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Aura Heels: Your New Favorite Shoes (Part 2)

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to interview the creators of Aura Heels – please check out what co-owner Melanie had to say about her experiences with pole dance and being a pole entrepreneur:

http://poleitical.com/2014/08/07/aura-heels-your-new-favorite-shoes-part-1/

Aura Heels was kind enough to send me a pair of their incredible shoes to test out, and I wanted to share my experience with all of you!

My particular pair arrived carefully packaged in their original Pleaser box, with helpful instructions on how to use the light controls, as well as a plug to recharge the shoes. I spent approximately 47 minutes squeeing, tottering around on our carpeted floors, and forcing my boyfriend to take video of me doing legwork on our couch, before I finally put them away and planned my next outing to a studio.

Aura Heels Package

Aura Heels Package, including instructions & power plug for shoes (please ignore my messy bed)

The Basics: Size, Height, and Style

My pair were constructed from a clear, lucite Pleaser platform, with a heel height of 7.5 inches. They feature clear toe and ankle straps, and like most Pleasers of this fashion, you can probably size down a half or even full size if you want them to fit a little tighter. I am a size 8, and my test shoes are also an 8, and they’re probably a tiny bit too big for me, so keep sizing down in mind when placing your order. The weight is approximately 4 to 4.5lbs total for the shoes – I very scientifically tested this by getting on my scale wearing them and also in bare feet.

Aura Heels does offer different styles, including some cool options with platforms that have clear windows in otherwise blacked out plastic, and they will do custom built options for other heel heights, if the 7.5 inch heel is not for you!

The Light

Aura Heels also offers a variety of light modes, including Rainbow, ColorBomb, SwapFlow, TiltFlow (my favorite), ShortPulse, Waterfall, Full Spectrum, Starburst, and SoundPower. I’ve put together a YouTube Playlist of their sample videos, so you can get an idea of what each mode looks like: http://youtu.be/pe6vX8-c6Tc?list=PLTSEkwQRjm00r0Py-eZA7bq4fUhD5jSG3

As for the color: it is SO bright! It’s super vivid, and absolutely eye-catching – the shoes make a huge impression, and people will stop to watch you! I brought them to two different studios, in classes with different women, and they made a big splash every time. I had girls asking to try them on, to take photos in them, and to just take photos of the shoes on me! (I’ve also had a few people ask to borrow them for photo shoots!)

I cycled through all of the modes offered with my pair, but I kept coming back to the TiltFlow, because it’s such a brilliant option. I love the way the colors shift as the shoes move, and they remain illuminated throughout the movement. The lighting in the room does make a difference in terms of how well the shoes show up on film: darker is better, and the faster your movement, the less the camera will pick up the different shifts, but you can TOTALLY see them in person.

Durability/Functionality

The sole of the shoes do heat up a little from the light, which threw me off at first, but it never gets more than a little warm. The colors stayed true throughout a six minute, floor work heavy test dance that I did, and they performed just like any other shoe during my on-the-pole test. I’ve used them off an on for the better part of a week, and have not yet had to recharge them.

If you’re a heel-clacker, I’m not sure these would be for you, as I don’t know that the electronics could survive that kind of battering – most shoes that get clacked often seem to have a short shelf life, so I wouldn’t recommend it in these heels. I did one small clack, and they held up fine, but repeated wear & tear would probably take its toll like on any other shoe. Given that these heels can’t really be repaired if you clack them out of existence, it’s probably worth it to save your clacks for a less expensive heel.

Price

The heels are pricey, but that makes sense to me, given the work that goes into their construction and programming. There is nothing else like them. The low end begins in the high $100’s, around $175, which is on par with some of the higher-end rhinestoned Pleaser options. Much of their range is in the mid $200’s, and the line tops out around $400 for their highest tier offering, the Limited Edition Galaxy Platform. Choosing your option has everything to do with which light mode you prefer: you can save money by choosing an option with just one light mode, instead of trying to go for one with multiple offerings.

Eat Your Heart Out, Cinderella! (Aura Heels - photo by Poleitical Diaries)

Eat Your Heart Out, Cinderella! (Aura Heels – photo by Poleitical Diaries)

Overall, I loooooooooooooooove these heels, and I am so stoked to have gotten the chance to play with them! They’re just the coolest thing I’ve seen in ages, and I am so excited to see Aura Heels getting more recognition from our community! They were recently at The Great Midwest Pole Convention, and received news coverage from local Chicagoland papers/tv outlets, and their web presence has been steadily growing these last few weeks! To shop their line, head to their Etsy Shop: https://www.etsy.com/shop/AuraHeels – find them on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/AuraHeels – stalk them on Instagram at: http://instagram.com/auraheels (@auraheels) – and watch their full line of videos on YouTube at: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCa0fzz7HRvsJTGBqzPc_xcQ

Aura Heels: Your New Favorite Shoes! Part 1

Have you seen these shoes?!?! No, really…HAVE YOU SEEN THESE SHOES??

OMG GIMME - Photo credit Aura Heels

OMG GIMME – Photo credit Aura Heels

I stumbled upon Aura Heels via Facebook, and like any pole dancer would, fell immediately in love. Brilliant, light up heels that smoothly change color?

