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How Pole Dancer Cami Árboles Learned to Get Out of Her Own Way

If Cami Árboles could travel through time, she would deliver a pertinent message to her younger self: “Stop gatekeeping yourself.” She could have used this advice as a pre-med student daydreaming about creative projects or when she was talking herself out of taking a pole dancing class. The words could have also comforted her when she decided to launch the Mind Body Spirit Collective (MBSC), a community-centred space aimed at helping women and nonbinary people reclaim their bodies through movement. 
Despite her initial reservations and doubt, she embarked on a journey that has allowed her to build a community of more than 170,000 followers, teach SZA—one of her favourite musical artists—how to pole dance, and build a career that was once unimaginable to her. 
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As was the case for many people worldwide, 2020 pushed Árboles’ life off balance. During her senior year of college at Yale University, Árboles taught yoga and attended pole classes with the hopes of restoring equilibrium in her own life. At a time when she was bouncing back, she found great satisfaction in creating a welcoming and positive environment for others. But the practice had done the same in her own life. “Yale is a very high-octane environment,” she tells Refinery29 Somos. “I turned to yoga as something to really help me remedy everything that was going on.” 
When the pandemic hit, the Mexican-Nicaraguan entrepreneur was forced to relocate to her hometown of Los Angeles. When she couldn’t return to campus, she lost a vital outlet. Missing her community and feeling the toll of social distancing, she started to use Instagram to teach yoga once again. 
“I kept teaching, just on Instagram Live for free,” she says. “I’d have a lot of people showing up. Then people started requesting things and wanting to learn certain things. I was like, ‘Oh, this is fun. I’m kind of developing a little curriculum.’ I realised that it was getting to be a lot of work. I was like, ‘Maybe I could make this a course or something. Maybe I could make it a programme.’” 
In July 2020, a few weeks after graduating from Yale, she transitioned from hosting free classes on Instagram to offering them through MBSC via virtual and in-person pop-up sessions. When about 40 people signed up for the first round, she knew she was onto something. Since then, her business, which she launched from her bedroom, has continued to grow; Árboles has created a website, added additional teachers, and made MBSC her full-time job. 
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Since starting MBSC two years ago, during a particularly challenging time in her life, she has learned a lot about herself and the kind of business she wants to run: MBSC doesn’t encourage movement as a means to an end but rather as a way to find joy and boost energy. From how she encourages herself to why she trusts her instincts, Árboles breaks down her approach to entrepreneurship. 
Trust you know what’s best for you.  
Árboles has incredibly supportive parents, but they haven’t always understood or agreed with all her decisions. In the summer of 2017, for example, she used nearly all her savings to prepare and pay for yoga certification, and her parents weren't thrilled. While she didn’t necessarily know it was the right path forward, she knew it felt right. “My mom thought I was crazy for doing that,” she says. “But I knew in my gut and my intuition that it would all come full circle, and it did.” 
More recently, when Árboles started pole dancing, which she acknowledges began from a place of great privilege, she knew her parents had questions and concerns. It led to tough conversations. “There were some points where they were just like, ‘What are you doing? How did you go to Yale and now spend all your time dancing in your underwear on the Internet? What if the family sees all this stuff,’” she remembers them asking. “I told my parents … that I was embracing watching my life path change before my eyes.” 
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According to Árboles, people are meant to change. “We aren’t meant to stay or be one thing forever,” she continues. While she understands her family’s concerns, and can also see how generational and cultural differences play into the disaccord, she felt confident in her path. She believes the reason she was so secure in her decision was because she was doing it for herself. Since she wasn’t seeking external validation, she could more clearly pursue what made her feel happy. As for her parents, they now see up-close how she’s supporting herself and how happy this work makes her.
Don’t gatekeep yourself.
Back when Árboles was a college student, she wanted to try pole dancing. However, she held herself back because of how she felt about her body. “My body was more something that I wanted to change,” she says. “I was always like, ‘I wish I was taller; I wish I was prettier; I wish I was skinnier; I don’t like my curves.’” After some trepidation, she did decide to go for it. Since then, pole dancing has become an essential part of her life. Had she given in to those thoughts, she would have missed out on discovering parts of herself and actually strengthening her relationship with her body. That’s why Árboles’ motto is now: “Don’t gatekeep yourself.”
Repeating this affirmation to herself has allowed Árboles to make big life changes and create her own path. It helped her to finally change her major from biology to theatre long after she sensed something was off. And it motivated her to become vulnerable on social media platforms, treating Instagram, for instance, as a real-time diary. Eventually, she stopped caring what others thought about her truth and found her messages resonated with people. By permitting herself to be her most authentic self online, she connected with others—and it opened the doors for collaborations and other job opportunities.
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While Árboles has seen tremendous success in her field, she still second-guesses herself sometimes. “I catch myself time and time again gatekeeping myself, and [I] notice resistance from the universe,” she says. “Once I stop gatekeeping, things flow. … If I could go back three or four years in time, I [would] just affirm [that] you have talents, and you have skills. You have things that you deserve to share with the world.” To remind herself of this now, she tells herself that the longer she puts off going after what she wants, the longer it will take to achieve it. 
Change the rules.
While some fitness and wellness spaces have become more inclusive and body positive, there’s still a lot of room for improvement. Diet culture and fat-shaming continue to be pervasive, and gyms and dance studios often perpetuate the fatphobic idea that movement is a way to “fix” a part of one’s body. 
With her business, Árboles is fighting against this message. MBSC’s mission is clear: The collective is a community encouraging movement—particularly as a tool for joy, healing, and liberation—among women and nonbinary people of all body shapes, sizes, and abilities. Árboles is unwavering in her stance. “Move for the sake of moving, not for any other reason. Do it because it’s pleasurable,” she says. “I think we need to move toward pleasure-centred movement. If you’re pursuing a movement practice, [it should not be] punishment or out of obligation.” Adopting this outlook has allowed her to bond with a community of women and nonbinary people who also want to challenge the often toxic sides of the fitness and wellness industries. 
As Árboles works to extend her business’s reach and impact, she will continue putting the things that matter most to her at the forefront. “I’m just gonna keep waking up every day doing my best, and I know at the very least, I have a very amazing community of people that I get to do this work with,” she says. “That’s what really matters to me.” 
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