Business Partners Johanna Chong and Irlanda Jacinto.
“The energy here is purposely feminine,” Irlanda Jacinto told me in the studio of Black Widow Pole Arts. “Our studio and school are one of positivity. It’s a place where women can feel safe, strong, and in touch with themselves mentally and physically.”
Irlanda and her business partner, Johanna Chong, are the founders of BWPA, and each came to the sport and exercise of pole arts through the process of healing.
Irlanda has a Master’s Degree in Library Science and broke down a barrier professionally when she was the first person of color hired as the Archivist for the University of Wyoming. (She left New Mexico for several years before returning.)
In addition to being highly educated, she’s also a survivor.
“I am a survivor of domestic abuse,” she said matter of factly in her studio, “and I am very open about it. It’s a subject that deserves to be dealt with openly.” She went on, “…as part of my therapy, I was advised to move my body more. I had done ballet in the past and returned to it for awhile, but it wasn’t working for me. I took a class for pole dancing and really enjoyed it.”
Irlanda in her booth at #ABQartwalk.
“Everyone I knew was going to Google, Apple… you know, those ‘tech milestones,’” Johanna told me when I asked how she came to be in New Mexico working as an Engineer and co-owner of BWPA.
Johanna received her Master’s Degree at M.I.T., which is world famous for producing top tier engineering talent, but the non-stop rat race environment was taking a mental toll.
“Eventually, I realized I was totally burnt out, depressed and had anxiety. Meanwhile my husband, Victor, had rediscovered his love of New Mexico. We ended up getting great jobs here and it’s been great for us. I enjoy the laid back atmosphere, the food, and how friendly people are.”
Johanna shared that New Mexico was the, “right place to heal, mentally and physically.”
As her energy came back and life came together in New Mexico, she took a pole dancing class for fun and met Irlanda there- fast forward- both ladies were feeling ready to take on their next challenge, became business partners and Black Widow Pole Arts opened its doors in June, 2020.
BWPA has limited capacity in the pandemic, and everyone wears masks. Both ladies said safety was a priority for them and they are offering Zoom classes as well.
“Even in the pandemic, women have been discovering us, and we participate in events like ABQ Art Walk, which gives us some visibility. We expect to keep growing and offer more for women once the pandemic is over,” Irlanda added.
She went on to say Pole Arts lets women “feel sensual through movement,” while they strengthen muscles used in gymnastics and core strength workouts. “Women feel connected to their bodies through movement and breathing,” she said. “It’s a totally feminine spirit here, almost a meditative structure.”
BWPA is located downtown, and Irlanda shared it was on purpose. “The Arts are really expanding here, and all the people involved make it feel positive and healing. People feel called to be here, and it’s fun to be a part of it.”
I asked if they expected to be here long term. “I began my healing from PTSD in New Mexico,” Irlanda said thoughtfully, “and it was like it was calling me back. Now we help women in a positive way that makes an impact in their lives. I think we’ll be here a long time.”
For those interested, Black Widow Pole Arts offers classes for all skill levels, both in person at their studio (with reduced capacity) and virtually via Zoom.