Zoraya was merely a pole student going through instructor training when she was entered by her teacher into a major pole competition WHICH SHE WON after only minimal pole experience under her belt, and shortly after the birth of her second son.
I wanted to find out more about Zoraya, her background, her mindset, her training regime and what drives her. Ladies (and gents), here is everything you ever wanted to know about Zoraya …
Tiny: Hi Zoraya, first things first, we NEED to know your age. We just do.
Tiny: Thank you. To start off with, can you tell us a bit about your background? You are from Latin origins? Tell us about that and if you think it may have contributed to pole?
Z: My mother is from Argentina. She was raise in a small village in Tanti in the mountains. She had a very humble upbringing and lost many of her siblings due to being in the guerrilla groups. She had 13 siblings and her mother was the witch doctor of the tribe. She is of Mayan decent and is a very hard working and determined woman.
My Father was born and raised in Sweden. He was the polar opposite. He had step siblings, but not many, and was raised in a high class society with everything that brought. He later immigrated to the US nag met my mother in college. They both have multiple degrees.
I have 4 crazy sisters and 1 brother. I have always loved the social scene in life. My Latin family is all very open and loving. I think this has molded me into who I am. I love people. I always take the side of the under dog, no matter who it is. I love latin dancing, but am not formally trained. Everything we did growing up was natural and fun, not forced. I love my background. I love hugging people. I will never forget where I have come from.
Tiny: I heard also that you are of the mormon religion? Famously centred in Utah – please educate us. What sort of impact does pole have on your religious beliefs?
Z: Yes. My parents are both converts the the LDS church and I was brought up in it. I loved it. I didn’t know a lot about it, and like any teenager I rebelled against my parents. When I started dating Nic I was always impressed at how he could answer people questions about our beliefs and never be confrontational. The early settlers of Utah were all LDS aka Mormon. They left their homes back east in Missouri and Illinois to escape mass persecution. It was horrific for them. Now Utah is known for all the Mormons that live there. 40% of the population in Utah is actually Mormon. Pole has NO impact on my beliefs. They are my beliefs, my morals. I love my religion and believe it with all my heart. It grounds me and brings me a lot of peace in the crazy times life brings.
Tiny: Do you think your mormon upbringing has made you somewhat rebellious? Or helped you become disciplined and able to apply that to training diet etc?
Z: I think my religious background simply makes me view the world a little differently than most. I believe my family will be together forever. And I believe that we will all be held accountable for our actions, good and bad. These things simply ground me. They help me maintain balance in my life. I think it has helped me morally and physically. I have been taught these things from an early age and I am in turn doing my best to give my children that foundation of hope and faith.
Tiny: What happened in 2004 – I read that there was an incident which had a serious effect on you and was a turning point in your life. Can you tell us about that, and how it changed you.
Z: Well…. A LOT happened to me in 2004. Nic proposed to me… We got our first puppy together, and our second, third and first snake.
But I think you are referring to my accident. I was at a work meeting one evening in San Francisco. At the time I lived about 45 minutes South in San Jose. The meeting ran late and on my way home I fell asleep at the wheel. I was going about 80 MPH and went off the freeway, rolled my brand new 2004 350 Z 2 times before a tree stopped me upside down. I don’t remember any of that. I woke up from the smell of the air bag. Its a real heavy, gun powdery smell. I thought the car was on fire. I was upside down and couldn’t open the doors. So I kicked through the wind shield and pulled the glass open large enough to get out.
I ran up the hillside that I rolled down and tried to flag someone down. No one stopped. So I ran back down to find my cell phone. I couldn’t find anything ANYWHERE. When I looked back up to the freeway I saw a California Highway Patrolman pulling up and I don’t remember much else. Nic got a call from the dispatch for CHP and she told him (2 hours after he had expected me) that I had been in a horrible accident, but not to worry because I WAS BREATHING!!! She then told him to not speed on the way to the hospital to see me. Im sure he was obedient to that…lol. He waited in the waiting room without any information for 3 more hours. The Dr.s and policemen were trying to figure out what happened and how I survived the accident without any injury. They put a neck brace on me as a precaution and I had blood all over my shirt from pulling the glass open with my hands. Other than that I only had a gnarly bruise from the Seat belt.
This experience showed me how fragile life really is and to treasure the relationships we have. To live life with intention and without regret. To work hard and be kind to everyone. I have had many friends pass away unexpectedly, and this is always hard. But I am happy to know that I have always been kind and I believe I will see them again.
Tiny: How did you become to be involved in pole? Where did you learn?
