17 February, 2017

Everything you need to know before your first pole class....


You've finally been brave enough to book your first pole class, now what?

It can be daunting attending pole dancing classes for the first time, particularly if you haven't partaken in exercise since school! Many new students have little knowledge about the pole world, have never seen the multitudes of pole videos on youtube and/or have been dragged along to class by someone else (this was me). 

The great thing about this is that you have no expectations! It's a great way to enter in to a relationship with the pole community. 

However, there are some things you need to know, my beautiful readers.

Preparation:

♥ 
Know where the studio is. 
You laugh but pole studios are often in hard to find locations and if you miss the warm up you may not be allowed to join in with the rest of the class. Check out Google street view or ask for detailed directions!
Wear something comfortable.
Some studios may ask you to wear shorts from the first lesson. We allow students to wear leggings or jogging bottoms for the first few weeks if they prefer. We also now have a silicone pole in most classes, which allows students to pole fully dressed! Most studios are barefoot. Some people do wear trainers, ballet shoes or heels to pole! I recommend bringing a pair of socks for choreography every week, just in case, it's hard to slide around beautifully on bare feet. Leg warmers are also great for winter, but not necessary. DO NOT MOISTURISE ON POLE DAYS. I REPEAT DO NOT MOISTURISE ON POLE DAYS.
Research your studio.
You've already booked, but you should have done some research as to the pole schools in your area. Every studio is different! Not all are created equal and there are many different sides to pole. Do your research, ask questions. Always try different studios, and instructors, if there is more than one available to you.

On the day:

You've arrived!
Ensure you get to the studio early as there may be forms to fill out. Find out where everything is; the toilet, water, where you can put your things and get changed if you need to. You will be introduced to your instructor, who will explain everything you need to know. Don't be too shy to ask questions! Take LOTS of photographs and videos, you'll want to look back on these later down the line, and you should be proud of your achievements! You're a badass pole dancer now, after all.
The class.
Every studio structures their lessons in a different way, depending on their style. Below is a break down of what a typical class where I teach looks like:

Warm up: a full body warm up with particular focus on the arms and shoulders, as these are the muscles we will use the most! One to two songs in length.

Strength training: exercises on and off the pole designed to warm you up further and build strength for the moves you will eventually learn. This is an important element and will help you to progress more quickly and safely. Some studios do this at the end of class.
OR
Stretching/Choreography: certain weeks we ditch the strength training and do something fun! This may be some stretches to help with flexibility, it may be choreography, it may be learning to freestyle (dancing without a routine) or playing games.

Tricks and moves: You will then be taken through a certain number of tricks and dance moves individually, ensuring you have a good understanding of each one. To finish you may link these moves together in a combination or routine. This will form the bulk time of your lesson.

Cool down: This part of the lesson is super important to injury prevention and increasing flexibility. You will be given some time to wind down your practice and then be taken through stretches which focus on the muscles you have used. 
Etiquette.
Each studio will have different rules regarding safety and behaviour in the studio. They will likely run through this information at the beginning of your first class, or provide you with it as the lesson goes on. But primarily; do not talk over your instructor, be kind to other students, do not play on the poles before warm up, do not try moves you have not been taught directly by your instructor, do not touch the poles after cool down. These are basic studio etiquette but there may be more. For example, in my classes, anyone heard talking badly of themselves has to do press ups or burpees!
Enjoy!
Don't put pressure on yourself to achieve certain things or compare yourself to others. Every individual has a different background and different starting point. You may be the unlucky one and end up in a class full of ex-gymnasts and dancers. This doesn't mean you're rubbish, it just means they've been training their bodies their entire lives, and you haven't. Only compete with yourself. If you improve week on week then your instructor will be happy and proud. Don't give up on self growth because others are further ahead on the journey. They are not important, you are. Have a good attitude and you will go just as far.

Poles:

Spinning or Static.
The poles you use may be spinning or static. Your studio may only use one or both. It can take some time to get used to the spinning motion on either type of pole, usually within a few weeks any symptoms of dizziness or sickness go entirely. Take it slow to begin with, you will learn to control your spin speed, and let you instructor know of any concerns. They will adjust their teaching to help you!
Small hands/Big Hands.
Poles also come in different diameters, the smallest are generally 38mm,up to 50mm. I primarily use 45mm, with usually at least one 40mm and 50mm in each class. If you have small hands you'll want to use the smallest pole you can find! Most students dislike the old fashioned 50mm poles; but you find the odd person who still loves them. Try every pole.
Sweaty Hands.
Sweaty hands are the curse of pole dancers everywhere. There is lots you can do to help.
As previously mentioned NEVER MOISTURISE ON POLE DAYS. This is the cardinal sin of pole dancing. Not only will you be slippy, but you will make anyone who uses the pole after you slippy also. They will hate you. 

Wash your hands before and during class. It's not a long term solution but it can make a difference. 

