She calls herself a performance artist, pole acrobat, part-time model -- and full-time muse.
Kara Nova was just 18 when she left Ohio for the Bay Area. Where would she go, she did not know at the time. But it was clear: not to college, as all her friends did.
What may seem like a normal and ordinary career path for many was not attractive to Nova, who changed her last name to use as her stage name. The name alone shows the Oakland resident's strengths do not lie in an office job but in creativity. Her stage name protects her against obsessive fans.
When people think of pole dance, some think of it as something that happens in a strip club. But you don't have to visit one of those to see Nova's live performance. She performs at festivals around the country and the Vau de Vire Society at San Francisco's DNA Lounge, and is a permanent member of the Hubba Hubba Revue, a burlesque and cabaret ensemble that performs every Monday at Oakland's Uptown club.
When she's not performing, she teaches other women the art of pole dance at the Sedusa Studios in Walnut Creek.
Nova's profession is part acrobatics, sport and art. She is immersed in a world of magic and surrealism.
"I've always been a musically oriented person," said the petite woman. "When I moved four years ago in the Bay Area, a friend showed me a video on YouTube where I saw for the first time a pole dancer.
"I was enthralled and mesmerized. That was the moment when I knew immediately that I wanted to do something like this."
It is a profession that requires hard training. Nova first practices alone in her apartment. She spends an hour per day stretching and then another hour working the different disciplines on the pole. Then she is supervised by Kemin Xia, a contortionist coach and former member of the Chinese National Circus.
"He had very high expectations," she said. "Through him I learned a lot."
Her body is like one muscle. She can perform ambitious poses such as the "Iron X," where she has both hands on the pole and her body horizontal in the air so she appears to be floating. In the "Knee Hold," she is suspended in air with only one knee wrapped around the pole, without using her hands.
Nova's skills impressed Jim Sweeney, aka Kingfish and founder and manager of the Hubba Hubba Revue, when she sent him a video of herself a year ago.
"Kara is breathtaking," said Sweeney, who sings and is also the revue emcee. "I am really very happy that she's in my ensemble."
His shows are called "End of the World," "Forbidden Island," "Wild Animals" and "Around the World in 80 Girls." And Sweeney loves to perform at Oakland's Uptown club. "Nowhere does the show work better than in Oakland," he said. "Nowhere are people more open-minded and enthusiastic than at the Uptown club."
Nova also choreographs some of her own burlesque and variety show performances. The shows are sometimes quite frivolous, but never explicit. They are artistic and entertaining. She dances to the music of Radiohead, Massive Attack or Bassnectar.
"All my friends know what I'm doing," Nova said. "Even my parents. For them, it's no problem, they just want me to be happy ... and that makes me happy."
Her goal is to promote pole dancing from the dreary corners it occupies in her conservative homeland of Ohio. She wants to make her art accessible to a wide audience.
Through pole dancing, Nova said, girls can discover their own body, gain confidence and get physically fit.
"Every muscle is claimed, at first it hurts. But the longer you train, the less the pain," said Nova, who teaches classes in pole dance and stretching technique three to four times a week at the Sedusa Studios.
Someday Nova wants to travel around the world and would like to work for an entertainment company like Cirque du Soleil.
"For that I must work out even more," she said. "Maybe my shows are already great, maybe my stunts are incredible. But that's not enough. I want to enchant the audience. They should be hypnotized when they see me, like I was when I saw it the first time."