Seriously.

Seriously.

Not only was I enamored with the product, but as a fellow pole entrepreneur, I was interested in how the company was created. Cut to a few emails later, and I have a special treat for you: a 2 part series on Aura Heels! First up is an interview with the owners of Aura Heels, and soon to come, a review of their shoes!

Melanie, the co-founder of Aura Heels, was kind enough to answer some of my questions about herself and the company:

Poleitical Diaries: Who is a part of Aura Heels and where are you based?

Aura Heels: Aura Heels is a two person team, myself and my husband, Alan. We are based in Cary, NC.

PD: How did you begin your pole dance journey?

AH: My story is the typical one. Two friends and I took a teaser class. They never took another and I kept going back for more. I took my very first class at Aradia Fitness in Cary NC. Hi Dakota!

PD: How does dancing in shoes change your pole movement?

AH: For me dancing in shoes makes me more aware of my lines. You have to learn to step and turn gracefully in 7″ stilletos.

PD: What inspires you in the pole community?

AH: Just how incredibly encouraging most people are. I have never been apart of community that is so caring of one another. We are usually the loudest cheering for a friend or even someone you don’t know. It doesn’t matter what your shape, background or anything is. You will usually be met with open arms and encouraging words.

Galaxy Platforms - Photo by Aura Heels

Galaxy Platforms – Photo by Aura Heels

PD: Who are your pole icons?

AH: I have many pole icons. Alethea Austin. Her slow, purposeful movements are just beautiful to watch, hard to replicate. Karol Helms, who was one of the first pole dancers I ever saw on YouTube. She is not only an amazing dancer, she is an excellent teacher and genuinely a funny, intelligent, nice woman. Other icons are all the women I see come into the studio. They are all amazing and it makes me incredibly glad to be apart of pole.

PD: What is your signature pole dance style?

AH: Is there a particular pole movement with which you most identify? I don’t know if I have a signature style per say.  I love slow, dancey movement. Floorwork is a favorite, too.  I also love to just be silly and let it be just fun with no true direction, just whatever happens. I guess I’d call it eclectic sexy.

PD: What are your favorite moves and your nemesis moves?

AH: I love spins and cross ankle release. My nemesis is the extended butterfly.

PD: Is there any pole product you just can’t live without?

AH: Not one particular product. I love my  Aura Heels, BadKitty fold over shorts, Vaseline Intensive skin lotion and electrical tape to cover raw spot and burns. Electrical tape will stick more to itself than your skin or a band-aide and it’s grippy. Dry Hands for hot humid NC weather.

Waterfall Platforms - Photo by Aura Heels

PD: Is there any advice you have for budding pole entrepreneurs and budding pole dancers?

AH: For budding entrepreneurs; be prepared to be unprepared. There are a hundred tiny details that you just won’t think about and they pop up often. Mostly though have fun, enjoy chasing the dream. It is worth it. For budding pole dancers; Take it slow and build up. The tricks will come. It’s no fun to pull a muscle or tendon pushing to hard or to fast. Enjoy the learning all the amazing things your body can do.

PD: How did you come up with the idea for Aura Heels?  

AH: It was mostly by accident. I had just bought a pair of 7in clear Pleasers to alter. I’m always looking for ways to make  my pole shoes fun. My husband, Alan, saw them and was certain he could figure out a way to put lights in them. He got an old pair from me and started to dismantle them to see how they were made, and what he could fit in them. We have come a long way since then. The first pair were charged by 8 double A batteries and weighed a good 5lbs each.They were not the most successful thing ever. He did learn a lot from that first experience though.

PD: How long does it take to make the shoes? Can you tell us about the craftsmanship that goes into each pair?  

AH: The time it takes to create a pair of shoes depends on whether they are sound or tilt reactive, how many modes they have and also the size of the shoe comes into play. It usually takes about a week, roughly speaking. Starting with a new pair of unmodified shoes, there are about five steps/ stages of our process. We first dismantle them, removing all the old glue. We then mark off all the dimensions for the LEDs, touch sensors and charging ports, then use power tools to grind and drill the channels for all the components. We then build the bulk of the electronics, laying the LEDs along the underside of the foot bed, wiring them together, and build the control and battery packs that will live in the shoe. Then we begin the painting process, this is can very finicky. If the paint isn’t right it shows pretty strongly, since we are shining so much light through the shoe. This can take a day or so by itself, just to let it cure and build the layers up the get the right amount of light diffusion. Last is the final fitting to make sure that lights are laying in the channels properly and all the connections work. Once that’s done, we then glue and clamp everything in to place and leave that to cure over night. After that the shoes are ready for boxing and shipping to their new home.

PD: What do you love about being a pole entrepreneur?

AH: It’s very exciting. The pole community is so full of possibility and opportunity. We love that we are bringing a unique product to such a unique community. It also fun to tell people you are a Cobbler of Light.

PD: Have you created other shoe or clothing lines in the past?

AH: Not yet. I do have several ideas bouncing around in my head.

PD: What do you feel your line offers to the community that sets it apart from other lines?