Z: In 2007 we moved to Utah and a few weeks later I gave birth to our second son. I had lost a lot of muscle cause I had been pregnant for 2 years. I went to Nic and we spoke about goals for my body. He put together a plan for me to put the muscle back on. This was difficult because it didn’t happen as fast as I would have liked. The scale weight hardly moved, but my body was changing.
When my baby was almost a year old, in the beginning of 2008, a gym regular that I often spoke with invited me to a “functional fitness class” that he thought I would enjoy. Without knowing what it was I accepted and went. When I walked into the studio I saw all the poles. I giggled, but was very excited. It was a “Core Pole” class FULL of men. The instructor was the only other woman. She was yoked. I instantly fell in love with her, her style of pole, and this new class I had found.
I went to this class once a week for 4 months until they added another class to the schedule. Nic came with me a few times and changed my gym program so that I would be stronger for the pole. 2 Months after the class was twice a week my mentor and instructor moved on from the studio. She asked me to take her place as the instructor of the most difficult class Studio Soiree offered. I accepted, sad to see her go.
I taught for a few months and was surprised by my studios owner. She had entered me into Utah’s first ever pole competition. I had only taught the class for fun, for fitness. I had 2 weeks to prepare myself for this competition. I had never done combos, never performed in front of anyone in anything, and never been in a competition. I trained so hard that I lost all the skin on the back of my knee. I had to wear these huge black boots to cover my open wounds. It still hurt like hell. When I won the competition I was HOOKED! The adrenaline of the performance and the thrill off the win was amazing. I had a new passion for pole and sought out the stars of the industry to train me and help me grow.
Pole renewed my passion for fitness.
Tiny: You won Pole Fetish in 2009 – how did your pole training change after that?
Z: I pushed to better myself as a performer. I hired a contortionist for flexibility and a professional dancer to help me with lines. I began to take pole seriously and trained personally on the pole from that point on.
Tiny: What is your diet like? Do you have different diets for training and comps? Please tell us.
Z: There are no secrets. We all know what is good for us and what isn’t. Most of us just simply choose the moment and indulge. I eat the best of my options as often as possible. Once a week I give myself a cheat meal. Not a cheat day. Ill have a small piece of cake, not the entire thing. Nic cooks for me and does most of my diet. The nice thing is that he really knows what he is doing and most of the time will diet with me so that I am not tempted to eat things that would negate my intentions.
Tiny: What motivates you to train the way you do? With everything you have in your life, children, household to run, gigs, touring etc…. How do you get off your arse and train?! Surely you don’t always feel like it?
Z: Your answer lies in your question. I am driven by those I love. My husband and children push me to be my best. I want to give them everything in life. If im going to be away from my children and husband then I better work my butt off OR just go spend that time with them. The gigs, comps and touring all fuel my fire to better myself and constantly evolve. I love to train. Sometimes I don’t feel like doing it, BUT I do it anyway.
Tiny: What is the re-set detox and how does it benefit you?
Z: The Reset is a high fiber detox that helps me kick start my hard dieting. It is the easiest thing I have found to help me detox safely and easily.
Tiny: You are a striking looking lady with an exotic style, where do you get your artistic body image ideas from? Hair, costume, body paints, your wild woman look!
Z: I’m inspired by everything around me. I’ve always loved the exotic, wild look and I try to portray that. Zen Arts is a massive inspiration to me and many of the artists involved. Brion Topolski, Adam Tenenbaum, Susie Culini, Heather Morales just to name a few. I love them dearly and am honored to share a stage with them. I love their work and it inspires me to constantly push.
Tiny: Let’s talk hair…. what is it’s natural length? And is it naturally wavy and wild?
Z: This is my natural length. I have a natural wave and I do have extensions to add thickness. I have a big head of hair, but I think bigger IS better.
Tiny: Some of the gilt bodypaint we see on you is soooo shiny – is it gold leaf?!
Z: No gold leaf…not yet. A lot of it comes from Adam Tenenbaum (Overlay) and his box of magic. He is AMAZING and truly the worlds best at what he does.
Tiny: Tell us about your role at Zen Arts
Z: I am their first pole dancer. I am also training with them to do more aerial stuff. You may see this very soon.
Tiny: Your style is certainly very graceful and exotic without being oversexed, what tips can you share with our girls to help them think about they way they move and achieve a feminine, delicate look to what they do?
Z: When I started pole dancing I was told that I needed to put shoes on and do more floor work. But this isn’t what I loved about pole. I think the girls that do their thing on the floor are amazing. It is their style. They should stay true to that. but, for me, I was drawn to the strength and grace I saw men like Dominic Lacasse possess. This is what I emulated. My tip for women in pole is to BE YOU! Don’t try to be someone else. It’s fine to look up to people, but stay true to you. Felix Cane was one of my early mentors and idols. I took many privates from her, having driven hundreds of miles to take from her. Many people find this hard to believe because she and I are night and day. But this is why I LOVE training with her. Its so fun bouncing ideas off of each other and pushing each other in our own styles.
