Interview with Kitty Monroe by Sara Wielenberg
Always more interested in team sports, Kitty Monroe was forced into dance classes as a child by her mother. As an adult, Kitty was enrolled in a boot camp fitness course. When her instructor left to do a yoga video, she found a Groupon for pole classes at Pole Addiction. At the time, Kitty thought, “It’ll be an interesting way to stay active until I find another gym.” As it turned out, she was pretty good at pole so she went back, and she kept going back. “I had lost my trainer who was working me out the traditional way and I found something that I loved better,” she says.
Eleven years later, at age 53, Kitty is an instructor at Pole Amour in Livonia, Michigan. She’s been teaching for six years and competing for three. Kitty is a part of a pole sub-community comprised of Masters and Grand Masters (polers 40+ and 50+, respectively). “It’s such a supportive group within the [pole] community,” she says. Kitty has found that Masters and Grand Masters face challenges that younger polers and instructors are sometimes oblivious to. “I don’t move like I used to,” says Kitty. “I hurt all the time. After training, where I used to get up the next morning and be fine, it takes me two days to get back to that feeling that I’m not, you know, gonna die.” Another physical challenge is keeping up muscle strength. “When you’re menopausal, you lose muscle strength and density a lot quicker than when you were younger.” Her personal experience of this has been frustrating and heartbreaking for her. Over the course of quarantine, Kitty fell while rushing down some stairs to answer a Zoom call and she sprained her wrist. After five months off the pole, she went back to the studio about three weeks ago when they reopened. “I thought I could go back to the same level I was at before it closed and that’s not happening. I’m having to get used to not being able to perform at the same level I was. It’s tough,” she says.
There are assumptions made about Masters and Grand Masters that Kitty finds irritating and that could be harmful to the community. One particular irritation is the frequently appearing video of a 60-something pole dancer. “It sends the message of ‘Anyone can do this. Look at her, she’s old.’ There’s no need for that,” Kitty says of the video. “There’s differences between the Masters/Grand Masters and the younger set and it’s nice to embrace that the older polers are doing something that is difficult to do as you get older, but you don’t necessarily need to point it out and talk about it in a derogatory way.”
Another issue is the assumptions made upon encountering a Master/Grand Master student. “The perception is that someone who is a younger person is a new poler,” says Kitty, “but it isn’t always assumed that an older person is a newer poler. There were instructors who were younger than me and didn’t have the years of experience I have. The perception was ‘She’s been doing pole for X years, she’s this age, she’s just being lazy.’” Kitty understands that younger instructors may not realize what being a Master or Grand Master feels like. She says, “I have to admit that when I was in my thirties, I didn’t really understand. I’ve had teachers that are younger who think I’m lazy. One said to me, ‘You just have to engage your abs.’ No, that’s not what it is. It’s just harder. When you’re older, it’s just harder.”
Kitty says, “People sometimes see Masters/Grand Masters as just old people…. I have many wonderful, talented Master/Grand Master friends that are doing wonderful work out there.” This poler subset is sometimes not considered for certain opportunities and can end up being ostracized by younger polers who are their peers in the sport but not necessarily in life experience. Kitty has found it is sometimes difficult to bridge that generational gap to friendship. She was on a performance team where she was the oldest member. “Part of it is we’re on different journeys in our lives and I get that, but I was excluded a lot.” She was often told, “I really respect you.” “I appreciated that,” Kitty says, “but I wanted to be included too.” She acknowledges that because of her life experience, the younger members may have felt she was “preaching or acting like their mother.”
Kitty shared one key to help instructors and classmates be more inclusive: “Everyone has to be open, and that goes for the younger set and the Masters/Grand Masters.” She emphasizes that instructors should be aware that strength wanes as one ages and instructors should listen and observe closely. “You can tell when someone’s being lazy and when someone is truly doing their best and just can’t get it because the strength isn’t there.”
Kitty claims to have given up on strength tricks. “Even if I can get my strength back from quarantine, I’ll never be strong enough to do an Iron-X,” she says. “I’ve decided to focus on the flexibility.” She’s currently working on Spatchcock and Bird of Paradise, and she’s close to both. “I’ve got like that last six inches that’s keeping me from getting the trick fully. That’s my motivation those last six inches,” she says.
Other than those six inches and staying at the top of her game for her students, one of Kitty’s big motivators is her pursuit of the perfect performance. Although she thinks she might be done competing, she loves performing. Her favorite performance was at the 2019 Pole Con. “I thought the story was too deep and I would have to explain it to my audience,” she says. Not only did the audience get it, but one of her idols, Ashley Fox, came up to her after and told her how beautiful the performance was. Once upon a time, Kitty wanted to be a foreign correspondent and now she loves to tell stories with her performances. The piece she was working on pre-quarantine is about a foreign correspondent journalist doing whatever it takes to uncover the truth. “I tend to go for the really heavy stories,” she says.
Kitty is currently very excited about the renovation of an addition on her house. The space is being crafted into her personal aerial studio with pole and Lyra set-ups. “If I get to the point where the aches and pains are too great that I cannot move anymore, I will eventually give it up, but I’m investing a lot of money and time right now in getting this aerial training room perfect,” she says. It is there that she will continue her pursuit of the perfect performance, for herself and for her audience.
You can find Kitty Monroe living her aerial life on Facebook.