AH: Aura Heels are unlike anything else out there. There isn’t another shoe line that offers rechargeable features and the opportunity to truly customize.

PD: How has the community reacted to your new line? Where do you hope to take it? 

AH: So far we have had nothing but great feed back. Everyone has been very, very positive and eager to try them out. We don’t have any huge plans for the future yet. We are still in the early stages of our company and we are just enjoying the whole process.

PD: How long did it take for you to go from initial idea to selling your line?

AH: It’s been about 3 years from that first pair , we only been selling them since May. It’s been a learning experience, an amazing, stressful, and sometimes baffling learning experience. Needless to say we are having a lot of fun bringing Aura Heels to the pole community.

PD: Do you offer international sales? Where can your shoes be purchased?

AH: We do offer international sales, as well as domestic. You can order a pair from our Etsy store. Auraheels.com  Oh, one more thing. We will have a vendor table at The Great Midwest Pole Convention, August 15th-17th. Be sure and come by and see our shoes in person. Also, don’t forget to enter the raffle to win a pair of Galaxy Aura Heels!

Thank you for taking the time to chat with me, Melanie!

I’ll have a review of Aura Heels coming up soon, in Part 2 of this series! Look for it soon! In the meantime, you can check Aura Heels out for yourself on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Etsy!

Aura Heels Logo

Aura Heels Logo

Poleitical Clothing Giveaway!

In honor of adding some new items to the Poleitical Clothing line, we’re having our very first Instagram Photo Challenge Giveaway!

Poleitical Clothing's March Giveaway on Instagram

Poleitical Clothing’s March Giveaway on Instagram

One winner will receive one of our NEW SWEATSHIRTS, which will be debuted at the Pole World News Awards on March 21st, in Los Angeles!!!

The Rules:

1) You don’t have to post a photo every day, but you do get only one photo per day as an eligible entry.

2) You may earn 1 bonus entry per photo by wearing your Poleitical Clothing gear in the picture – it must be visible to camera to qualify!

3) This giveaway is open to US and International entries!

4) This giveaway is open to men and woman of all sizes! (The sweatshirts are unisex sizing, so if you are plus size, we have you covered!)

5) Be creative with your choices! Video or photo is allowed.

6) If you cannot perform a trick, i.e. a Jade Split, it is permissible to do a variation as long as that variation is clearly from the same trick.

7) Contest runs March 1st, 2014 through March 31st, 2014.

8) Contest entries must be posted via Instagram. You must follow Poleitical Clothing, and you must tag Poleitical Clothing by their username and with a hashtag, i.e. @poleiticalclothing and #poleiticalclothing, for your entry to count. If you have a private profile, you must approve us as followers for your entries to be counted.

9) Prize value is approximately $50 USD, not including shipping. Sweatshirt will be shipped from Los Angeles, CA (shipping covered by Poleitical Clothing). Please allow up to 4 weeks for delivery – we will let the winner know when it ships. Not redeemable for cash value. Winner will be notified via Instagram and must respond within 1 week of notification with their contact info and size choice via email, or a new winner will be chosen. Chances of winning depend on number of entries.

Good Luck and Have Fun!!!

A Horse of a Different Color

As a kid, my favorite part of The Wizard of Oz was this scene:

I loved that horse. At the time, I suppose I would have said that it was because I liked horses, and look, it’s a rainbow horse, how did they do that?!

As an adult, I recognize something else about the horse: It is one of a kind.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I tend to feel like I don’t always fit in when I am in class. Sometimes, it’s an ability level issue – I’ll go to a class and find that nothing is working for me, and that everyone else seems so far ahead of me – but a lot of the time, it comes down to size.

I’m not what most of the country would probably refer to as a big girl. I’m 5’6″ and probably around 160lbs. That’s dead average for the US. But…in pole? Not so much. At least, not in Los Angeles, where thin is a religion.

In most classes I attend, I am the biggest girl, or one of the larger girls. This isn’t always true – I’m not always the biggest gal, and it’s not something that upsets me most of the time, but…I am always aware of it. No matter how advanced I get, it remains a fact that things are harder for me because I have more ass to get over my head. And that’s really frustrating.

As of late, I’ve felt like I am at a pole plateau, where I am struggling to feel like I am moving forward with  my peers. I think that’s a big part of the reason why I have been seeking out other ways to be successful in this world, like taking the free dance exploration class and my lyra classes. That success is important to me. I feel more alive and inspired when I feel successful, and it makes the days where things don’t go right a little easier to release.

A few days ago, I read a great post related to all of this – if you haven’t read Pole Geek’s recent post about being curvy in the pole world, I recommend it. It got me thinking about feeling like the odd man out, as expressed above. And, for some reason, as I was standing in the parking lot of our building, watching my boyfriend park our rental car, the “Horse of a Different Color” song popped into my head.

Somehow, it all relates. Because, here’s the thing: maybe it’s not so much about being the odd man out, but maybe – just maybe – it’s about finding an authentic way to celebrate that which makes you different. It’s about making the choice to say that it’s okay, that it might even make you special.

