The Yale Graduate Who Taught SZA to Pole Dance

© by The Cut; Photos: Carolyne Loreé, Getty Images by The Cut; Photos: Carolyne Loreé, Getty Images

Cami Árboles believes she manifested working with SZA into being. “A big part of my wellness is affirmations and telling yourself things to help you create your own reality,” she says. “SZA is my favorite artist of all time Ctrl has been my favorite album every year since it came out.” And as she predicted, Árboles, the founder of MINDBODYSPIRIT Collective (where she offers yoga, flexibility, and pole-dancing courses), wound up choreographing and teaching SZA to pole dance for the singer’s “Good Days” music video

“It was so synchronous because there was one scene that we choreographed where she was pole dancing in a library holding a book,” Árboles says, “and that’s exactly how I felt my last semester at Yale University, just studying and pole dancing all of the time. I was like, ‘I’ve never related to anything more.’” 

When it comes down to it, Árboles swears she spoke the opportunity into existence. “I probably sound crazy,” she says, “but if you continue to tell yourself things and believe them, you really can manifest things.” Below, more of the founder’s practices, from skin care to cooking to mixing scents. 

On her definition of wellness: Wellness is constantly evolving in my life, but it’s so important to view wellness holistically, including looking at the people you surround yourself with or the content you consume on social media. It’s so much more than buying a fancy skin serum or getting massages or facials, although they can be an important part of a wellness routine.

On how COVID-19 impacted her wellness: At the beginning of the pandemic, I was in my final semester at Yale University — I started college on a premed path majoring in molecular cellular developmental biology, but about halfway through, I pivoted and said, “I want to be an artist.” So I was going to graduate with a degree in theater studies and was ready to move to New York City to be a performer full time; I had signed with an agent and everything. Then school shut down because of the pandemic, so I went from all live performances I was really excited about to finishing my courses on Zoom. And because of that, I fell into my lowest place ever mentally. I’m generally a very upbeat, positive, and energetic person, but it was so hard to wake up most days because everything I had worked for had been pulled out from underneath me.

What I ended up learning in that time was that obstacles like that are opportunities in disguise because in that lowness, when my mental health was deteriorating, that’s when I decided to really get into pole dancing and use movement and creativity as a form of therapy and catharsis. It helped me get out of bed in the morning because I was like, You know what? My senior spring is canceled. I don’t know when I’m going to see my friends again. All these things I’ve worked for are gone, but I can wake up and learn a new trick on the pole, and that’ll give me the little boost of serotonin I need to continue through my day.

On pole dancing as a mental practice: In school, I had always been really interested in movement as literal therapy. I was already teaching yoga, and there was also an aerial and circus collective at school where I trained. But in New Haven, which is where Yale is, the only place you could take aerial classes was this place called PoleFly, which is primarily a pole studio. Throughout my time at school, I had taken different classes there, but I was too scared to try pole because you have to wear little shorts and your body has to be exposed. It’s also just a very sensual art form. I was not confident in my body, but on the first day of my senior year, I was like, Life is short. I might as well give it a try. Then I did, and I was really bad at it. [Laughs.] It was scary, but it was so fun and I was hooked.

And truly, pole is such a great tool for self-confidence and resilience because it takes all of these crazy skills. If I’m working on something like a creative project or working on my business and something fails and I don’t get it the first time, I’ve wired my brain to be like, Just do it again. Do it again and again and again. Don’t give up.

On her mornings: Every day is pretty different, but a morning routine is very important for me. I go through waves where I’m up super-early, between 5 and 7 a.m. I keep water by my bed because I saw this quote one day that said, “Don’t forget to drink water and get some sunlight because you’re basically a house plant with more complicated emotions,” and it’s ingrained in my brain. So I always try to hydrate immediately and then, depending on what my schedule looks like, I try to move my body first thing in the morning. It doesn’t need to be complicated. It doesn’t need to be a crazy hour and a half workout. Sometimes I do a little yoga flow or I stretch or I foam roll.

