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Learning to Teach: What I have learned from my first teaching opportunities

Until recently, I had never taught pole or lyra in an official capacity. I had always been a friend who shows people new stuff I have learned in class or in pole jams, and I’ve given private lyra lessons to friends, but I had never been contracted to teach my own class. I had never had a chance to create curriculum.

Over the weekend of 10/10-10/12, I had the amazing opportunity to participate in Pole Unbound. The Pole Unbound Retreat was conceived and organized by Aerial Amy. The central conceit was that everyone has something of value to contribute to the pole world. Therefore, Pole Unbound was established as a community pole retreat and jam, meaning that the instruction would be crowd sourced. As part of the retreat, each of the chosen attendees had to submit two possible options for workshops they could teach to the other attendees. At first, this was a little daunting, as I wasn’t quite sure what I had to offer, but I boiled it down to: what do I like to do and what am I good enough at that others may not be able to offer? The answers were freestyle exploration and lyra (since not all polers do lyra). So, I set about crafting two descriptions and basic curriculum, then sent my pitches off to Amy.

As a group, we voted on the workshops anonymously (it was double blind voting), and the top vote earners were selected as the overall curriculum for the weekend. My freestyle exploration workshop was chosen! It was such an awesome and validating feeling! And, also, a bit overwhelming, because it meant I really had to be detailed in my curriculum and come up with something I felt good about teaching.

I set about writing down ideas for possible prompts and sections, taking into account my own experiences in other classes, as well as my training in acting. What I wanted to create was something that melded freestyle exploration and my acting training, so I created a curriculum that was largely partner based.

Being me, I decided that I wanted a test run of the workshop, so I arranged to run it for some friends the weekend before Pole Unbound. I wanted to see if there were any timing issues or other problems that came up with the curriculum. The test went really well, though! I had to do some squashing of elements for time’s sake, but I was prepared for that. It was such fun to see everyone participate!

For me, it was a little unnerving to have to be the leader, especially in a group that contained a few girls that are teachers in classes that I attend. Running a warm up is an interesting art that I am not sure I have fully mastered, but I felt like the other sections went well!

Teaching the workshop at Pole Unbound was different. The class size was doubled, and the circumstances going into it were different: my workshop ran at the end of a very long day, and everyone was exhausted. It was hard for me. I knew people were tired, which made them distracted and less interested in participating. I struggled to find my footing early on, and then struggled to keep some students engaged due to the content of the workshop. Not everyone likes freestyle exploration. It’s very challenging for some people, and between that and the exhaustion of the group, I ended up losing about 1/3 of the participants by the end of the hour and a half.

I’m not going to lie. I was hurt. It felt really disrespectful to me, especially since I had stayed in the room for all of the other workshops, even when I wasn’t able to do the content being taught (i.e. I can’t do a back bend, so doing walkovers isn’t something I can participate in). Once I had processed everything, what stuck with me was not being pissed about how people left (valid reasons or not), but instead, being really overjoyed at the results from the people who DID stay. They were incredible. They gave so much to the work, and each person had such gorgeous, unique movement. I was blown away by what I was lucky enough to witness from the participants. It was such an honor.

Not long after I got back from Pole Unbound, I was asked to sub a lyra class at an area studio. I said yes, excited to get the experience, and it was interesting. Being a sub of someone else’s class is different than hosting your own, I think. Much like subs in high school, I think subs in pole classes are met with some amount of skepticism. I had actually been in class with some of the gals I was teaching in the subbed class, but nobody seemed to be that bothered by a fellow student moving into the teacher role (thankfully). What proved to be a challenge for me was teaching in a different way than the usual teacher.

I chose to run the class a little more like my usual class that I attend, which meant that the curriculum was based on learning elements of a routine. With 8+ students, it was a large class to control, and tough for me to bounce between two hoops to make sure everyone was spotted correctly and shown how to break things down properly. With only an hour of class time, i did a super short warm up, then launched into teaching. I also chose to ignore the trapeze, because I barely know any moves on it, so I didn’t feel comfortable teaching anything. I did allow students to use it if they had experience on it, but I offered no actual instruction (which I had told them would be the case beforehand).

Some of the challenges of this class included the fact that a number of the students were teenagers. The teens pick up stuff pretty well, but keeping their attention can be tough. I ended up teaching the first 8 or 9 moves of my Pacific Aerial Art routine (which includes the same moves I usually teach to friends who are new to lyra), and everyone seemed to pick them up pretty well – the last move was one they really seemed to like. I also showed them one advanced move, which everyone was able to try.

