As some of you may know, I got my split somewhat recently. I was looking back through old photos and actually found a photo of my split from a few months ago, which my boyfriend took at my request – I think I had wanted to chart my progress, but then never followed through on progression photos. However, I do have this side by side comparison:
I still have a lot of work to do: I want to get my hips squared and have an easier time with getting into the split overall, plus work on my right split and center splits. Right now, I can get into my left split with A LOT of warming up in class. It takes the right combination of stretches, plus some heat in the room, and probably some other factors (hydration, energy level, etc) to get my front leg to the floor. I am not super flexible in general, so to even get this far is a HUGE deal for me!
Since a few people have asked me what stretches I was doing to help with my progression, I put together a quick video of part of the warm up that we usually do in my Monday night class. (A good number of these are stretches from other classes, too – I’ve just found that Monday’s sequence warms me up the best.) Our usual warm up is 30-45 minutes long, and we go through exercises, movement, and stretching for the entire body – it’s the longest of any warm up, in any of my classes, but I love it – I feel more prepared and conditioned by it than some of the shorter, strength conditioning based warm ups that I do. I think this warm up works because of my specific body – I take FOREVER to warm up, even when I am not doing pole, and my asthma doesn’t play well with cardio-based warm ups. Not only do I have more split flexibility from this warm up, but my shoulder flexibility is noticeably better. I can’t hit a Scorpion stretch fully quite yet, but I can now roll through my shoulder in one part and reach across my chest in a twist to grab my foot, neither of which I could do before joining this class.
The video is made up of stills of the different stretches we do for legs. It doesn’t hit all of the movement we do in the warm up, nor does it show some of the other moves we do that I believe help with hip and lower back opening, but I think it’s an excellent sequence for leg stretching. I only work on my right side in the photos, but we repeat the sequence on the left (and the photos may be out of order from how we do it in class, I can’t remember). This is really for overall leg/hip stretching and conditioning, with a focus on side splits – I don’t hit everything we do for center splits – since I don’t have mine yet, I felt that focusing on the split I have gotten was more important when talking about my journey and progression.
We hold the stretches for longer than the video, obviously – it is a quick overview with basic directions. Please note that I am NOT a pole instructor or a personal trainer, so you assume responsibility when you try these on your own – do them at your own risk and only do what feels comfortable for your body. Not everyone has the same flexibility, and doing new stretches without proper guidance can be tricky, so ultimately, BE SAFE!
(And special thanks to my patient boyfriend, who is ever supportive of my crazy pole obsession – he served as photographer.)
A couple of weeks ago, my incredible friend Claire of The Pole Story wrote a great entry over at the Bad Kitty Blog about having Respect For Pole Class. I loved what she had to say (despite the fact that I’ve definitely been guilty of being late!), especially in her closing remarks:
“I’m going to say something that is probably controversial (surprise) but that I think it needs to be said: There is an overdeveloped sense of entitlement in parts of the pole world – a kind of low-level narcissism in which things like respect for your teacher, your fellow dancers and a sense of service to the studio is missing. Now, I realize that certain studios may contribute to this attitude by proclaiming that “It’s all about YOU YOU YOU!” and/or by charging exorbitant amounts of money for classes. And I firmly believe that if you pay for a service, you are entitled to a positive experience. But at the end of the day, you are a student. You are there to learn, as is everyone else in the classroom. So show respect for the rules of the studio and for your classmates and teachers.”
Claire’s piece came to mind during my most recent lyra class. Our class has a max of six students – some days, it’s full. Other days, there are maybe three of us in attendance, but we tend to see the same faces. We’ll have new people drop in now and then, or some faces will be absent for a couple of weeks, then back at it (I’ve been in that group, due to travel). I’m getting to know some of the girls a little better, becoming a little friendlier. It’s a mixed level class, and our teacher runs it in a great way: each week, we get on the hoop and run through the sequence of tricks we’ve learned since the beginning as a warm up, then she’ll teach everyone something to add to it – in our final turns, we again run through everything we’ve learned from the beginning. The tricks we learn as add-ons vary depending on how advanced everyone is in the class, but with the mixed levels, she’ll usually break everything up so that the newer gals are learning the same things, while the girls with more experience are trying harder sequences. She’ll challenge the girl with the most experience with harder stuff and make her review things she isn’t yet teaching the rest of us, but she gives everyone something new to do on top of reviewing their previous tricks.
