Montreal Character Series: Tanya Stasilowitch
Wrestler, Performance Artist, Egoless Optimist
This would be the first time for me an interview took place in a non-neutral environment.
And it was decidedly non-neutral. Instead of a coffee shop, or alley way, or McDonald’s, I met Tanya Stasilowitch, current star of Montreal’s League of Lady Wrestlers and performance artist extraordinaire, at her moderately sized, very homey duplex in Parc-Ex. Not only would this make my first interview of such a personal nature (I’m in a stranger’s home, for pete’s sake), but I’d also never been to Parc-Ex. It was stupid hot outside and I undershot the walk, so I ended up having to choke down two peaches on her street’s corner in less than three minutes just to be on time.
I knocked on the door, and an extremely fat cat (Onyx) rushed to greet me, followed swiftly by Stasilowitch. She greets me and I am struck by the sheer intimacy of the situation, but before I can be uncomfortable, she graciously leads me into her backyard, a square of patchy grass and concrete buttressed by a huge inflatable pool and sheltered by a tinny roof.
We both take opposite chairs at a shiny white outdoor table, and, with Onyx the fat cat looking on, I was clued in by an expert on the ego and intrigue-filled world of professional wrestling, and tantalized by tales of lost arachnid assailants in apartments.
Mostly, though, Stasilowitch talked of love. Through everything—wrestling, performance art, Berlin, New York, tarantulas, tattoos, everything—she can’t help but mention love for everyone, for everything, how important it is to stay positive.
“I have so much love to give,” she says again and again, and I believe her.
When I leave about an hour later, I feel like I’m happier.
28 years old
Born and Raised in Montreal
Tell me about your parents
I have a really good relationship with them now, but I wasn’t the best child. I presume I was very rebellious, but they were very loving, are still very loving, but had a hard time saying no when I was younger. Which was a good thing and a bad thing, I guess, but the good result was that I was able to really express myself fully, which was a great gift. My dad’s Belarus, born in Montreal. My mom is French Canadian, born in Montreal.
When did you get into [non-profesional] wrestling?
Jeeze. I started doing jiu-jitsu three years ago. But before that, when I look back at my life and link it all up, I’ve been wresting and play-fighting since I can’t even remember. I’ve always been really rough with my brother and my cousins, just a physical person, in the wrestling sense.
When did you figure out about pro-wrestling?
I stopped being a fan of it when it started getting really…I don’t know, I lost interest, when it started to be an extension of boring characters and big egos. Only a year and a half ago did I rediscover pro-wrestling. I was on a date with someone, and he’s a big wrestling fan, and he asked if I ever thought about being a pro-wrestler. He explained it to me, and I was just like, “this is what I want to do.” A few years before, I was doing a lot of soul searching, like who am I as an artist, what am I doing? I’ve been doing performance art for over ten years now, and I just found there was an emptiness there [as to] where to project my energies and go full force […] I never felt like it was my own. When I clicked with pro-wrestling, I never looked back.
What is it about pro-wrestling that makes it a perfect conduit for your art form?
Well, it’s a mix of theatrics and physicality, and combat sport. I’m a performance artist so I like story building and character development, and I do props and installations and stuff. So I thought it would be the perfect place to put all those things together. Obviously, LOLWM isn’t just typical wrestling – it’s a mix of all kinds of things, but wrestling is […] the core. So it spoke to me.
Who is Princess Ula?
That’s one of my wrestling characters, the main one. She’s from another dimension, far beyond human comprehension. She’s a vessel of countless beings. Princess was inspired by Princess Khutulun, who was a Mongolian warrior back in the 13th century. Her thing was: whoever would ask her hand in marriage, she would challenge them to a wrestling match, and whoever lost had to give up their horses.
She ended up with 10,000 horses and no husband. So, it spoke to me a lot. That story transitioned to the driving force of my character…just this really badass woman who won’t give away her ultimate passion for love, and needs equality. Actually, when I heard that [story], it felt so close to home that I shed a tear. I just felt her in me, from then on. So it’s been a pretty integral part of my character. [Ula] was also the name of my pet tarantula that ran away.
How did it run away?
I had the aquarium cracked a little bit, like a really small crack, and I turned around for a second and she was out of the aquarium.
Was that a terrifying week at your house?