Overall, I think it went okay, but I did feel like it was disorganized. I wasn’t sure if that was my fault, or just that there were so many students. I don’t know if the students liked the class, but I hope some of them took something good away from it.

Coming up in November, I’ll be taking an intermediate/advanced pole instructor training course. I’m interested to see what the content will be and how it will work. I genuinely don’t know what will be covered. I was planning to take a beginner/intermediate, but the company doesn’t have one until next year, so the owner suggested I do the int/adv because my personal skill level is suitable for that level of instruction.

In the meantime, I’ve got teaching on my mind: how to improve, how to work with different types of students, how to create curriculum for new workshops. I really want to have more opportunities to teach freestyle exploration workshops.

Some things I am considering:

Confidence – Through observation and experience, it can be tough to remain confident, both in your own abilities, but also your curriculum. One of the things that was great about Pole Unbound was that we got the chance to see that everyone can contribute. We all have value. It’s just a matter of owning what it is that is ours to do. One of the things I want to work on is feeling confident that I am worthy of being a teacher of others and being confident in my choice of curriculum.

Teflon – Realizing that some people may not like you, may not like your teaching style, or may not like what you teach, but that you don’t have to take it personally. I don’t mean ignoring solid, constructive criticism, because I think it’s valuable to self-assess and reflect, but taking things personally when they aren’t meant to be personal – when they are more about the other person than they are about you – is damaging.

Flexibility – While getting off topic can be really easy (“hey, can you show me this?” can bring you pretty far from your lesson plan if you aren’t careful), it’s also important to be flexible about the structure of class, especially when you have a student having difficulty.

Compassion/Empathy – With difficult students, sometimes it is hard to remain calm. Some people are toxic. It’s a fact. But, instead of being reactive, I think it’s valuable to take a step back and see if there is an empathetic approach possible. There won’t always be, but sometimes, you can find a way to create an encouraging, safe space for people to explore and move through their fear. And, if you can’t, it’s okay to wish them well and let them go. Just try to not carry that with you and let it impact your other students. This is a great lesson that I am working on for myself.

No Nonsense – On the flip side of empathy, I want to learn how to effectively shut down nonsense. Not being a bitch about it, but just silently demanding the respect that is deserved when instructing others.

On a final note, about Pole Unbound: the next retreat has been planned for May 2015, in Toronto. If you are interested in joining, use this form to add your name to the list of potential attendees!

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1VEX9zMg3ZfgyNKy0kq28ipGHFK116yRvUQZsCLwV3vI/viewform

Something to consider before applying:

What can you teach? Pole Unbound is founded on the idea that everyone has something to offer. This is not a “pay money to be taught by pole celebrities” retreat – it’s an “everyone teaches each other” retreat. With that in mind, consider your strengths as a poler and what you can teach to others in a workshop setting, because you will be asked for what you might be able to bring to the table in a workshop setting.

Everyone has something that makes them unique as a poler. Find yours!
Note: this sign up page is not binding, and the registration application process closes November 15th.

Pole Unbound 2015 - Toronto

Pole Unbound 2015 – Toronto

Vertical Swag Wrist Wraps

If you’ve been reading my blog, you may have noticed that I occasionally talk about my wrist pain from pole dancing. I wanted to take a minute to share one of the things that I believe has helped me lessen the pain! Sometime last year, a pole sister of mine (one of my pole “sponsees” – a gal I got into poling) mentioned that she’d been using wrist wraps while poling to give her wrists added support. I thought it was an interesting idea, but because of my ADD, it pretty much leaked out of my brain five minutes after the conversation. A little while later, I happened to come across a giveaway on Pole Dancing Adventures, offering up the wrist wraps from Vertical Swag. While I was not the winner of the giveaway, I did end up buying a pair of my own. You may have seen me sporting them in various photos:

Titanic from the floor

Titanic from the floor

Learning the Iris

Learning the Iris

Lyra move (death star??)

Lyra move (death star??)

Lyra move (death star??) from the side

Lyra move (death star??) from the side

In all of these photos, I have on my zebra striped Vertical Swag wrist wraps. I do think they’ve helped me stabilize my wrists, especially since I’ve been working to move into more aerial/twisted grip moves. TG is hard on my right wrist, which is my “pull” wrist (the hand that is “up” in all of my TG moves). After taking two weeks off from class because of the holidays and my busy work schedule, all it took was one class filled with twisted grip moves and handspring work for my wrist to be in a ton of pain – and, of course, I had neglected to take the time to put on my wrist wraps before that class, which was not smart – I think it would have helped a lot if I’d put them on! Since then, I’ve been keeping my wrist wrapped a good portion of the time that I am not in class (depends on the day and what I’m up to), and I went back to using my wrist wraps, even in Lyra, which is normally not that bad on my wrist. I think the wraps have helped with the pain!