I happen to love this way of teaching – progressive curriculum is great for truly learning the moves, building strength and endurance, and – something I’m finding to be really important – learning how to string the moves together into a sequence for the purposes of a full dance/performance. It might not be for everyone, but it is how the class works. I love getting to see more advanced moves, and while there are times when I think, “Aw, I bet I could do that!”…I also know that I’ll get to it eventually, so I don’t push to do it now.
Which brings me to my story…
In class this week, we had a newer student that I couldn’t remember if I’d seen before. She had been to one class, and it may have been one I missed – there was also a sub for the class, so the teacher hadn’t met her yet, either. The class was made up of one advanced girl, two intermediate gals (including me), and two new gals. Our teacher has us warm up individually (after a group warm up on the floor), starting with the more advanced students and working back to the newer gals. It gives the new students a chance to see what comes with time, since there’s generally just one hoop strung up (occasionally two, but we warm up one at a time – the second hoop is for throwing in some extra practice while others are going through their tricks later in class).
After having the more advanced gals warm up, our teacher went to instruct the two newer students on their initial moves. Now, I can’t quite recall the sequence of events, but throughout the class, one of the newer gals – the one with one prior class under her belt – kept asking to be taught more advanced moves. She would pipe up while watching the rest of us and say, “I’d like to do that.” Each time, firmly but politely, the teacher would say, “No, I’m not going to teach you that today.”
I totally get wanting to learn the hard tricks – believe me. I also get that some gals have that need for validation that drives them to throw themselves into the hardest stuff they can find. But, here’s the thing: if you’re throwing yourself into advanced tricks too quickly, you probably look like shit in them, aren’t doing them correctly, and are more likely to be injured. And, speaking from experience, you probably aren’t really retaining anything you’ve learned.
The thing that bothered me about this girl’s requests was the energy surrounding them – like I said, it’s not that I don’t get why someone would want to learn something advanced sooner than they should. But, the way she requested it was rude. Her tone was demanding. When she was told no, her energy curdled the air around her. She allowed our teacher to continue teaching her the basics, and – not surprisingly – she struggled with those moves. I’m not sure she realized how much she struggled with them, but it was among the most struggling I’ve seen in the class. I don’t say that to be mean, but more to highlight the importance of having respect for your own limits.
This isn’t to say that you should diminish yourself or not believe in yourself. It’s to say that you should know your body. Learn your limits and challenge them in a smart way. Build steadily and safely. You’ll learn how to trust yourself and what you can do, while still also learning when it’s time to challenge yourself. AND, you’ll find that you surprise yourself, too. With a great teacher, you can grow and push your limits safely, retaining what you’ve learned and building on it to be a better dancer and a more well-rounded performer.
