If you're a regular at Supperclub, the Hubba Hubba Revue, or Bootie SF, you may have noticed that pole acrobat Kara Nova has become a constant presence in the D.I.Y. circus scene. With only four years of training, this 23 year old, self-proclaimed "ninja space angel" has performed at Bay Area institutions The Edwardian Ball and Sea of Dreams, as well as for larger acts like Primus and Bassnectar. Fresh from a gig in Las Vegas, she sat down with me after the Craft Spirits Carnival at Fort Mason to discuss training, success, and coffee.
There is a strong tradition of group acrobatic numbers on the pole in Chinese and Russian circus, but in recent years we've seen a trend of solo pole dance acts by women, and pole dance fitness classes. Where do you see yourself fitting in with all of this?
I find myself drawn to the point at which both styles meet -- in my mind it's a delicate balance of acrobatics and fluidity. I really like pole because I am mesmerized by the acrobatics, but what I do is certainly different than circus pole because of the fluidity -- and that fluidity is derived from the fusion with dance. I definitely see myself as part of the circus world, yet I am also somewhat outside of it because what I do is a new tradition that doesn't have the same history as, say, Chinese pole.
It seems like you came out of nowhere a couple of years ago, and now you're everywhere. Did you have a particular marketing strategy?
No, not at all (laughs). I had been training independently in pole for two years with no professional aspirations, but was eager to showcase my skills. In the summer of 2010 I submitted a brief demo to a pole competition but I didn't make it. Somewhat discouraged, I sent the same demo to Jim Sweeney of the Hubba Hubba Review and he invited me to perform at their 2010 Halloween show at the Uptown Club in Oakland. That was my first public performance. I kind of blew up after that. This year has been my busiest yet. I've been contracted to perform at casinos in Reno and Vegas and at events in L.A. and Portland. At this point I'm really ready to spend four weeks locked in my room wearing sweatpants, with a fresh supply of coffee, mangoes, and yogurt.
A lot of people associate women on the pole with exotic dancers. How do you feel about that?
The current style of pole incorporates a lot of elements found in exotic dance and I totally support exotic dancers and their style of pole. One of the reasons I prefer the circus world to the competitive pole world -- aside from the fact that I'm more of an artist than a competitor -- is that the competitive world tries to distance itself from the exotic realm. The clubs helped make acrobatic pole what it is today, and even some of the most famous artists like Pantera started out in clubs, because that was their only option at the time. Some pole competitions have gone so far as to ban exotic dancers, which I think is complete B.S.
What's your typical training day like?
Lately I've been training in the morning. I wake up at 7:30 or 8 and make breakfast, with some strong-ass coffee from Philz. I do a lot of strength exercises and a significant amount of stretching and flexibility work. My exercises were primarily given to me by Master Trainer Lu Yi at the San Francisco Circus Center, who has a lifetime of circus knowledge. I have a significant respect for my trainer. It's like this old and sacred knowledge has been passed along to me, and for that reason my training is more than just a workout. It's become a part of me, a place that I can always go, and a thing I will always have.
What drives you as an artist?
This reminds me of a quote. One time I was training with Lu Yi and asked him, "How will I know when I'm finished?" He paused for a while and said, "Real art is never really finished." Artists are always striving in their mind for perfection, but the best that we can do is get as close as we can to that ideal. Circus inherently showcases the impossible, so I'm inspired to train because I want to see how close I can get to the impossible. Obviously, if it's impossible I'm never going to get there, so I'll keep training forever.
Kara Nova will perform Saturday, October 20 at Masquerotica at the Concourse Exhibition Center, 635 Eighth St. (at Brannan), S.F.