I do think that some of my wrist pain would be better if I a) was better conditioned in my wrists and forearms b) lost a little bit of weight. Now, don’t think I’m complaining about being fat or something – the simple fact is that less weight on a sensitive wrist would be a good thing. I’m asking my wrists to support 157ish pounds, and while conditioning would CERTAINLY help that, I’m sure my wrists would love me for laying off junk food for a bit.

The wrist wraps, however, are a great, affordable little helper! They add stability, but also keep the joint warm, which is nice. They’re 100% cotton, easily washable, and simple to use. Here’s a great little demo video of how to put them on and secure them:

Vertical Swag offers a number of colors and styles – my zebra print is no longer listed, but there’s a cute teal version! I love that they’re made for pole dancers, BY a pole dancer, so you get to support a fellow poler AND a small business by purchasing them. You can purchase your wraps at http://verticalswag.com/wraps/ – the front page of the site says that there is currently a New Year’s sale going on, so you can save 25% off right now!  They also offer other products for polers, like shoe and grip bags. You can check them out online at www.verticalswag.com and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/VerticalSwag

I’ll have some more fun updates again soon! Happy Poling!

A couple of videos for you

Just a quick post with a couple of videos for you.

First up, a performance from Sarah Scott that blows my mind – she’s SO strong. Like, beast strong. It’s AWESOME. I met her briefly at PoleCon 2012, so it’s neat to finally check out her performance style. She’s got a couple of aerial and shoulder mount sequences that are incredible, and I like some of her other moves – she’s got a shoulder stand floor move that I’d like to breakdown, and I actually brought one of her pole sequences into class late last year – it’s a combo from an odd spin into a series of grip poses, then some planks from the floor to pole. (I’m not explaining it well, but I have no idea what any name of any trick in it would be.)

And, then there’s little ol’ me, trying my best to learn a new sequence at my last Lyra class. I’ve been struggling a bit the last few weeks – more tired than usual, and it could either be that I’ve been sick (especially the last two weeks) and run down, or it could be that the difficulty of the tricks has finally caught up to where my strength level is. Not sure yet. This week was tough on me, though – the sick factor really took more out of me than I realized (which is not a fun thing to discover when you’re in a single knee hang). I’m struggling a bit in this video, but Leigh is walking me through each new move patiently, since I didn’t get a chance to string them together before this moment – I’d tried one of the tricks twice successfully, one of them once successfully, and one of them once rather unsuccessfully, so the entire thing was pretty new to me, except for the knee hang portion and the mermaid. The one I’m working with near the end is called The Dislocater (not sure if that’s just Leigh’s name for it), and it lands into two pretty tricks, but getting into it is awkward as hell (as you can see). Hoping to have it down a bit better next week!

I’m back in class tomorrow and Thursday – hoping my body doesn’t put up too much of a fight – and am tentatively scheduled to finally head out with a pole friend to play with my Most-Fit suspension strap. Between being so sick, it being my busy season with my pet sitting business, and the weather acting up every time I made plans to go outside to use it, I haven’t been able to test it properly yet. Excuse, excuses, I know. :-)

Still no word on whether I’ve got a spot in the PPC 2013 showcase, but I do think I have my song/theme if I get in! Also, we’re working on getting new merchandise ready for Poleitical Clothing – hope to launch it at Pole Show LA, if we end up getting a vendor booth. :-)

Video Blitz

I’ve been out of town again, but wanted to update with some recent videos.

First up is one of my new favorite performances, from Marlo Fisken – I seriously keep watching this over and over. She brings so much fluidity to her performances – and she’s a sterling example of what it is to pole DANCE. She’s also a powerhouse. I’m in awe, always. Stunning.

Next is a recent video from USPDF Champ Michelle Stanek – it’s a gorgeous mix of sexy and athletic, proving once again that there is room for both in the pole world. They can co-exist, and the results are beautiful.

This video – damn. This guy is amazing. Incredible strength and moves – he’s got some sick combos and Chinese pole skills. He’s earning some crushes from my fellow pole girls. :-)

I’ve got some new post ideas in the works, and I’m thrilled to share that I’ll soon be reviewing the MostFit Suspension Strap, to see how it helps with conditioning for pole and aerial! Once I receive my test sample, I’ll figure out what kind of exercises to do with it and if I can work out a program for use, based on what they suggest, and I’ll pass along that info on my blog!

