Most of us view our fifties as the maintenance stage of our lives: our finances will be in check, our relationships on point, and well finally get to rest on the hard work of previous decades. But what happens when the rug is pulled out from under you late in life? When is it too late to hit the reset button?
When Makeda Smith, a 58-year-old publicist working in Los Angeles, California, found herself faced with these questions, her first instinct was to curl up and retreat. She recently sat down with Radiant Health to chat about how a chance encounter lit a fire to her feet that inspired her to found Flying Over 50, the pole dancing brand inspiring older women to get moving and get their mojo back.
Our audience will be dying to know: how did you get into pole dancing?
Pole dancing came first, and it was not planned. Back in 2008, I was in the worst slump of my life. When the real estate market crashed I was heavily invested, so I crashed with it. I lost close to 12 properties, my man I was living with and dating walked out on me, the IRS audited me, and I had to file for bankruptcy. I even had to give up my dog. I was in a deep depression, and if I hadnt had my two daughters, I might have committed suicide.
One day I was walking in Hollywood, and I saw this older white woman doing splits on the sidewalk. She told me she was 75! Her secret was that she started taking yoga in her forties. Her energy inspired and infused me. In my mind I said, since Im not leaving this earth, I might as well look my best. I found a yoga class, and it was quite boring. It was a great workout, but I couldnt imagine taking it regularly. I kept looking for a workout that spoke to me, and I found this great Groupon for pole dancing. I eventually left my comfort zone, went to the dance studio, and took a class.
When I did that first class, it was a really amazing experience. The entire time I was there, I didnt think of any of my problems. It was like I was in a different dimension: nothing outside of the studio mattered. All I could think about was keeping up with the dance teacher, listening to the music, and having a good time. By the time the coupon expired, I was hooked. I went online, found more deals, and took pole dancing for the next year. I was 50 at the time.
While a lot of the women were taking classes once a week, I was taking them every day, sometimes two or three back to back. I just threw myself into pole dancing, because when I was in class I was happy, and the more stuff I learned to do, the happier I got.
I say that pole dancing gave me my mojo back, because at the time I felt completely defeated in my life. One day, I had been on top of the world, the next day everything was gone. When I took these classes, my body started looking better and my muscles started looking toned. My mood improved, and I was accomplishing things on the pole that I never would have thought in a million years I could do. It was like a crazy, healthy addiction.
Did you feel any stigma attached to pole dancing or your age when you first started?
When I started taking classes, I was still in my bubble of depression, so I wasnt communicating with a lot of people. Whereas some younger people take pole dancing and they learn how to hang upside down on a pole in a couple of months, it took me a year to really master some of the basic tricks. By the time I learned how to hang upside down on a pole, I couldnt believe that this was me at 50. I was so proud of myself, and I had worked so hard to do this, that I had to share this with the world. So, I posted an athletic picture of my instructor guiding me through hanging upside down on the pole across my social media channels, and people lost their minds.
At first no one said anything negative directly to me, but eventually I found out that people were saying that I had had a breakdown: that I had lost everything, and now I was pole dancing because I had lost my mind, too. Being the Capricorn that I am, this just fueled me more. I hadnt lost my mind; I had gotten my mind back.
I trained every day, my muscles ached, my body ached, and I felt like an athlete training for the Olympics. I decided I couldnt be training like this, proud like this, and not post pictures of these athletic feats I was doing. The more I posted pictures, the more relaxed I got with it. And when you get into the art and athletics of pole dancing, you start wearing outfits. I posted wig pictures, pictures with sexy clothes, and I think people just got used to it.
How did this lead to Flying Over 50?
One day when I had been dancing for about five years, one of my videos went viral. Someone took one of my videos and posted something negative to the effect of somebody come get their granny off the pole. I guess it went viral because one, people dont expect older women to pole dance, two, Im a Black woman, and three, I was supposed to be a professional. It went crazy viral across all social media platforms. Media people picked up the video and ran with it, and people made the worst, most negative comments. I tried to ignore it, but people who knew me sent me the clips every time something was posted.
Im a very spiritual person, so I figured that the universe was repeatedly putting this in my face for a reason. I sat and prayed about it, and decided to address the haters. The last straw was that some media outlet picked up the video with the most derogatory headline, and I decided enough was enough. I got on my social media and went crazy. I tagged all the media that had been talking about me, and called it for what it was: sexism and ageism. I decided to post more pictures and stand out for all the women they were trying to shame.
