As part of our Meaningful March series this month, we are highlighting members of the BP community — students, trainers, management and staff — to share their stories of how their lives have changed during the past year when COVID took center stage. At a time when (social) distance is de rigueur, we hope this fosters a sense of closeness within the community. While we may not be able to mingle and linger on the couch in between classes, we can still connect with each other! 

First up is Emily Epstein, a singer and Broadway performer who finally took the plunge and decided to pole during the pandemic:

I’m a professional singer/actress by trade, currently living in Brooklyn with my husband and 6 year-old daughter. After growing up in a quiet CT town outside of the city, I started working on Broadway when I was 15, and then stayed in NYC to attend NYU Tisch, where I studied theater. While I’ve been a performer for most of my life, and done lots of voice over work and national tours, what I was never good at or confident at was being a dancer. It was something I wished I had stuck to, but taking a dance class filled me with so much anxiety because I would be comparing myself to other people the whole time. I was never able to allow myself to enjoy it.

Life took a dramatic turn on April 20, 2018: I had signed up for 23 and Me on a whim, and got my results back. I learned some fun things about myself, like I don’t flush when I’m drunk, my pee can smell like asparagus, apparently I’m a sprinter (suuuuure…..) but then got the bombshell –  I tested positive for the BRCA 2 gene (aka the Angelina gene – the one that increases your risk of breast and ovarian cancer by about 80% and 60%, respectively). After more mammograms, ultrasounds and MRIs than I can count, I made the decision (along with my excellent team of doctors) to have a prophylactic double mastectomy. By September 19 of that year, I was in surgery, saying good-bye to my beloved boobies. I ended up having two surgeries — one to remove them, and one to replace them (with implants). 

I was never a gym person, but I started working out at the gym after recovery – I liked the social aspect, but the class setting has always been anxiety inducing. Eventually, I discovered Pilates and it was such a great environment – I loved that you are in a community with other people but you are separated on your own apparatus and using your own body weight.

In October 2019, I made the decision to have my ovaries and tubes removed to lower my chances of ovarian cancer, which is undetectable in most cases until late stage. This put me into “surgical menopause”. While there are some benefits (bye, bye PMS), I also enjoyed some not-so-fun side effects like hot flashes and increased anxiety, however I can tell you the high that you get after having surgeries done is incredible – I felt a huge weight off my shoulders…err chest… well both! I am now what they call a “previvor” — having decreased my risk of cancer from 80% to 1-3%! In the beginning, I thought I was just being smart — taking my health into my own hands — but I was amazed at how many people told me how strong I was for embarking on this journey. These surgeries have changed me and my life so incredibly profoundly, into a stronger person, into a healthier person, into a more determined person, into a person who can say IDGAF more easily. I felt like I had a crystal ball to save my own life, and for that, I am so grateful. 

Fast forward to the pandemic: we’re all stuck at home, and I was doing Zoom classes to workout. All throughout this time, my friend Megan Marod (whose fiancé Dave Madore is my vocal coach) has always invited me to come to burlesque and pole classes at BP with her. But I was scared that I wouldn’t be strong enough. Also, being in a class situation where you’re a beginner at something, you don’t know what it’s going to be like. This past September, one of my Pilates instructors took me to a strip tease class in Union City, NJ just for something fun and different, and I was amazed at how much fun I had! I started coming to BP in October – I took intro trainings with Sam, Alex and Holly and I just fell in love with it. I didn’t get any of that gym class anxiety, the community was so welcoming, and I’ve gotten to connect with people on Instagram, but I’m so excited to connect with people more post-COVID. I remember Holly saying, “when you get to level 1 you’re going to feel like you can’t do anything, but just stick with it”, but I never get frustrated if I can’t do something – the atmosphere and the way instructors teach have been so supportive, especially for newcomers like me. When I took my first Pole’ography training, that was the first time I’d been in anything like a dance class. I was super nervous and I was like “wow, I feel like a dancer!”. You are with so many different body types, and everyone is so accepting of each other, which is so very different from what I expected growing up in the Broadway community. 

I started taking private lessons with Donna in December – her knowledge of anatomy is just incredible and she is so encouraging, she makes you feel like you are a pole goddess. Working  with Donna, my confidence level has gotten so high. It’s such an important therapeutic time for me. When I’m on the pole, I feel so physically strong — like a superhero! I felt like i was learning this new instrument but I couldn’t practice it, so with my husband’s blessing (it now resides in our living room), I got an X Pole for my birthday in February, and now I’ve been training at home! My daughter Samantha has even enjoyed a few at-home lessons. 

Now when people say to me “you’re so strong”, it’s because of what I’m doing with the pole. I had never felt physically strong before, which is why I love the feeling of being strong inside and out. I stopped judging myself, I feel an incredible amount of confidence, and I feel so lucky to have discovered this outlet that is just a way to sort of shut off everything, especially during these trying times. 

Last, but not least! I want to let everyone know that I am here as a resource and open to talk about anything – one of my main goals is to help others navigate this and to raise awareness of hereditary cancers and the importance of early detection. Feel free to slide into my DMs, as the kids say. 

For more about Emily, you can check her out on YouTube and her blog, “unBRCAble Me”.