Bad Kitty® Inspiration Series: Nikki Craven
Every month Bad Kitty® highlights a poler who we find inspirational in their fight to overcome physical challenges. This month we talk to Nikki Craven from Descending Angels studio in North Carolina. Nikki is a long time poler – one of the OGs who learned from YouTube before 2009. Due to her scoliosis she was forced to have a spinal fusion in 2002. Pole has helped to heal her on multiple levels. Read on to hear more of her story and see her amazing recovery.
BK: Tell us a bit about your circumstances. What kinds of challenges have you faced with your health?
NC: I had a spinal fusion back in ’02 due to scoliosis. The section T4-L2 is fused solid. Before I started dancing, I was incredibly weak and had suffered with chronic pain for years, even before the fusion. The pain was every day. Some days it left me crying. In fact, a lot of days it left me crying. At times I would get depressed because of the pain. I also felt horrible about my body image. Even after the fusion, the scoliosis is still visible from a deformity of my rib cage and shoulders. I’m still tilted, just not as much, so it’s also visible at my waist. The nice long scar left behind is placed in the center of a back, giving me asymmetrical muscles.
BK: Have these challenges impacted your emotional health positively or negatively? How so?
NC: For years the scoliosis was very much a negative. I felt self-conscious about the way that I looked. The constant pain would lead me to feel depressed at times. There was a great sense of hopelessness thinking I would never get better or even be able to do or enjoy simple things for myself. Planting some flowers in the garden or bringing in heavy groceries were tasks that if I tackled, I paid for with agony. Eventually, I had to avoid these activities altogether. Putting on clothes just left me feeling like a freak most of the time. This led me to just feel sorry for myself. Now though, the scoliosis has lost its negative impact. Poling has given me strength and flexibility I never had before. I don’t think I would have found pole until much, much later had it not been for my fusion. I still see the deformities and acknowledge that they are there, but they no longer bother me. I was able to push through and develop my body in ways that even physical therapists had failed at.
BK: When did you discover pole?
NC: I discovered pole in September of 2005 after seeing it on a talk show. I thought it would be a fun way to get moving and possibly spice things up with the hubs. I didn’t think I would be able to get very far with it, but I wanted to try. Honestly, then I thought I would never be able to do any type of body wave or curvy kind of motion. I was self taught from YouTube videos until 2008 when I started studying for a certification. The certification, I guess you could say, helped me to rediscover pole because I learned how the movements were actually broken down and how they progressed. I learned about body mechanics and safety. All of this has helped immensely with keeping my body safe and the pain at bay.
BK: What kind of an effect did pole have on you mentally, emotionally, physically, even spiritually?
NC: Physically, the effect has been outstanding! I can do for myself and enjoy whatever activities please me. My pain is gone (unless I go awhile without poling). I went from being stiff and tight to having a level of flexibility and grace that I previously would have thought was impossible for someone like me. Depression from the pain is gone. I can look in the mirror and feel good about myself. We all have imperfections. It doesn’t matter. What matters is whether or not we focus on those imperfections. What matters is if we make those imperfections all that we see. My shoulders are still off whack – one jutting out, the other in – but those shoulders still support me when I spin. My back is still asymmetrical with a long scar running down the center, but it still does its job in holds and inverts. So fuck it! I am doing so much more with my crooked spine now than I ever would have felt motivated to do had I been perfectly healthy.
BK: What do you consider to be the most healing aspect of pole dancing?
NC: I don’t think this can be narrowed down to one aspect. The physical aspect has been life changing for me because without the strength and flexibility, I would be an incredibly miserable person. Poling has also helped to heal the way I view not just my physical form, but also my sensuality and sexuality. I feel feminine. I feel sexy. I feel empowered. The bonds I’ve made with other polers are priceless. I’ve met people and built great friendships. I have been awarded opportunities I never would have had before. When I perform and strip away layers in a polesque routine, I am revealing the very body that earlier brought me physical and emotional pain. I reveal it without shame. I reveal it with honor and appreciation for all that it is. It is also an eye opener when someone from the audience of a show or a student talks with me about how they felt inspired or compliment my movements or body. I’ve even received compliments on my back definition which proves we are our own worst critics when it comes to our bodies.
BK: What advice do you have for other pole dancers who may be going through a challenging time?
NC: Get off your ass and do something about it or accept it and watch it take you over. Usually, the latter is enough motivation to cause us to be proactive in turning the challenge into something positive. That challenge may be a great turning point in your life. Honor it.
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