It's a well-worn, often overused cliché: what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. But sometimes, in special cases, the cliché fits. And Rebekah Mullen is one of those cases. In 2008, while training as a professional cyclist, Rebekah was involved in a horrific crash, suffering a multitude of broken bones and other injuries. As painful as the physical scars were, it was the emotional scars that lasted the longest. But she more than survived.
Fast forward 4 years: Rebekah Mullen walks into Tantra Fitness for the first time in the Winter of 2012. Fast forward another 4 years: Rebekah Mullen is crowned champion at the 2016 CPFA Nationals. It is a journey defined by many things: uncertainty, pain, perseverance, hard work, and joy. Rebekah's rise to pole dance prominence is unique not only because of the crash and recovery, but also because she came to the sport without an iota of dance, movement or gymnastic experience and quickly rose to the top. In doing so, she helped debunk a common myth about Pole Dance: while having a dance or gymnastic background can be beneficial, it is certainly not a prerequisite to success.
Rebekah's accomplishments in the sport of pole are many, including placing in over 10 competitions and holding various titles, such as 2016 Canadian National Champion / 2016 CPFA BC Pro Champion, 2014/2016 CPFA Best Entertainer and 2016 PSO Entertainment Champion. When not on the pole, Rebekah is putting her two Bachelor of Science degrees to good use as a Technical Director at EA Sports. And despite her success, she remains grounded and is proud to not only compete for Tantra Fitness, but to teach there as well, happily passing on all she has learned.
Rebekah sat down to talk about her failures, her successes, and her path to the top.
What first got you interested in Pole?
I had been spending every night in the bar, and knew that this was a poor life decision; so one night, I decided to spend the evening looking at fitness clubs and gyms to join. I figured if I replaced one bar night a week with a fitness class, that would be good to my health. I was also pretty new to Vancouver at the time, and was looking for ways to meet people to hang out and connect with.
When was your first class?
My first class was a dance fitness class, Ballet Bootcamp with Vanessa back in early December of 2012. I strategically placed myself behind two people who were chatting a lot, thinking I could hide behind them - but instead they helped teach me the moves for the warm up. I have never felt more out of shape in my life after that first class, but that motivated me to come back for more the next day for Pole101, and the Pole addiction started!
What was your first impression getting on the Pole?
To this date, I remember my shy first question to Jen (my 101 teacher) - how do you keep your hips away from the pole to spin so much? I never had been to a strip club before so I had no idea about that part of pole, and had just seen youtube videos of these athletes like Veronica Solimano, Evgeny Greshilov & Natasha Wang defying gravity. All I knew is that I wanted to be just like them.
What did you like the most?
Progressing. I had stopped progressing in my athletic career for about 4 years before discovering pole, and having the concept of upward progression (literally!) back in my body was totally amazing!
What sports/activities did you do prior to Pole?
I was a semi-professional cyclist before starting Pole. But then I was involved in a terrible crash that shattered my pelvis in multiple areas, broke a couple of ribs and put a nice compression fracture through my elbow. After the crash, I recovered and was able to walk again, so I tried a couple of different sports: hiking, trail running, biathlons, ultra running, lifting - but nothing really felt "right."
How was the transition from those sports/activities to Pole?
There was really no transition for me. I tell people I came from the horizontal bar (the pub) to the vertical bar (the pole). I tried to work out after my crash in 2008 and stay in shape, but I never had anything to strive for, and coming from a competitive background in cycling, doing 20-40 races a year, travelling nationally, having goals, training, and being on the brink of making it pro...to nothing - it put me in a strange place in my life.
What was most difficult skill / movement to learn?
Spins on static. To this day this is the one skill I hate the most. I have tiny hands and even on a 45m pole, I feel this is impossible. But then I see kids do these moves with hands smaller than me and know it's just technique that I've gotta keep working on!
What is the best advice you've received?