Tiny: You’re also known for your supreme ability to control your bodyweight against gravity – are there any secrets you can share with us about how to lift slowly as you do and hold statuesque poses?
Z: Its all a balance game. Find your balance. I also teach 1 on 1's.
Tiny: What is the next step for Zoraya Judd? The Worlds? More children?
Z: Stay tuned. Im just getting started.
Part 2 - Nic:
I was super excited about doing this interview as it’s a rare kind (absolutely nothing to do with Nic being an outrageously hunky hottie!). Usually I just interview the superstar but the Judds are unique because they are very much a team.
Zoraya is the talent for sure, and my pole idol, but there’s a saying that ‘behind every great man is a strong woman’ right? well, this interview is also unique because this time I get to hear from the other side of the coin, in this case ‘behind the great woman is her strong man’.
I wanted to interview Nic because he too has made his mark in pole as being something of a super hero himself. So I wanted to find out how he has managed to dodge becoming a ‘pole widow husband’ and helped his talented wife succeed, how he maintains support and where we can get ten more like him!
Tiny: Hey Nic. First of all, tell us a bit about your background, where did you grow up, what sort of lifestyle did you have as a kid?
Nic: I grew up in San Jose California. I had chronic Bronchitis, pneumonia and was asthmatic. Because of this my mother took me to swimming lessons at 18 months. I began competing when I was 4 and still have records in my home town. I swam at fundraiser events and alsongside Olympian heros.
I moved to Utah when I was about 13. Utah sits at 4500 feet above sea level making it difficult for me to swim. So I took up hockey. I skated all the way through a Junior National level and had a blast at it.
Tiny: So you were always interested in sports and fitness then huh?
Nic: Absolutely. These things were VERY important to me growing up. I love to do anything active.
Tiny: What are your top tips for guys who want to get into shape!
Nic: Eat well. Sleep well. STAY CONSISTENT.
Tiny: It’s relatively clear that strength training is an area you seem to know something about, we would be very interested to know what advice you could share for strength and core training for WOMEN…who pole.
Nic: Going to the gym is great. However, I see people wondering aimlessly around, or copying others. The most important thing is to do something that’s functional for YOU. Sure, something is better than nothing. But, womens bodies are designed very different from a man. For example, women will still build muscle at 15 rep sets, where a man would NOT. Women must keep in mind what their goals are and to perform exercises that will help them in REALITY, not theory.
Tiny: I see that you studied medicine – brains and brawn! What did you want to be when you grew up?
Nic: My ultimate goal is to go into Naturopathic Medicine. Or to become a D.O. It is a MAJOR passion of mine, and something I have always been not only drawn too, but have had a gift for. But, this wasn’t a childhood goal. This came from a lot of reflection, pondering and focus on specific things and times in my life.
Tiny: So you now own a gym (Atlas) AND work as a nutritional supplement consultant too? Tell us a bit about both.
Nic: ALTAS FITNESS is a company I started when we moved to Utah. Going to the gym I saw how people had no idea what they were doing, even a majority of the trainers. I started this company as a means to educate and empower people. I wanted them to understand their bodies and how to use the gym as a tool to better their everyday lives – without needing to depend on the trainer too busy texting or checking out the gyms meat market!
As far as supplements go, I have found some that work for me and have also done amazing things for others. I became involved with a company because I saw their integrity in quality products. Because of my background I know that we can NOT get all our essential vitamins and minerals from our food alone.
But my philosophy on diet and exercise spawns from the bible. I guess *chuckle. I would rather teach a man to fish and benefit him for the rest of his existence, than to merely feed him for the moment, thus giving in to his natural desire to have something now.
Tiny: Does Zoraya help you run Atlas? How does pole fit in?
Nic: Zoraya teaches under the same philosophy of training that we have a ATLAS. We give education and understanding. If a student or client is not learning, then it is our responsibility to change our teaching methods so they do. Zoraya and I have a traditional marriage. We do everything together. We fight, and work it out. Bottom line, we are friends first and this is the foundation of our marriage.
Tiny: You and Zoraya have been sweethearts since high school yes? Did you always know this was the girl you would marry?
Nic: Actually… Zoraya and I had a ceramics class together in high school. She and I were both very shy. We always sat at the back of the class, there were no seating assignments, so you could literally sit anywhere you wanted. But, even then, we always chose to sit right by each other. There was something so fascinating about her. I was so intrigued by her, though, we never spoke. We were content with merely be close and working by each other.
