21 August, 2013

So, you want to take a pole dancing/fitness class? - The Ultimate Guide.

(This is a revised version of the original post over on tumblr, here)

Everyone in the pole world had to start somewhere. Contrary to popular belief you don't need a background in dance or gymnastics in order to take a lesson - in fact, you don't need any kind of talent whatsoever to become one of best pole dancers in the world. All you need is determination! When I started pole dancing I was a lazy alcohol drinking cigarette smoking junk food lover who could barely walk to the end of the road without getting out of breath. Today I am an active non-smoker who teaches pole fitness! Taking that first class was the best decision I have ever made in my entire life.
There is some weird pervading myth online that to partake in pole dance or fitness classes you already need to be flexible, strong and a good dancer. I call bullshit. Here is a guide to beginning out in pole fitness for those of us who are unhealthy, over or under weight and who have as much grace and flexibility as a herd of wild buffalo (and for anyone else who has an interest but no idea where to start).
Is pole for me? 
  • Pole can be hard, really hard, but it is also a LOT of fun and addictive. This is what keeps so many people coming back! On top of that pole really is accessible for all types of people; old, young, disabled, fat, skinny. With a little bit of patience and determination almost anyone can make progress. It's all about muscle to weight ratio so of course if you're a little larger it may take longer to build the strength required BUT if you love it then stick with it because you can achieve the same as anyone else. Have no judgement or expectation about what you can achieve and you will surprise yourself!
  • One of the most common worries I hear from most people is whether the poles will hold their weight. The weight a pole can hold varies depending on a LOT of factors but as an example; the X-Pole X-Stage (a portable stage pole) can easily hold the weight of two rather stocky men of about 13-15 stone each doing doubles, we have tested it, and the X-Pole X-Pert/Sport (the kind of pole you’ll most likely use in the studio) can hold a lot more as long as they are put up correctly. So, no excuses! Lulu is a great example of a larger lady working the pole without breaking it!! 
  • The other concerns are usually focused on strength, flexibility, grace and dancing skills. Your classes SHOULD be designed for complete beginners and instructors should always assume everyone is at a low level of fitness until proven otherwise. They should push you to achieve your best but no one will expect you to do anything that is not within your reach. Strength, flexibility, grace and dancing skills will come with time and practice. Don’t compare yourself to others; this is YOUR journey alone. If you achieve something new from yesterday or last week then that is amazing. Take that attitude with you and you will achieve so much so fast you won’t even believe it!
Finding your studio:
  • This is the most crucial and important factor as to whether you enjoy and/or continue pole fitness classes. The first step is to ask yourself why you want to take a pole class. There are so many different faces to pole and you’ll most likely be drawn to one area more than another. The pole is simply an apparatus and classes come in many formats from purely for fitness to erotic dancing to super crazy tricks. A perfect studio would allow you opportunities to do all of these things and more but some are more specialist than others. The classes I attend are primarily fitness based but we also have opportunities to take extra classes in booty shaking, aerial hoop, flexibility and pollet (a ballet/pole fusion class).
  • It’s also important to find the right instructor. You’ll find all instructors are different and will have different teaching styles; you may need to try many different studios or teachers before you find a class that suits you. You may live in an area where there is only one studio or there may be a large selection. Do your research! Google is your friend. Other important things to look out for are qualifications. If you live in the UK are they either PDC or REPS registered? Have they done any pole specific qualifications and do those qualifications actually mean anything? You can be sneaky here if the information is not available, simply ask, "I was just wondering, like how did you get in to this? It’s such a different thing to do. Are there qualifications pole fitness instructors have to have?” and see how they respond! Just because they have no qualifications does not mean they are a bad teacher but it can mean that if an accident happens their insurance won’t cover it. Anyone can buy the insurance but it does say in the small print that you must be qualified to teach whatever class it is you are teaching. If anyone has any info on American qualifications for either fitness instructors in general, or pole specifically, then send it on my way so I can include it here!
  • Lastly; if you are asked to wear heels to a first class (particularly relevant if you’re interested in pole for its fitness or acrobatic elements) or your instructor tries to get you to invert on your first class….run away. Quickly. Unless you’re like an ex-gymnast or something.
Attending your first class:
  • Try and turn up early so you can have plenty of time to find the studio and check it out. You’ll want to know where you can get water, where to get changed, where the toilets are, there may be forms for you to fill out and you’ll want to meet your instructor. It’s never cool to turn up late for a class, they may wait for you and thus hold up the next class or they may start without you and you will have to get warmed up and miss out. For your first class you can probably get away with wearing jogging bottoms and a t-shirt but it won’t be long before you need to wear shorts. Most students go barefoot but I have seen people wearing trainers and ballet shoes seem particularly popular. Always ask before if in doubt. Take water with you!
  • You may be most worried about what you will learn in your first class so here is a little breakdown of how we teach a group’s first ever pole fitness class; you will start with a short warm up that is designed to get your heart racing and your muscles warm. There is some debate as to whether a warm up should include static stretching or not so this may vary. Next you will most likely do some strength training. This is essential for you to build the strength you will need to make progress and learn those awesome spins and tricks you saw online. It will consist of a variety of exercises primarily designed to build your core and arm muscles; variations should be given for different fitness levels. You will then learn a few transition moves and spins such as a fireman, a pirouette and a step around. Finally you will stretch to cool down.
