Author Archives: Danielle C

Chrome Allergies: Pole’s Itchy Little Secret

(This article was originally posted on Bad Kitty’s blog, which is no longer active. I pulled an archived, early draft to repost here, since the demand for information is still high. It does not have quite as many photos or personal stories as the original, but much of the other information remains the same.)

As polers, we’re pretty used to a lot of body trauma: pole burns, righteous bruises, and general aches, pains, and whatnot. But, there is one itchy little subset of injuries that doesn’t get a lot of attention: “chrome” allergies.

What is a “chrome” allergy? In short, it is contact dermatitis due to an allergen. Although chrome itself can cause allergies, particularly in industrial uses, the prevailing theory in the pole world is that the allergic reactions dancers have to chrome poles is actually due to the nickel content found in the plating. According to the Mayo Clinic, nickel allergies and other metal allergies are among the most common causes of contact dermatitis. [1] Pole dancers who suffer from these allergies can have reactions ranging from itchy skin, to red patches, hives, and worse, depending on the level of allergy and duration of exposure.

screen shot 2019-01-20 at 3.16.03 pm

Photo from Michelle Stanek

About Metal Allergies

Metal allergies are more common than you’d think, with studies showing that anywhere from 10% to over 20% of the population may suffer from nickel allergies alone, and these allergies are reportedly on the rise. Women are reportedly more likely to suffer from metal allergies, in part because of the higher occurrence of piercings among females. [3] Within the pole community, some reactions may go unrecognized due to the lack of discussion around the topic. Anecdotal evidence shows that these types of allergies and reactions occur primarily after using chrome poles. Unfortunately, many studio poles in the US, Canada, and Mexico have poles made from chrome, and students with metal sensitivities may get the short end of the stick. They can enjoy class at their own peril and hope they get to a shower fast enough to wash their skin before the reaction begins. If they don’t, they are in for an ugly, painful, and itchy few days…often longer.

Allergic reactions (aka allergic contact dermatitis) can appear similar to irritant reactions (aka irritant contact dermatitis), with many of the same symptoms. A licensed allergist can administer a patch test to rule out allergies, but some differences include the severity of the reaction; the localization of the reaction (ACDs tend to be localized to the contact points, while ICDs are more wide-spread); and the swiftness with which the reaction occurs (ACDs tend to crop up 24 to 48 hours after exposure, while ICDs are more immediate). [2]

Research into how to treat the allergic reaction shows that the recommendation is to clean the skin as soon as possible after contact, then follow with a hydrocortisone cream. If you have a serious allergic break out that includes skin eruptions, you may need to consult your dermatologist for additional care, possibly including antibiotics to ward off a secondary infection.

Some recommended treatment tips from polers I spoke to include:

  • Bring alcohol wipes with you to class and wipe down your contact areas as soon as class ends – Follow up with a shower as soon as you are home/able
  • Hydrocortisone cream
  • Benadryl allergy gel (no greasy finish to worry about!)
  • Oatmeal lotion and oatmeal baths
  • Essential oils mixed in coconut oil and applied topically (A couple drops each of lavender, tea tree, and geranium oils works best)
  • Creams used for diaper rash (i.e. Zincofax or Penaten)
  • Topical steroids (requires prescription)
  • Chinese herbal remedies/detoxes

Unfortunately, there are not many ways to prevent an allergic reaction that don’t involve a) keeping your skin covered b) applying a lotion that will block the allergens, or c) using stainless steel poles. While poling in sticky pants can be an option for pole dancers, we all know that lotion and poling don’t mix. The best option is avoid chrome all together, which is pretty difficult if your home studio doesn’t offer stainless steel poles. In a city like Los Angeles, where there are many studios to choose from, it’s easier to avoid chrome if you need to do so. But in smaller markets, students with this allergy are likely to be stuck with chrome as their only poling option. Silicon coated or powder coated poles are also options, but again, these are difficult to find in most markets, particularly in a studio environment.

These allergies are so common that even world famous polers like Marlo Fisken, Bad Kitty® Brand Ambassadors Michelle Stanek, Lou Landers, and Nadia Sharif suffer from them. In Nadia’s case, her allergy was so serious that topical steroids failed to resolve her issues. After a follow up appointment with a doctor, she had a blood test that diagnosed her with metal toxicity. Due to the severity of her skin lesions, she was forced to take a 2 month hiatus from training while she healed. It began with training on old, chrome poles in humid weather; the first signs were sores and blisters on her hands and feet, but it soon progressed to cracked, bleeding skin that would not heal, despite the use of topical steroids. Nadia was able to get help through Chinese herbal detoxes, but she avoids chrome whenever possible; when she does have to train on chrome poles, she resumes her Chinese herbal treatments.*

In an effort to hear more about how contact dermatitis impacts polers at all levels, we reached out to polers across the US and into Mexico with the allergy. All of the respondents reported similar symptoms after using chrome poles, particularly in humid conditions: itchy, red rashes localized to contact areas such as armpits and torsos/sides, and in severe cases, vesicles (blisters), sores, and/or cracked skin that failed to heal. You can see a gallery of their photos at the end of this piece. One featured poler, Andrea Plancarte of Mexico, told us that her symptoms included itchiness, particularly on her contact points, with vesicles forming about a week after exposure. These vesicles eventually burst and cause erosion of the skin, with flaking and cracking skin scales that prevent her from poling. Her dermatologist recommended using only stainless steel or silicon coated poles for training, but she’s found it difficult to locate studios near her with stainless or silicon options.*

screen shot 2019-01-20 at 3.15.51 pm

Photo from Lara Michaels

How do poles cause allergic reactions?

To find out a little more about the science behind chrome use in poles, we sat down with an expert who not only has his PhD in Chemistry, but also has the good taste to be the significant other of a pole dancer! He helpfully laid out how these types of skin reactions could easily occur:

The chrome poles are almost certainly manufactured with nickel, as that’s what you electroplate chromium onto to get that classic “chromed” finish…So, you’re looking at chromium electroplated onto nickel. There is a very high probability that the contact dermatitis is being driven by a nickel allergy, not a chrome allergy. Nickel is a notorious allergen…and has been demonstrated to dissolve in water due to corrosion from extended contact with sweat. The most straightforward explanation is that the chromium is wearing off due to extended contact with skin/sweat, exposing the nickel and that’s what’s causing the problem.

