For the last year or so, I have been regularly taking lyra classes at an Aerial & Pole Studio in North Hollywood, CA, called Aeriform Arts. Over that time, I have struck up a friendship with the owners, Lea & Allelon, who sponsored me for Pacific Aerial 2014. They’re great folks, and I adore my class – I feel quite lucky to have found it!
The vibe of the studio is unlike a lot of others in LA. Everyone is welcome, and there’s no clique-ish-ness. I see people of all shapes, sizes, ages, looks, and backgrounds whenever I go. I got curious about how the studio came to be, so I asked Lea if she’d be willing to sit down to answer some questions about it!
Poleitical Diaries: How were you introduced to aerial arts?
Lea Walker: I have a fast paced career in TV, and I started having serious health issues that forced me to slow down a bit. I ended up bedridden for weeks and realized that the surgery had not only stripped me of my physical strength, but also my sense of body confidence and power. My scars became a symbol of how my body had failed me. I came to the conclusion that maybe I needed to finally slow down and do something for me. After I healed, I started taking pole lessons and then branched out to aerial yoga, which I found really helped improve some back disc issues I was having as well. At that point I was hooked!
LW: Aeriform Arts offers multi level, co-ed classes in Aerial Yoga, Hammock, Silks, Pole, Lyra, Trapeze & Aerial Cirque Conditioning (with stretch & dance workshops as well). We really pride ourselves with having an easygoing yet knowledgeable staff that works hard towards helping our clients explore and achieve their maximum potential. We like to have fun and encourage or clients to as well!
PD: What do you feel sets Aeriform Arts apart from other studios?
LW: I truly believe we are a studio that embraces all levels, ages, sizes & sexes. We really try to make it a fun learning experience for everyone, where everyone is part of the cool kids club. We do not allow any cliquishness and want everyone to feel important and cared for.
PD: What are you most proud of in regards to the studio?
LW: I love the fact that we are co-ed across the board and that we embrace both sexy and strong aspects of pole/aerial in the studio. Two great tastes that taste great together!
PD: What are some of your favorite studio-related memories over the years?
LW: Wow – there are so many. All of the friendships we have made, being ecstatic when we hit our 1 year & 2 year anniversaries (our 3 year is coming up in Nov), our last student showcase was amazing – I was so proud of everyone. Every time there is a full pole class and all I hear are squeals of giggling, any feelings I have about the energy that it takes to run a studio melt away. But I think the best memory I have is when this one woman crawled out of an Aerial Cirque class, literally crawled – in the middle of class I might add! She was a disheveled, sweaty mess, pooled on the front lobby floor and I leaned over the desk and asked “Um are you okay?” she looked up at me and said “NOOO that shit is HARD” then she tossed her credit card to me and said, “Can I get a 10 pack, and can you sign me up for the next 5 weeks? I love this shit – thanks!” Then she smiled and crawled back into class.
PD: Is there a class you wish you could add?
LW: Vertical Wall Dance or Bungee Assisted Dance – I am dying to learn it!!!! I would love to offer it but would need the height & instructors to even begin to think about it. Seriously though, I am looking to make a trip to England to take a workshop or two with Wired Aerial Theatre want to go?
PD: What’s on the horizon for Aeriform?
We have some new class offerings in the works! We just added in a Trapeze class, and Candice Cane [is slated] to be joining the studio in January teaching pole, and we’ll be adding a bunch of new workshops, starting in January 2015.
You can find more about Aeriform Arts and their classes at www.aeriformarts.com. They have some excellent aerial offerings, from silks, hammock, and lyra, to pole and aerial yoga, as well as special classes like aerial cirque. Thank you to Lea for taking the time to chat with me!
I think it’s fair to say that most pole dancers are hard on themselves. We look at our photos or videos and only see the negatives – the things to work on. I think we strive for perfection a lot of the time, which tends to mean that we miss the little victories. Something isn’t pretty, so it’s not perfect.
I was chatting with a Pole Unbound friend about why we tend to post videos or photos and apologize for them:
- I was tired.
- It’s messy.
- I don’t like this part.
- This isn’t my best.
Admit it: you’ve probably said something like that in a post online. If you haven’t, that’s AWESOME. Seriously, good for you! But, for the rest of us, I think I’ve figured out a couple of reasons why we behave this way:
- We’re trying to beat critics to the punch. It’s an admission of, “Hey, I bet you’re going to judge me for not being perfect, so let me tell you up front that I know. I know I wasn’t perfect.”
- We’re looking to be better and selecting the things we know we need to work on.
I tend to think the first reason is the most common reason, but the second one is also absolutely valid. I know that’s why I do it! I do also make a note of things I want to work on, too, but it tends to be more the former than the latter.