When a friend of mine came to the school he and Zoraya started dateing. He was the kinda guy that would always go for the girl I was interested in. They dated for about 2 years. So meanwhile I went to New Zealand and worked as a missionary for my church. Seriously. I WAS A MINISTER. Lol. When I came home (my family had moved to California at this point) I made a trip to Utah and ran into Z. She wanted me to come with her to a family function and called me about 17 times to get me to go. To this day her family doesn’t believe me. She is the girl that called boys.
Six months later, at Christmas, I ran into Zoraya again and this time sparks flew. We spent 10 days together. Every waking moment. Two weekends after this Zoraya surprised me by driving out for the weekend. Every other weekend she would either drive or I would fly her out to me. A few months later she moved out to California. And its all pretty much history from then.
Tiny: So as pole’s ‘Brad and Angelina’ what is it like being a husband and wife team?
Nic: Other than our children, it is the biggest blessing we have. Pole is something that Zoraya was instantly passionate about. Because Zoraya is one my major passions in life, this works well. I get to be bodyguard, manager and husband. Now with Zen Arts we are also performing together. Nothing like travelling the world doing something you love at the side of your best friend.
Tiny: Do you train together?
Nic: Depending on where Zoraya is in her competions, yes and no. Remember? Its all about using the gym as a tool to make you better for your life outside the gym. But, 98% of the time we are at the gym together. This is nice fuel. Knowing she is watching.
Tiny: Do you practise pole and perform yourself?
Nic: Not like you ladies do. I like the hard things. Flags, handsprings and flexibility. As far as performing, I like to be a prop in Zoraya’s routines. I don’t need the spotlight, but I would do anything to add to hers.
Tiny: Being quietly in the forefront of a female dominated sport as special as pole, what do you make of it all? What are your thoughts? A man’s point of view…
Nic: I think it is an incredible sport for women. It is amazing what it does for an individual woman, and what it has done for so many. In exercise women need a distraction (something a friend helped me see). Doing tough work outs can be unenjoyable. But, the thrill of conquering a new move, hold or transition is a gorgeous distraction for a woman to keep pushing their bodies to new limits, not even realizing the massive workout they are getting.
The only problem I see in the industry in the jealousy. I don’t like to see public drama or hear about girls talking poorly on one another. The only thing this does is shows something ugly in that individual. I wish there were more women who would help lift those around them without a fear of someone being better. Every woman on a pole brings something different. You are all gorgeous! I wish everyone could focus more on the positives and unite in the amazingness of the sport.
Tiny: What do you have to say to the pole curious, macho non-gay men who are on the edge of trying it?
Nic: Stop being a pussy! I don’t know if men will think you’re are automatically gay for trying pole or what. But, this is one of the hardest things I have ever done. Besides, you think hetero men in our industry are having a hard time finding women? LOL.
Tiny: You and Zoraya have two boys as well? And snakes? How do you juggle family life? Do the boys get involved in health and fitness with you?
Nic: The boys are very much involved with our life. It is hard to leave them when we go on trips for work or competitions. But, when we are home life is ALL about them. They are THE most important thing in our lives. Having a family is a huge blessing. It keeps us extremely grounded. We love our pets and babies. We wouldn’t have it any other way.
Tiny: Will we see more from you in the future in pole? Leading a men’s only pole championships, or a he-pole dvd?
Nic: I have no intention on competing. But keep an eye out. We have some fun stuff in the works.
Tiny: Your online presence in pole shows you as a supportive rock to your talented wife and … her biggest fan! It’s a pleasure to see. What tips can you give the boyfriends of the UK (and worldwide) on how to become the ultimate HE-MAN husband Hero type?!
Nic: Love your partner. Simple as that. I got an email from a friend who was having a hard time with his partner becoming a star in pole. He asked me how I coped with my wife being a sex symbol and out there for every man to see. I first responded by saying, “My wife is a sex symbol?” LOL. I went on to tell him that no matter what the gig was my wife always came home to ME. Other men out there are nothing but the audience, and I don’t mean to be rude or condescending by saying that. I trust my wife completely and know she loves me as much as I love her. Show her you love her by supporting her. Go to gigs. Help her train (if you can). Train with her! If she is dieting, then SO ARE YOU! Be as dedicated as she is. Let every action you take and every choice you make reflect your feeling about her.
Tiny: One last thing ….. How old are you?
Nic: What year is it? LOL. I’m 31.
A massive thanks to Tiny (AKA PDC approved Level 2 pole dancing instructor Amy Butterworth) from Candy and Chrome pole dancing school for another amazing interview.