But where does the chrome plating go? Dancers have been concerned that it may be absorbed through the skin, but our Chemist had this to say:

The takeaway here is that the rate of chromium oxidation is likely to be extremely low and very unlikely to be a health hazard. The first oxidation state of chromium (Chromium III) is very, very poorly absorbed across the skin and almost none of it will be generated in any case. What you’re seeing is very likely the chromium just coming off in microscopic particles due to friction – there’s probably a very light dusting of it on the studio floors…it is very, very, very unlikely to be absorbed into the body.

We also asked about how chrome poles become stripped, exposing the nickel plating, and his answer was fascinating. While the quality of the electroplating will have a lot to do with how quickly chrome will break down, the ultimate reason for the wear is that chrome requires care that is the opposite of how it is treated in pole. To maintain the shine and integrity of chrome, oil or wax is recommended, and polishing is discouraged. Between the use of alcohols and cleaners, to the friction created by skin grips, slides, and general contact with skin through movement, the chrome on poles is likely to not survive use in a pole dancing environment.

 

Why is chrome so prevalent?

Chrome is a popular finish for many pole dancers because of its grip / ability of the skin to stick to the pole without sliding. We reached out to leading US pole manufacturer, X Pole, to find out more about the pole finishes they offer. Until recently, X Pole offered only chrome options for their studio Build-A-Poles, but they do now have stainless steel 45mm Build-A-Poles available for studios in the US, as well as brass 45mm of the same style for Canada. Until demand grows, these options will remain limited to their respective North American markets, but they are available by inquiry (as of publication, neither option is listed on the US website). With the new stainless option, the main base pole is stainless, but the extensions for higher ceilings are chrome – again, until demand increases, this is unlikely to change. While X Pole’s home poles are made in a variety of finishes, home poles are not suitable for the battering that goes on in a studio environment.

Another reason why we see a lot of chrome? It’s usually priced more affordably than stainless. When starting a pole studio, there are a lot of expenses to factor in, and this is one way for studio owners to keep costs within budget. Many students prefer the grip of chrome to stainless or brass, so chrome can also be a crowd pleaser for those who do not suffer from metal sensitivities.

What are the alternatives?

The other main US brand, Platinum Stages (now owned by X Pole), does offer single piece, stainless steel poles for studios, but their poles are not as widely sold outside of major US markets, and therefore, not as easy to find. The company has also been plagued by customer service complaints, which has reportedly hurt their trustworthiness amongst studio owners. Lupit Poles are an excellent option for studio or home use, being that they are stainless and well made – their popularity in the US has grown over the last few years (since the original publication of this article), and they are my personal choice for a pole. A lesser known US brand with studio pole options is Pole Danzer, which offers 45mm and 50mm stainless or brass permanent mount poles, as well as some portable options. Unfortunately, based on our research, there is no 40mm stainless studio-quality option currently available on the US market.

What can you do?

If your studio has chrome poles, be sure to inspect them regularly. Stripping of the chrome actually worsens the allergic reaction for most sensitive students, so if you have an allergy and have to use chrome poles, look for the newer ones – the old poles will be more likely to trigger a reaction. In fact, you may not even show symptoms until you use an older pole! If you are a studio owner, be ready to replace your chrome poles as soon as they show signs of stripping: not only is it better for your students with the allergy, but it is better for your overall clientele, as stripped poles also lose their “stick.” To save a bit on replacing the entire pole or poles, you can also now purchase one of the stainless 8 foot sections from X Pole and swap it out for the stripped chrome ones on your existing poles. On a positive note, X Pole has increased the thickness of the chrome coating as a preventative measure for allergens due to older, stripped poles, should you prefer to stick with chrome for your studio.Until our industry makes the shift toward increasing the stainless options for studio use, those polers with allergies must be diligent in avoiding poles that trigger their reactions and take proper care of their skin after contact. It would behoove studio owners to educate themselves on the needs of their individual students and markets, and adjust their studio stock or maintenance routines accordingly. Hopefully, we can all work together to increase the demand for chrome alternatives and help solve this issue for good.*A disclaimer:

Please remember: each dancer is an individual, and while allergies exist and skin reactions may pop up, only a dermatologist, allergist, or licensed physician is qualified to diagnose the condition and cause. Not every dancer will react to chrome poles in the same fashion. For studio owners, we strongly recommend caution in exploring your options and best practices for your studio, students, and market.

Some additional resources regarding chrome and nickel allergies:

[compiling a list of links on nickel allergieschrome allergies, and contact dermatitis]

[1] Mayo Clinic – Nickel Allergy Definition

[2] Allergic Contact Dermatitis

[3] Detection of Nickel Allergy

Advertisements

The Cost of Being a Pole Instructor

So you want to be a pole instructor? Awesome! First, head over to the Alloy Images blog for a fun take on the joys (and occasionally not so fun, but still funny aspects) of being a pole instructor. They do a great job at covering it with glee!

Now, let’s get down to the serious stuff. Being a pole instructor comes with a lot of responsibility (duh), but what may not be obvious is that it can also cost a lot. Not just financially, but physically and emotionally, too. I’ve been thinking about this off and on, discussing it with my friends who teach, and I’ve finally put together a list of costs associated with teaching pole – with some bonus help from members of one of the excellent, private Facebook groups dedicated to teachers and studio owners. (Thanks all!)

FINANCIAL COST

You might think that teaching pole is a means to extra income. Sometimes, that is true! Buuuut, not always. Here are some costs to consider:

Insurance

If you are teaching pole, you must have proper instructor insurance. To not insure yourself as an instructor is to leave yourself open to potential lawsuits should a student be injured in your class. While studios should have their own insurance, that coverage will vary (it may not cover you as an instructor), and you should ALWAYS protect yourself, regardless of the level of insurance at your studio. Do your research into coverage; make sure you choose a plan that covers pole. Personally, I have insurance through Alternative Balance. They offer options for part-time and full-time instructors, plus they specifically cover pole. My yearly rate comes out to just over $200, before adding my studio as an Additionally Insured. Make sure that you add every studio you teach at to your policy – this can cost anywhere from $10 to $25 per studio, on top of your premiums. Other policies are out there, and they can be expensive!