I’m looking forward to heading back into Lyra this coming weekend (side note: my mom is coming to a class with me, later in the month – that’ll be fun!) – in our last class, I got to go to the top of the hoop for the first time! I’m excited to keep adding on to what I’ve learned. I have someone tape me in each class, so I can see what I’m doing – how far I’ve come, what tricks are working, what needs to be polished, etc. Right now, I seem to be so focused on tricks and making sure I’m solid that I’m not really minding my musicality, so that’s my next goal. :-) Also, I want to smooth out my inverts. Anyway, here’s the video from my last class!

Inverting to the top of the hook, in a pike position.

Inverting to the top of the hoop, in a pike position.

Tying it together

At today’s Lyra class, we worked on tying our tricks together and smoothing out our transitions – something important for pole, too! I’m still working on making combos mesh well and smoothing out the moments between tricks so that I get rid of the awkward, “okay, now I’m gonna do a trick” pause.

With Lyra, it feels like I know a lot of tricks for someone who started 2 months ago, but I don’t yet know how to full incorporate all of them. If I mount one way, I can get into this trick and that trick, but I haven’t figured out how to get back around to do these other three tricks, and then if I mount this other way…yeah, it goes on. So, in today’s class, Leigh had us working on transitions within a specific series of tricks off of the Mermaid. We had the option of taping ourselves, so we could learn a little more – video below! – and we also had to work in pairs at the end! She had us pair up to choreograph our movements – again, doing the same specific movements, but we could add more if we both knew how to do them – and then having to sync our movements while performing on different hoops. It was an interesting exercise! We also worked on center straddle mounts – Leigh makes it look so easy and stunning, but damn, it’s hard! I’d venture to say that it’s harder than straight leg inverts on the pole, but that’s also not my strong suit (still tweaks my back a bit). I was able to do the straddle mount better on the shorter hoop, so I ended up practicing more on that one. We did a fair amount of conditioning for that mount, so I am hopeful to get to continue and improve!

Anyway, here’s my video from today’s class – I’ve already launched up to mount the hoop when it starts, but you’ll see Leigh spin me – she wanted us to all work while the hoops were spinning, so she gave us each a spin just after we inverted. It’s such a challenge when spinning, and I had a momentary panic attack about getting dizzy, but the moment I focused very intently on what trick I was doing and where my hands needed to be, I was able to work through the spinning and not get dizzy – I’m still working on that with spinning pole!!!

Also, a couple of videos of Leigh, because she’s awesome:

This is her performance from CPDC 2012, which I loved:

How Many Calories Does Pole Dancing Burn?

Ah, yes. THAT question. :-)

One of the great things about starting a pole dance or pole fitness class are the health benefits – from weight loss to muscle building and toning, pole can have an amazing impact on your body. Add in increased flexibility, endorphins, and even the confidence and connection to oneself that pole can build, and you’ve got an activity that can change your life in many ways.

But, what about the calories?

Let’s face it – calorie burning is just one of those things that a lot of us think about. “Did I work off that donut? Those gummi bears? That extra bit of cheese?” (Okay, maybe not everybody eats as crappy as I do…) A few weeks ago, I posted about my quest to track my calories better. I’ve been keeping up with my food journal via the MyFitnessPal app on my phone, which has been a decent tracker – there are tons of foods already logged into the database, which can make it easier to find and track what you’re eating, but you can also add your own entries if you have a product label handy (there’s also an option to scan product bar codes, but I haven’t tried it). You also have the option of entering your workouts to track calories expended, but the totals are a little suspect – and the options aren’t great. Naturally, there was no option for pole dancing or pole fitness in the database. :-) The results that I found in running online searches weren’t great, either. In general, they quoted about 250 calories, but there was no way to really quantify it. I wanted something that I felt was more accurate for me. Also, since I started tracking calories in an attempt to shed some extra weight, I wanted more accuracy.

After some research, I purchased a Polar Ft40F heart rate monitor to wear during my pole and lyra classes, to try to get an average of calories burned in each class.

Polar FT40F White (Women’s Heart Rate Monitor)

I’ve been wearing it in every class for the last three weeks. The model features a watch band computer that logs and tracks the results, as well as a chest strap and monitor attachment to wear while working out. You have to enter your stats in the computer in order to get proper results, i.e. height, weight, age. So, keep in mind that this data is based on my specific stats!

