01 Jan Greta Pontarelli
Photo: Courtesy of Greta Pontarelli
Greta Pontarelli, 67, is a 5 time world champion pole dancer and the oldest in her field to compete at world level. Recently featured on an ‘Elle – The Movement’ video that reached more than 23 million views, Greta is the living example than age is only a number for those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.
By Victoria Adelaide | JAN 01. 2018
Victoria Adelaide: You said that as far as you can remember you recognized the importance of conquering your fears. Did your education have anything to do with the kind of spirit you developed throughout your life?
Greta Pontarelli: Yes, I was a psy major in college and I was always very attracted to positive, empowering people who wanted to make a difference in the world. I looked at people who had a very deep level of consciousness, I felt very connected to people like that and I met a lot of them among some of my professors in college. I was also very drawn to the metaphysic arts, to healing, to acupuncture, to Chinese medicine and all of that was a very holistic approach of the integration of ‘Body, Mind and Spirit’.
VA: How did you manage to conquer your own fears and what were they?
GP: Well, I dealt with fear, intensely, when I was 21, somebody jumped me and tried to abduct me. I was very much afraid to be alone at that time, because I was scared that it would happen again, the kidnapping. I started studying martial arts, and I found that while I was studying it, I got my confidence back, so I applied that to everything in my life. I believe that anytime we experience fear, it is the unknown we are fearful of, we have to get to our centre, believe in ourselves, have faith, and I do think that working out and getting the endorphins in our body gives us a very positive, empowering surge of energy that helps us start to believe that we can overcome anything that happens in our life.
VA: You have learned martial arts and studied Eastern philosophy. What has the Eastern world taught you that the Western world never did?
GP: You know, whether the teaching comes from the West or from the East, we learn from everything. But with Eastern philosophy, I started to learn to find my center, everybody has a center within, that is called ‘the Dantian or the Hara’ in the Japanese system, which is the center where you find peace.
VA: What is your daily routine?
GP: I do not overtrain. I used to. I try to do something while moving every day but as far as working on aerial art goes, I only work every other day and I never work more than 2 hours. I do a nice warm up, I put on some music, I dance and when I’m very warm, then I start training and doing my moves either on the aerial hammock or on the pole. I believe you have to find something that you love, whatever it is.
VA: You decided to start pole dancing at 59 years old in order to stop the evolution of osteoporosis. How was it in the beginning?
GP: I was doing aerial yoga at the time and I was looking for something to lift more weight as I needed to build my bones. So I looked online and I saw these beautiful artistic moves on the pole that reminded me of my gymnastics background from when I was young. So, I took my first class and that was hard; the teacher probably thought I would never be back, because I couldn’t get up the pole. It was hard but at that moment I felt that I had no talent for this but it was fun, so I decided to come back. I took a membership for a few months to see how it would go and after a few weeks, I started getting some moves and things started to become a little bit easier. I found that it’s the little victories that matter, you celebrate the little tiny things, because every time you try, there’s always something you can do a little better, and that’s what it is all about. I celebrated the little things because there were so many amazing artists doing things that I was not even close to being capable of doing, that if I had looked at the big picture I would have probably thought that I would not be able to do anything. So that’s how I really got started and I really fell in love with the way that it made me feel, getting my body more toned and of course seeing the benefits, but the most important part was the choreography and telling a meaningful story. Telling a story that is about transformation, a chrysalis becoming a butterfly or something I wanted to say, something I wanted to share to bring more inspiration and joy into people’s life.
Photos: Courtesy of Greta Pontarelli.
VA: What was people’s response when they saw you starting to do that at 59?
GP: First, the reason why I started competing was because I was on a show called ‘America Ninja Warrior’ which is like an extreme cross-fit competition. And when I was on television they said I was the oldest person to ever attempt the course. I thought, “Where is everybody else”? So that’s when I started competing to get this ability to my message. And when I competed I was shocked to see that they were coming to interview me because they couldn’t believe I was doing this at my age even though it seems natural to me. It seems natural to me to do it at any age. Now gymnastics at any age is a different story. There are extremely few people that are doing any kind of technical gymnastics routine as they get older. But you can do the pole. Older people can still do amazing things because it doesn’t stress the joints and they don’t need the fast weight muscles that are needed in gymnastics. So it really has tremendous longevity. I think I opened a door, there was a glass ceiling there that broke and I realized this is something that we can do well into our senior years. I hope to do it as long as I live.
VA: So it’s all about our mindset?
GP: This is the thing. If you set your mind to it, you start developing the muscles, you start running, you can do it. The problem is that most people think it’s hard and they quit. But I tell them that everything is hard at first; the first time I got on a bicycle it was hard. You need to find your balance, riding a bicycle is hard at first. But when you start working, developing the muscles and understanding the technique for what you’re doing, things start falling into place and it gets easier.
VA: When you were young what were your perspectives on aging and what are they now?
GP: I think when you are younger you do things to your body, and you don’t realize they can have an impact later. When I competed in gymnastics, I competed on hard floors. It was not like today; today they have springs, and this really impacted my hips and my landing leg tremendously. There were many things that I didn’t realize then because I was young, vibrant and at that age you don’t ever think about getting old. But now I try to teach younger people to start taking care of themselves and not doing those things that are going to impact them into their later years. There are many things that jar the body, that affect the cartilage; it’s important to eat right, to have a very holistic approach about what you do. I always had that to a degree but as I got older it’s become extremely important to me.
