After graduating from Yale in the spring of 2020, dancer turned entrepreneur Cami Árboles felt stuck and unsure about her next career move. It was at the start of the pandemic, which forced her to postpone her plans to dive into performing arts in New York City, and instead relocate to her hometown of Los Angeles.
When her Yale graduation ceremony was pushed onto Zoom back in May 2020, Árboles took matters into her own hands and celebrated her milestone by performing a pole dance with her cap and gown, and sharing it on her Instagram Stories.
The defining moment went viral: the cheekiness and unpredictability of the post showcased the paradox of pole dancing and the Ivy League.
Pole dancing became Árboles’ North Star and grounded her during this destabilizing time: “The pole was the one thing I could look forward to, even if everything else was going bad or felt bleak. I could at least go to the pole every day for a couple of hours and learn a new trick, and it would give me the boost of serotonin I needed to continue my day.”
Árboles didn’t put her passion for the performing arts completely on pause: she pivoted to giving pole dancing lessons (after all, it was a great opportunity to spread her love for pole dancing with others), which led to the launch of the now global platform, Mind, Body, Spirit Collective (MBSC), a community-centered space based in L.A., aimed at helping women and non-binary people reclaim their bodies through movement.
The truth is, entrepreneurship isn’t a major stretch for Árboles — after all, she believes being a founder is tantamount to being a storyteller: “Building a brand is about sharing your story in a way that others can tap in,” Árboles states.
“I’ve always thought that art is the study of the world. So in order to be a good artist and powerful storyteller, you should learn as much about the world as you possibly can. And that will inform every story you tell, or every piece of art that you create.”
Despite her passion for the arts, Árboles decided to focus on science and majored in pre-med at Yale. She soon felt the pull of her passion for performance, and gravitated towards a major in performance arts. To offset Yale’s high octane environment, Árboles focused on movement and became a certified yoga instructor.
Árboles was focusing on her senior thesis (about Frida Kahlo), hired an agent and was all in on her career goal of becoming a performer. Until the pandemic changed everything.
When her senior thesis — “and basically everything” — was canceled, Árboles hit rock bottom: “I felt like my whole life, I had really been preparing for something very specific. I felt so ready for it. And then everything slipped out underneath me.”
It proved to be a destabilizing time (as it was for many), but she soon learned that obstacles are opportunities in disguise.
Árboles’ aunt told her to do one thing during this confusing, disappointing time: “Activate.”
And activate is exactly what Árboles did.
She leaned into her discomfort, put her original career goals on the side, and started giving people online yoga classes and pole dancing lessons for free, via Instagram Lives.
This pivot, or pivotal moment of ‘activation’, is what led to Árboles’ tremendously popular business.
Among her long list of proud moments: Árboles had the honor of teaching SZA how to pole dance, for the singer’s “Good Days” video — a feat she knows she manifested.
Árboles has learned the power of positive affirmations, which is also part of the curriculum at MBSC (in addition to pole dancing and yoga).
“I always tell myself that whatever I believe about myself, ultimately becomes my reality. So in a way, I do have some control over my reality. Affirmations help me to build a positive mindset towards myself.”
Launched officially in July of 2020, MBSC has gone from a single instructor to a team of over six full-time instructors, teaching everything from pole dancing to yoga IRL, to a global audience of more than 2,500 students virtually.
When Árboles started MBSC, she was taking reservations for classes manually, managing them through her Instagram DMs where clients would Venmo her. It quickly became clear that people were craving what she was offering, and happy to pay her for it. Managing the lists and payments manually became too much for Árboles and she officially launched the MBSC website as a platform and quite literally, a movement.
Today, MBSC’s following and reach are global, and the collective has become a border and boundary-breaking phenomenon, with members in more than 48 countries including Canada, Australia, France, Netherlands, New Zealand. There is also high staying power within the community: the majority of MBSC members — over 60% to be exact — are repeat subscribers.
With approximately 200K followers across Instagram, between her personal feed and MBSC, Árboles has also since become a fearless voice, inspiration and influencer, thanks to her gorgeous ability to shapeshift (where she poses in stances inspired by the lines of different pieces of furniture) and as a woman who previously felt uncomfortable with her figure, who today showcases her body in all its beautiful, exquisite forms.
Shapeshifting takes on several meanings for Árboles: “To be a shapeshifter is to live in a constant state of flow, and to be open to the constant change that we experience as human beings. We must not be too attached to one idea of ourselves or what we should be, because we are forever evolving! So flow, don’t force.”
Árboles has learned to lean into the discomfort and flex this muscle, and inspires other women to do the same. Her role as an influencer also led to her participation in a Knix campaign called Big. Strong. Woman., also starring Ashley Graham and timed with International Women’s Day.
Árboles also launched an apparel collaboration with Street Grandma, a woman-founded sustainable streetwear brand, created with love in Los Angeles: the merch collab is called “Research Capsule” and like the pillars of MBSC, promotes the importance of self-love, the fusion of pose and prose, and features a pole dancer doing physics on its design — a nod to Árboles’ pre-med days at Yale.
Among one of the other statements Árboles often shares: “Life is so random.” And if anyone can attest to that, it’s her.
In the most magical of full circle moments, Árboles recently attended her Yale graduation ceremony on campus — exactly two years after her ‘cap and gown twirl on the pole’ moment went viral on social.
“Here’s what bothers people about pole dancing — it’s an act of duality, as artistry that’s also athletic. It says, How dare a woman have a body and be expressive and self-confident in it and be very athletic? It features all these contradictory elements coinciding within one art form. That viral video was emblematic of all those things, and it was quite emblematic of the time we were living in. But I love this phrase: ‘Humans are walking contradictions.”
Another mantra Árboles lives by: “Things of great quality, have no fear of time. There’s beauty in that. And there’s beauty in the unknown.”
After all, she never could have predicted her provocative moment on the pole would have such an impact, but it highlighted the dichotomy of feminine empowerment and misogynistic views.
“What is meant for me will always be there; I will never miss out on anything that’s meant to be for me. You never know exactly what’s coming next for you. And so it’s my job to go with the flow with what arrives in my life and do my best every single day. That’s honestly what I’ve done in the past year. And my life has taken a radically different direction. But I’m so grateful for it all.”
Another powerful lesson Árboles learned: “Always listen to your gut. End of story.”