In this week’s free dance exploration class, we had a partner exercise, where we worked with a partner to interpret and tell stories. After our last round, there were two compliments that stood out about me and my partner. For her, the compliment was about her legs, and how amazing they were (and they are – she’s incredible). For me, it was my gaze as I danced, and that it had an emotional impact on two individuals who were watching. I don’t feel that it’s fair to boil either of us down to just those things – my partner told a story through her dance, and it was gorgeous and emotional, and yes, her body is beautiful. But, it was of interest to me that the things that were highlighted about us were so different in context, and that maybe there was a lesson there about not being disappointed that you aren’t seen in one way, but instead, celebrating the positive ways we are seen. Would I have loved a compliment on my legs? Of course! But, it means much more to me that my expression during my dance was emotionally moving to people, and I think that is its own kind of special.

I’m not saying anything earth-shattering, or even anything new, but what I am trying to do is to coax myself around to making this a practice for myself, instead of saying, “Oh, yes, totally!” and then going back to how I have always done things. I think that shift makes a difference, perhaps not in the quality of what one does, but in the quality of what it brings to their life.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Nadia Shariff, who was kind enough to grant us an interview for our Poleitical Clothing Newsletter that came out around CPDC. In the interview, we asked her, “Is there one trick that still eludes you?”

Her reply? “I’m not one of those pole dancers that is good at everything; I’m good at what I do. ;)

I think this idea is so important to remember, as we get frustrated with our differences, and as we celebrate what makes us, us:

Do what is yours to do.

Dancing at The Pole Garage

Free Style at The Pole Garage

Free Dance Pole and Floor Exploration: A Class Review

If you follow my Facebook page, you’ll know that I recently began taking class with the lovely Sparrowhawk (Iris) here in LA. She teaches a class at Metamorphosis: Mind, Body, and Pole called “Free Dance Pole and Exploration”…and I am in love!

As of late, I’ve been feeling really disconnected from pole. Taking time off over the holidays did not help, as my strength and endurance took a hit, which causes me to feel even more at odds with the movement. So, I found myself gravitating more toward dancing. Not throwing in many tricks, but just working on the floor, or around the pole. It helped me feel the joy I had been missing from my trick attempts.

Iris’s class is based in that very element: moving away from the drive to be so trick oriented, and focusing on the freedom that can come from letting go within the movement. However you choose to express it is fine, because your movement is yours. She sets parameters for each guided exploration, and you explore within those parameters. It’s incredibly freeing in a weird way – whenever I dance in her class, I find myself being aware of when I am not lost in the moment. I know when I am in my head, and I then have the opportunity to choose to let go again. I get to explore things organically, see where I bump up against challenges, see where I open up to certain things, and more. Most of all, I get to move and enjoy the movement without the feeling of needing to nail whatever I am doing (or, related to that, feeling so bad that I am not nailing anything).

On Thursday, it happened to be just myself and Iris in class, so we taped our exercises for the purpose of watching them after each dance (in a larger class, we do rounds and watch each other, although taping is permitted). I gave Iris permission to post it, so she created a supercut of the work we did, along with some info about the class and each exercise. Here is the video:

This class is beyond yummy. I love it. I love getting to MOVE and DANCE in a way that is expressive. I miss acting, and this is a way for me to explore that sort of expression again. I love getting to move in a way that allows me to feel confident, as opposed to feeling so down about not nailing tricks, or about feeling so tired after taking time off. I love the idea of exploring exercises, even when I run into something confronting.

I think what Iris is doing is so important, and I also believe there’s a place for it in our community. I suspect it is where we are headed next, too – a return to the organic nature of dance and a celebration of movement for each individual, as opposed to feeling like we have to fit into some box of This Is Good or What Is Acceptable.

If you’re in LA/SoCal, come check out Iris’s class sometime. It’s well worth it. The class is currently on Thursday nights at 6pm, in Studio City, but the time/date may change in the future. Full details can be found on the Meta website. And, if you aren’t, watch the video above and think about some of the explanations she has included. Consider playing these explorations on your own. Even when I am not in her class (because I can’t always make it), I have begun to try to incorporate the ideas into my free styles. Below is one that I recorded today, at The Pole Garage. All I focused on this time was not being in my head, following the movement where it lead me, and including one inversion on the pole. So, you see, you can set whatever parameters you want for yourself. The most important thing is to allow yourself the freedom to explore without judgement. :-)

Product Review: Soma System

A little while ago, I posted about the Soma System workshops that would be happening at Pole Expo 2013. I really hope that you’re all going to take advantage of their FREE offerings!!!

Soma System very graciously provided me with their Full Body Complete Soma System Package, and I have really enjoyed testing each of their items!! I think that we, as pole dancers (and aerialists) are pretty used to being sore: whether it is the latest bruise or burn, or our knotted shoulders and tight hamstrings, we are almost all in some state of physical disrepair. And that totally impacts your ability to perform at your best level!

You can read a little more about Soma System’s philosophy here: http://somasystem.com/our-philosophy/ The great thing about Soma System’s tools are that they allow you to work on your body at home. Through using their products, with their guidelines, you can begin to work out the knots that are robbing you of your full strength and ability. I would LOVE to get the chance to take a workshop in person, but Soma has some really helpful videos on YouTube, as well as great written tutorials on their website. Below is a breakdown of each of their tools and how they can work for pole dancers!

