Jody Ryker’s passion for circus arts has established her as one of this area’s most active educators of acrobatic pole dance.
As a performer, Ryker conveys feeling and technical precision in her mesmerizing and challenging craft. As an instructor, she passes on her knowledge about flexibility, conditioning, and creativity to students of all levels.
Ryker has been training in circus arts since 2012, and now specialises in the art of aerial hoop and pole acrobatics. She trains with pole champions, competes and performs at events throughout Northern California, and blogs for the International Pole Convention. She choreographs, directs, and produces shows through her circus performance company Pole Diversity, which supports many different styles of acrobatic pole dance.
Ryker also teaches at San Francisco Pole & Dance and for UCSC’s Recreation Department. Her classes focus on the foundations of pole dance and aerial hoop, including climbs, grips, poses, and spins. Ryker also shares elements of choreography, including musicality, variation, and presence within aerial, pole, and floor routines.
In addition to circus arts, her diverse background proves a dedication for training the mind as much as the body. She completed her master’s in pure math at UCSC, is first author on a paper in algebraic geometry, and now teaches mathematics at De Anza and Foothill Colleges.
Through her experience as an instructor and expertise as a performer, Ryker refreshes preconceptions about acrobatic pole dance and provides insight into the empowering, expressive, and athletic nature of circus arts.
Local Santa Cruz: What defines acrobatic pole dance and what inspired you to engage with it through training, teaching, and performing?
Jody Ryker: Just like in any form of dance, pole dance has many different types, and each dancer brings their own unique style to pole. When most people hear “pole dance,” they only think of one style – the more sensual style found in strip clubs. ALL types of pole are acrobatic, i.e we’re all doing some type of gymnastics using a vertical bar. I have found that I am often much more likely to be accepted if I qualify what I do as acrobatic. Hopefully, one day there won’t be a need for that.
While I appreciate sensual style pole, my personal style is different. I often have a lyrical dance vibe to my routines. I have been trained by circus instructors and competitive pole dancers. The types of routines that I do are similar to pole routines that can be seen in Cirque De Soleil shows.
I tried many sports and movements arts when I was younger. I’ve always enjoyed lifting weights, so when I began pole dancing, I loved that it required so much upper body strength. I feel like pole dance is the best way my body can express ideas and emotions. Through teaching, I feel I can empower others to be strong and express themselves. I love it!
What influences your choreography – do you choose music first, or go off of an emotion or idea?
I almost always start with a song. I’ve always loved music (who doesn’t?!), and grew up playing guitar. If I hear a song that inspires me, I just start seeing the moves and shapes I want to create in a routine. Songs that move me like this have some sort of meaning for me, so there is also an emotion or idea I am trying to share with my audience when I choreograph.
What do you enjoy most about pole dancing?
I love pushing my body to exhaustion. It’s the only way I’ve found to deal with intense emotions. Pole requires so much strength that it pushes me harder than any other sports I’ve tried.
I also love empowering others. Through teaching, I can show others how to be strong, capable, and do crazy tricks they never thought they could do. I also give my students a tool for expressing their thoughts and emotions. It’s a great feeling to see a student grow and improve.
Please tell us about your acrobatic dance company Pole Diversity, and what other classes and events the community can be aware of?
Pole Diversity was founded in 2015. My mission was to share all the beautiful styles of pole dance and educate the community about pole. Since then, I have put on three hour long circus shows. I hope to put on my fourth show this fall. Pole Diversity can also be seen at National Dance Week this April and the Santa Cruz Arts & Technology festival in May.
I currently teach pole and aerial hoop classes every quarter for UCSC’s rec department. Additionally, I teach small pole classes at my house in Santa Cruz. I taught at Aerial Arts Santa Cruz for two and a half years, but am currently only available for private lessons there. Recently, AASC changed ownership, and the new owners are concerned about the sexualization of pole and no longer want pole dance classes at their studio, unfortunately.
How do you see your work evolving over time?
I hope to see my company Pole Diversity continue to grow! I started out focusing just on pole, then added aerial hoop, then acroyoga, and more. I’m currently training in contortion and hand-balancing, but I’m also interested in learning more aerial apparatuses such as straps and corde lisse. I would love to see Pole Diversity become a full-fledged circus!
How has life in Santa Cruz influenced your creativity?
I moved to Santa Cruz three and a half years ago for grad school. Before that, I had never heard of aerial or circus arts, I just did pole. Now, I’ve found an amazing community of like-minded circus friends. I never would have thought of putting on shows and starting my own company if I hadn’t come to the Bay Area.
I’ve also met quite a few people in Santa Cruz who’ve helped me share my art, including Smooth Body Lounge. Places like Smooth have promoted my work and given me a place to perform and make new connections.
Follow Jody Ryker on Instagram: @polediversity
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