Pole is My Peace: Shaping Sammy Picone’s Sacred Space
She has captivated hundreds of thousands of eyes outside of and within the pole community. A pole artist in her own right, Sammy Picone is strength, grace and femininity personified. Indeed, she is poetry in motion. Even with a massive following, she dances as if no one is watching. In her own world, she’s created a sacred space where pole meets meditation. In this interview, we learn how Sammy has transformed her pain into purpose, her pole meditation practices and her advice on setting up your very own sacred pole space.
Can you start by telling us more about yourself? Who is Sammy outside of pole?
Outside of pole, I’m very much more to myself. Very reserved. Pole has really brought me outside of myself. I'm very much a nerd: I like to watch surgeries and documentaries about health and I'm in school for acupuncture.
How did you get into acupuncture?
I got into acupuncture after I had been diagnosed with cancer when I was 19, which was like seven or eight years ago. I was really struggling for awhile. For about three years or so I lived my life, literally every day, waking up and thinking about symptoms and what pain I was feeling that day and what pain I was going to feel the next and thinking: ‘Is there ever going to be an end to this?’ I started to experience my first sense of relief from those symptoms when I joined the meditation course at my school. That's sort of when that connection between mind and body was made within me. From there I started exploring other healing alternatives and that's how I found out about acupuncture.
What is the biggest misconception that people have of you?
I think the biggest misconception is that I’m kind of snooty, kind of a bitch, and it’s really just because I’m quiet and shy. Every other person that I meet tells me when they first met me they thought I didn’t like them. Over time they find out that I’m a goofball.
Your pole story is incredible! You’ve shared online that you started to take it seriously at a low point in your life when you were battling kidney cancer. In what ways did pole help you during such a difficult time and how did you discover that pole was the tool that would help you through?
I took my first class because my best friend dragged me to a class. After my third class I got to do an invert and I got hooked. It wasn't until a couple of months that I realized the effect it was having on me. There were some days that I went through those classes and I felt like crap. I was in pain and I didn't really feel like a woman. I felt like just a walking diagnosis. It was really hard at times, in the beginning, to be standing next to a pole and wanting to feel attractive and feminine, knowing that inside, my body just wasn't well. Over time I started to realize, with each class, a full hour would go by and I wasn't thinking about my symptoms, which was unheard of at that time. That's what really made me realize just how therapeutic pole was for me.
You mentioned pole is your form of meditation. Can you tell us more about that? How does music play a role in your meditation?
The first thing that inspires a training session is listening to music. I really love music and not for its lyrics. I like it for the sounds, melodies, and memories it brings up. Sitting on the train and listening to music is usually the moment I feel inspired to go home that night and train. When I get to the pole, lately I’ve been starting with a shape and trying to move to and from the shape. That’s been helping me because I tend to mostly pole on the pole and I don’t do a lot of floor work. In general, before I started this new floor work exploration, most often I would pick a move that's very difficult and very challenging for me. The process of trying it, failing seven to 20 times and then finally nailing it and feeling how painful and how difficult it is to breathe in it is therapeutic for me. That's when I stop thinking about my problems outside of my apartment.
What advice do you have for people who might have trouble quieting the mind and being in the moment during a pole session?
If you're dancing and you feel like you can't be in the now and present, I would say try to tackle something that's really difficult for you. Don’t go for things that are easy for you. Take that list of moves that are your nemesis moves that are really challenging and painful -- normal pole painful -- and practice those moves. That’s what’s going to make you 100% present. You can't really be anywhere else when you're feeling all these things all over your body. Tackle something that’s extremely differently for you. It sort of ties into people always reminding us to, rather than ignore our feelings, to actually feel them. Instead of ignoring that move because it might be painful, actually feel and be with it.
You’ve also shared that when pole becomes a source of stress for you, you take your space and return when you’re ready. In taking that space, what does that look like for you? How do you know when it’s time to take a break, vs. time to push into your practice more deeply?