As a pole instructor with a muggle job that provides me with health insurance, I am afforded the privilege of not having to pay for it fully out of pocket. But if you plan to make pole your central means of work, health insurance is something for which you will need to budget – you do NOT want to get injured without coverage. Trust me. Plans will vary, but when I was getting insurance through the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) from 2013 to 2014, I went through Covered California and saw plans that provided bare bones coverage for very little, to “Cadillac” coverage plans that cost a few hundred dollars a month, even after subsidies (at the time, I was making about $24,000/year, so my subsidy offers were decent, and I went with a medium level plan that cost around $125/month).

Certifications

There are a number of Pole Certification companies out there, and none of them are particularly cheap. You’re looking at a minimum of $500, to close to $1000, for any certification course. Now, do you absolutely NEED to be certified? It depends on your studio (some will require it). Personally, I have some mixed feelings on it.

I am certified through Pole Moves. I found my certification helpful for a lot of things that a good teacher will need: warm-up concepts, verbal cues, safe spotting, how to plan and manage a class, etc. Those things are invaluable, and a certification can really help you in these matters. What it cannot do is give you apparatus mastery and the personality that is suited for teaching. Some folks are natural teachers, or can cultivate that skill set to become good teachers. Others…just don’t have it. Even if they’re incredible polers who have apparatus mastery…they might just suck at teaching. It happens. A certification may help that, or it may not. Overall, I feel that certifications are a smart investment, but I do not feel that they will automatically make you a good teacher.

Another type of certification that is important to have (but seems rarer) is CPR/First Aid. A quick search on the Red Cross certification website shows prices ranging from $75 to $120 for a certification class, depending on the type of certification you want. This brings me to the concept of group fitness certifications: in addition to a certification that is pole specific, you may also want to be certified for group fitness through an organization like ACE, AFAA, etc. This takes time and dedication, but also money – anywhere from $300 to $600 register, not including other fees for prep materials, tests, etc. (it varies depending on the organization).

Continuing Education

As a teacher, it’s important to continue to learn. That can cost money. Maybe it’s a new certification, a private with another instructor, a trip to a pole-centric learning event (i.e. a convention or a retreat), additional classes, etc. Trips to large pole events or retreats can cost A LOT – thousands of dollars – and even additional classes can add up. Some studio compensation packages include free classes for instructors, but others do not, which brings me to…

Compensation

Being a pole instructor can mean some extra income! Yay! But…not always. Before coming on board with a studio, make sure you know their policies:

What is their class rate?

Some studios pay a flat fee per class; others pay a flat fee plus additional compensation for good class numbers; some only pay in trade (free classes/rehearsal time). Make sure you know what your compensation will be before you agree to teach at any facility. This includes fees for privates! Most studios take a cut of earnings from privates, as much as 50%.

Will you be an independent contractor or an employee?

As an employee, your taxes will automatically come out of your paycheck. As an independent contractor, you will be paid up front, but have to pay out taxes at the end of the year, once your studio issues you a 1099. This means that you’ll need to budget enough money throughout the year to cover your year-end tax bill. Being an independent contractor may also cost you in other ways, like possible fees for music licensing and additional fees for tax processing (if you freelance at multiple studios).

What are their studio cancellation policies?

How many students are required for a class to run? For our studio, it’s a minimum of 2 students. If your class is not performing well, you may not end up teaching as often as you think.

Will you actually get paid?

Beyond the established pay rate of the studio, you need to know: will they pay you? This is a serious issue within the pole community. I’ve heard many an anecdote about instructors being stiffed by studio owners, both for traveling workshops and regular classes. If you can, do some research and talk to the other instructors at the studio – make sure that the owners can pay you, and that they can pay you on time. You don’t want to work for someone who is not on top of paying their instructors.

Tools and Supplies

While most studios will have the basics of what you’ll need to teach your classes (i.e. poles, yoga mats, yoga blocks, etc.), you may end up needing to purchase other supplies, like stretching/resistance bands, massage balls, grip aid, knee pads, shoes, pole clothing, etc. Even things like music purchases or music subscription service fees (i.e. Spotify), class planning supplies (including advertising, i.e. if you pay for online design templates to create posters for your classes/workshops) can add up. I have the added issue of supplying props for my movement class, like chiffon. There are also other things to consider, like gas to and from various studios (if you’re teaching at multiple places), portable mood lighting or music devices (iPods, speakers, etc. – not all studios have speakers), and professional pole photos to help market your classes/workshops.

The nice thing about being an instructor is that you can write off most of your supplies at tax time; but you still have to pay for them, so it’s still money out the door.

Recovery – Part I

Being an instructor can take a serious toll on your body. Doing something 18 times, in slow motion, while talking, is exhausting, and the wear & tear can be all too real. As an instructor, it’s important to take care of yourself, and that often means spending money on things like massage, acupuncture, trigger point therapy, chiropractic adjustments, and more. As an example, at one point earlier this year, I saw an acupuncturist for needles and cupping ($90), a trigger point therapist for release work massages ($195 cash), and a chiropractor ($60 + tip for masseuse), all in the span of less than a month – with multiple visits to the trigger point therapist. That’s A LOT of money spent to keep my body functional.

This doesn’t even account for things like proper diet (good food costs money) or supplements, or self-work tools like foam rollers, massage balls/tools, or in my case, the help of a nutritionist. My point is: this shit adds up. And that, in and of itself, can be stressful.

Alloy Images

Photo by Alloy Images. Shot at The Brass Ring, featuring Iris Smoot & Manda Ritz.

EMOTIONAL COST

Teaching can be a ton of fun, and it be incredibly rewarding. Any time I see a student nail something they’ve been working hard to get, or find themselves breaking through to a new level, it is THE BEST feeling. I get so happy and so proud. I think about how far students have come, how much I love seeing them work and try and succeed, and it makes my day.