  • Remember to relax and enjoy it. Don’t beat yourself up if you struggle. There are girls who come to their first class and can immediately do everything we throw at them and girls who barely manage to do one spin. It does not necessarily correlate that if you are the second girl that you are just rubbish at pole and should not continue or that if you are the first girl that you’ll go on to be the best. I have it on good authority that Bendy Kate (UK Professional Pole Championships Elite Champion 2012) found pole really hard when she first started and that she still to this day struggles with some pretty basic things (and no, I won’t tell you who told me that ha). Even the best have their weaknesses.
Self-teaching:
  • There are areas of the country, and world, which do not have a pole dancing/fitness studio and even where there are classes available they can be VERY expensive. In cities you can be looking at over £100 for a 6 week course. Self-teaching is not something I recommend for the large majority of people but it can work in some instances; Jess Leanne Norris (Miss Pole Dance UK 2011), self-taught from the age of 15 and now is one of the UK's best pole dancers (in my opinion the best). The main things you have to remember with self-teaching is that pole dancing is dangerous and it is hard; many of you will give up without the structure of a class and you could get SERIOUSLY injured. I’m talking paralysis, broken bones or at the least sprains and strains. If you’re determined then take it slow and find a partner to join you on your pole journey; you WILL need a spotter and most likely a decent crash mat. Learn about warm ups, cool downs, safe stretching, anatomy and physiology. You’ll need it if you don’t have someone, who does have that knowledge, guiding you. A good way to start might be to buy a PDC syllabus (available from Amazon but also online) and work through the levels, perfecting each move as you go.
Self-teaching links:
  • Pole and Aerial. Video tutorials from some of the world’s best pole dancers; Jenyne Butterfly, Felix Cane and Marlo Fisken among others.
  • StudioVeena. Another video tutorial site. The great thing about this site is the community, which you can access without having to subscribe. It really is an online studio as it provides the social element.
  • Pole Dance Dictionary.
  • PDC syllabus online.
  • Youtube in general is good for tutorials.
  •  And tumblr is great for advice.
And finally, Buying your own pole:
  • Pole dancing is kind of like marmite and the old cliche; you either love it or hate it. It took me only a month of classes to want my own pole. Having your own pole at home is a great way to improve on what you learn in class and get extra training in. For those who can’t afford a weekly class it can be a good option to save money; take one class a month and train at home the rest of the time. So what are your options? Do not buy from a company unless it is included in this section (there may be a few professional grade pole companies that I am not aware of, please inform me if you know of others to add to this post!).
  • The world of poles is not an easy one to understand and you may wish to talk to your instructor for their opinion first. You’ll most likely want to buy the same pole you’re used to in class and may already know a little about the different features and types of poles out there. This is mainly provided for those who want to self-teach or just don’t have a clue. The main differences between poles are the way in which the poles are installed, the coating of the pole, the thickness of the pole and whether they are static and/or spinning.
  • The most popular pole in Europe (though it is sold in America and world-wide) is the X-Pole Xpert and the main reasons for this are its affordability and functionality. It can be put up in homes with varying ceiling heights and types; as long as there is a support joist (beam) to prop it up on. You can find these easily using a stud finder. The pole goes up in no time with no drilling. It takes all of about 10 minutes from the box. The Xpert also has spinning or static capabilities.The X-Pole Sport is an even cheaper option if you’re not a fan of spinning poles.
  • Other companies I am less versed in include; Lil MynxPlatinum Stages and R-Pole. I’ve never tried a Lil Mynx or Platinum Stages pole so can’t exactly comment but it is easy to find reviews online if you’re interested. Lil Mynx seem particularly popular in America and they do awesome coloured poles which I kind of want (pink of course!!)… I recently tried an R-Pole at the famous studio at Taylor’s Farm Retreat. My instructor swears they provide a better grip than our Chrome X-Poles but my hands were pretty sweaty full stop so I can’t comment there and we’re not entirely sure if they were steel or chrome or something else entirely.
  • There is a lot of debate over what type of pole is best for grip and many of the companies offer different coatings from chrome to steel to titanium to brass. Read reviews, try them out if your studio has a variety. Most people go for the cheapest and to be quite honest most studios use chrome as well!
Pole thickness:
38-40mm: Super skinny pole! If you struggle with gripping on to the pole because you have small hands then this may be a good option for you. It can be a more painful pole to train on but most find that in time they become accustomed to it. If you struggle with leg grips then this may not be the pole for you as there is very little to grip on with. The Cross Ankle Release is a very urhm interesting experience on this pole!
45mm: The skinny pole and the love of my life. Perfect for small to normal sized hands and provides just enough grip on the body without being too painful. I personally think this is the perfect all-rounder of a pole. You get the best of both worlds!
50mm: The fat pole. This used to be the standard pole size in most studios until people discovered how much better the thinner poles are. Some people do still love the 50mms though. It’s all personal preference. I think they are great to have in class when trying a new trick that requires a lot of body grip and not a lot of hand grip. It’s good to have that safety before moving on and trying it on a smaller pole.
So, hopefully this has covered everything you might like to know about pole dancing/fitness classes. If you have any other questions please don’t hesitate to pop me an ask. Most of all; be BRAVE, take the leap. You may end up loving it!
Bonus tip: Slut shaming is not cool and just because you do your pole dancing only for fitness does not make you better than strippers. Most of the pioneers of pole fitness were strippers. It is that simple. Although the pole is simply a tool we have to acknowledge our roots. Clearly today we can use the pole in many ways and it is often an acrobatic/gymnastic approach that is favored. Chinese pole and the circus have clearly been a huge influence but ultimately strip clubs are to thank for what we have today. There are different theories on the origins of pole dancing but here is a good article which may explain a little more. Play nice!