Interview with Savanh: Superhero Return to Competition

By Sara Schreiber

Savanh began poling in 2015 and quickly followed her competitive spirit to CPC in 2016 where she placed second in her category. After nearly a three-year break from pole, Savanh returned to the sport in December of 2019 and she will be competing in the Minnesota Pole Competitions this September. She feels more prepared for this competition despite being older and having dealt with several injuries over the last two years.

Savanh is in a handstand against the pole with her legs in stag formation.

Savanh was surprised to place second at CPC 2016. She had no dance or athletic background before pole and she had started pole just a year before. “I only actually practiced about a month before the competition regularly,” says Savanh. “I only did maybe one or two run-throughs in front of my classmates….I felt like if I had put more time into it, I probably would have placed first.” Despite believing that she could have done better, what Savanh remembers most after her performance was how much she enjoyed it. “It was that ‘I did it!’ kind of feeling at the end,” she says. “Whether I win or not, it felt great to be up on stage.”

After returning to pole 2019, Savanh planned to compete in CPC 2020 but an injury prevented her. Since then, she’s dealt with a number of injuries. “I had a left shoulder injury and took four months off. I came back and ended up getting a wrist injury on my right side and I took three weeks off. Now I have a slight injury on my right shoulder, which took some time away from practicing for this competition.”

Savanh is in a vertical split on the pole.

She has long been interested in competing at the Land of Lakes Pole Festival, but the fact that it was in January held her back. “Before January is Christmas plus Thanksgiving, all the holidays, so I’m not going to be able to practice. So that’s why I didn’t do it,” Savanh says. With the change to September, Savanh’s interest grew and she took a shot at the scholarship. “Then Myss Angie told me that I was approved for the scholarship. I was shocked and I was like, ‘Maybe this is a sign for me to actually go and compete.”

Due to a commitment on September 10th, Savanh needed to do a Friday competition and in Land of Lakes Pole Fest tradition, that means competing in Classic. “Which is fine,” Savanh says, “because I think that’s more my style anyway.” She choreographed her routine herself and has changed the opening so many times she’s lost count. “I know we’re the biggest critics of ourselves, so I feel like, ‘It’s not fun enough or it’s not sexy enough. It’s kind of boring. I should change it up.’” In preparation, she’s taken Myss Angie’s performance series and the stage presence workshop with Kevin Oatis, on top of her usual training at Phoenix Flight Studio and Dollhouse Pole Dance Studio. “It’s just a matter of running through the whole entire thing,” Savanh says. She’s not quite done tweaking yet though. “I haven’t fully committed to wearing heels yet,” she says. “I can easily nail it without heels, but with the heels, I’m like, ‘Gah!’ I’m looking to do heels with that for my first time competing in heels. I’m pretty comfortable overall in heels, it’s just it’s scary to think about, I guess.”

Savanh is kneeling on a black stage. She's leaning back with her dark hair flying out behind her.

Although her competitive side drives her to go for the win, Savanh’s main goal is to have fun. With her preparation, a win might not be out of reach. “I think I am more prepared mentally and of course, skills-wise I’m more prepared. [I’m] just way more comfortable with myself now than I was in 2016,” Savanh says. She’s also put in more time with classes and practicing freestyling. “I’m more comfortable doing freestyling than I was before my first [competition], so if all else fails, I can freestyle.”

Savanh will be competing under her stage name: Chitara Nang Ake. “In my language, which is Laotian,” Savanh says, “it means like ‘woman superhero.’” Savanh immigrated to the United States from Laos when she was three years old. In her culture, there’s significant stigma around pole. “It’s not looked well upon in our community,” she says. Savanh’s daughter was embarrassed about her mother’s hobby for a while, but around two years ago, she started to open up to it, even giving Savanh’s home pole a try. “My boys like to spin on it as well,” she says. Savanh is proud of her pole skills and has tried to find other Laotian pole dancers. She hasn’t found any yet, but that doesn’t change how she feels about it. “It’d be kind of cool,” she says, “that I’d be the first in the community.” Between her pursuit of pole in the face of judgment and the injuries she has fought back from, Savanh’s stage name couldn’t be more fitting.

See Savanh bring her fearlessness to the Capri Theatre on September 9th, 2022. You can find her on Facebook as Chitara Nang Ake.

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