So, I wanted to take a moment to talk about pride. Not stupid, ego-driven, I’m so fucking awesome it hurts pride, but genuine appreciation for the work you’ve done and how far you’ve come.
It’s really hard to watch videos of yourself (for most people). It has been hard for me for a long time, but I’m getting over it. Freestyle exploration as helped me IMMENSELY in this regard. One of the tenets of freestyle exploration is to move away from being self-conscious about your movement (whether it’s pretty or ugly or weird or graceful).
I try hard, nowadays, to look at videos of myself and seek out the good moments. I’m not always successful (I deleted an entire video today without even watching it because I just felt so off during the dance), but it’s a mindset to practice.
In that vein, here are three recent videos of mine that I am proud of:
My Northern California Pole Presentation Performance
This was my first public pole performance since PPC 2012, and I worked hard on it. I chose my song because I loved it (“Nearly Midnight, Honolulu” by Neko Case). I loved the simplicity of it, I loved the story of it, I loved that it moved me. It was not any easy song to “dance” to, but I didn’t really care, because I had a story I wanted to tell.
I am proud that many of my moves are clean. I am proud that I stuck to my story and my movement, even when the audience’s initial reaction wasn’t what I expected it to be. I am proud that I kept going when I had a grip issue (I used too much grip and got stuck). I am proud that my self-made costume looked pretty. I am proud that the emotion I wanted came through in many moments.
My Pacific Aerial Art Championship Performance
This routine came together in less than a month, because the original song I chose just didn’t work for me. I was training for the NCPP routine for the month prior to PAAC, so I didn’t work on my PAAC routine until NCPP was done. I had ideas and a song and a concept, but when I went into the studio for the first time to work on it, I couldn’t get it to work. So, I had to choose a new song and start from scratch. Because I was unsure about what our rigging would allow, I kept my routine safe by using mostly intermediate moves and worked to make those clean and to make my transitions work.
I am proud of my energy in this routine. I am proud that I did something totally different from anything I have done or anything I usually do. I am proud that I took a chance and went with it, despite being scared. I am proud that most of my moves are clean, and more importantly, that most of my transitions are clean – that I was able to dance/move through them smoothly. I am proud that my costume came together and looked awesome – the same is true of my props. I am proud of my story – I really loved it. And, I am proud that my twerk
My Finding Your Freestyle Challenge video
I shot this at the end of Pole Unbound, to fulfill a FYF challenge from my friend Tiffany. I used the prompt of “hair” for the dance (a prompt that was given to me by a partner during a freestyle workshop earlier in the PU weekend, which I LOVED).
I am proud of this because I had never heard the song before dancing to it. My friend Jamie, who was also at Pole Unbound, chose it for me. I am proud of my movement. I am proud that I stuck with my prompt and explored it. I am proud that my focus was just my prompt and the movement to explore it, and not that I didn’t know the song or how I might look, etc.
My Handspring Practice video
These clips were shot today. I went to an open pole practice, initially to work on some freestyle and work from Pole Unbound, but ended up feeling really self-conscious about it in the presence of people I didn’t know (and in an unfamiliar studio). So, I started working on tricks, and to my delight, my TG handspring from the floor came back!
I am proud that I tried my handspring again, despite not really thinking I could do it today. I am proud that I kept at it. I am proud that I’ve gotten stronger and can see it – and feel it. I am proud that I have 4 different handspring variations in this video: my TG from the floor, my TG ayesha from caterpillar, my forearm handspring, and my elbow grip ayesha from caterpillar. I am super proud of my elbow grip and how solid it feels. I am proud that I did my elbow grip last and was still able to hold it well.
So. Now, I challenge you to watch your own videos and find the moments you are proud of. It doesn’t have to be much. It could be a few seconds. But look for the things to celebrate. The little victories are a big, big deal. Trust me. :-)
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!
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.
A note about this post: I’m working on a theory about pole that I have not fully fleshed out, but this post is my attempt to get some of it out of my head. I apologize if it is not fully formed, or does not make sense, but I hope to eventually get it all put together in a coherent form.
When someone asks you what you’ve gotten from pole, or how it has changed you, what do you say?
- It’s fun
- It makes me happy
- I have made great friends
- It’s an awesome work out
- I’ve lost weight/gotten in shape
- I have more confidence
- I feel sexier
Do any of these sound familiar?
I think all of these are common expressions of the types of things that people enjoy from pole. One of the great things about this activity is that it can bring so many great things to so many different people. What I am curious about, though, is how these may fit into a larger picture.
I have a theory that pole brings one thing to the majority of people involved in it, which manifests itself in all of the ways I have listed (and more).
Pole brings Power.