Beyond having respect for the limits of your body and abilities/knowledge, there’s also the issue of having respect for the teacher and the rest of the members of your class. This girl was disrespectful to all of us with her requests, particularly because she made them repeatedly and in a tone that implied an overdeveloped sense of entitlement. (And, lest you think it was just me feeling this way…it wasn’t.) Now, this might offend some people or be controversial, but it’s my opinion, and I am sticking to it: I hear about pole classes where they teach people to invert on the first day, and where they throw people into complicated tricks without ensuring that they a) are strong enough/conditioned enough and b) understand the mechanics of the move. I cringe when I hear about those classes. They’re not only irresponsible in regards to safety, but they’re breeding an obnoxious kind of pole dancer. Of course, I can’t say for sure that this student came from one of those classes, but the level of aggression in her desire to progress made me wonder…
The other new girl in the class? She was like most of the new students: a little scared and intimidated, but game to try things, picking it up more as she went along. She looked so happy to get what she got and satisfied with her success. It was a marked difference from her counterpart, who didn’t seem to even take joy in learning the moves she was actually taught. Our teacher doesn’t care how much experience you have in pole or any other sport – she doesn’t care if you’re an Olympic athlete or an out of shape school teacher – everyone starts in the same place in our class. Everyone learns the same few moves on their first day. You’re learning a new apparatus, and while you may bring in a level of strength, flexibility, or athleticism that helps you learn faster, you still are on a new apparatus. And, sometimes taking it back to the beginning is good. You get to discover the joy again. Pole can be so hard when you get further along – the tricks get harder and require more, and the successes seem further and further apart (at least, for me). Why not take the opportunity to enjoy learning something new, instead of pushing so hard to jump ahead right away? Why not take the chance to learn and have it stick, so you can be better overall? These are things I’m going to try to keep in mind as I continue in my pole and lyra classes. Because, let me tell you: class without joy is a waste. You’re less likely to succeed if you aren’t happy.
(My longest dance yet! My arms were like jelly afterward – that’s A LOT of work on my grip – but I’m happy with where it’s all going. I wasn’t able to get the full new trick we learned – unholy pain – but hoping it comes soon. Going to continue working on smoother inverts and transitions, too.)
It’s no secret that I have been working my twisted handgrip for a good long while – every class, I knock a few out, looking for that elusive lock, especially on the pencil. Some weeks, it feels solid; other weeks, I struggle to get it to go.
This week, I found myself repeatedly listing to one side in the ayesha, but couldn’t correct the swerve – the counter balancing was not happening. Naturally, I was frustrated, but hey, that is the nature of working a trick.
Cut to our class freestyle, where I busted out my twisted handgrip ayesha and held it with no problem, then took it up to pencil!!!!! It worked all of the sudden – maybe it was the flow of the moment in the song, I don’t know – but it was awesome. I was so thrilled.
Little victories, y’all. Savor them.
I had a weird thought the other day, while in my stretch and flex class at CH. During the class, you obviously do a ton of stretching, but each class focuses a little more on one thing or the other, depending on what the instructor plans for the day. This week, we worked a lot on our splits and backs. Now, I am not terribly flexible. I have *some* flexibility in doing a seated splay on the floor and folding over it, to try to get my chest to the floor. But, in most respects, I am not flexible. My back, shoulders, legs, hips…not flexy. I have strength, I have a reasonable amount of grace (or so I am told – I point my toes most of the time!), but flexibility is not my strong suit.
Anyway, we were doing a stretch on our backs, pulling one straightened leg up and as close to our chests/faces as we could, and I caught myself just staring at my foot. Really staring at it. Moving it this way and that, looking at the tendons move, etc.
And – even if this makes me sound like a lunatic – I kind of fell in love with it.
Here’s the thing: to be an artist is to learn how to express through a given instrument. I don’t care what kind of art you do – it’s a form of expression. For some folks, their instrument is a pen, or a paint brush; for others, it’s a computer; others, it’s a guitar or an oboe; for some, it’s their voice, through song or spoken words; writers of all kinds, actors, dancers…whatever type of artist you are, there is some kind of instrument that allows you to release your expression into the world.
I think that the best way to tap into that is to fall in love with whatever your instrument might be – and to connect with it, and yourself, in such a way that the expression is fluid.
For a pole dancer, falling in love with your body is a pretty important thing. And, it might be daunting. You might hate your thighs. Or your skin. Or something that nobody else notices but you. I know I have things about myself I’m less than thrilled with…
But, in that moment, I was totally in love with my foot. I went through the rest of the class amazed by all of the things our bodies could do, but most of all, what my body did. I was surprised and challenged and thrilled by all of it.
I think that will be one of my things to keep in mind, from here on forward: take the chance to be present and fall in love with my body every time I am in a class, even if it’s piece by piece. Sometimes, pole can be so challenging that it feels antagonistic, so a little love could go a long way.
