Category Archives: Uncategorized

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.

Dealing with Disappointment in the Pole Community

I’ve been mulling over a post about disappointment for a while, but it took me a bit to put it together. I feel like I see disappointment from pole almost every day, from my friends’ posts on social media to my own personal experiences, and it got me thinking about why it seems so common, as well as what to do about it.

I think one of the magical things that keeps people coming back to pole is the sense of validation they get from their achievements. The feeling of nailing your first spin or trick, of working hard on something for weeks and finally getting it, the feeling of marked growth that can be had…all of it is an addictive validation. Couple that with the sense of community – the support one can find from friends and classmates, the sense of tackling a problem as a team or group – and pole can be a pretty powerful experience!

As is normal with things that you get invested in or come to love, expectations can run high. I think it’s natural to get excited and maybe set your expectations a little high. The thing about expectations, though…they’re often a set up for disappointment.

I once had an ex who was all about no expectations, because he felt that expectations always bring disappointment, and he never wanted to be a disappointment to anyone. This is pretty extreme, and in a way, a means of never having to commit to anything to the full degree required for success. Expectations are a natural part of any relationship, whether it be with a person, or with a hobby, a passion, etc. Perhaps, with a passion like pole, the expectations are a little more like expecting things from yourself, or the community, or your friends. You want to do well, and you expect to get that new trick, combo, etc. You expect your community to support you, your friends to celebrate you. And, it can be pretty disappointing when something you expected, or even hoped for, doesn’t work out the way you thought it would.

So, how do we cope with disappointment? In my personal experience, there’s a lot of hurt. A lot. Like, butt-hurt level hurt. Sometimes, that can lead to complaining, lashing out, needing to verbally talk through everything. Sometimes, it means taking a break – from a class, from your friend(s), from the community, from pole itself. Distance can be a pretty powerful salve, if you are inclined to need some time away to clear your head and get perspective.

Another solution that I like is creativity. I find that when I am most disappointed with pole or the pole community, when I’m at the point of wanting to throw in the towel and walk away, hurt and sad…the thing that pulls me back from retreating fully into myself is the act of creation. This could be working to develop your own curriculum; reaching out to teach somewhere new; jamming in a studio on new tricks; freestyling your heart out; even doing crafts, or focusing on something creative outside of pole. For me, there is also writing.

The act of creation gives you a chance to have direct input into an artistic endeavor that is not subject to anyone else’s expectations or whims. It’s also a distraction, to be frank. Something positive you can use to move through the negative.

If you’re suffering from disappointment of the physical kind – i.e. not being able to get a trick everyone else has, or not progressing as quickly as your friends – take a step back and try to find the thing that is yours to do. Maybe it’s not rocking that janeiro, but it could be your low on the pole flow, or floorwork, or freestyle. Try to invest in what is yours to do and let go of the expectations of being “as good” as everyone else. The trick may come, or it may not. All you can do is feed the healthy, positive things, and continue to try to put your best foot forward with the hard stuff. Feeding the good is the best way to set yourself up for success with the endeavors you find difficult.

Dance it out. Photo by Alloy Images.

Dance it out. Photo by Alloy Images.

If the disappointment you feel is a result of emotional reactions within the pole community – maybe a rift between friends, or a disagreement at your studio, as examples – remember that space and time can help heal the rawness. Taking a break from the environment or people that are causing the upset can give you some space to get your head around what is actually happening, how you feel about it and why, and what you can do to make a positive impact for yourself. Also, take a moment to remember that many of our personal thoughts can be distorted, causing us to interpret things in a manner in which they were not meant (look up Cognitive Therapy for more on this). It is with these emotional disappointments that I find creative activities to be the most helpful. Sometimes, your feelings really do need a creative outlet to be expressed. So, go with it, and find your creative niche. Create something wonderful for yourself.

On a closing note, I wanted to add this: Pole can’t and shouldn’t be the only thing in a person’s life. When I was still acting, there was always this adage that actors need to live full lives – not only to help their creative work (i.e. understanding characters), but also to have more to talk about than acting. I feel like this applies to pole, too. I think pole can be wonderfully restorative to dancers going through a tough time, and I think it can be a joy for those looking to have fun, blow off steam, be creative, etc. I also think incredible bonds can be forged amongst those in the community, based on their mutual love of the activity. But relying on pole for too much brings in higher expectations, and therefore, the chance for very deep disappointment. Cultivating passions beyond pole can help lighten the load and improve the fun you do have with it. Plus, you’ll be a richer person for it. J

Do you have any tried-and-true methods for coping with disappointment from pole? I’d love to hear them!