I think that the reason that pole is so challenging for some people to accept – especially in those they love – is that the power that comes with it is scary. When people who were not previously empowered begin to change and grow, it challenges those around them. How their community responds to them is interesting to me.
If you think of a person as part of a whole community, and the idea that the community reacts to them in a certain role, think about how a change in that person can challenge how the others in the community see and know themselves. (It’s related to Gestalt Psychology.) If you are an insecure person when you begin to pole, and pole inspires you to have more confidence in yourself, what happens to those around you who knew you – or even relied on you – to be insecure? This isn’t to say that people be aware enough to know that your insecurity was something they relied on…but…think about it. If the change in you causes a shift in you, and a shift in the balance of your relationship with others…wouldn’t that be considered a threat to them?
Why am I talking about this?
A friend of mine recently spoke with me about the reactions her significant other was having regarding her journey with pole. The reactions range from pouty when she goes to class to demanding (if not borderline controlling) regarding the amount of time she would like to spend with pole. In chatting with her about how she has changed since the inception of their relationship, and particularly since pole came into her life, it made me wonder: was the new insecurity expressed by her partner a result of the shift in her personal power? Or, does it have nothing to do with pole, i.e. the fault lying only in the insecurity of the partner in question.
I would love to hear about the personal journeys of those of you who read my blog, particularly in terms of pole and your own empowerment. How have others responded? What changes have you noticed yourself, and have those changes heralded changes in others in your circle? It’s certainly something to think about.
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!
The Roller Squad:
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:
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:
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)
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:
Myofascial Five Pack:
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!
Soma Foam Support:
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):
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:
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 Belt:
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!
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 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:
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:
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!
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!
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.)
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.
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).
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.
It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything, in part because I’ve been busy with life. In the last two months, I moved out of the apartment I had lived in for 9 and a half years (and in with my boyfriend), donated the car I’d had for almost 10 years (which I drove cross country during my move to LA), and I had a birthday. It’s been a big time of change, which has been great! Things are still evolving, too, so my brain has been all over the place. I haven’t had the funds to go to my home studio, so I’ve been using my stash of groupons to float around to other classes and studios. As such, I’ve gotten a chance to check out three other studios (two of which I had been to before, but it was interesting to visit again), but the change in my routine was a bit disruptive at first. However, I stumbled upon a class that I ended up loving, and since it’s the studio where I had the largest groupon, it’s been great – I’ll have my fourth class next week, and I am super excited about what we might be doing in it. I hope to get some time to write reviews of the different studios, but in the meantime, here are a couple of things I’ve worked on recently:
I saw this trick on Instagram (it’s like the secret society of pole dancers – everyone posts photos of tricks and offers advice to other polers on how to do them), popping up on the feeds of some of the people we follow through Poleitical Clothing‘s account. It’s a bold trick in terms of how it looks, but it’s not hard – just takes a little creative manipulation to get into it. I’ll include my description of how I get into it, but first, here’s the photo of me in the trick:
So, this is how I get into the Tulip:
- Invert to an outside knee hang (also sometimes called a butterfly hook) and stand up over it – this is how we describe the climb up to the position from where you could go into a superman or a jasmine, or continue to climb to do another invert of some kind. To explain the movement: from the knee hook, you’ll sit up and put your bottom hand on the pole below your knee hook, to push for leverage (I usually put it about parallel to my bottom hip) and put your top hand above the knee hook, to pull up. So, your head should then be above your upper leg, and you can use the front of the lower thigh as a lock by placing it against the pole as a grip.
- Moving on…from the sit up over your knee hook, swing your bottom leg down and place the bottom of your foot on the pole, bottom leg straight and pointing to the floor while keeping your hands and upper knee hook in place. Once this is secure, you can remove the bottom arm to pose in a Cupid (also called a Star in some circles). If you have a super duper strong knee hook, you can remove the top hand, too, and just grip with the knee/stabilize with the bottom foot while keeping your core tight – it takes a lot of strength and balance, so only do it if you’re sure you can handle it, or if you have a spotter.
- So, from the Cupid, I move into what we were calling the Devil’s Point, but I think people are calling it a Genie, too – you’ll reach back down between the legs to grab the pole again (and, if you’ve kept your upper hand on the pole, you’re all set – if not, grab the pole again above the upper knee). Once your hands are secure, and keeping that upper knee locked around the pole, you’ll remove the bottom foot and swing it in front of the pole, securing the pole in your bottom knee pit. Your knees should now be mirror images of each other, both gripping the pole, bottom hand gripping between the knees, upper hand still above the upper knee.