Individual Tools

The Roller Squad:

Roller Squad by Soma System

Roller Squad by Soma System

The Roller Squad is this mitt-like tool that is used for massaging tension out of areas like your pecs, quads, soles of the feet, trapezoids, calves, and more! The tool fits well across the palm of your hand – the silver balls face outward and are used as the massage points. They roll as you move the tool around!

I used this on the tops of my shoulders to help work out the super stubborn knots that I have in that in my trapezoids, and I have also used it on my forearms to loosen them when they start to feel locked up. It’s a nice feeling to rub it in long strokes, like down your arm, and if you put pressure behind it, you can really feel it in your knots! The plastic holders for the metal balls can be a bit scratchy on the skin sometimes, so I would recommend either not pressing too hard as you make your strokes, or wearing clothing that covers the area when you do the massage.

You can find some excellent exercises for this tool here:

http://store.somasystem.com/image/data/Excercises%20PDFs/Roller%20Squad%20Special%204.pdf

Double-Track Roller:

Double-Track Roller from Soma System

Double-Track Roller from Soma System

Oh, my. I LOVE the Double-Track Roller This bad boy is soft on the outside, firm on the inside, and makes a great tool to work on the muscles on either side of your spine! My boyfriend and I have used it to help massage each other when we’re both feeling achy, and it’s his favorite! This is a great one to use on your own, too – you can lay on the tool and move around to manipulate it into the right areas. I love it to help release my entire back.

Soma System has some great exercises in their written tutorial section, with options for your neck, back, forearms, and even legs! You can view those here:

http://store.somasystem.com/image/data/Excercises%20PDFs/Double-Track%20Roller%20Special%204.pdf

You can also check out their helpful video, too, which shows some exercises being done through a glass surface – it allows you to see how the tool works on the specific areas:

(note: the tool in the video may be an older version – the one that I have is entirely coated in the orange foam)

Big Orange:

Big Orange from Soma System

Big Orange from Soma System

The Big Orange is an ideal transition tool between softer massage options and firmer options. It’s inflated, so it has some give to it, and it’s larger than the other items. You can use it on hips, feet, shoulders, pecs, etc. I find it easier to use on my own, i.e. trapping it between the floor and my body, than to use with a partner, but that’s me.

Here’s a quick little video on one of the uses – the technique shown can be applied to other areas of the body, too:

And, here’s another video, which has a series of exercises (featuring some assistance from a yoga block – or maybe it’s a brick, I can’t tell): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j04GooBG-ik

This is one of those tools that can hit some of the most neglected areas for pole dancers: hips and hip flexors! Sure, we work to strengthen them, but how the heck do you STRETCH them?? There are some great examples of exercises on the Soma System website:

http://store.somasystem.com/image/data/Excercises%20PDFs/Big%20Orange%20Special%204.pdf

Myofascial Five Pack:

Myofascial Five Pack from Soma System

Myofascial Five Pack from Soma System

Oooooh these make me squeal! The Myofascial Five Pack is made up of five plastic balls in different sizes, which allow you to really pinpoint areas of need. Holy crap, do they work! I use them to work out stubborn knots, and while they generally elicit terrible noises from me, they do help! My boyfriend has used them on me, when I ask for his help on working out knots, and it’s sweet, sweet torture. You can also use these on your own, obviously.

The largest ball has more give to it, but the smaller ones are all harder and provide more focused pressure. They’re amazing for addressing deep tension in a variety of areas. There are some diverse exercises on Soma System’s website, including a rotator cuff massage!! You know that’s perfect for pole and aerial!

http://store.somasystem.com/image/data/Excercises%20PDFs/Myofascial%20Five%20Pack%20Special%204.pdf

Soma Foam Support:

Soma Foam Support from Soma System

Soma Foam Support from Soma System

The Soma Foam Support is a small foam roller, about a foot long and 4 inches in diameter. It’s used as support while working with other tools, but you can use it as a traditional foam roller, too. It’s just not as large as most rollers (but, hey, that’s great for travel!!). Like all foam rollers, it can help you to stretch and increase mobility, which is WONDERFUL for pole dancers and aerialists! Foam rollers can open up your quads like nothing else, for example! I love it for that.

Here are a handful of exercises for the Soma Foam Support (of the foam roller variety):

http://store.somasystem.com/image/data/Excercises%20PDFs/Soma%20Foam%20Support%20Special%204.pdf

Focus Roller:

Focus Roller from Soma System

Focus Roller from Soma System

The Focus Roller is a nifty tool that helps to pinpoint areas in need of release. I found it easiest to use with my boyfriend – he would use it to apply focused pressure along my back and neck, but they recommend using it on the chest, too! Unfortunately, there are no videos or tutorials yet for this tool.