That being said: teaching can also be exhausting.

Time

If you are teaching a lot, you may not have time for yourself. You may be giving up time to do basic things, like errands, or you may be giving up time with your friends and loved ones. If you end up with classes on the weekends, guess who is not going to get to hang out with their friends who have muggle jobs? Yep.

Even if you are like me – muggle job, teaches once a week, with the occasional subbing gig – it’s still hard to make time. On nights where I teach a couple of classes in a row, I am doing it after 8 hours at my day job. I get an average of about 30 minutes of “me” time between driving home (30-45 minutes) and driving to the studio (30 minutes). I usually nap, then shove some healthy snacks into my face on the drive in. When I get home, I usually eat something, plus I still have house stuff to do, and I want to spend time with my husband, and the next thing you know, it’s midnight, and I have to be up in 6 hours. I’m usually quite tired the day after!

Beyond just time to do things and hang with your friends and family, you may also not have time to train. “But, I am teaching all the time! Of course I will train!” Eh, not always. Many instructors I know are so busy instructing others that they rarely get to take classes and be a student themselves. Nor do they always get to go to the studio and work on their own stuff.

You also have to set aside time for the administrative side of things: planning/practicing your lessons, creating/practicing/breaking down choreography, promoting your classes online with video or posters, hustling for new opportunities, etc.

Boundaries

It’s natural for students to become attached to their teachers – and vice versa! – but boundaries are important. Some students will need more attention and time, but if these requests are coming outside of class, and taking up a lot of time, there may be a need for a boundary.

Boundaries can also come into play when your friends take your class. Teaching your friends can be super fun, but if they aren’t respecting you as the instructor – goofing off, talking over you, doing moves not at the class level or part of the lesson – it can be stressful. In that case, boundaries are a must.

Last, but not least: for whom will you be working? What is the personality of the studio owner? How do they run their business? Are you okay with any of their idiosyncrasies? Or will they end up driving you insane? This is an important thing to consider – ask other instructors how they like working for the studio, and of course, use your own judgement. Nobody wants to work for a crazy, flaky person, and if you end up in that situation, boundaries will be important if you want to continue to work for them.

Giving vs. Receiving

As instructors, we give in order to allow students to flourish. Sometimes (often), one small win for a student makes it all worth it. But to put so much of ourselves into something can be draining. You have to make time to feed your own creativity and soul, in order to be of any use to others. This is important to your emotional well-being, and – surprise! – it requires time and boundaries.

Nancy helps me out as I finish a complicated tumble. She's an awesome spotter!

Nancy spotting me at The Vertitude. Photo is my own.

PHYSICAL COST

While we all make jokes about how our bodies change through pole, being an instructor means putting your body through different rigors. Repeating moves over and over again, spotting people properly, hours of movement, even talking through moves as you do them…it requires a lot of your body.

Recovery – Part II

I mentioned the financial cost of recovery above, but beyond that: you must take time to recover. Whether this means time off between classes to let your body rest a day or so, to taking time to roll out your muscles and stretch after class, to sit in Epsom salt baths after a hard class, or to even stopping to eat a proper meal and hydrate, it’s imperative you do it. Your body will crap out on you, if you don’t, and then you’ll be forced to take time off.

Maintenance

I’ve mentioned this twice, but diet is an important part of keeping your body in good shape. I don’t mean weight loss. At all. I mean eating the proper fuel to allow your body to function and recover at the best of its ability. This means taking the time to prep your food, and eat your food, and not rush around all the time. It means reminding yourself to keep hydrated. It’s time, and it’s money, but it’s necessary to remain in your best physical condition.

If you’re like me, and you have chronic health issues, this self-care is vital. I have to eat well, and remember my supplements, and make myself drink lots of water. And I have to get good sleep, and do all of the other recovery things I’ve already listed, just to maintain some semblance of functionality. I also have to work regularly with my Nutritionist, and see my doctors…which hey, costs more money!

IN SUMMARY

Teaching requires a lot. Despite aaaaaall of this, I truly love teaching (even when I’m tired and over it, which does happen from time to time). I had to stop teaching pole work classes for about 6 to 8 months earlier this year, due to my health issues, and I missed it. I felt so left out of the progress of my students, and I missed the community a ton. Now that I am slowly coming back to teaching regularly, and being able to pole on my own, I don’t think I realized just how much it means to me. I recently took a day off of my muggle job, just to attend an instructor jam at our studio, and spent 4 hours in the company of a handful of other polers, playing and exploring new stuff. I left SO HAPPY.

My point in putting together this exhaustive list of things to consider is simple: if you want to teach, you should be informed about every aspect of it, not just the fun and amazing things. Knowledge is power, y’all!

Note: I’ll be updating this post if any new suggestions on “cost” come to me, so check back periodically to see if anything has been added!

Not Everything Has To Be Sexy

We’re about 3 months from Halloween, and if you’re a committed costumer, you might be considering what you’ll be wearing.

Personally? I am not a Sexy [insert inane persona here] person. This is a photo of me, from last Halloween, with my friend Courtney, who made a great Sexy Mermaid:

court

She’s a babe all around, and her costume was great! (I was Rick from Rick & Morty. It was a joint costume with my husband, who played Morty. Photo at end of piece.)

A part of me wishes I felt comfortable in an outfit like Courtney’s. I never have. I don’t like having that much of myself on display, and that’s just my personal thing – I don’t mind if anyone else does it. More power to them. I have only dressed up as sexy anything once, when I was part of a group costume with two other friends: Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll. I got stuck with Sex, and I wore the outfit, but I was generally miserable. My favorite part of the costume was the faaaaaaabulous floor-length velvet jacket I borrowed from a Hollywood Wardrobe Stylist. I am really sad I couldn’t keep it. It was a goth dream.

I generally find sexy costumes to be mostly innocuous, occasionally really fun & cute (my friends dressed up as Sexy Minions last year, and it was adorable), with a few exceptions – notably, anything that falls under cultural appropriation pisses me off. Be a Sexy Banana, cool, but do you need to be a Poca-hottie? No. Full stop. That’s someone’s heritage. Not cool.