Be yourself. I was in the middle of a massive training week, and was so frustrated because what I wanted to do wasn't working. And the person I was working with was saying, "Why are you trying to do that? Just do what you did again!" But I told her that what I did wasn't anything, that I was trying to do what she was doing, and it wasn't working." And I remember her reply: "No - what you did, it was something awesome! I've never seen that before and I wanted to watch you do it again because I was intrigued!" It wouldn't be until a couple years later that I realized what this meant for me and what "being myself" on stage was really about.
What advice could you give to someone who is just starting, or going to their first class next week?
You probably won't have the strength to do anything the first day. And that's good! That's why you go to Pole class. I had no flexibility or strength when I started Pole and it's been a long uphill journey to go to where I want to be - but I got there!
How would you describe your style when competing?
I aim for the avant garde. My personal motto is "being memorable is better than winning." Everyone who was there remembers Ken Kao's historic pole jump at Pole Expo 2013. Not everyone remembers who placed - but that pole jump made history. That's what I aim for. In terms of moves, the power moves and fake flexibility moves always intrigue me since I'm not naturally flexible and can get any sort of help looking bendy that I can get.
After competing, do you see the sport differently?
I see Pole in a couple of different angles throughout the many competitions I've done. I've been to a strip club once, so I totally appreciate the erotic and exotic styles of Pole. It's a style I can't connect with personally so you probably won't see me dancing this every day, but I love watching performances that truly connect with that style. It's mesmerizing.
There's the style/movement that wants to go to the Olympics, where routines are jam packed with difficult moves from a list of required moves and where acrobatic tricks and insane combos rack up points. I think this is great as well.
And then there's the style that is more artsy and about telling a story, where you not only must Pole dance at a high level, but also give the audience an artistic and visual adventure as well. After competing for a while and trying to figure where I fit in, this latter style is the one I connect with the most, as I want to take the audience on a small adventure with me. That's not to say the other styles aren't for me or that I won't do them; I'm just a huge believer in sticking to what you love - and I love story telling!
Why Team Tantra? How do they get you ready for competitions?
Tantra Fitness is the biggest pole studio in the greater Vancouver area. They have hundreds of classes to pick from, a beautiful training space with natural light and fresh air (a rarity when you're training many hours a week and barely seeing sunlight). In addition, they have workshops to help you prep for competitions. In the early days of competing, this workshop helped me so much! They also have feedback sessions you are critiqued on how you're going to be judged at the competition you're performing at. Not only does this give you an idea on what to work on, but also helps to get those "stage nerves" out before you go on stage. For me, having a training space I can train at before work is amazing. It's great how the owners work with our schedules to allow us to train before we go into the office.
What are you most proud of so far in your pole career?
I was at a really low point in my life at the time. I have no idea where I got the idea, but instead of doing my "slight edits" to a competition song, I decided to go all the way and make my own song. So I spent one night learning a software to mix music and creating my own song for a competition. When I played it the next day on the speakers at the Tantra studio, I got goose bumps. Being tone deaf, I usually just guess where the beats are, but this helped me get over not hearing beats. Not only did this change my mindset on music, but also opened the door to what I could do in the future with pole. Since then, I've produced all of the music I've danced to ... and to commemorate the milestone for me, I even got a tattoo of the lyrics in that very first song I made.
What does the future hold for you and pole?
I'd love to perform on Broadway (or some off-Broadway production) and to tour internationally. If I can get in with Cirque de Soleil or a similar travelling cirque type show before I get too old, that'd be pretty amazing as well! I've also got a couple of competitions I'm hoping to get accepted into for 2017, but for right now - I'm trying to take it one day at a time and living in the moment to make each of my training sessions be as awesome as they can be.
Learn with the best at Tantra Fitness, like Rebekah Mullen. With four locations in Greater Vancouver and a variety of Pole Fitness, Aerial Art and Dance Classes you're going to have a great time at Tantra! Get Started today.