The Spiky Life Mat:

Spiky Life Mat from Soma SystemSpiky Life Mat from Soma System

Spiky Life Mat from Soma System

Okay, so this one is unusual and intense! The Spiky Life Mat is pretty much what it sounds like: a mat covered in tiny, spiky points (over 6,000 of them!) – I wasn’t sure what to think of this, especially when it came to how to use it – there aren’t any clear tutorials available online, but the Soma System store explains that it’s to help release tension in the areas where your body is in contact with the mat. You can lay on it in different positions and allow the points to work their magic. In my tests, I wasn’t quite sure how it was working for me, but it seems to increase blood flow to the areas in contact with the spikes – or maybe it’s simply increasing energy flow in the area! Here are a couple more sample photos, as examples of positions you can take with it:

Spiky Life Mat example

Spiky Life Mat example

Spiky Life Mat example - cobra

Spiky Life Mat example – cobra

Spiky Life Belt:

Spiky Life Belt from Soma System

Spiky Life Belt from Soma System

This is a smaller version of the mat above. The Spiky Life Belt is used like the mat, but on smaller areas of the body. You can also use it in conjunction with other Soma tools, like the Soma Foam Support. Again, for me, it seemed to increase a flow of something to the areas it touched – whether it was blood or energy, I am not sure, but the spikes can be a bit startling at first – you just have to go with it.

While there are no written tutorials on this tool, there IS a video!

You can pair this with the Soma Foam Support for a number of exercises, including a great one for your lower back!

Package Options

In addition to selling tools individually, Soma System also offers kits and packages, if you prefer to purchase more than one item! Here’s a breakdown of each option:

Roll & Go:

Roll & Go from Soma System

Roll & Go from Soma System

Roll & Go is Soma’s smallest kit, with just two items. According to their website, it was originally designed for tennis players – and you know that’ll translate well to pole dancers, with all of those sore forearms! It pairs the Roller Squad and the larger, squashier ball from the Myofascial Five Pack, into a combination that can help you restore circulation and release your tight areas (respectively). There is no exact tutorial on how to use the kit together, but by checking out the earlier, individual tutorials, you can work some stuff out! And, the website lists some info on the shopping page for the kit!

The Basic Soma System Package:

Basic Soma System Package

Basic Soma System Package

This is an excellent option for people who want to invest, but may not be able to afford the full package! The Basic Soma System Package includes the Big Orange, the Roller Squad, the Soma Foam Support, the Myofascial Five Pack, and TWO of the Double-Track rollers. It’s recommended for all levels, and specifically for athletes (or anyone stuck in an office).

Full Body Complete Soma System Package:

Full Body Complete Soma System Package

Full Body Complete Soma System Package

The Full Body Complete Soma System Package is the comprehensive package of ALL of Soma’s tools! If you’re super into the system and have the cash, it’s totally worth it! It contains 10 of their tools: the Spiky Life Mat, the Spiky Life Belt, the Focus Roller, the Big Orange, the Roller Squad, the Soma Foam Support, the Myofascial Five Pack, and TWO of the Double-Track rollers. Mine came packaged in a cute little orange duffle bag, too! Makes for very easy transportation of everything!

Office Worker Sequence Tutorials

In addition to the tutorials on the Soma System website (which I liked in the relevant tool breakdowns), they also recently posted this great set of exercises specifically for office workers! It gives 11 tutorials, utilizing different tools, with office workers in mind, but you could easily use them at home, too!

http://somasystem.com/office-worker-sequence/

There are also two videos on their YouTube channel, which breakdown the tutorials for the Office Worker sequences – the first is almost 15 minutes, and the second is around 5 minutes:

In summary, I think Soma System is a great set of tools for pole dancers and aerialists dedicated to doing self-body work. With regular practice, you can really work out the knots, increase energy, strength, and circulation to promote healing! I have found their tools to be really helpful, and I think that if I were more disciplined about using them every day (or after every class), I would have remarkable results. At the moment, I’ve been using them when I feel like I need them, but I think my results would improve if I create a regular routine with them (this is something I need to do in a lot of areas, not just with these tools).  I also like that the items are mostly pretty easy to transport on their own – makes them great for those of us who travel! I’m excited to see Soma System add more tutorials, especially video lessons, online, too.

As I said at the beginning of my review, I also would REALLY love to take their workshops – I feel like it’d give me a better sense of how to do each exercise and get the most out of them. So, pole studios in SoCal: please bring them in for a workshop! If anyone attends their Pole Expo workshops, please let me know your thoughts!

Split Stretches

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:

left split progress - approximately April 2013 to July 2013

left split progress – approximately April 2013 to July 2013

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.)

My Night with Marlo

As much of a pole fan as I am, you’d think I’d have taken a workshop by now, but no! I’ve taken a class from Natasha Wang at a local LA studio, but never an actual workshop taught by a pole star (by the way, Natasha is great, and you should always take classes or workshops from her).

Thanks to the generosity of a pole friend, I was able to attend my very first pole workshop last night…with Marlo Fisken.

Pause for extreme fan-girl reaction.

I was in shock. It was such a nice gesture, and I can’t even think of how to say thank you properly!

