Paige Barylsky

Alex (Interviewer): What was a major turning point in your life?

Paige (Subject): I think a major turning point in my life was, there’s a couple you know so it’s hard to pick one that really changes your life. Yeah, I guess like there’s three that I’ll just describe briefly. The first one was when I first enlisted in the Air Force, and that was really big, especially the things that came after that. You know, I didn’t grow up having many friends. I liked to read a lot. I wasn’t really social and I was also really insecure and I didn’t really feel like I could do things. But, the Air Force kind of really forced me to grow up and, you know, speak directly, clearly, and not be afraid of you know, whether it be authority or admitting your own faults or even admitting your own weaknesses. It really helped me grow socially and emotionally and even physically, and I carry those lessons with me up to this day.

The next one would be when – I’m just gonna go into two actually – it was actually starting college because that was a really really big deal. I’m the first person in my family to go to college, let alone a four year university. I had a lot of anxiety, and like a couple of panic attacks leading up to starting college because I was older. I was 25 and I never thought I would find myself here. Like when you’re younger, you paint a picture in your head of what your life is gonna be like and then five years later everything changes. And college was never something that I thought would be in the stars for me. You know, I just thought that I was gonna continue what I was doing with the military, make a bunch of money on the outside, and live that really fast paced lifestyle of deploying as a contractor and seeing the world, but it didn’t work out that way. And so, I started school and I really had to retrain my brain to be in one place. Some of my classmates that are younger have way more knowledge than me in our field already. And so, you know, you just have to be open to it, and it was really humbling. I cried a lot and thought to myself, “Everyone thinks I’m dumb” and like nobody thought that – nobody cares – but I thought that of myself. And I’ve had to teach myself and build that confidence similar to how I did that in the military where, you know, you just keep showing up and you do it every day and then you get used to it. Then you can train your mind to get through anything. School has been a really big challenge, continuing to show up every day and working so hard for something that you’re not even sure what the end result will be like. I’ll get a job, but am I gonna like it? Who knows.

Alex: That sounds really stressful, what ways do you currently cope with the stressors in your life?

Paige: Yeah, I mean obviously my dogs are a really big help emotionally, but they also add a lot of stress as well, like especially as they get older they can be financially burdensome. Sometimes even emotionally burdensome, like feeling guilty. It’s like “Sorry, mom is trying to make a better life for all of us. I gotta be studying for finals so we’re not going to the park this week.” But they do help me emotionally on those days where like I just need to cuddle, and like they love me unconditionally and I feel that. 

And then another way I cope with stress is dance. Dance is something that has always been there for me. It’s the way that I express myself. I love teaching – I taught pole dance and aerial silks and aerial hoop. I’ve also been getting into all different forms of Ground Dancing I guess is what I’m calling it. But salsa, hip hop, swing dancing, and just like no one will ever know everything about dance but it’s something that’s just so fun and so fulfilling for me.

So that, and then like anybody that’s starting school, or really this goes for anybody, but like the only way you’re gonna get through it is the people in your life. Being able to talk with them and consult with them like, “Hey I’m having this problem…” and trying to get advice from a different perspective is really valuable. The people I know that think they can do it on their own and don’t like relying on people, that’s when it gets dangerous. When you’re holding everything in all the time and putting the weight of the world on your shoulders like that, that is to me the most unhealthy thing you can do. So I definitely rely heavily on friends, family, even acquaintances. Like, I’ll just overshare sometimes and I hope I don’t make them uncomfortable. But,  I think it’s super important to talk about what’s going on in your life because in the end we’re all gonna have these problems and so I don’t really feel shy coming forward with them, you know?

Alex: Yeah, I think that’s really emotionally intelligent. You mentioned dance earlier. Do you have a favorite type of dance that you do?

Paige: I think my favorite kind of dance would be the style I always go back to. Like if I’m freestyling anything it’s always more of a jazz style because it’s what I first learned and I just can’t get away from it. Like you’ll see that style come out in whatever form of dance I’m trying to do. And then other forms of dance, like hip hop, I’m not that good at and it makes me really uncomfortable, but I love it because it grows me a little bit and it gives me a different style than what I’m used to. And it feels good to be uncomfortable sometimes. So, different loves for different dances, but jazz is fundamentally my favorite kind. You’ll see it in my pole dancing. You’ll see it in my aerial, like my aerial shows. I’ll have a lot of hands and different elements of that.