- From the Devil’s Point, you then reach your bottom arm between the pole and your crotch and secure an elbow grip with that arm – your arm will loop around the pole so that your hand is headed toward your face. Once that is locked, and keeping your knee grips solid, remove your upper hand and repeat the same elbow hook for the upper arm.
- Both arms should now be loop around the pole, hands pointed toward your face on the outside/front of the pole. Crossing the arms at the wrists seems to provide extra support. Now, you are ready to extend your legs to complete the trick! Press the backs of your knees against the pole while arching your back – you have to arch and stick your butt out a bit in order to get the extension to work and look pretty! Otherwise, you’ll end up with bent spider legs, especially if you aren’t super bendy.
- Once you extend the legs, you’re in it! Get a picture! To get out, simply re-grip your knees, and you can choose how to come out of it. So far, I’ve mostly been grabbing the pole and swinging the top knee off the pole and kind of just coming out of it, but it’s not pretty, so maybe try to get back into a Cupid – that’s my goal!
This left a whopper of a bruise on the inside of my lower knee, in part because I never use that knee as a grip. Even in Lyra, my right knee is my strong knee, so I do all of my single knee hangs from that side. My left knee was so upset after this trick! The bruise and the swollen bump with the bruise were no fun, so I’m leaving the trick alone for a few days, to allow it to heal.
I think this trick would be great on spinning pole, and that’s on my list of things to try with it!
I brought this trick into my new class from the groupons, and my instructor worked it out quickly from the sample photo, showing me how to get my legs straight. Next thing I knew, my side of the classroom all began trying it, which was neat to see. :-) That’s one of the things I love about pole – the instant inspiration that can happen. In that same class, I also learned what we were calling a Shoulder Mount Bomb, which is a variation of the shoulder mount pose, but with no hands (whuuuuuuut?!). Here’s a video of me playing with it, in the class:
Now, this trick can be done from an actual shoulder mount up into it, or from a regular invert, like I did in the video. I found it to feel more secure from the invert, but that’s just me. From the invert, you push up into a caterpillar, and instead of using your hands to grip the pole as you slide down, you actually bring your chest to the pole and make contact on the front of your usual side for shoulder mounts. As you slide (your hands can still be on the pole, if you aren’t feeling secure – I kept mine on), you begin to crunch and tuck yourself into a ball while keeping your knees gripping the pole – I used my legs, too, because I wanted to control my slide better, since your entire frame slides, not just the torso. As you crunch into the ball, the pole will roll/slide up to the meaty portion on the top of your shoulder. Your grip in your knees should be tight and the pressure on your shoulder should be solid so that you can remove your hands from the pole. It sounds super scary – definitely do it with a spotter at first – but it’s surprisingly solid. If you feel comfortable, you can also extend one leg at the knee WHILE STILL KEEPING YOUR KNEES GRIPPING TOGETHER (you know, so you don’t fall), as I do in the video. Our instructor took both feet behind the pole and kept her knees gripped, but I felt better having one leg still on the pole. You can see it all in the video. :-)
I’m really liking this new class, which is at The Choreography House. I like the instructor, Veronika (she teaches at studios all over LA) – she’s got an incredible warm up, which has me closer to my left side (good side) split than ever before, and she teaches practical combinations and tricks, breaks down instructions well, and is quick to pick up on new tricks, as well as quick to adapt a trick to work for someone who is having trouble. Once my groupon is up, I am hoping to continue in her class, if not at ChoHo, then hopefully at another studio.
I dropped into two consecutive classes at my home studio (The Pole Garage), and it was SO nice to see everyone. I miss my social circle over there, which is one of the hard parts of floating around. I’m naturally reserved/shy with new people/classes, although I usually am just open and excited to see what new thing I’ll be shown that class. Anyway, on Wednesday night’s classes at PG, I got a chance to try two things I’ve wanted to try for a while: the elbow grip ayesha and the cartwheel handspring! I’d tried the ayesha ages ago, once, and fell out of it, so I never tried it again, despite wanting to give it another shot. It’s weird, but I was never in a class where anyone taught it, and I’d always forget to ask. I finally approached one of the rock star students at PG to ask her how to do it, and she talked me through it and spotted me, plus I got a chance to try it with the instructor spotting me later on. I like it! It’s a leap of faith, to be sure, and I need to adjust something to make it less tweaky on my bottom wrist/shoulder, but it felt way more solid than my twisted grip has felt in a while. I had a backslide with that – I never feel that solid in it anymore, for some reason. Anyway, the same rock star student also showed me a cartwheel handspring mount, which I tried a few times – it’s definitely an issue of working out what is going on with my bottom hand, because it hurt my wrist more than a twisted grip handspring. But, I had the right momentum, and I think it’ll be something I could keep trying to work on!
What about all of you? Any fun new tricks you’ve been working on?