In preparation for the big day, I squee’d a lot and made my boyfriend watch multiple Marlo videos, like this one:

Marlo’s workshop was at Smoke and Mirrors Fitness in Orange County, which is about 20-30 minutes from my house depending on traffic. I had never been there, although I know some of the students – it’s a nice place! Super tall poles, very atmospheric. I hope to get to take one of their classes sometime! A few of my pole friends from LA came down for the workshop, too, and it was nice to have friendly faces.

Marlo herself is art in motion. She moves like liquid. Really hot liquid. The workshop was focused on her flow movement, so we worked on the principles of creating seamless motion and continuous movement in transitions. It was tough in different areas, for all of us, but some people got the tricks faster/easier than others. I was not one of those people. :-) I struggled.

Our warm up was movement based, and while it was tough, it wasn’t impossible. I kept up for most of it, and my asthma kept itself in check for most of it, which was excellent. The movement was so foreign to me, so it was like learning choreography while trying to stretch and get warm. It was interesting while being challenging, which I appreciated. Marlo also had us do some conditioning and floor moves that were also interesting – cartwheel presses across the floor were tough, but the floorwork (shoulder stand/roll) was very cool.

She followed up the warm up/conditioning with spin instruction, and wow. She’s so pretty in her technique. She just floats. Her instruction was meant to teach us how to achieve that kind of flow, but I had a really hard time with the timing of the hand switch – I got it once, I think, out of all of the attempts I made. I ended up working on the three segments of the spin separately, in hopes I could tie them all together once I had the basics. It was tough to not get something I felt like was fairly simple, but it definitely spoke to my weakness at pirouettes – a simple transition that has always tripped me up. She taught a cool move out of a spin that landed on the floor, but it was tough for most of us – I hope to work on it some more in my normal classes.

Part of Marlo’s trick instruction was based off of aerial inverts, which are my nemesis. I would rather try a fonji (which I do not have the skills to do) than do an aerial invert. All of my pole friends and instructors tell me I can do one, and I am sure that I can, but I have failed at them for so long that it’s become a mental block. So, when Marlo included it in the instruction, I was immediately put in the position of having to suck it up.  Which is good, because I NEED to suck it up, but it was a tough thing to do when I had just felt like rather a failure at the spin instruction.

How did I do? Meh. I ended up just feeling bad about the fact that I was sharing the pole with one of the instructors from Pole Garage, who ended up having to help me quite a bit (I felt like I was infringing on her learning experience, which is really just my brain being mean). She did an incredible job keeping up with Marlo, though – it was so fun to watch her do well.

Regarding my own work, I will say this: I did a few aerial inverts better than I ever have before. I usually struggle a huge amount, and I did okay – especially since they were on my non-dominant side. So, I consider those to be wins – the fact that I even got into the invert is a big deal. (It may not sound like much, but consider the fact that I was so under-conditioned on my non-dominant side that I couldn’t even invert from the floor a few months ago – and the fact that I can barely aerial invert on my dominant side.) In fact, I was so unaccustomed to aerial inverting, especially on my non-dominant side, that once I had gotten up, I was totally confused on what to do. I couldn’t sit up over it to continue the climb – it was like my brain shut down. It’s entirely possible that I have never climbed up on that side!

To end the class, Marlo gave us the challenge of stringing randomly chosen tricks together, with the aim of having there be the least amount of steps in between. It was really challenging, but in a fun way – we had to really think about it, and some of the success depended on our level of expertise.

Marlo is ridiculous to watch. She’s the most graceful person I have ever seen – she floats in slow motion, but still moves quickly. I don’t know how to explain it, but watching her was incredible. It was like taking an acting class from Meryl Streep. A really sexy, buff Meryl Streep.

I left the workshop and realized very quickly that I was up in my head. I was thinking, a lot, but was not immediately able to pinpoint what it was that had me so introspective, if not upset. I kept thinking that I should have been super elated and excited, but I wasn’t. I did not walk away inspired and energized, and it took me a while to figure out why, until I realized what the overall lesson was that I took away from the night:

My lesson learned was that of commitment. That to be excellent at this thing that I love takes a commitment that I have yet to show. A commitment that I’m not even sure that I have in me. It was a real wake up call. To even be a little better than I am – not even like Marlo or Natasha or any of the greats – but to just invert in a pretty way, to get my aerial invert, to not struggle so much to make things smooth…that all takes commitment. It was really daunting to realize. I was a little despondent to have that reality check, even though it seems SUPER obvious – OF COURSE it takes commitment and hard work! Um, duh? As of late, I had been feeling stronger in my pole work – like I was physically stronger than I had been (and I know it’s true), that I was getting things I hadn’t gotten before, that small things were getting better. So, I think I was just really surprised to feel so far behind, even though I know I’m not some great poler – I’m never the most advanced in any of my classes, by far. The simple feeling of being rewarded by doing a little better than I did a few months ago was kind of squashed when I saw the long road ahead. It seems so far away, to be so good. Or, to even be the kind of good I feel like might be attainable to me.

It didn’t make me want to give up. It just left me distressed. If you haven’t read Sparrowhawk’s wonderful new post about comparing yourself to others, do yourself a favor and read it – it totally applied last night. I left that workshop upset with myself, and while I was able to see the small victories in what I did, I was also afflicted with a heavy dose of “NOT ENOUGH”-itis. And, really, that’s a mindset. It’s an opportunity to recognize it for what it is (a cognitive distortion) and to be forgiving and gentle with myself as I lead my poor, bruised self out of the dark alleyways of my mind.