VA: What kind of diet do you follow?
GP: I eat a modified Paleo Diet, which is all organic food or almost as much as possible. I eat fresh fish that has just been caught; if there is any chicken it has to be free range. I don’t eat any corn, corn syrup, sugar, oil flower or some of the chemicals in processed food. I eat a lot of greens, kale, arugula. I like to keep inflammation down in my body, as this allows me to train more. Inflammation is what causes all the aches, the pain and the problems in the body, so I do my best to stay healthy so I don’t have to ever take any drugs. I take curcumin, a lot of natural vitamins and minerals, I make sure I get plenty of vitamin D, D3 which is really good for the stem cells in your body, to keep the stem cells active. I drink herbal tea, I like green tea a lot. When I eat something, I think about its effect on my body, and I ask myself if it is good for my body or not.
VA: You started the pole to beat osteoporosis. Did you beat it?
GP: Yes, it has not escalated, it’s totally stabilized. I actually had what they call osteopenia which is the beginning of osteoporosis. It runs in my family, but it has totally stabilized because the weight bearing exercise allows the tiny capillary growth within the bone that helps feed the bone, plus being very conscious of the need to get a lot of the D vitamins that help the body absorb calcium and build some cells. Yes, I’m very fortunate, I have no problems.
VA: How do you envision yourself in 5 years?
GP: I love using what I’m doing at the pole as a platform to inspire people. Lately, I performed, gave master classes and spoke at a conference that was about finding your mojo in your later years and teaching people as they get older to keep moving, to believe in themselves, to eat healthy; it’s a whole program. And that’s what I really love because to me it’s all about letting people know that their reach in life has to exceed their grasp. It touches my heart very deeply when people send me these emails saying that ‘because of you, I’m running 5 miles a day or because of you I’m now doing this’. To me that’s what it’s all about. I was recently featured in an ELLE Magazine video, with almost 23 million hits, but the beauty of that video is that I saw all the shares, around 220000 shares and people saying to their friends, ‘If she can do it, we can do it’. And I’m thinking ‘Yes!’, that’s what it’s all about.
VA: You actually really show that it’s not a question of age, it’s about fulfilling your dreams…
GP: I think it’s a bit like when somebody runs the first 4 minute mile, at first nobody thought they could run a 4 minute mile, and once one person did it, then a lot more people start running it. I think that once they saw me doing it, that glass ceiling was broken and I saw so many wonderful artists that are in their 50s and going into their 60s; when I first started that wasn’t there, that just wasn’t there at all.
VA: People need a role model, someone to look up to…
GP: Yes, they do. I think when they saw that it was possible… I mean it’s just like in aerial art form. In pole, I would say 8 years ago maybe, the first time people saw somebody doing an extremely difficult move like a pole dead lift, when you lift your body up without kicking, people thought there were strings on their legs, because they thought, how could someone ever do that? And now every advanced artist raises the bar and it’s the beauty of life when things keep growing and evolving. It just touches my heart deeply to see people who had given up or gained a lot of weight who do amazing things all of a sudden. And my goal is to inspire them to do far greater things that I have ever done. Everybody has limitations in their body, I mean you don’t let age be a limitation but sometimes the road turns left, you turn left, you think, ‘my body won’t do this but maybe I can do this’, you find something else. But there are so many things at my age that I can’t do; I can’t tumble like I used to in gymnastics. At 55 I could tumble, I could do almost everything in my routine, the aerial, the back flips, no problem. But once I went through menopause, I got older, I lost that strength in my muscles. But it’s just amazing how things can still just keep growing and blossoming, and now our art form is headed towards the Olympics, it’s just a matter of time. The age limit is expanding, the competition will start at age 9, I believe. I’m still the world’s oldest adult competitor competing at a world level and the oldest world champion, I’m 67 now.To me that’s fabulous because when I was 21 years old, I was told I was too old to do gymnastics, at 21! So I’m elated to find an art form I can keep doing.
VA: What do you have to say to people who think they are too old to achieve their dreams?
GP: I think you always have to challenge yourself to become the best you can be. At 55, I got back into gymnastics again, I was doing extreme gymnastics. I fell on my shoulder as I didn’t realize that I had lost some flexibility in my hip flexor; I didn’t rotate properly in the move and my shoulder hurt for a number of months. And like many people, I thought I was too old, that I was 55 and it was my body telling me ‘no’. I spent a few years at a desk job until I was 59 and then I realized that I was starting to get osteopenia because I was not working out, I didn’t have a good program. Even though I was in decent shape, I wasn’t doing the kind of things I needed to do. I don’t believe age should really be a factor. I think of course with age there are different things we can’t do compared to when we were younger, but there is always something we can do to feed our soul. So I felt at that point, when I started to see all the beauty within this artwork, I realized that it wasn’t just about lifting weight, and when I started telling a meaningful story through this artwork, then I saw the beauty of it all and it inspired me. I think that’s the key, people need to find something to inspire them, so they need to reach out and find something whether it is Zumba, Aerial art, whatever it is, they need to try different things to find something that inspires them and that will break that glass ceiling related to their age. Then they will realize that they want to be the best they can be at any age no matter how old they are and they want to lead a healthy life. You have longevity in your life, you want to make sure that you live a life that’s not just about love, but that is healthy, meaningful and purposeful.
...it's about letting people know that their reach in life has to exceed their grasp``.