The irony of it all is that I got this spider because I was always fascinated by spiders and tarantulas but I was really scared of them. Like, I couldn’t even look at a picture of a tarantula without feeling fear inside of me. I was at a reptile store and I was just kind of going off in my head about why I was scared of these things, they’re so beautiful, and then the guy at the cash register asked me if I wanted to hold it. I looked at him, he was kinda cute, so it was easier that way, to be like, “yeah, sure.” So, I just swallowed that fear, and I put my hand out…and it wasn’t that bad. It was really surreal, but at the same time, I had all this stress and fear over something that wasn’t a big deal. So I was like, I’m buying it. But I felt bad after a while, I was like, I feel weird having you in captivity here. The same day, actually, I caught a moth, and they both ran away. It was the size of my palm, this moth. It was this double-happening of bugs running away. I was just laughing at myself, like, I could feed into this fear of ‘there is a loose tarantula in my apartment right now,’ but I’m just gonna sit back and sleep how I sleep normally and not think about it too much. But some of my friends won’t come over anymore, like I lost a tattoo client, because I publicly put it on facebook. I didn’t realize how much people are scared of spiders.
Do you still do tattoos?
Yeah, I’ve been tattooing for 11 years now. It’s definitely been a journey. I can’t say I went through the typical process of becoming a tattoo artist. I literally lived the quote of ‘fake it till you make it’. I lied about being a tattoo artist when I was like 16 years old. That’s what I wanted to be, and for some reason, that’s how I grasped the power of belief…obviously I wouldn’t go about how I did it when I was sixteen. But I just fed this story that I was a tattoo artist and got myself in these situations that gave me opportunities to become a tattoo artist. From then on I got some equipment and some people that trusted me to tattoo them.
What do you think of the wrestling community here?
I see it differently now. I’ve started to communicate and collaborate with some of the wrestlers in Montreal now. Before, it was really a lonely road, because I started training at Torture Chamber, back when I first decided to become a pro wrestler. We just didn’t mesh. [The owner] is the type of person who needs to be in control all the time, and I have my own personality, I have my own experience and my own talents that are very different from the textbook wrestling community. I basically got X-ed out.
You can actually get iced from a gym?
Sure. It’s all ego. The thing is, I know that I’m pretty different from the majority of that scene, because I come from a completely different background. Mentality, too. I just don’t do things for money, or fame, I do things for community, I really like to see people grow. I don’t do things for competition, I’m here to bring out peoples strengths, and find an outlet to express that. And [Torture Chamber] felt very one sided, that person wasn’t there to help me grow as an artist, so that just clashed. So there was some drama, and I ended up being like ‘okay, here I am, faced with a brick wall, what do I do? What do I do? I still wanna wrestle’ […] So, okay, I have some basic knowledge in wrestling, but I do have this immense background in performance art and theatre and music and organization, so I was like, okay, I’m gonna formulate my own style of wrestling. I am a wrestler, it’s in my blood, I feel it. I do combat sport, I’m a very physical person, I do acrobatic lifting, I’m very body smart.
So, I dove in those waters. [I decided to] rent a dojo and teach LOLWM classes. But before that, I was experimenting in giving pay-what-you-can classes in my basement, because I have a whole wrestling studio downstairs. So it started from the ground up, literally. At one point, I had ten students down there, and we’d dress up and do some MMA drills for conditioning…then I started charging per session, which wasn’t much, just enough to pay the rent. I started teaching since then…and it’s just been a trip, such a growing experience. Just by teaching, and trying to be the motor, and being calm and collected about everyone’s feelings while I’m still processing my feelings. Like, when somebody doesn’t show up to practice, sometimes I want to cry, because I’m so stressed, just trying to get this group together. And being aware what you’re saying, because some people could be sensitive, but meanwhile I’m not perfect, this is my first experience as a teacher. So all these things came up, but it’s all worth it. It’s really beautiful to see a community grow together and become a family and become so connected that you feel for each other. And also creating something together at that level of production…I felt supreme. It just felt incredible, but I know deep down I’m not going to harness those feelings of accomplishment to just feed into my ego and bring nothing to Montreal. My biggest intention for this project is really…I have the driving force of world change in my heart, in my spirit, so I do definitely want to spread a message, and make a change through community, and teach people to work with each other and depend on each other and work things out. Some sort of alternate therapy.
When it comes to your politics, how do you live so inclusively? How do you check your ego, and stay present, when you’re maintaining the egos and ideas and feelings of everyone around you?