As for what to do next: I want to work in more classes, to fix the things that are not pretty, to master those things. I would say that I don’t know how, but the HOW is to just do it. How is a road block for most people, myself included. The how is to go to class whenever I can, to work on those little things in between the lessons of class, to work on the conditioning at home. To allow myself to recognize the small wins along the way, and to look at the next step in front of me, not the entire staircase to the penthouse.

I might never be Marlo, but I can be a better version of me.

with Marlo

with Marlo

PSO National Championships on Chirpstory

Did you all get a chance to watch the live stream of PSO‘s National Championships? I was so bummed to not be there in person, but it was nice that UPA had the stream for everyone!

The performances were so fun – it’s always interesting for me to watch pole dancers of that caliber and see what speaks to me. I love character driven pieces – they stand out for me, always. That’s one of the reasons I was overjoyed when Sergia won! She’s one of my favorites.

While the professional videos from Alloy Images have yet to be published, I am looking forward to reviewing some of the performances – I missed Danielle Romano (who took 2nd place) and Amber Cahill, and missed moments from the first few performances because of technical difficulties with the feed. However, I was live tweeting everything I did see, and I’ve created a Chirpstory of my tweets:

http://chirpstory.com/li/111639

Congrats to Sergia (1st), Danielle (2nd), and Mary (3rd) on their wins, and to ALL of the competitors from last night. It takes a lot of guts to go up and perform in front of so many people, and under such high stakes! You did us all proud!

Live Tweet of PSO National Championships on ChirpStory

Live Tweet of PSO National Championships on Chirpstory

 

Dancing in Someone Else’s Shoes

Last night, I danced in someone else’s shoes. Literally and, I suppose, figuratively.

I never dance in shoes. Part of it is that I just got really comfortable dancing in bare feet – it felt more organic to me, and less like I was playing at something. Part of it is that inverting with shoes was really hard when I was first learning to invert, so I abandoned them in favor of being able to get up without struggle.

I dropped into an extra class last night at The Pole Garage, which is my pole home base. My first class was a pole work class, which is all working on tricks and such (like my Magic Split, which looks infinitely better if I am having a bendier day – see photo below).

Magic Split at Choreography House

Magic Split at Choreography House

Pole work is really best when you’ve got a plan you want to work on for the class – there are instructions given and demos done on certain tricks people have requested, but it’s always best to go in with a plan of your goals for the class. I worked on a few things, and after class, hung out with some of my pole sisters while they waited for the second class of the night. On a whim, I decided to crash the class since the roster wasn’t full, and I am SO glad that I did!

The class was a transitions and dance class, which normally follows a lesson plan of learning various transition pieces and doing more dancing in general – we usually start with a flow through dance, where we have a specific “assignment” for each pole we touch, then work on the lessons, then do a freestyle. This class was set up differently – Jo, our instructor, taught us a simple, sexy routine that was within everyone’s reach. No inverts, nothing too fancy or crazy, just beautiful, classic pole dancing. She requested that everyone bring leg warmers and shoes if they had them.

Now, I always have leg warmers in my bag, but I never bring my shoes. So, I borrowed a bitchin’ pair from my classmate, Kim: I think they were 7 inchers, with tiger stripes on the platforms/heels. I did the entire class in shoes – the learning of the routine AND our final dance, where we had to use the routine, then could improvise afterward.

It was really fun to wear shoes again! I never really felt much love for shoes (beyond the typical female interest in shoes), and I never really got what it is to be a dancer who chooses shoes over bare feet, but it was a fun change for me. It just felt it was SO not me to dance in shoes – as I said, I felt like I was playing at being sexy, instead of just being it. I always felt more myself in bare feet, so I stuck with that. Having danced in Kim’s shoes, I find myself open to the idea of exploring shoes again, especially for dance-based classes.

In honor of dancing in shoes for the first time in at least a year – if not two years – I also decided to tape myself for the first time in ages. The last time I taped a full dance in class was 2 years ago (I don’t count my tape from PPC, since that was a performance in the public realm).

This dance is made up of the approximation of the routine we learned in class tonight (first half or so), and my own freestyle (second half). I was exploring the movement in heels – especially in my own freestyle, because I really never do any of those moves in heels. I had to think on the fly with some of it, but I had fun. It’s hard to watch the video and not focus on the mistakes in moves, and I can tell when I’m in my head versus just dancing, but that’s okay. The whole point of taping it was just to do it. To get out of my comfort zone in more than one way and explore. There’s only one “advanced” trick in the entire thing (I invert once) – it’s not like I was looking to impress with being a trickster. :-)

I also should mention that I never do much dancing anymore. Most of my classes are trick based. I rarely get the chance to freestyle and dance, to be creative in my movement, so in a way, this is also me exploring what it is to dance and express through the movement again.

Anyway, this is me, exploring dancing again. Exploring videos again. And dancing in someone else’s shoes.

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