I’m going to tell you a secret. I have a pole crush. She’s an incredible dancer and really inspiring and successful. And she actually let me interview her. We skyped, laughed, talked and I am going to be honest, I cried. The following is my synopsis of my interview with Jeni Janover (or, in my own words, when I told my pole mama I got the interview, JENI FREAKING JANOVER), originator of Liquid Motion, one of the hottest sensual movement programs around. She also let me raid her private photo collection.
What was Liquid Motion mean to you personally and how has it shaped how you see and experience your own body?
“It means everything”. Jeni shared with me how she battled anorexia and bulimia for thirty years and also its horrible complications, including a miscarriage. It was through Liquid Motion she was able to finally let it go and focus on something bigger than herself. People think that the program is about being sexy, but it’s really about listening to your body and how it wants to move. It is emotional and liberating and the most important thing to her next to her kids. She loves how it helps people and brings joy. Jeni describes the process of watching women accept themselves, and the remorse she witnesses when they realize how much of their life was spent tied up in some superficial idea of what they “should” be.
What is your favourite part of teaching Liquid Motion?
“Success, when they get it. Not the steps, but when they say ‘fuck it’ and let go”. Jeni loves to watch her students leave a different person and lives for those ‘aha’ moments.
What do you enjoy most about working in a female focused environment?
Jeni talked about how different the aerial arts and exotic industry is in terms of the lack of envy, jealousy, cattiness and cliques. It lacks the negative things that people associate with female relationships.
How much do you travel? How do you stay connected?
Jeni travels regularly and stays in touch with family via Skype. She talked about “mommy guilt” and the need to push past it to have an identity outside of her kids. Her travel schedule is supported by her husband and their nanny. Jeni talked about the pressures of being a working mom and being expected to “have it all”. She notes that roles and expectations haven’t evolved as quickly as available opportunities. When she is home, she is focused on her kids and includes them when she can in her career.
What got you hooked on pole?
“It was love at first sight!” Jeni loved having an outlet to explore crazy shoes and fun outfits in an environment that encourages and celebrates scandalous attire and shenanigans. She was excited for an opportunity to combine her love of sensual movement with her formal dance training.
Was this your original career plan? If not, what was?
Jeni danced growing up then transitioned from performing to visual arts. She graduated with honours from art school and was an accomplished sculptor. She felt pressure to conform and produce marketable pieces and decided not to compromise her artistic values for profit. She was a stay at home mom and also worked in the fashion industry.
What do you find most rewarding and challenging about being an entrepreneur?
The most rewarding and challenging parts are being able to pay staff, bills and contribute to the household. 3 years after launching Liquid Motion, Jeni has 8 subcontractors teaching. She loves being independent. The financial insecurity of entrepreneurship worries her sometimes, but Jeni is determined not to return to a regular 9-5. Because of her non-traditional career path, she tries to protect her children and worries sometimes how they will view her choices when they are older. She insulates herself from the negativity of others by surrounding herself with supportive people.
What women do you look up to most?
Jeni greatly admires (and alternately is infuriated by) her mother, a 76 year old woman who looks 55 and is described affectionately as both ‘nuts’ and ‘crazy’. She relayed how her mother has been to hell and back, having lost a daughter to cystic fibrosis when Jeni was just 8. Jeni’s mother is a fighter who doesn’t accept no for an answer. She fought to get adequate care for her ailing daughter before she passed. She taught Jeni to always question authority and that experts don’t always know what they are talking about.
Another woman she admires is her dear friend, Kyra Johannesen, of Body and Pole. She came into Jeni’s life when Jeni was physically unwell and facing recurring injuries. She called her on her need to address the underlying malnutrition from her eating disorders, or risk being unable to walk in ten years. Jeni has modelled her teaching style after Kyra. The pair will be going to Utah to train for three days with a girl who has cystic fibrosis, which I think is a fitting tribute to her sister.
Are you for or against pole in the Olympics and why?
The reasons Jeni loves pole have nothing to do with competition. She respects that others do want to be able to compete at that level, so she isn’t against it, but it’s nothing she’s personally invested in. She sees the growing divide between camp “sexy” and camp “fitness” among pole dancers and believes there’s room for both to coexist.
What are you most proud of professionally?
Jeni is proud that people let her into their lives. She is privileged to have the opportunity to tell women she struggles with the same things they do. She has worked hard to advance in her field without competing on stage or off by comparing herself to others.
What advice do you have for other women starting out as entrepreneurs?
“Thicken up your skin. You will find out quickly who your friends are and who is just using you…The more you succeed the more people will look to you to find fault or discredit you.” Jeni talked about feeling taken advantage of, used and under appreciated. She encourages other women not to look for their own self-worth in others or to look for recognition in them to avoid disappointment.
What do you think people get wrong when they imagine the life of a travelling pole dance instructor?
“Everyone thinks my husband must be so lucky, when in reality he could care less about pole or exotic dance. People think I hang out in a French maid costume and have sex every 20 minutes.” Jeni describes her life as involving more laundry, cleaning and cooking. Her wardrobe: baggy sweat pants and t-shirts (for when the kids or home) or just plain nudity (when they aren’t). She doesn’t wear much makeup and her tooth brushing compliance is allegedly “sketchy” (we were on Skype so I can’t verify).
How do you make time for you while you are building your brand and caring for your family?
Jeni has always known she needs her “me-time” and she’s fortunate that her career of choice fills that need. She has a hard time not working. She isn’t one to nap or watch tv and has to set an egg timer to focus on a bath. I asked if that meant she is often smelly and she informed me it’s just her feet that smell really bad (resulting in frequent foot washing and constant sock wearing). Thanks to Skype this was also not independently verified.
Who are your biggest supporters?
Jeni lists Danielle Mayzes (of Liquid Motion) and Joel Bretan (of Mighty Grip) as her biggest supporters. Also, Mary Ellyn Weissman (owner of Empowerment Through Exotic Dance Ltd). She finds the majority of her support within the industry and from her husband.
Every pole dancer has “that song” where crazy things happen when it plays. What’s your song?
Any song that turns me on, but most of all: Angel, by Massive Attack.
When we were done with the questions I planned, we took time to exchange notes as two women who have kicked eating disorder butt and lived to tell the tale. I didn’t know about her history in fighting these same battles when I asked to interview her. She told me that it might sound like a cliché, but she believes everything happens for a reason. We went through these things, she went through these things, and without those struggles we wouldn’t have achieved the things we have.
On the one hand, I was glad Skype spared me sweet Jeni Janover’s epic smelly feet, but I was sad it interfered with our ability to braid each other’s hair and make friendship bracelets at that point. I am grateful she trusted me with her story and I’m thankful to be part of the pole community with her. For a girl who loves trashy music, she sure is a class act.
(photo credit Don Curry)