Use a smaller pole - the smaller diameter will help if hand size and strength is the issue.

Clean your pole. Most studios will provide a pole cleaner and cloths. Always clean your pole before class, regularly during, and after. Beginners never clean their poles enough. On slippy hot sweaty days you may need to clean your pole between every move!

Buy a grip aid for sweaty OR dry skin. Grip aids come in many forms and are used across the board by pole dancers it is not cheating! There are different grip aids for different ailments. Always ask your instructor, some grip aids are not to be used on certain pole finishes and your instructor may have a product they prefer. I personally recommend Dry Hands, for hands!, and Dew Point, for the body and for those of you with dry skin.

Use a grippy pole! If your studio has poles of different finishes, there may be one type that suits you better. Chrome is the most common pole finish but not the most grippy! Look out for brass, stainless steel, silicone or powder coated and other finishes.

And remember; your hands and arms will get stronger, allowing you to hold your spins and moves for longer. Patience is the best solution for slippy hands!

After Class:

Feedback.
Let your instructor know how they did! Honest constructive feedback is a helpful tool for growing a business. Whether bad or good, we love to hear it. You may even wish to pop a review on their facebook page to show your appreciation!
Share your journey!
Post up your photographs, your videos, let everyone know about your new hobby. Some individuals still have an issue with pole dancing, but the majority of people now understand that pole is not a dirty sin to be hidden but a wonderful form of exercise and expression. Don't be shy! And your recommendation, your enjoyment, does more for our industry than any advertising we could pay for...
Look after yourself.
I remember being sore for an entire week after my first class. Putting on and taking off clothing was interesting, to say the least. Take a warm bath, do some gentle stretching. REST. In the weeks to come your recovery time will get shorter. It will get easier, your body will get stronger.
Get excited for your next class!
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09 January, 2017

"I'M a feminist TOO" - What it means for pole to be associated with stripping.


Twenty minutes to six o'clock, the front door opens and in walk a mother and daughter, entering the threshold of the studio. "We're early, but I just wanted to talk to you about what it is you do". She's worried about the connotations of pole dancing and her daughters only 17.

Rewind to a few years ago and I would have spouted some bullshit about how pole is a sport now, how it really has no connections to the strip club and that what we do is far removed from that world. It wasn't my own philosophy but I did believe that it helped sell my classes. I still tell a story, but a truthful one. "You can't get away from the fact that pole dancing did originate in the strip club" I tell them, and explain the many different types of pole, the competitions and the way many do it for fitness. I assure her that I would never teach her 17 year old daughter anything inappropriate. It is, after all, a rule of mine to not teach under 18's anything particularly sexy. Primarily for worry of what would happen if word got out; to the public, to parents. Secondarily because I thought I was an adult at 17, and I wasn't. Heck, I was barely an adult at 21.

I slip in that there's nothing wrong with stripping.

"I'm a feminist, I don't agree", she says, clearly getting a little ruffled and mildly defensive but keeping her cool.

So, I tell her passionately, but I hope calmly, "I'M a feminist TOO," my hands grasping at my heart, "and I believe that there is nothing wrong with female sexuality, it is healthy to express it, so long as there is consent. No one is ever forced to do anything they don't want to in this studio."

She seemed to think on this, "But I am concerned about all the women who are forced in to stripping and prostitution".

"Yes, that is concerning, but all of the strippers I know made that choice. Not many of them will tell you that it is empowering, but many of them were able to use their time stripping to create businesses and careers. I take note of your concerns and assure you I will not teach your daughter anything inappropriate". I should have told her that women being "forced" is a separate issue onto itself. I hope that this is taken as a given. It seems obvious but I feel like I have to say it; I fully condemn any action in which women are forced to engage in stripping or sexual acts against their will.

She seemed content on that; as she let her daughter stay; an incredible dancer, beautiful lines and fairly strong for a beginner. She smiled at me as I said goodbye to them both. I hope I'll see them both again next week.

The rest of the evening I was left thinking to myself, what is it that people really think when they associate pole with stripping? What do I think when I associate pole with stripping?

This lady seemed genuinely concerned that her daughter not engage in an act, that to her, has been brutally forced upon other women. A valid concern, though one that misses the agency of these women; particularly those who have built pole dancing empires on the back of the frail male ego.

Others see strippers as dirty, uneducated, S.T.I ridden, drug addicts who are the dregs of society, and why would you want to do something that they do? Why would you want to degrade yourself to that and mimic them? Why would you want to be a slut?

There are many shades of "concern" in between. All are filled with judgement or misunderstanding.

For me, if being associated with women who subvert the male gaze, in order to trick them in to giving up their cold hard earned cash, is a bad thing, so be it. If being associated with the same women who had the business acumen to take pole dancing to the dance studio is a bad thing, so be it. If being associated with women who created, from little, a nearly entirely female driven industry, that seeks primarily to empower other women, is a bad thing, so be it. If being associated with the women who saved my damn life is a bad thing, so be it.

