Diary of A Young Pro: Polly Bates
1. Where are you located?
Everywhere, USA. I’ve spent at least half of the last 2 years traipsing through most of the continental states on a tour bus. I’ve been based in Portland, Oregon since March 2012, but I’m pretty sure a big piece of my heart still resides in Northern California.
2. How old are you?
3. What is your job title?
CirQus Performer: Acrobat/Stilter/Dancer/Aerialist (often in combination) with March Fourth Marching Band
4. How has the transition been from backpack to briefcase (college to adulthood)?
I feel like I’ve transitioned the other way if anything. I went from what I see as a professional academic “briefcase” environment at Stanford to a vagabond roaming lifestyle that mostly has me living out of a backpack. But I think my path more closely resembles a continuously evolving “DIY” rucksack of sorts. I’ve taken pieces of burlap stitched together with bailing twine from my roots growing up on my family’s biodynamic apple farm, attached them to high-quality briefcase leather with electronic cables from my time at the Stanford, patched all the holes with colorful macrame thread from my travels in Latin America, and more recently blinged the whole thing out with sparkly trim and a healthy dose of fine glitter sprinkled on me by this amazing community of musical circus freaks that now surround me. The weaving and sewing has been tough at times, as I have found that the society I grew up in doesn’t make machines that can easily attach all these different materials, so usually I do it by hand, slowly. I still haven’t completed my degree at Stanford, so when I’m good and ready and feel like I can gleen significant tools and knowledge from the amazing resources it offers me I will add another piece of leather to it, and probably not all at once, but bit by bit, as I attach it with strings of meaning and context from other areas in my life.
5. When you were in school, did you imagine your life the way that it is?
Perhaps not so much during my freshman year, but as soon as I got some distance and perspective on the world, I felt I had been overwhelmed by I began to more seriously imagine alternatives to the expected path. Fueled by my first experience at Burning Man and supported by my family’s creative entrepreneurial approach to life, I started to ask questions and explore ways to expand my Stanford bubble. I studied abroad in Chile during my sophomore year and I wasn’t terribly impressed with the program because it was too easy and safe for people to stay within their comforts zones while they checked off another “worldly” addition to their resumes. I spent a week couch surfing on my own before the program started and by the time orientation came, I knew this was not a right fit. The director and my financial aid situation convinced me to stick out the quarter but after that I was off creating my own solo adventure through South America, falling in love with the circus arts, hula hooping and making jewelry on the street and meeting incredible people. For the next few years I ping-ponged between working harvest at the farm, going back to school, performing Samba Stilt Circus, and saving money. I was always baffled as I watched friends approach graduation with so much fear and trepidation about entering the “real world”. The world that I had already created for myself beyond the bubble was so welcoming and exciting. So I guess it wasn’t a huge stretch to imagine my life now while I was in school since I had, in a sense, already begun living it.
6. What is the best advice you have received from a mentor about adulthood and/or careers?
One of my favorite bandmates, Mr. Dan Stauffer, recently shared a concept with me that verifies many of my past experiences and continues to shape my approach to the creative process. “As an artist concern yourself with quantity, let spirit take care of quality.” As a performer/choreographer I have many tight deadlines and it’s easy to feel rushed into putting something on stage before it feels completely polished. We are also doing a lot of new and unique things such as acrobatics on stilts, pole dancing with a stilt walker holding the pole, or doing aerial tricks suspended from 2 stilters in a giant elephant costume. These ideas require trial and error and a willingness to be different. It’s crucial to create a working environment where even the wildest ideas are entertained and everything is given a chance. I believe that we were all created with a wealth of ideas, memories, imaginings, and stories etched into our minds and bodies. If we can learn to hone our skills without attachment to outcome, judgment, fear of rejection or failure there are no limits to the beauty and joy we can bring into the world.
7. What advice would you give a young professional?
I generally prefer to share nuggets of inspiration that have been passed on to me with the hopes that something will resonate and aid another person.
A. Traveling and performing with March Fourth has taught me that being professional most often means being willing to communicate honestly and openly, especially about the hard, scary things, while being successful has everything to do with teamwork and learning how to uplift and support each other.
B. A good friend once told me that he tries to start every day as if it is brand new and he knows nothing about it and assumes nothing about the people he encounters in it, even if he has known them for years. I try to live by that because it allows helps me maintain a sense of wonder and creates space for people to learn and grow from their experiences and then present themselves as they want to be in any given moment, myself included. When I move through the world with that openness and loving acceptance of all parts of myself I notice I am much more primed to gracefully receive and utilize the best and most positive aspects of what is placed in my path. I constantly remind myself that the universe has a much wilder imagination than any of us and I try to run with inspiration as it comes while also preparing myself for the moment when the controls will be taken out of my hands.
C. Finally, I’ll always remember a Howard Thurman quote on the wall in the bathroom of the guest ranch I used to work at: “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” It can be a very scary thing to learn to incorporate into our daily decision making processes because we are so used to following a more or less prescribed formula with generally predictable outcomes. Many of us do not have safe opportunities to learn to listen to our gut and act on it, but I think it’s an absolutely crucial thing to cultivate, even if it means starting on a very small scale where the consequences are insignificant if we don’t get it right the first time. Making intuitive choices is the first step to finding what you are truly passionate about and then allowing you to push it beyond the limits that define it, which is where magic comes into play.
8. What is next for you and the next 12 months? Do you have any goals you would like to accomplish? How are you going to accomplish them?
I’ve recently been feeling like I’ve lost a little bit of my ability to think and plan far ahead since our tour schedule is rarely set more than 2 months in advance. While this sometimes makes me feel directionless I’ve also been appreciating how much it makes me live in the moment. I’ve finally reached a point in this project where I am taking on more responsibility and am able to infuse our creative process and material with a lot of my own flavor, and that feels really great. I’m also learning a lot of new skills and gaining performance experience, as well as sewing and crafting experience (I make all my own costumes and also make recycled leather earrings and mini-marching band hats using re-purposed yogurt containers as a base that I sell at our merchandise boutique). Not to mention this is also one of the most amazing and inspiring groups of people I have ever had the pleasure of working with and I am so in love with my March Fourth family. At the same time, I know things can change in an instant and I am trying to stay open to other opportunities that may present themselves. I constantly miss the farm and wish I could be more involved and closer to my family, and I also miss the academically stimulating Stanford environment, but it feels like I am where I’m meant to be at the moment so for now I’m riding this Magnificent Beast wherever it might take me.
9. What makes you special?
I believe that…
…everyone has a story worth telling, and so I listen.
…everyone deserves compassion and love, and so I care.
…empowering one empowers us all, and so I strive to help heal and uplift others whenever possible.
…the only way to find our true path is to forge our own, and so I’m constantly curious.
…that we can manifest anything if we can move beyond fear and doubt, and so I take risks.
…that ignorance is not bliss, and so I am constantly striving to push the boundaries of my perspective and widen the lens through which I see the world.