Why am I talking about this? Because I recently came across this travesty of an idea: Sexy Handmaid.

Sexy-Handmaids-Tale-800x563

Now, that photo and the link above are from a satirical piece (thank god), BUT: the best satire is always rooted in reality, and I guarantee that we will see Sexy Handmaids this Halloween.

That’s like dressing up as Sexy Sally Hemmings, or – as the satirical piece mentions – Sexy Anne Frank.

If you have not read or watched The Handmaid’s Tale, let me enlighten you: the Handmaids are rape victims. They are sex slaves. They have no bodily autonomy. They don’t even have their own, actual names – they are given the names of the men who own them, i.e. Offred = Of Fred.

To dress up as a sexualized version of these women – even though they are fictional characters – is a smack in the face to any person who has experienced sexual violence, rape, assault, etc.

I understand the concept of trying to reclaim ownership of something for feminist purposes, and I can see where someone might consider this costume an attempt at subverting a misogynist idea, but here’s the thing: you’re still sexualizing a victim of violence while pretending to be that victim. The story within The Handmaid’s Tale is scary as hell – scarier to me than any horror movie – and by trying to transform those characters into something different – lighter, sexier – you contribute to it, rather than fight against it.

I’m a big proponent of women reclaiming their sexuality/sensuality, and I’ve spoken at length about how I believe pole can do that for women who are disenfranchised from their sexual power (and I doubt it’s only women who can experience it). I also believe that this can be achieved by other means, not just through pole. I think women can dress up as Sexy Whatevers if it allows them to feel that they have agency and bodily autonomy and ownership of their sexuality. But with that, comes the responsibility of recognizing that some shit should be left alone. In the end, being clever at the expense of others isn’t all that clever, and there are better ways to fight the patriarchy than dressing up as a “Sexy Indentured Manual Servant” (as the satirical article calls it).

jarad

Rick & Morty costume with my husband, Halloween 2016

 

 

Don’t Steal Shit: Let’s Talk About Choreo Credit

At some point, every dancer who discovers pole goes looking for inspiration. There are a lot of ways to find it: maybe it’s your teacher, maybe it’s a showcase or competition you go see, or maybe it’s a new class you try out, but I’d venture to bet that the most common means of finding inspiration is now online. Platforms like Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook allow us to find the work of other polers from across the globe.

Instagram in particular has been huge for polers. Every week, it seems like there is a new move popping up to try. With the platform’s ability to send videos to friends (and to yourself), and its new “save” feature, it’s the perfect means to save ideas to try in your next jam session. There’s also the magic of hashtags, which – thanks to an idea from Michelle Shimmy – can now be easily customized to tag specific pole moves (#pdinsertyourmovehere).

But with all of these opportunities to be inspired by the work of other polers, there is also an opportunity to ruffle feathers: taking credit for something you didn’t originate.

The first example of this with the naming of moves. I hate to break it to folks, but the chances that you have discovered a new move are pretty low. Unless you are a magical unicorn poler with skills in the top 1% of our industry, it’s fairly likely that somebody, somewhere, has probably done that thing you’re doing (and – frankly – I’ve seen famous polers co-opt moves that lesser-known polers were working on, so nobody is immune from this egocentric excitement). Without standardized names for every move, and due to the innovation happening in our industry, it’s understandable that some moves will have two, three, even five names. And that makes it tough to know if something is new, or if it’s something you just haven’t seen or heard of yet. But, my loves, remember to be humble and recognize that it’s okay that you aren’t the first person to do something. The fact that you found a cool shape or awesome move and can try it – and nail it – makes you a bad ass in your own right.

Jade Bird, maybe

A move I spotted on Tiffany Jane, which I have been calling Jade Bird, but which may have another name! Photo by Alloy Images 2017

The second example is outright choreo theft. While this wonderful internet age has brought us the ability to see inspiration in the work of others we may never meet in person, it also means that those polers putting their work online have become vulnerable to having their work stolen. Yes, I said stolen.

These dancers work hard to create art and share it with the world. Choreography is an expression of that individual, something that they pour their heart and soul into, and to see it stolen can be a brutal and emotional experience. To rob these artists is cruel and selfish; it’s also massively lazy and rude.

Choreography theft can take place in a classroom – attending a class and teaching someone’s curriculum elsewhere, without crediting them for their creation – but most often, it happens through online videos. It’s very easy to watch, re-watch, and study clips online, to teach yourself the routines of others. Fundamentally, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to learn from the work of others, or even to emulate it, but if you are going to copy a routine, you must give credit where credit is due.

Always, always give mention to the person who inspired or created the original choreography. Tag them; give them a shout-out; make sure it’s clear that you are acknowledging their hard work and how it inspired you. Do this in classes, or when you post your videos online. It’s important, and it makes us better as an industry.

B-Girl

I know this move as B-Girl, and I know it as a Natasha Wang creation, but I could be wrong! Photo by Alloy Images 2017

And, when it comes to creating routines? Don’t copy. Polers who have competed or performed often put dozens of hours into a piece. They have given blood, sweat, and tears (often literally) to bring their work to life. Stealing their choreography is a violation. Just because a routine is available online does not make it acceptable for you to copy.

But, what if it’s just one part of a routine? Perhaps you like a sequence you saw, or a combo somebody made, and you want to incorporate it into your piece. Is a sequence or combo considered the same as choreography? It’s a difficult question to answer – my personal thought is no for a combo, yes for a full sequence – but your best bet is to always give credit where credit is due. A simple, “inspired by” when you post the performance video is a great idea!

If you do find yourself loving a full sequence you’ve seen in another routine, and you want to incorporate it into your own piece, you better find a way to really make it YOURS; it will make you a stronger dancer if you do you, instead of doing a knock off of last year’s winner of such-and-such (because, believe me, everyone will see it and compare it to the original…which you do not want). And, remember: credit your inspiration!

Believe Me When I Say…

Nobody wants to be the person that accidentally implies that someone else is fat.

(If you do, you miiiiight be an asshole.)

