My Experience as an Autistic Pole Dancer

Circus News

My Experience as an Autistic Pole Dancer

In an extroverted space, circus performers and students with differing needs may find themselves standing on the sidelines. Movement artist, pole dancer, and educator Jody Ryker wants to help other autistic performers feel safe inside the circus ring. Honoring Autism Awareness Day, Jody shares with us her passions, challenges, and triumphs.
Photo: Sam Reeves “Aren’t you happy?! Why aren’t you excited?!” my coworker at my local circus school exclaimed to me after we had just received some good news. I don’t quite remember what we had just heard— maybe it had to do with a performance or competition opportunity, but I do remember this conversation. I was excited! But then I felt frustrated. Everyone else in the room was jumping up and down, laughing, shouting, smiling. I was standing off to the side, an other, silent, and still. What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I interact and express myself like everyone else? I’ll never fit in. They must think I’m such a weirdo. I was bombarded with thoughts like these and felt an inexpressible loneliness. This memory is just one of countl...
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Jody Ryker

Jody has been training in circus arts since 2011. They specialize in pole dance, aerial hoop, and acrobatics. Jody has performed around California at music festivals, events, variety and circus shows, including the Santa Cruz boardwalk, California's Great America, Northern Nights, and the SF Craft Spirits Festival. Jody enjoys choreographing dramatic acts that showcase their aerial and pole creations. In 2015, Jody founded the performance group Pole Diversity ( They have directed, produced, and choreographed three hour-long shows as well as choreographing three sets for Santa Cruz's national dance week event. Pole Diversity's mission is to share pole dance in a circus setting and to dispel common misconceptions about pole dance. Jody currently teaches at Steel & Grace and Cirque, Tumble, and Cheer in Santa Cruz.