In the midst of the negative comments from the media and strangers, a lot of women reached out to me saying they enjoyed my videos, and applauded me for being brave. Women told me I inspired them to post their own pictures because they also had people that were making them feel bad. The letters I was getting from women were amazing. People really try to tell us what to do at a certain age.
One of my media contacts reached out after she saw what was going on, and told me that I was a role model to her and she wanted to interview me for XO Necole. Her interview with me went viral as well, but for the right reasons. Prevention Magazine ended up doing an interview with me, and a lot of other media outlets jumped on the positive aspects of my story, such as older women pole dancing, taking their health back, and changing their lives. People started asking me the real questions about why I was doing what I was doing, and I ended up becoming this role model for older women.
I started the brand Flying Over 50 because I wanted to continue getting my message out there to women that you dont have to stop flying because youre over 50. Society tells you what you cant do, and that youre just going to hobble over and be an old lady, and thats not true. You really get a different kind of prime when you get into your fifties. Its almost like a second youth. Youre re-invigorated, but people dont tell you this, so you dont expect it or know to nurture it. But if you discover it, the second half of your life can be better than the first half. And Im helping women to discover that.
What health benefits have you seen since you picked up pole dancing?
I am in the best shape that Ive ever been in my entire life. I have more energy, I look better, I feel better, I have clear thinking, and Im happy. Whenever I feel depressed, I can just work out. The kind of athletic feats I can now do, I never would have thought Id be doing this at this age, or even when I was younger. Im just in awe of myself because I know the person I was in my twenties and thirties, and Im even more fabulous now.
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Has there been any benefits in other areas of your life?
For me, tapping into dance, movement, and music tuned me deeper into a divine feminine space. My dancing is athletic, but also spiritual. Dancing has become like a prayer, because it tunes me into the frequency and the vibration of the universe.
When women get older we stop moving our hips, we stop dancing. We start feeling like were old, and we become tired from taking care of everyone else: we lose our mojo.
Flying Over 50 is not just a pole dancing class; its also a movement class. When women come, I teach them how to get movement back into their bodies. No matter the kind of movement that you do, whether its dancing or exercise, movement helps you physically and spiritually. It also clears the cobwebs out of your head, raises your endorphins, and just has tremendous health benefits. A woman doesnt have to pole dance to reap the rewards.
What are some practical steps that women can take to find their own version of pole dancing in their lives, a way to revitalize themselves?
A lot of older women who come to me say theyre scared to wear high heels and get on the pole, or to do hard movements. Thats why I created the Flying Over 50 slow movement class. Its sexy movements that you can do while youre watching T.V., in your bed, or sitting across the floor.
This is the simplest thing I teach women: your hips contain your root chakras, your womb, and hold all your feminine energy and power. When you move your hips, youre waking up parts of your brain, your heart, opening your lungs, and revitalizing your whole feminine being.
I remind women to make sure they move their hips two to three times a week. Whether its while youre doing the dishes or brushing your teeth, rotate those hips. Turn on a song, stand in the mirror, whatever. Once you get those hips moving, youre going to be motivated to move something else. You might end up walking, or dancing to a song, or going to take a yoga class.
Ive had 20 and 30-year-olds come up to me after class and tell me they havent moved their hips in a while. When were children, we rock our hips all the time with our little games. Those things we did when we were younger, that we dont do anymore, can give us our mojo back. Shaking our hips to the east and west, thats magic that we lost.
What would you tell someone who wants to start their life over, but feels like their time has passed?
Your moment has never passed. When youre in your darkest moments of despair, you cant see what the future holds. Suppose youre standing on a corner and theres another corner in front of you, but from where youre standing you cant see whats around that corner. There could be wonderful things around that corner, but if you dont walk forward youll never get to those other things.
If you stay where you are and never walk around that block, you dont know what life has for you. Life, God, the universe, whatever higher power you identify with, has love for you and has more for you. It doesnt matter how dark or despaired you are. There is sunshine, light, and rainbows around that corner. Even if you have to crawl or take baby steps, just take those steps.
If someone had told me back in 2008 after I lost all of my property and lost my man, that one day I was going to be a happy, vibrant woman again, I would have told them no. It doesnt matter what society tells you about what you dont have, and what you cant do. Tell society to shut up, quiet your mind, and listen to your spirit. It will tell you something different.
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