Now, we could have an entire discussion just about the concept of being fat, what constitutes it, how it becomes a means to shame others, etc. That’s not really what this post is about, or why I’m writing it, but it is an important conversation.

Let me back up a moment. During last night’s class, I tried to do the New Hot Trick (TM), called a Superstag or Gargoyle. And, I couldn’t. After numerous attempts in which I could not reach my top foot for the necessary lock, and trying to figure out the issue, it came down to me realizing that I simply could not flatten myself against my thigh enough to reach the foot.

Why? Because I carry extra weight.*

I have boobs. I have weight around my middle. Now, I’m not really plus-sized (I’m a Middler, between straight sizing and plus, at a 10/12), and I’m not really someone who carries all of my weight in my middle (not an apple, so to speak). I’m more hourglass with a bit of pear. So, I don’t think most people would look at me and think that this would be an issue in my forward fold, but it absolutely is.

Photo by Alloy Images

Photo by Alloy Images

In the move, I can get my chest to my leg, but the weight – the boobs, the tummy – block me from flattening. I have a good few inches of flesh in the way from squashing in enough to get to the foot.

When I tried explaining this to my instructor, she insisted it was something else, and I hit this wall of frustration. I’m still trying to unpack why, but I think I have it:

A) It’s very frustrating to not get a trick, especially one that seems like it could work for you.

B) It’s upsetting to recognize that your body is a contributing factor – and that it is something that you could, maybe, change…which makes it feel like it’s more your fault, like you’re more of a failure.

C) It’s distressing when people don’t believe you.

I think the reason why people automatically don’t believe me when I say that I have extra flesh that gets in the way is because we are (generally) conditioned to be nice. That is, nobody wants to be the person who implies that someone else is fat (or heavy, or carrying extra weight, or whatever). This is true to the point that people will outright avoid even acknowledging it, which in a weird way, almost feels worse than someone just saying, “Oh, you know, maybe that’s an issue.” Or maybe it doesn’t feel worse – I’ve never had anyone acknowledge it, and that might really suck, too!

It’s also sometimes hard to tell what is an excuse for an excuse’s sake, or what’s an excuse because it is truth (aka a reason), and that puts people in an awkward situation. So a lot of well-meaning denials occur.

It took me sitting on the floor, demonstrating that my chest and torso were fully against my leg, and that I couldn’t go any further, for my instructor to consider it for a bit. And, because she is an excellent instructor who works very hard to find variations and adjustments for people of all body types, she listened, asked questions, allowed me a space to feel heard and accepted, and we talked about possible variations to help me get it. I’m exceedingly grateful for her and the way she teaches – I know that many, many other instructors would not have done this, nor created a space the safely talk about it. I was moments away from crying in class, and probably would have gone out to my car and cried all the way home, had she not taken a moment to listen to me.

If you’re an instructor, and you have a student who has this issue, consider listening to them and working with them to find a solution/variation/alternative. Denying it does little, but listening? It can mean the world to your student.

*Now, to be fair to my instructor, she was right in a way: it’s not JUST that I have extra weight. I also am blessed with a long torso! Which is great sometimes, but when it comes to trying to reach my average arms down the length of my body to my feet in the way that is required for this move…it’s not so great. I joke about having T Rex arms, but it’s not really so much that I have short arms, as that I have a long torso and weird, limited flexibility. So, all of these things combined with my extra padding added up to me not getting this trick.

 

Shame

In the spring of last year, I was diagnosed with uterine fibroids. The entire reason I discovered that I had them was because of lyra: I was working on front circles, which require momentum to propel the body around the lyra in a crunch, while using the abdomen as a balance point. In short, I was repeatedly banging up my lower abdomen. After the first session of working on them, I developed spotting, which began to happen after each session (thankfully, the class stopped working on them after a couple of weeks). Then, it began to happen after any intense ab workout. Then…more frequently. And accompanied by cramps, and exhaustion. I was spending most of my weeks curled up around a heating pad.

After being diagnosed and given nothing useful to do to fix it by my doctor, I began working with my friend Ellen, who is a great nutritionist. Her fixes to my diet and supplement suggestions helped 100% – I went from being exhausted and constantly in pain, to being energized and virtually pain free in a matter of weeks.

But, I am – somewhat notoriously – not very disciplined. And that lovely, strict diet that I was so good about, slowly went back to a lot of my old habits. I introduced new foods, yes. I was mindful in certain ways. Ultimately, though, I’ve been shitty at keeping with it.

While my fibroid symptoms have not gotten nearly as bad as they were, I’m still not proud of my inability to stick to a plan.

The other thing about the fibroids is…they made scared to do pole and aerial. I would end up in pain after every class – sometimes during the class – especially if I pushed myself at all.

If I’m honest…I also unconsciously realized that I had also gained weight, which a) makes everything harder b) caused me to be uncertain about going to classes, because I hate feeling like “the one who can’t get it.”

So, I stopped going to classes. I’ll occasionally drop into a mixed level “pick a trick” style class, and I went to a few aerial classes, but for the most part…I stopped. I have only been teaching classes for the last 6 months or so, not actually going as a student.

I’ll let you guess how that impacted me.

from the magic of Google Images

from the magic of Google Images

I can no longer cleanly invert. I can barely invert. I can still do a lot of other things, and since I teach beginners, I’m not always in the position to have to invert, so while I noticed things were harder, I don’t think I realized how bad I’d gotten.

I knew I’d gained some weight, but I thought I’d just gone back to what I was before the fibroid diet. I don’t weigh myself, because I just don’t, but this weekend, I did.

I am at my heaviest that I have ever been. Which is 15lbs heavier than my old heaviest. It was a hard and horrifying blow to take.

It’s one thing to realize, “oh, yeah, I gained a bit of weight,” or to look at photos and not like what you see, but to look at a concrete number is something else. I’ve always gained weight in a really subtle way – I fill out all over, as if I have generally just swelled, so I don’t always notice it as quickly. I knew, but I didn’t know, you know?

This explains why things have been so hard for me lately. Why I can barely get my ass in the air. I’m weaker from not keeping in class, and I’m lifting more weight than ever before.