Right now taking a break looks like focusing on school, my friends, my boyfriend and my family. It also looks like still dancing but off of the pole. That’s been a really nice, exploratory thing for me. I definitely think about pole a lot, and I found out early on that I need to take some space when I am thinking about it because I feel pressure to post on Instagram, which sounds so stupid. But I’ve asked myself, ‘Am I going to lose followers if I don't post for three weeks?’ Until I stop feeling like that and I find myself thinking about pole just because I want to pole and dance, then I don't really go back to it.
You’re mostly self-taught. Can you explain that transition?
I took about two months of classes to get some basics down and then I graduated college and I bought my pole. Definitely the first week that I put the pole up I looked at it and I was like, ‘What the fuck am I supposed to do with this?’ Honestly, the transition was easy because I was using pole as a meditation form. My goal wasn’t to learn all the moves. Just spinning on the pole felt amazing to me, which is why I always use spin pole. Through the amazing community on Instagram, I found all the teaching that I needed, and just by imitating I was able to build a repertoire. I'll say there are a lot of moves that I don't know to this day and it's because I don't have a spotter. So there are limitations to being completely self-taught but I just really listen to my body. I'm aware enough of my body at this point to look at the move and be able to gauge whether or not it is something that I can pull off. I also try a lot of things really close to the floor when I first try.
We are in love with your pole space! From the cobalt blue accent wall to the art work. Did you design this space on your own? If so, what was the creative thought process behind picking the color and art work? Who are the artists behind the paintings?
My boyfriend and I made the design choices together. I wanted something blue because I really love being outdoors and I really love the ocean. In terms of the paintings, his best friend, Noah Payne, actually painted them. One of them is hundreds of cats and I really wish I could be a cat in my next life because I just really love cats (laughs). I’m not super picky when it comes to my space as long as I have enough space and some degree of privacy. And also lighting is so important.
What is most important to you when creating sacred space in your home? What advice do you have for others who want to create a home poling space?
Set your pole up in your house and move all the furniture and actually dance before you set up your space. That’s what helped me to see how much space I actually needed and where I wanted lighting. Also imagine what scenery and colors come to mind when you listen to your favorite music. The space that I have right now isn’t my ideal space but I think the most important thing is complete privacy. That’s going to allow you to open up to yourself and be completely vulnerable to try new things.
You just launched your online tutorials. Can you explain the vision behind this project and what people can expect when taking an online course with you?
A lot of what I see in tutorials in the world of pole is sort of like disjointed moves. It's never really called me because I don't really enjoy just learning move after move. Something that's really important to me in pole is to be able to express myself, and with one move, you can only express so much.The purpose of these tutorials is to act 50% as a teacher of moves and 50% as teaching to express oneself. At the end we put it all together into an all encompassing piece of choreography.
Outside of pole, what are your other passions? Is there anything else that brings you the same peace and sense of purpose you feel when you’re pole dancing?
The only other thing I’ve felt similar peace with is traveling. There hasn’t been anything in my life that’s matched pole. That’s part of the reason why I want to tour so badly. Pole is one of those top runners for me.
Jada Pinkett-Smith mentioned in her #hotminute interview with you that you changed her perspective of pole dancing. She said, “It’s not about what you’re doing, but how you are with what you’re doing”. How would you say you’ve defined yourself, for yourself through pole, and what do you wish the world knew about pole dancers and pole dancing?
I don't feel I'm in a place in my life where I’ve truly defined myself yet. I think I’m still in a point of building and defining myself. Even my pole style and role in the pole industry is ever changing, especially over the past few years. One thing I think is big in pole is this pressure to compete and being validated by competition. You can definitely define yourself in the pole and entertainment industry without competing. You’re still a valid artist, teacher, and poler without competing. I wish the world knew that pole and the style of pole people choose to partake in is a choice, and that all are valid. I had some qualms and was hesitant with the wording in that interview with Jada because I didn’t want it to come across as if my way of doing pole was the right way. I want it to be clear that all forms (of pole) are valid, beautiful, and deserve to be viewed as art.
Complete the statement: “I pole because __________”
Pole is my peace.
All photos provided courtesy of Sammy Picone.