There is negativity in our industry, in our art form, but for the most part I have experienced love and respect. I have been shown that I AM GOOD ENOUGH and more. The women who paved the way for me to experience this are goddesses. They are talented, they are confident, they are mothers, they are business women, they are married women. They are so many things. Ultimately they are humans of every walk of life.

And they can do it all in a pair of 8 inch heels. Damn, If this is what it means to be associated with strippers, I am all for it.

We need to stop being afraid that people will turn away from us for telling our truth; speak it freely, with passion and respect. You might be surprised. You might change someones mind. Whether or not her mother now sees the issue in a different light I do not know, but I did my best. That's all anyone can ever ask for.
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31 December, 2016

10 resolutions for pole instructors!



1. Share more. Us pole dancers are, for the most part, a bunch of exhibitionists, so many of you probably already do this, but let's spend a little more time this year sharing our videos, our pictures, our thoughts with our students and the wider pole world.You never know what new students you might pick up because of it.

2. Spend more time doing admin. I'm terrible. I can sometimes leave messages to sit for days, I forget to update the studio facebook page, I forget to keep track of students attendance and payments. I forget to message students who have been missing. I forget to sit down and plan lessons out properly. Life would be so much easier if I just spent a little time each day doing these things, instead of letting them build up. Just half an hour to an hour each day!

3. Spend more time on your syllabus. A good syllabus is a life saver. It will help your students to progress well. You can buy books like the PDC syllabus or Spin City's Pole Bibles but I have found that they often miss out or order moves in a way I would not normally teach them. Also there are often moves I refuse to teach because I suck at them! They're a really great tool to use but you really should have your own syllabus, at least for beginner levels. My syllabus also includes combinations, strength training, progressions and regressions I can use.

4. Be on time. Every evening it starts off well. I get to the studio early to set up the poles and therefore am ready to go on time for the first class, but as the evening goes on I run over more and more until the last class can start between 5 and 10 minutes late. It's so easy to get carried away and start stretching late when everyone is sooo in to class or finally getting moves they've been working on, but it's unfair on later students. Set a specific time each class to start stretching and STICK TO IT.

5. Train yourself. It's surprisingly easy to run out of things to teach. Sometimes I'll see a move online and realise I haven't taught it in 6 months and forgot it exists! Other times I have students who have been with me since day 1 and they're nearly advanced, or more advanced!!, than me. Regular training sessions to re-cap moves is important, as is taking time to learn something new. Go and take some classes with another instructor, train with other pole dancers, go and do a workshop with a famous pole dancer or simply shut yourself in the studio for some dance time every week this year!

6. Look after yourself - a broken unwell instructor is not going to be as effective. Stretch daily, get monthly massages, ensure you warm up and cool down properly every time you teach. If you need to take time off then do, you might lose money in the short term but if you're too broken to teach in the long term you'll lose a whole lot more. Seek professional help - physios, chiropractors, doctors. Know your anatomy!!! It will be a massive help in preventing injuries to begin with.

7. Slow things down. It's so easy to get through a lot of different moves each class but in reality you should be encouraging your students to spend a considerable amount of time on each move. Some lessons I only get through two moves or combinations, others we get through 4 or 5. Keep an eye on the mood of the class but try and drag things out just a little bit further. You'll make sure your students are better prepared but also that you don't run out of things to do with them so quickly. If you're teaching individual moves; get your students to put them in to a combination.

8. Get to know your students. There has to be some kind of a professional boundary involved (read this post here for more information) but that doesn't mean you can't get to know your students better. Ask about their personal lives, organise a trip to a pole competition or a night out. Ensure they know that you are there if they ever need to talk. I am reaaallllyyy bad at talking to my students about their day to day lives. There are just so many of them now, it's hard to even remember the names of their partners and what they do for jobs. Knowing little details means a lot to your students. I vow to be better on this one; because it's not like I don't care.

9. Try something new. Do you often teach your classes in a fitness based way? Solely focusing on strength training and pole tricks and moves? Try putting a little routine together to teach your students. Focus solely on dancing? Have a lesson on some harder moves. Maybe throw in a little bit of extra stretching, or some freestyling exercises (In particular I like blindfolded dancing or getting my students to try one combination to lots of different types of music, or picking random moves on cards and making a routine.). Maybe do a whole week on floor work and sexy moves. Shake it up a little! Some students may not like it, they will put up with it once in a blue moon, whilst others will love it.

10. Be MORE than just an instructor. Be a friend, be an inspiration, be a lecturer. Change your students lives. Give them permission to be who they are and refuse to let them degrade themselves with their horrible verbal self flagellation (my students have to do burpees or press ups if they're mean to themselves). Don't just conduct a fitness class. Do provide a safe space, a home, a family.

What other resolutions would you add?
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