A Little Rant About a Certain Pole Meme…

Earlier this week, I started seeing a meme pop up online that really upset me. It features a photo of a rotisserie chicken on a spit, next to a photo of a plus size pole dancer in an inverted tuck, with the words “Nailed It” at the top.

Buckle up, because I’m about to go on a rant.

This meme is offensive. It’s rude. This is my opinion, and people are entitled to theirs, but I don’t understand people within this community who do find it funny. I could get why someone who is outside might think it was a laugh [spoiler: it’s not], because they’re ignorant as to what we do and how hard it is, but inside? I don’t get it.

Here’s the thing: What we do is HARD. It takes tremendous courage to walk into your first class, no matter what your size, but it’s even harder for those who aren’t tiny, or aren’t young, or aren’t what someone might assume a traditional “pole dancer” would be. Additionally, when you are plus size, everything is harder. If you had a hard time inverting as a beginner, and you’re a size 2, imagine how much harder it is if you were 20lbs heavier…or 50lbs…or 100. A successful invert is reason for celebration, no matter what your size, but even more so when you’re fluffier. The dancer in that photo deserves respect and acknowledgement for her hard work, not ridicule by strangers…or by members of her own community.

Another thing? This dancer is a person. Who has feelings. Can you imagine seeing your image taken and used in this way, all over the internet? Can you imagine seeing it spread by the very people in the community that you’re a part of? Dare I say, the community that you love? To me, this is a violation. It’s bullying and cruel.

So, if you see this image, speak up. Say that it sucks and it’s mean. And, if you don’t think it is mean, at least have the respect for your fellow pole dancers to refrain from sharing it. This community is sorely in need of some reform in the area of bullying, and we can all make it better by striving to DO better and BE better.

How to Deal: Substitute Teachers

We all have our favorite instructors – the ones whose classes we seek out and never miss if we can help it. I’m willing to bet most of us have had a moment where we look at the schedule and find out that our favorite teacher as a sub for their class…and we cancel. I’ve done it. I’ll admit it.

Sometimes, it’s simply that I was looking forward to a specific thing from a specific teacher, and I’m not in the mood to be open minded (terrible, I know). I want what I want. The sub may be great, and I may know that already, but I just…wanted that other thing. Other times, I know the sub and know that they are not my cup of tea. Maybe their style is not like mine, or they focus on moves that aren’t traditionally for me (i.e. anything overly bendy). Or…and this has happened…maybe I just don’t like them. As a person. That happens. And, I’m not about to drop money to spend 60 to 90 minutes with someone I don’t like.

Canceling class because of a sub is the right of any student. I would venture to bet that most studios expect some cancellations for subbed classes when there is a regular, much-beloved teacher who is out. But, I would also venture to say that a lot of the time, those students who do cancel because they want their favorite teacher are maybe missing out on the chance to learn something new, or even find some gem in the instruction that they didn’t think they’d find.

I recently went to a class, expecting a teacher that I really like to be there, and found a sub. I was a little let down, but happy to just be in a class and getting a chance to exercise. All of the students were polite, but a little reserved, as I think tends to happen with a sub. I think there’s a definite tendency to sit back a bit and take measure of the teacher, but also of what they intend to teach. And nobody wants to step on any toes at the outset (unless you’re a bratty student), so there’s also that tendency to hold back initially.

For students, I think dealing with a sub requires some measure of getting over yourself and being open. Maybe they aren’t teaching what you wanted to learn, but that does not mean that you won’t get something out of it. Maybe they’re a new teacher, or new to you, but either way, it doesn’t matter. What does matter? That you give them the same attention and respect that you would give to your regular teacher, and that you make an effort to follow their lesson plan, even if it’s different than what you are accustomed to. Because, truly, you never know what might click for you. Maybe that teacher will spot some bad habit you have that is keeping you from nailing something – a habit your regular teacher may accidentally overlook because they know you better. Maybe they’ll have another way of explaining something that makes more sense to you, for whatever reason. You never really know!

