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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27 September, 2016

Two pole dancers go to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child - a review of sorts.

We had the worst seats in existence. I knew this would be the case, because upon booking, I was told, "the view from these seats is obstructed". What I didn't realise; was just how bad they would be. On arrival at this grand beautiful theatre, the absolutely perfect setting for a Harry Potter play, we were pointed up more and more staircases. We made a pit stop at a bar, each wall covered in a variety of interesting clocks, before continuing on our arduous journey. Finally we made it to the top, and hitting my target "floors" on my fitbit, we walked out on to the balcony. The room began to spin as I looked down at our seats, and the stage. Vertigo taking over: my hands full of a g&t, a bottle of water, my bag, my jacket. I had to readjust, re-organise, and grab a banister, before slowly making my way down to our seating. One step at a time. The seating on our floor was near on vertical, and each level of the theatre sits directly on top of the one below. I came to feel a little like the Weasleys at the Quidditch World Cup. Yes, I am an "aerialist" who doesn't like heights, go figure!

Regardless of the awful seats; (and who can complain really, at only £15 per play for the cheapest seats) I was excited. For Harry Potter has been a feature in my life for nearly all of my conscious years. I remember, for example, when the book was first released, and my primary school teacher read the first chapter to us. I didn't take a liking to it, funnily enough, and it took great effort some years later to force myself to try again. I thought of it as a boys book, it didn't seem to hold anything that I was particularly interested in at aged 7. As I got older, as an avid reader I disliked the popularity it got, thinking; if everyone likes it, it must be awful; for most people do not read and have no taste. Luckily I got over that stupidity and, for many of my child and teenage years, each year was marked with the release of a book, or a film. The year I turned 21 the final movie was released, and with it, I branded the mark of the Deathly Hallows on my arm for eternity in ink, to mark the ending of Harry and finally my childhood.

Nearly a year on from buying my tickets; I found myself sat looking down at this stage so very far away, my heart full of expectation for the characters and world I had loved so dearly. It seemed, from the audiences reactions, that not many people had read the script prior to arriving. I personally found that it did not ruin the play to have known what was coming, because it was not in what happened but HOW it happened that mattered. The play is in two parts and each part is as long as a normal play. Seeing both plays on the same day felt like it might be a lot, but honestly, it was so immersive I barely noticed I'd spent the day sat down. The first part had me all goosepimply; my arm hairs on end; tears in my eyes; my heart swelling with the magic that played out. In the intervals I was speechless and could only mostly get out the words, "I can't even...what the...huh". Struggling to stop myself from curling up in a ball and weeping with joy.

I want to tell you all about this magic. I want more than anything to break the secret, but we all promised not to. All I can tell you is that what they achieved on that stage was breathtaking. I gasped, I cried, I laughed a LOT, I couldn't figure out HOW THE HELL THEY DID THAT, and when I could it was so seamless and so beautiful that it didn't matter that I knew exactly how it was achieved. Stage magic, that's real magic. That was some serious serious shit, and one particular moment will stay with me, and haunt me, for near on the rest of my life. To think about some of the wonderful moments they produced brings me to tears, even now; some weeks later.

After a short break outside of the theatre; the second part focused less on magic and more so on the story line. Though, don't be mistaken, there were still some amazing special effects. Unfortunately; I am not a big fan of the premise behind the cursed child. As many have said before, it is very much based on fan theory. Fan theories, that funnily enough, I liked very much when they were exactly that. To have them "proved" and made canon ruined them and kind of is lazy writing (get your own ideas goddamn). Regardless the second play was still enjoyable and emotional. I sat on the edge of my seating, leaning far forward - my previous fear forgotten, waiting for the moment when the whole audience would gasp and scream NO! They did not disappoint. But really, the acting is what makes the whole play just perfection.

The movement of sets and people, meant that everything HAD to be flawless or the illusion would shatter. Every actor had to be exactly where they were supposed to be at the right time or it wouldn't flow with everything else that was going on, but they managed it perfectly. They moved with the sets and with each other in such a wonderful way, it just worked. No illusion was broken or shattered, apart from one tiny moment when a trap door was left open a little too long (opps someone no doubt received a telling off for that one!). Considering the high level of special effects, stunts and set movement, it's a miracle that this was the only one mistake.

These actors knew the characters better, I feel, than the actors, I so dearly love, in the films. These characters were the characters I remembered in the books. Ron, for me, was redeemed and warm and funny and ate a lot and it was wonderful, and regardless of the dumb controversy over Hermiones race; she was perfect. I could think of no better person to play Hermione. It did not ruin my preconceived ideas about her, all it has done is expand them and given them a new life. Harry, as an adult and a father, was exactly as I wanted him to be; flawed, struggling along to do his best as always and mostly fucking up.

This play is just an interpretation of a world. Some will ignore it and refuse to acknowledge it as canon, and I get that, but just remember, that to read the script and to see it played out in front of you in all its glory and beauty, are two very different things. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was a perfect continuation of the HP world. No other format or medium would have delivered it in quite the same way. It captured audience imaginations in a way no book or film ever could, and we were encouraged to express and to enjoy, the actors pausing naturally for these moments, so no one missed a thing. We were a part of something special for a day, a long wonderful day. Even with the worst seats in the world; I would do it all over again, and again, if I could. Do not miss out, get a ticket if you can!

There have been tickets released at regular intervals since the first batch. I have no idea if more dates have been added, please check out the website here for more info. Re-sale is through the box office on site, and there is a queue on performance days for these. If you wait you may just be lucky!

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