And, I’m ashamed. I feel so much shame about this: that I gained so much weight, that I wasn’t disciplined about my diet, that I can’t do the things I’m trying to teach to others. I feel like such a fraud teaching people to invert when I can’t cleanly do it myself right now. Do I have other great skills as an instructor? Totally. But shame is a powerful thing, and no amount of cheerleading from my pole bestie is going to wipe that away overnight.

This shame, ironically, makes me not want to go out. I don’t want to go to classes at this weight and struggle in front of people who have known me for years. All I can think is that they’re a) wondering why I’m struggling b) silently thinking about either how I’ve let my strength go, or how I’ve gained weight. I don’t even want to go be with my friends.

It’s not a fun place to be in.

My fiance is out of the country for the next three months, for work, which affords me a lot of extra time. With that, I’ve begin to set up more classes, and I’m going to branch out into other things. I took my first Pilates reformer class today, which I found tough, but manageable (it was for newbies) – pole has certainly given me enough conditioning for some of it to be very familiar.

And, I’m working on calming myself down when the Shame Monster goes on attack. I remind myself that it’s good that I am at least trying; that everyone struggles with something; and that the only way to get out of this hole is to start climbing.

It’s not easy. I hope I can continue with pole and aerial. I hope I can lose some of this weight (and yes, the fact that I’m getting married in 6 months is a motivating factor). I hope I can invert cleanly again, someday soon.

One Question To Never Ask Your Pole Instructor

I was recently chatting with a friend who is a pole instructor, just about classes and students, and she expressed frustration at a question that she has gotten (in her words) at least once a session:

“How long until I’m as good as you?”

That’s a difficult and dangerous question.

For my friend, it puts her in the awkward position of receiving a compliment that is also implying that her student is somehow not good enough, just as they are in the moment of the question.

Beyond that, though, is the issue of individuality. Specifically, that every person develops at their own rate. And, every person has a different set of skills and abilities. So, the truth is, that her students may never be “as good as” her. Or maybe they’ll be just as good; or, even better, someday.

Which brings up its OWN set of issues, regarding how to qualify what is “good” in the world of pole. Maybe you can do a perfect Fonji, but you have no soul in your free flow. Or, maybe you have the most passionate and fluid movement, but you never get more than 5 feet off the ground. Who is to say which is “better”?

I think it’s fairly natural to have this question cross your mind. Pole attracts people who want to improve and people who seek the validation from it. It’s part of the high for a lot of dancers – achieving new tricks, reaching new milestones. I would be willing to bet that many, many new polers have this question cross their mind.

It’s okay to think it. But, maybe, if you find yourself wanting to ask it…consider that there is no right answer. And, instead of focusing on all the things that you can’t yet do, remind yourself of all of the things you CAN do. If you couldn’t climb the pole a few weeks ago, but now you can? Celebrate that! Take a look at all of the things you have learned and give yourself a pat on the back for them! This shit is HARD, at EVERY LEVEL. Write down those accomplishments, if you have to! Be kind to yourself.

Oh, and yeah. Don’t ask that question. 🙂

AlloyUnbound15-Danielle-6158

Photo by Alloy Images, 2015

Bringing Sexy Back Voting Is Open

As I mentioned in my last post, I entered the BSB Poster Girl Contest. I am on a page that features some of my sexiest friends and idols, including my loves Iris & Jamers (two of the sexiest women I know).

Photo by Alloy Images, 2015

Photo by Alloy Images, 2015

Why did I do this? I did it to promote body diversity. Generally, I see a lot of similar bodies in the marketing and promotion of pole. Inevitably, a certain body type is shown quite often, and while it is beautiful and should be celebrated, I get a little sad sometimes when I think about how many women don’t actually look like that. I don’t. I may never. I’m a little bigger, but not plus size. I would say, “Average American Size”, because I literally weigh right in the average window for American women. Which, to be frank, can seem big in the world of pole. As such, I struggle with how I look when I get in the studio. I have to remind myself a lot that, even on my worst days, I have something of value to share.

So, I decided to throw in one of my Alloy Images photos for the contest. My dear friend Claire helped me choose it. The story of this photo was very me: Iris found a riding crop at the studio during me shoot, and I was just messing around with it and having fun when this moment was caught. I feel like that’s pretty fitting for who I am: somebody who has moments of fire or stillness in between the laughs.

I look at my company on the voting page and see an array of amazing women. Let me be frank: ALL of them are beautiful, luscious, real women worth celebrating. All of them have something special that makes them sexy. My photo is there not so much because I feel like the sexiest of the sexy; but because I want women who don’t feel like they look like the other women on that page to feel like they too can be adored, and that they have every right to feel sexy, too. It’s something I have to remind myself about in my own life, so my guess is that I am not alone in that mentality.

Voting is now open: https://www.unitedpoleartists.com/bsb2015/ Go choose and enjoy the loveliness of all of the contestants!

Bringing Sexy Back…Poster Girl?

I’ve always liked UPA’s Bringing Sexy Back endeavor, although I do sort of subscribe to the idea that sexy can be all the time, if you want it to be. I’ve never really done anything for it, though. I haven’t taped myself dancing sexy. I haven’t posted purposefully sexy photos in honor of it.

In thinking about it this week, I got to thinking about why. Part of it, I think, is that I have this natural sense of reservation about those sorts of images, for me personally (not for anyone else). It would feel rather foreign to me to post a sexy photo with the intention of promoting myself as sexy. A photo I post may be sexy – I do have some, after all – but me posting it exclusively to promote it and myself as sexy seems inauthentic to me. It also seems like, if I did it, it would be mistaken as attention-seeking, and there’s a certain math to all of it that has always made me uncomfortable. Why?

I suspect that it has a lot to do with being in a space of not necessarily owning my attractiveness right now. Which is just a personal thing. I don’t love my weight. I’m not super into how I look right now. I’m definitely in a bit of a hiding phase (oh hai, dolman tops that are billowy and forgiving, let me wear you every day). And, to me…sexy is something you are simply being, not something you try to be. The moment you TRY, it becomes a little meh to me. I think that’s just a personal preference that is held over from my acting days, as there is nothing worse than an actor who is trying too hard. I used to watch scenes in class with actresses who were trying SO HARD to be sexy, and it was really bad. Like, hard to watch. Because sexiness – to me – is about authenticity.

