TO ANYONE WHO WANTS TO LEARN HOW TO FLOW, NOT FORCE
To anyone who wants to learn how to flow, not force,
A few months ago we came across Cami, an outstanding pole dancer and singer, who we later learned is also a Yale graduate with a particular love for Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental biology. We found her because of her (extraordinary) pole dancing videos, stayed for her vulnerable musings on life, and couldn’t stop thinking about her for her infectious joy and celebration of others. One look at her IG page and you will simultaneously feel awe-struck by her skills, uplifted by her spirit and encouraged by the wisdom of her heart. We certainly felt all three when we spoke to her.
Having been through a pivot in my life that left me devastated at the time (Devin), it’s hard for me to look at someone like Cami and not feel teary. At 23 years old, she learned early how to find joy in what is. She embodies what I hope for all of us - the ability to hold our passions with an open hand and prioritize the life that is right here at our feet, rather than missing it just to hold space for another idea of what we think our lives should be. Everything Cami prepared for, a life dedicated to a dream of being a musical theatre performer in NYC, turned out completely differently in the end. And although when we see Cami now we might not see a musical theatre actress on Broadway, we do see someone centrally liberated in their body with an overflow of joy, confidence and wisdom well beyond her years all wrapped up in one pole dancing, singing, science-loving human. And we think that’s a little more interesting.
STREET GRANDMA: We were so excited to see you grew up in the same area of Los Angeles as we did! Tell us what you thought about your experience growing up in South Pasadena.
Cami: I loved it. My parents were the first in their family to go to college. I think they realized what that did for them, so they put everything that they had into providing the private Catholic education they wanted for my siblings and I really loved school and so much of my time growing up was put towards being the best student I could be because I knew how much my parents wanted that for me. I genuinely loved learning, and I still do.
How involved was church in your life?
It was very important. In my family, there was this spoken, but also unspoken rule that no matter what your commitments were for a week, you were going to do two things: go to church on Sunday morning and eat with the family on Sunday night. Oh, you got prom the night before? A big test the next day? Didn’t matter. I knew I always had to set aside time to be with my family. I’m so grateful it instilled in me the value of commitment and time management. It was a big part of my life growing up.
Was the spiritual aspect of it important to you at the time?
It was more of the experience of showing up. I never really questioned the spiritual component of church or religion until I went to college. Growing up in a Catholic school meant that school, church, life, were all intertwined. Being a good catholic woman was as important as being a good student, so I never really questioned it.
Did it impact the way that you saw female sexuality or your body? As two girls who went to Christian school, it’s something we reflect on a lot.
Absolutely. I'll preface this by saying that I am so grateful for the education my parents provided. It instilled within me many of the values that make me the person I am today. I would not trade that experience for anything. That being said, I never cultivated my own sense of sensuality or felt comfortable in my body until I got to college. And then even when I was in college, I felt so much shame and discomfort around it. Which is crazy, cause like why should we feel shame or discomfort around sex? It's literally the reason that we're all here. It took me time to unlearn certain habits that I had spent my whole life building, or that were inculcated upon me.
Does that feeling of shame still come up for you now?
I definitely have moments of shame. It’s just a normal part of being human - but I’ve grown a lot. There's this analogy that I love, it’s called the discarded self: you are always the same person but as you grow, you evolve into a more advanced version of yourself. You kind of shed like an insect. You shed the chitinous exoskeleton, and step into a new version of yourself. Everybody does that in different areas of their lives, at different rates.
Where did pole dancing come in your life?
When I think about my life one year ago today, I didn’t even have a pole at my house. Yale had ended so abruptly because of COVID and I became really depressed. I was working so hard towards a culmination that never came because everything got cancelled. So I put a pole in my aunt’s living room and I just went at it every single day.
Has pole dancing helped build your confidence?
It unlocked a new meaning of expressiveness and feeling that liberated my body. There's definitely still insecurities and a lot of unlearning and relearning to do. I’m just taking it one step at a time, hoping I can inspire other women to not be ashamed of feeling centrally liberated and confident in their body.
Where did you see your path going when you started Yale?
I started at Yale as a Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology major. I love science, and I was good at it, but I grew up singing and doing musical theatre so clearly, I felt split between these two opposite worlds. About halfway through college I realized I felt most like myself as an artist, so I switched my major to theatre and performance studies. I wanted to be on Broadway and sing professionally and even signed the last week of February 2020 to an agency in NYC and was thrilled to pursue a lifelong dream of being on Broadway. A week later, live theatre shut down.
How did you respond to this at the time?
It was really challenging. But also a huge turning point for me, probably the biggest pivot of my life. I was definitely grieving and mourning for a while. I couldn’t sing for months until some wounds healed. But they eventually did and I always think, you're always where you're meant to be. You're never going to miss out on anything that's meant for you.
Do you feel that you would have lost a part of yourself had you gone on that journey of going to New York and pursuing musical theatre?
It’s interesting you guys ask that, because when I was growing up, I never really questioned religion or Catholicism, it was just what I was dealt so I rolled with it. In many ways I feel the same about musical theatre, it was something that I started at a young age and in the moment, it just felt like it was exactly what I was meant to do. It’s kind of like when you’re swimming in a pool, you never question if the water is right for you - you’re just like, this is water. It was the waters that I knew, it was my job as little fish Cami to do the best she could in those waters, but then I got plucked out of that pool and put in an ocean. But now that I'm in new waters that I didn't know existed, I'm so glad that I'm here.
Do you ever feel inclined to pick yourself up and pop yourself back down in New York, to pick up where you left off?
I have this new mantra that my friends and I repeat to each other, “flow, don’t force.” I will never force myself to do something that doesn't feel authentic to me. I will simply, like, flow with what feels natural and what feels good. I think that's how you craft a meaningful life. It's led me to some of the most amazing opportunities, things that I never thought were possible. But to answer your question, if I happen to flow back there, absolutely.
We are such huge fans of SZA, can you talk about what it’s like working with her?
She is such a healing force through her music. I need an IV drip of Ctrl in my veins. When she reached out to me to help her prepare for the "Good Days" music video, it was another affirmation that I was doing what I was meant to be doing. She exudes such a tremendous feeling of gratitude, abundance, joy, and awe. I feel aligned with the way she sees the world. That’s how it feels to work with SZA.
The duality conversation is something that we talk about constantly with our work. It’s what we're shooting for, especially in our next collection. What does duality mean to you?
Sometimes when I tell people I’m a pole dancer, they ask “well, how’d you get there?” And I think, oh, I just graduated from Yale. It’s confusing to people, that you can be a pole dancer and someone who went to a school like Yale. But who says you can’t do whatever brings joy to yourself and others? Life is all about acknowledging duality.
Where do you hope to see yourself in five years?
I’m trying to not put too many crazy expectations on myself, and rather step into a more values-based life. So I hope I see myself in five years doing things that align truly with my values and work on saying no to things that don't.
Follow Cami’s journey on Instagram @camiarboles and take her workshops on her website.
Top Left, Right, and Title Photo: Cami, Shot by Kokie Imasogie (@sometimesitakefotos)
This interview has been edited and condensed.