Here are my results (so far):

Pole Class 1: 561 calories burned, 100 minutes in length

Lyra Class 1: 491 calories burned, 60 minutes in length (private session)

Pole Class 2: 586 calories burned, 90 minutes in length

Lyra Class 2: 423 calories burned, 96 minutes in length (full class)

Pole Class 3: 523 calories burned, 100 minutes in length

Each of my pole classes is scheduled to be 90 minutes in length – I start the monitor as soon as we begin our warm up and keep it on until after our freestyle at the end of class, when I notice my heart rate falling again. My class spends about half an hour on our warm up, which consists of stretching, calisthenics, and some aerobic activity from things like ab sets, planks, leg work, etc. Our warm up is tough and meant to condition for aerial – it’s less about connecting to the music and the flow of dance and expression, and more about getting you to the point of being able to get your butt over your head.

We work on a lot of pole tricks at my level – fewer spins and floor work (although, it is included depending on the lesson for the class), more climbs, inversions, mid-air tricks, lifts, and aerial training. While we’re not constantly moving, when we are moving, it’s usually in larger, more difficult movements. So, there’s a lot of up and down with the exertion – which I’ve heard burns more calories, but I’m not a trainer, so I can’t attest to that for sure. :-) An example of what we worked on in my last class: our warm up, followed by revisiting the junkyard swing so we could attempt it in mid-air, then some work on shoulder mount flips (taking the mount into a pencil, then flipping the legs back down to a pole sit), multiple goes at conditioning our aerial twisted grip pencils and ayeshas, a big Chinese grip full body spin, various inversions, and then our freestyle, which was two songs with everyone dancing (4 students in class that night).

I took two different types of Lyra classes in the last three weeks – an hour long class that ended up being a private (I was the only student registered) and a 90 minute class with six students (and two hoops). I worked harder in the hour class because I was the only student (and boy, did I feel it later), but I still got in a good work out in the 90 minute class. I worked on a variety of tricks in both classes, like splay leg inversions, front balances, and a number of different poses.

Based on my personal data, I burn an average of 557 calories per pole class. I don’t have enough data to do an average for Lyra classes on their own (and I had two different kinds of classes), but when factored in with the pole classes, the average for calories burned doing an aerial arts class is approximately 517. Lyra burns less than pole overall, but a more intense Lyra class (i.e. my one hour long private class) can burn as much as a pole class, even if the Lyra class is shorter in length. All of the pole classes I took were not super packed with students, enabling me to have more opportunities to get on the pole – I also tried to be mindful of staying still for too long, making a point to try to keep busy so I could burn more calories. Obviously, I would get more accurate results by factoring more classes, which is something I intend to do – I want to continue to track my aerial classes from here on out and see what I come up with!

Now, as I said, these results are based on my specific statistics…which, after some consideration, I’ll share in the spirit of full disclosure. But, if anyone asks, I’m totally the weight it says on my driver’s license. :-)

Age: 32, Weight: approximately 156lbs, Height: 5’6″

Also, in the interest of full disclosure: I started tracking calories because I wanted to lose a bit of weight. Yes, I want to slim down for vanity related reasons, but I also wanted to see if it made my transition into aerial easier. I have gained a lot of muscle since starting pole, but I don’t appear to have lost fat. In fact, my weight has fluctuated up and down over the last two years. While I’m definitely stronger and fitter, I’m not any thinner – I’m a size bigger than when I started. Now, this is not to discourage anyone thinking about pole dance or pole fitness as a weight loss exercise – because people DO lose weight doing it. I just really like candy. And bacon. :-)

I hope this helps answer some of the questions surrounding how many calories are burned in a pole dance or pole fitness class! I’ll update again in the future, when I have more results, but in the meantime – Happy Poling!

Lyra: Hoop Dreams

I took my first Lyra (aerial hoop) class today, at Evolve Dance Studio! It was fun! My pole training comes in handy in terms of the strength and muscle memory, but it is still tough! A lot of upper body strength (at least, it was for me, being new), and you need strong abs for control. I learned how to get up into the hoop (still working on how to do that gracefully!), plus some basic tricks: stag, mermaid, drapey mermaid, and a move whose name I forgot, but it involves using one foot to “stand” on the hoop – you really end up hanging from the top of the hoop (using your hands/arms) and have one foot pushing the hoop away, with your legs sort of extended into a split, so the back leg is hanging down. At any rate, it was a ton of fun, but definitely taxed my hands – need major calluses! My grip was okay – I had to rub my arms out on a nearby pole during my down time, to be able to continue, but it worked. My left hand still isn’t at full strength, but the right felt good being my strong arm for this apparatus! I need better conditioning for some of it, but by the end of the hour, I was able to get up and tie together all of the moves I had learned, and flow through them reasonably well – that was fun!

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