I mean, I did go through a whole process with myself of killing my ego. I moved to Berlin with the intention of reformulating myself and living as an artist without my ego, which is impossible, but through creation and arts and facing myself and travelling and putting myself in uncomfortable situations, it really helped me. Speaking for myself, I just have this internal need to make a change. I haven’t been able to express myself as clearly and as calmly as I do now. Before, I was like REVOLUTION!!!! TAKE MY HAND, I’LL SHOW YOU THE WAY!!! Wrestling has really helped me with that intense energy. I don’t know, over the years, it’s a lot of self-searching. There’s a difference between your Self and your Ego. You can search within your Self to find these answers, but you really need to connect with others, that’s the future, that’s the future of our survival. To connect with each other, to create with each other, to build a community. We all complain about the politics now, the society now, and how things are going – well, I believe building things and creating things with the intention of change are really crucial now. Because we are in a time of privilege and comfort … we’re in times of pure joy, in Montreal. So use that time to connect with each other. It’d be foolish to think things are going to stay like this forever. I just want to build community, those are my politics.
What are your favourite traits in people? What attracts you to people?
Their abilities to change and evolve. Their different ways of creating … Everybody has a different essence and compliments each other in different ways. Sure, some people don’t get along, but I really do think there are ways of cracking those codes and finding the best in each other. I have endless love to give, so I just love loving and collaborating. I guess one of the main reasons I have a lot of people in my life is because I love collaborating with them.
Do you feel like Montreal has contributed to your success?
Very much so. I owe my life to Montreal, that’s why I started this project here. I’ve travelled to a bunch of places…and I came back, and decided that my headquarters would be here. Geeze, Montreal. You get to live in really nice apartments for cheap and still be able to do your art and not struggle. It gives you some air and space to create, which I’m so grateful for. I lived in New York for a bit, and I felt like it was such a rat race. People worked four jobs to support a tiny studio apartment for like a $1,000. What else could you do? You could become an artist, but people tended to move toward the party world, just so you could forget this sort of double life you’re living, maintaining like four jobs. For me, that’s not happiness, I know I have a gift of creation and a way to voice things in a way a majority of people can’t, and Montreal has given me the opportunity.
How has being a woman affected your life in Montreal?
I kind of really relate to male-energy. I’ve always been really strong, and I’ve also been a bigger girl. So, men in general always sort of treated me…as a not-typical girl. So, figuring out that strength inside me, trying to one-up men, almost trying to prove something, was annoying. I’d get really upset when someone would say a girl’s not as strong as a guy. It was my driving force to do combat sport, not because I wanted to prove men wrong, but because I really love my strength, and showing people it has nothing to do with my gender. I’m strong, I possess strength naturally, and now I’m training. Some men think I’m a man just because I have muscles. In the gay community, I’d be in the village and have people ask if I was a man or a woman. So I’ve struggled with gender roles, but I do look feminine, and I still identify with male energy.
It’s interesting to hear from a female’s perspective, identifying with male energies, because I think there has been such a push away from malehood in general.
I do agree, and that’s why LOLWM isn’t gender exclusive, I don’t exclude any males. There’ve been some debates, saying we should keep it to the queer community, but I said no. I think the world beyond the queer community are the ones who need to learn, not the ones closed off from the rest of the world. It’s really important that gender logic is spread. But in a way that’s like…I believe in equality. I’m not a man-hater, I identify a lot with male energies and it’s really important to me (…) But I guess I’d like to be a voice shining equality through the sexes, not making either/or feel lesser than another, because if one side goes higher than the other, we’re back in the same game. We all have to find a nice balance, and coexist together, and understand each other.
I’m super indecisive. I’m a Libra. Can I skip that question?
Always fluctuating. Right now, I just got introduced to PsyTrance. I got introduced by a really special person I connected with recently, and he’s really into PsyTrance. We went to my first PsyTrance festival over the weekend, and I understand it now. At first, I thought it was really intense, this constant beat. But I ended up dancing literally hours on end, it’s really primal, you get to lose yourself. It’s a major workout, I was just squatting for like 4 hours doing crazy dance moves.
Thunder and rain.
I really liked The Serpent and The Rainbow
Not the end, new beginning.
Where is feminism going?
It’s constantly evolving. Where I would like it to go is really obtaining that equality we’ve been going for.
What does it mean to be prolific, to be famed?
For me, there are different types of fame. The one I’m trying to obtain…I have a message to get out. I want people to open their minds and I want to help them find their inner strengths through the template of art that I do. I’ve worked really hard to find my body and find my self, it’s really helped me. I know it’s not the answer for everyone, but whoever it can be the answer for, I’d like to teach them, and show them, even inspiring someone to take control of their lives, and be confident, and connect with each other, and love.
What do you think the people really need to know?
Be positive—switch that—Stop hanging onto the negativity because that’s actually the death of you. I think that positivity is life and negativity is death and it all depends on what kind of life you want to live. Believe in yourself even though you don’t think you have anything. It’s about taking the time and searching inside yourself and it’s not gonna be easy, because it’s pretty painful. But, you know, choose life. Love. That’s what I got to say.
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