I think it’s because I’m also a teacher. If I were a student it may be different. I think that everyone's journey is relative because there's some people who've been dancing way longer than me, but they take breaks and they have a life outside of this. I understand that this is just one facet of one’s life.
PIM: How did you train you body to where it is now?
Carmine: I would spend hours in the studio training with people like Wendy Lee. We started pole around the same time. She would be climbing and doing tricks and I would be down below hanging out and we would just jam together. I don't think people realize how important community is. Like we get so caught up in the movement that what keeps us somewhere is the connection to the people around us. That connection and that energy is everything. Even with people online, you just resonate with certain people. You just align with those people and that connection reinforces why you're doing what you're doing.
PIM: How have you seen the pole community evolve?
Carmine: Well, I think that it's grown exponentially, but I think that a lot of people just aren't informed about certain things and it creates this misconception about how it's all connected and then it creates this disparity in the community. The heels-based classes are a great example where the intention is sexy or exotic. When I first started, there were very few studios that were wearing heels and did anything remotely sexy. It was completely stigmatized. There were people who are now on the sexy bandwagon who were slut shaming me three years ago.
PIM: That’s so interesting. Part of the reason we started Polety In Motion is to combat those ‘Well, I’m not a stripper’ statements. We don’t understand how you can pole dance and feel the need to separate yourself from someone who strips and act like that’s not its origin.
Carmine: Which might be this internal thing people need to work through to grow. I remember myself when I first started. My movement was obviously not what it is today, but I probably had a lot of misconceptions about my own sexuality or my own sensuality or embodying that in a way that felt good. I get that we all do evolve.
PIM: And when we think about pole, there are rules but at the same time there are no rules. Who is to tell you that you can’t move like that or this is how sexy is supposed to look like? When we think of you we feel you had to kind of break away from the norms to find your own form of dancing.
Carmine: Well now people are breaking from the traditional structure and you see people individuating themselves and there’s more acceptance to that. When I first started teaching, I can’t tell you how many times people thought floor work was for beginners.
PIM: Which is a huge misconception. Some of the toughest moves aren’t done aerially. And for floor work it’s not even so much technique as it is a confidence to move comfortably in your own body.
Carmine: Right! When I’m teaching class it’s all about intention. You can't just expect for someone to be confident if they don't know where they're working from. They have to understand that sense of awareness. And as a teacher, I think more than anything, I want to enforce intention and autonomy. Because if you don't have a purpose for why you're doing what you're doing, you're not going to care. It's going to feel aimless. And if you want to share that with somebody else and you don't care, that person's not going to care because there's nothing to support it foundationally speaking.
There's always this balance between not taking it too seriously but also being accountable for the work that you're doing because there's a lot of internal work that's also happening and that's how you get to be confident.
PIM: It’s very interesting to see just from watching so many people pole. You can give two people the same choreo and it will look completely different on both dancers.
Carmine: Yeah. I think that there is something to be said for someone who moves in an embodied way and someone where you can tell that they're sort of speaking and expressing from their soul.
PIM: Even though you’re always exploring, how has your journey of just putting on music and flowing evolved over time, especially now that you have a broader range of movement?
Carmine: It’s harder now. I think if I were just a student it would be easier but as an instructor and as a brand it's harder because there is an expectation. A lot of performances are very different than mine. My idea of a performance is to connect not to trick out.
PIM: Where do you see the pole community in 10 years?
Carmine: I think it's going to evolve and be just more socially acceptable, which is awesome and I think it's going to be more inclusive, which is awesome.
PIM: What is the biggest misconception people outside of the pole community have about you and what’s the biggest misconception people within the pole community have?
Carmine: Outside of the pole community, I would say is that I’m a sex worker. I get it from girls inside the pole community too who ask me if I’m a stripper when I have never done sex work a day in my life. My thing is, everybody that I know that has done sex work, particularly stripping, they're almost very conservative in how they explore themselves. For me, I don't think it would be as embodied because I have the freedom to explore this on my own terms and not necessarily for someone else.
PIM: When you see the time, the dedication, the commitment, the passion, the drive and all of those amazing qualities for a person to have and you only see one thing, it’s like you see what you think you're supposed to see and that's it.
Carmine: None of that matters. So yeah, people either think I'm a sex worker or that I'm just receptive to exploring sexual advances because I'm hyper sexual. I’ve even had people in the pole community who think I’m not intelligent because I do sexy stuff. I had a studio owner tell me once, I didn't realize you'd be as articulate and intelligent you are because of the movement you do.
PIM: That is high-level problematic! You own a pole studio, and you’re telling another woman I didn’t think you would be as articulate as you are because of the way you move?!
Carmine: Oh definitely. I think that there's something about being sexual that people think there's a lack of intelligence or sophistication. That's why there's this bandwagon of sexy, but it's very sterile.
PIM: What do you want the world to know about pole dancing?
Carmine: That it’s an art form and that it is a craft. If there are other art forms that are similar that are seen as legitimate, why can't ours be seen that way? I think more than anything, just sort of respecting the art form and the legitimacy of how hard it really is because you have to be so multifaceted. Just because I dance it does not make me less of a person. It is an art form. It's skill. It's hard, but it's made me a better person. There's nothing that I've ever done like this that has really enabled me to grow as a human being. And I think that there's value in that. And I just wish people knew that.
PIM: Complete the statement: I pole because ______.
Carmine: I could be very cliche and say because it makes me happy, but it doesn't always make me happy. I would say it fulfills me, as simple as that. I think that if it just made me happy I wouldn't keep coming back to it. But it fulfills me in every intrinsic way possible: it’s challenging, it's intellectually stimulating, it's intrinsically emotionally really valuable for me. I really feel like it's one of the only places where I can really be myself — physically, emotionally, sexually, and for the most part, I feel safe enough to be myself and be supported.