My skin-care routine is pretty simple in the morning. I love Glow Recipe’s Watermelon Glow Niacinamide Dew Drops and Ilia’s Super Serum Skin Tint with SPF 40. Most days, I do a very basic base; it just takes me five minutes. If I have some extra time, I’ll use my other skin-care favorites: Soft Services’ Carea Cream and Buffing Bar and Topicals’ Faded Serum. They’re truly life changing. Both brands are female founded and are dedicated to normalizing skin conditions like acne and hyperpigmentation. They have the most beautiful branding, too.

On her relationship with food: I have gone through many times in my life when I struggled with disordered eating patterns from thinking that I needed to be smaller and that skinnier was better. Finally, at this point in my life, I’m learning to love and appreciate my body and the way that it is — pole dancing and developing a mindful movement practice helped me a lot with that.

On scents: I love making my home smell good, and I need everybody to know that Trader Joe’s makes the best scented candles. They’re like four dollars, and they fill a space appropriately.

Trader Joe’s Mango Tangerine Scented Candle

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I actually installed a little custom shelf just to showcase my scents because I also love perfume bottles. I think they’re so beautiful. I recently bought myself some little samples from Byredo, so they’re on my shelf. They have this limited-edition perfume right now called Mixed Emotions. It smells like you’re about to go to dinner with your friends at a nice place and it’s golden hour feeding into the night. I also have Oud Immortel from the brand. Aesop’s Marrakech is also on there, along with my first big-girl perfume, Le Labo’s Santal 33. I was in New York a couple of weeks ago and walking down a street in Williamsburg, and I got stopped twice. Everyone’s just a walking billboard for Le Labo. [Laughs.]

On reflective journaling: In her essay “On Keeping a Notebook,” Joan Didion wrote, “It is a good idea to keep in touch, and I suppose that keeping in touch is what notebooks are all about.” I think about that all the time! I remember reading that essay in high school, and I was like, Wow, she just put into this beautiful piece of writing so many of the reasons I love journaling.

I usually keep two journals in my life at all times. One of them is a to-do journal to keep track of tasks. I am a Virgo moon, so I like to be very organized and very type A. [Laughs.] Some people keep their to-do list digitally on the Notes app, but no, I’m a pen-and-paper girl all the way. I love to cross things off. That said, I’m extremely specific about the type of journal I use — I love Leuchtturm1917’s Notebook Classic. I’ve tried them all, but for my to-do lists, I like one with no lines because I end up putting Post-it notes in there or sometimes I need to draw out things or do little diagrams.

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My second journal is just emotional brain dumps. I really believe you can solve a lot of your problems by putting them on paper and then, as time passes, you realize that the things you cared about or that seemed like they were gonna be the end of the world six months or a year ago are so little now. Everything is temporary, and if I’m going through something, if I’m feeling emotional or hurt or compromised in some kind of way, I know I’m always going to get through it because all my past journals have survived.

On the power of affirmations: I started using affirmations as a part of my daily routine maybe two or three years ago when I was really going through it in school. I loved Yale so much, but it was a very high-octane environment. I found myself needing to do a lot of work to maintain a positive mind-set. I’m so grateful I had a background in a STEM field. Especially during my sophomore year, I was taking a lot of neuroscience and psychology classes and learned about neuroplasticity. People think the brain is this fixed entity, and it’s not. It’s kind of like a muscle, and you can really wire your brain to think certain ways.

When I started saying affirmations, it felt so fake and weird, and I felt like I was forcing it. But over time, you really start to believe the things you tell yourself. I could wake up every day and be like, I’m so stressed. I’m not getting any opportunities. I’m not happy. I’m not doing what I want to be doing. I’m so drained. Or you can wake up, and it might be weird and might feel hard at first, and tell yourself, With hard work and dedication and commitment, I can accomplish x, y, and z. I’m grateful to wake up in my body. I am strong. I’m powerful and exactly where I’m meant to be. I attract great things into my life. It might feel corny to say that, but then start to believe it because you strengthen those pathways in your brain. When people say you create your own reality, it sounds like some heightened form of spirituality, but no, it’s backed by good data and peer-reviewed research as well.

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