Well, somebody likes me! A very special thank you to Pole Moves for including my blog on their list of Pole Dance Websites. It’s nice to feel the love! And, thank you to anyone who submitted me for the list! I went to submit myself and found out that they already had me down! *blush*
If you haven’t seen this video yet, it’s been making the rounds, and it is GORGEOUS. I was a little thrown by the editing at first – not used to seeing a performance edited – but it quickly won me over, not only for the sheer beauty of the dance, but also because I love the storytelling aspect of it. Coming from acting, it’s something I really appreciated and enjoyed about the clip. Huge fan of this creation – I have no idea how many times I’ve watched it, but the song is now downloaded, and I’ve sent the video to Drea for trick breakdowns.
Stunning, yes? I adore Marlo. I had never seen Kyle before, but he’s wonderful.
Been back at it in my own class, doing some review (thanks for the bruises, Teddy Bear), as well as working on some newer stuff – we learned a spin that was spotted in an Oona routine, which I shocked myself by getting fairly quickly, even if I’m not quite as graceful about as Oona. Keeping up the work on my aerial…slowly, but surely…and working on my reverse shoulder mount. My regular shoulder mount seems to have up and left me, which I’ll post about soon. I have stretch & flex class tonight, and two lyra classes over the weekend, then pole and stretch & flex next week…then, vacation! Hrm, maybe I can get a decent urban pole photo while I am gone!
My pole-related business venture is inching closer to fruition – I promise to post all of the info as soon as we’re set up! I was also convinced to start work on a creative endeavor related to pole, so once I have more done on that, I’ll share some specifics!
And, finally, some photos from my last lyra class – I am loving it! I can tell that it’s helping cross-condition me, too! Certain pole stuff has been smoother for me, and in general, I’m a little more interested in trying things than I was for the past few months (pole plateau, anyone?). I need to get some new pole pics, but never seem to get around to it.
Was back in my usual class tonight, still a bit sore from my second hoop class. Hoop uses a lot of back and upper body to get up on to the apparatus, which has been a great conditioning workout – my back has never been the strongest, which is why straight leg invert tend to tweak it. I think the grip work has helped my injured hand get a little stronger, too. Granted, my hand aches a fair amount after class and the next day, but on the whole, it feels stronger.
Our class had a lot of make ups in it tonight, but I was still without a partner – our usual class is very cliquey, with everyone paired off, so I work alone most nights. The main problem with that is that I am more motivated when I am working through something with someone, so I have to keep myself focused. I did a little better tonight, giving myself general conditioning tasks to do, like inverting on my right side (okay, I only did one), or working on inverting with no step – straight leg is still coming along, but I am doing much better with not stepping. I had pulled this video from YouTube and sent it to a friend (my pole sponsee – not sure that is the right word?), for help with her inverts, and realized it held something for me, too!
I have been better able to condition the no-step invert by standing with my hips clear, slight to the front of the pole – I don’t quite have the fluidity with the straight leg, or the height to catch my leg in the right spot on the way back, but it is load better with just that one small adjustment!
I also worked on my reverse shoulder mount, and ended up teaching it to the girl on the pole next to mine (I found out later that she is one of the new instructors at the studio – she is super sweet!). It is coming along decently – I still use the cheat of being a foot off the floor while doing it, but I am just happy to be doing it at all! I would love to be able to hold my weight out in it – that’ll take some serious conditioning!!!
We worked on some other stuff, like a new climb and descent combo, and chopsticks, which is a little tough for me because it requires shoulder flexibility. I tried it with an elbow grip, which was almost worse on my shoulder, but still felt more solid as a grip than my hand. I also worked on my aerial conditioning: did much better on my pencil, Ayesha was meh.
I am hoping that hoop helps cross condition me for pole. I think my flexibility (or lack thereof) is a big issue – I have to be better about stretching on my off days!!!!
In other news…the business venture is inching forward…I really, really hope to have some good news about our progress come Labor Day!!