With that in mind, I made a decision: I was going to enter the BSB Poster Girl Contest.

I know, it sounds weird given my general aversion to posting anything sexy for promotion, but hear me out:

For better or worse, this is who I am right now. This is what I look like. I may not love it every day, but it is me. And…honestly…I want to see women like me being celebrated in pole. No, I’m not plus size (I’m a little short of it). But, I want people to see that people of all sizes pole. People of all body types pole. And, I want to see more of it. I love the body diversity that is in our community, but I want to see more of it being shown. This isn’t to knock the amazingly fit people in our communities – you folks are awesome, and I envy your abs – but I wish I saw more people with a little extra padding, in visible positions in our community.

So. I submitted this photo, with the encouragement of two of my most admired (and sexiest) pole friends:

Photo by Alloy Images, 2015

Photo by Alloy Images 2015

This actually was the result of me fucking around in my photo shoot, being silly and playing with that riding crop that we dug out of a closet at the studio. Because I have a lot of fun fucking around with this kind of sexy, but I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily the kind of sexy I identify with all of the time. It is FUN, though – and that is an essential thing for me. So, in that sense, it’s a great photo to use.

I hope more polers with diverse body types are encouraged to submit their photos to the poster girl contest. I hope people vote for them. If you’re interested in nominating someone for the poster girl contest, or submitting your own photo, you can do so on UPA’s site – it states that they are accepting entries through August 4th:

For what it’s worth, the photos that I found the sexiest out of that shoot are these two:

Art & Innovation in the Pole World

What is Innovation? Where does it come from?

In the pole world, I believe most people would say that innovation comes from the people who create new tricks people haven’t seen before. This is a valid assertion, but I think it goes beyond just “here’s a new trick”, at least for me. I like to think of it as a new form of movement – not just the crazy trick, but the creation of a movement or style unique to that dancer, which others then take on. Two great examples of innovators in our community are Marlo Fisken and Seanmichael Rau.

Marlo is someone that most polers watch. We want that new Marlo trick. We scream and cry and give it our best shot, and some of us actually get it (not me, sadly)! Her tricks are always uniquely HERS. They just look like Marlo: all grace, lines, and beast strength. Beyond her tricks, she’s famous for her flow, where again, she brings innovation to the table. Her style of movement is envied and often copied, and the community is always looking for her next Instagram clip.

Seanmichael represents another side of the Innovation coin: someone who has taken standard tricks and made them his own. This isn’t to say that he doesn’t create his own tricks (he does), but rather, that he has that unique ability to take a regular trick and make it look completely new. It’s a rare talent. Beyond this magic, he’s also a master at creative transitions. So much of what he does is incredibly difficult, but subtle and may be easy to miss. It’s my belief that people watch him, waiting for the big things to happen, not realizing that they’re already watching Picasso paint Guernica right in front of them.

Now, where does innovation come from? In pole, I think it can come from one of a few places. I believe failure is an impetus, for example. Striking out, while upsetting, can lead to an entrepreneurial spirit (so to speak). With some space to recover and regroup, failure can give you a clean slate from which to try again.

Another fertile ground for innovation is that of curiosity. If you are willing to step off the beaten path, innovation is possible. I think this is especially true for those dancers who are at the top of their game – the same old stuff probably gets a little boring, so it makes sense that a creative, curious person would ask themselves, “I wonder if…”

I believe we’re fairly accustomed to, if not outright expecting, innovation when it comes to new pole moves. Everyone wants to know the Next Big Thing. If you’ve attended a few pole shows, like I have, you’ll see the trendy tricks of the year pop up again and again. It’s just how we are.

But, here’s where I see an opportunity: innovation in the realm of art.

I think there are some cool things happening, like the inaugural Pole Theatre USA and Miss Pole Dance America events that went on earlier this year*. Still, though, I feel like there’s a huge gap around art. People say they want it, but often, I see those who bring art to the table not being recognized for it.

Perhaps this is because art is so subjective, but then again, maybe it’s a matter of the audience not yet having the taste for it. Or the knowledge of it. Maybe it’s a matter of the fact that we’re now entering the era of the next generation of pole stars, and there are far fewer artistic innovators emerging than there were with the OG pole stars. Or, maybe nothing looks new anymore, and we’re jaded. Maybe it could just be a natural evolution of the community, too.

With an open landscape, the OGs had the ability to craft and shape things a little more. Now, with the last few years being pretty competition driven, it feels a little like the art was bled out of it. To me, art in pole is not a matter of (as an example) wearing a hat in a vague stab at a character – it is true commitment to that theme, from deep in your bones to the surface of your skin. If that includes a hat, awesome. But that hat better not be the only signal.

This isn’t to say that nobody is creating art in pole. People are, believe me. I’ve seen recent performances that have blown me away, from their art to their investment in their stage presence (something I generally feel gets the short end of the stick, along with art). I’m just…looking for more, somehow. Maybe the right way to phrase it is, I am looking to see it more OFTEN.

So, who is going to be the next innovator? How can YOU take steps toward innovation? On a personal level, I think it’s about challenging yourself. Even if you fail, at least you tried, and that’s the first step to growth. You don’t have to be Marlo or Seanmichael to innovate for yourself and bring creativity and art to life. Be brave. Take risks with your art. Commit to it. Find out how to do this and still be you. Because this isn’t about trying to be somebody else, dance like somebody else…it’s about finding your voice and using it to fill the room. And, if it falls flat, it’s okay. Take a step back, heal, and find your way back to creativity, even if it’s a slow and cautious path. The pole world needs artists and innovators if it is going to thrive. And, besides: you never know who is inspired by you, even if you aren’t feel very inspired by yourself.

Who do you think is an innovator in the pole world? Let me know below…

* Yes, I know both events originated in Australia – maybe the Aussies are better at tapping into the artistic side of pole than we are, I dunno.