Alex: That’s really cool! When did you start dancing?

Paige: I started dancing shortly after middle school when I tried out for cheerleading and I didn’t make it. I remember my mom was like, trying to teach me rhythm. She’d be like, “Do you hear the beat, Paige?” And I’m like no, just like, I didn’t get it at all. And she’s like “Your arms, they look like noodles! You gotta be tight!” Like she was trying to help me, and like I didn’t make the cheer team, and it was… You know I really wanted to be a cheerleader because I thought maybe if I could do that in high school I could make friends and be popular. You know, that was probably what it was for, but I didn’t make it so I just took Dance I instead of gym class when I got to freshman year in high school. And I loved it. We did ballet, we did jazz, we did modern, and I just found that I was naturally really good at expressing myself through my body and it was the one thing that I loved and I just stuck with it. I did it sophomore year, and then junior year I made the dance team, and my senior year I ended up being captain of the dance team. And even then, the year after I graduated, while I was waiting to leave to the military, I would go back and I helped choreograph some of their team dances. It was just something that gave me like a community. It didn’t make me popular, but that’s not what I wanted. I thought I wanted to be popular but what I really wanted was community and people that shared similar interests, and to feel accepted. And it gave me that. So once I graduated, I took a bunch of classes in college. I took, again, jazz, ballet, modern, ballroom, all different kinds. Just for one term, I had like six dance classes that term. But it was kind of awesome. Once I joined the military, I found aerial silks and pole dancing, just because adult dance classes are kind of hard to come by, at least in the Sacramento area. And then that challenged me very physically. So dance was not only a means of expression, but it added to my self esteem and my self worth because I would prove every single time like wow, I’m pushing my body to new limits and I’m doing things that I cleverly thought I could do. That’s why I like teaching so much, because I want other women to have that same satisfaction in their mind and their body. You know, it’s really important for me.

Alex: I can definitely understand that. And would you say you’ve found a sense of community here in Corvallis?

Paige: I definitely did. When I first got here I found Majestic aerial arts. At the Majestic Theatre, there was a grad student that started an aerial dance troupe and even after she graduated we still stuck together – and this was four years ago – but to this day we still have practices on Sundays. I meant to go today but I overslept. But knowing these girls has definitely pushed me performance wise, and I’ve done some of the best performances I’ve ever done with the encouragement and support from them. And like I hope that I’ve given them that as well. But they’ve also been really great connections into other forms, like there’s this one girl that does a lot of circus things so I’m like, ooh I’m gonna try hand balancing now. Or another girl, we just recently reconnected, I’m teaching her pole, but she is starting this community peace center. And I did this Kundalini yoga class with her and that was a new experience too. So yeah, I’ve definitely found a community. I would like it to be a bit stronger, you know a lot of people have fallen off, but that’s definitely going to be what I seek no matter where I live. Like I will find that or I will make it.

Alex: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given? Or something that you’ve come up with yourself?

Paige: I guess I would say –  it’s not something somebody told me, but it’s something I’ve kind of come up with on my own. But it’s to not, you know a lot of people live their life comparing themselves to others or they like to alter their lives and their life’s goals to emulate someone else that they know. How do I put this? For example, there’s some people in my family that just can’t be happy for anyone else because they are so miserable. And that always really bothered me, you know, because I felt like I couldn’t share good news with them. And I felt, I don’t know, kind of alienated because I was never around. Then I found myself doing this very early on when I started pole dancing. I would compare myself to other girls and I’m like “She has this” or “She can do this” or “She learned this faster than you”. I feel like these situations come up all the time where you want so badly what other people have but it’s hard to focus on what it is you need and what you’re good at. 

I remember there’s a thing that one of my most favorite pole dancers said, “Only you possess what only you possess.” I think that’s where all of this is coming from, like if you really think about it there is something special about each and every person. That sounds so cheesy, but everybody has, you know, their own set of unique experiences even if you grow up identical. Like me and my sister grew up the same and we’re only a couple of years apart but we are so different. You wouldn’t even think we’re related. 

So it’s like tuning into yourself and not letting jealousy or comparisons control you, and just trying to be the best person that you can be on your own and like doing things because you like them and getting better at things for yourself. Because you can push yourself, be an Olympic athlete or whatever, like you could put all your energy into something, but like it should be like that intrinsic motivation. The extrinsic motivation, like seeking validation, that’s only going to take you so far.