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

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

On the flip side, if you are subbing someone else’s class, you have to expect some amount of dissention or discomfort from the group, but there are some things you can do to prepare. One suggestion I like is to approach each of the students and ask them individually what level they are at – what are tricks they are working on, what are they comfortable with (giving them examples, like shoulder mount, invert, etc.) – most teachers ask the class as a whole, which can work, but in classes with mixed levels, that can be tricky. And some students may be too shy to be honest in front of the group. While this suggestion does take more time, it may also allow the sub a moment to connect with each student and personalize the experience – that is, to be less of a stranger.

Another technique is to ask what the regular instructor has been teaching them – this can give you a good idea as to what the class may be looking to learn and where they are in terms of level. This does not mean you have to teach the same curriculum, unless it is required by your individual studio. But, it may give you the advantages I listed above, as well as the chance to add on. What I mean is: perhaps the regular teacher taught an Extended Butterfly to Flatline recently, but you can rock an Extended Butterfly to Reverse Poisson – that means that you can review a trick they know or have been working on, and add something really cool to it that they may not know. It’s a little familiar, but has a fun twist.

I think it’s also good to see if you can chat with the studio manager or the teacher for whom you are subbing and get a measure on the class: are they shy? Are they unruly? Do they have a tendency to go off the reservation and try stuff they shouldn’t? Are some at a higher level than others? How long is the usual warm up? How long is the actual class? (Sounds funny, but I once had a sub end a class 30 minutes early by mistake.) It’s also good to ask the teacher what has been on the agenda, too.

Having been on both sides of this issue, it’s an interesting and delicate one to me. I am generally averse to subs as a student, as I find that I tend to have some needs as a student that not all instructors can handle well (i.e. I ask A LOT of questions about small things within the technique, as it helps me to break down tricks better and make adjustments based on my own body – and not every teacher knows how to deal with that). I’m not fluid, bendy, or strong enough to just roll with any teacher, either – if I come in and there’s some back bending trick, I effectively just lost a class. And, I tend to feel bad about working on my own stuff in someone else’s class, so it’s a double fail.

That being said, I HAVE totally gotten stuff out of classes with subs. And, I always think it’s an excellent lesson to shut up and be open. In a recent class with a sub, the instructor had planned curriculum for a class that was far less advanced than the level of the students present (it was mixed level). As such, it was a lot of review on conditioning, which was a really good workout, although a little dull. Still, there were one or two things I hadn’t done before, so I got a chance to at least try those things, even if they weren’t really what I was hoping to do that day.

And, as someone who has subbed classes, I know it’s tough to do, especially if the teacher you are subbing for teaches in a completely different way than you do (which was the case for me). As much as I might pout about not getting to see my favorite teacher, I do have empathy for the person subbing – it’s not easy! As a sub, you’re generally trying their best to do right by the class. Ultimately, while it’s good to know and understand someone else’s way of teaching, you must be comfortable in order to be effective. If someone’s style is completely different than yours, don’t sweat it! Just let the class know ahead of time what to expect: how the warm up will run and how you teach. It won’t guarantee that they’ll be totally into it, but at least they won’t be surprised.

So, the next time you have a sub, consider attending class and being open to what they have to offer – you’ll probably get something out of it! And, if you’ve got a class to sub coming up, do your research and remember to have fun!

Update: A friend of mine mentioned that she’s seen students go as far as to arrive to class, change into their clothes, then leave as soon as they see there is a sub…or leave right after warm up…or even ask if there is another class going on they can take instead while IN FRONT of the sub. All of those things are rude. Just flat out rude. If you arrive and find a sub you weren’t expecting, it can be a disappointment, but you’re there already. Commit and make the best of it, especially since you’re going to lose the class credit if you don’t. If you haven’t gone into the class yet and want to inquire about switching, do so in a discreet manner and only involve the front desk. But once you are in that door, honor the instructor and be present. Don’t be a douche.

How to Give Awesome Judging Notes

Recently, I had my first experience being a judge for a pole competition. The experience was awesome and educational in more than one way – I’ve written two blog posts about it for Bad Kitty and Pole Sport Organization, but I wanted to write a third, from a more personal place.

Having been a competitor in the past, as well as a performer who has received feedback from professionals, I have some experience with judging notes. On the whole, I would say that most of the ones I have received have been…lacking.

I think most judges mean well. But, what I have found that I crave – and this is true of most of the competitors I have spoken to – is not only flattery (duh), but constructive criticism/feedback. Yes, we as performers and competitors want to know what we did well! But, we also want to know what to work on, and if possible, to have a clear explanation of it.

These types of notes give us workable goals to think of for our next competitions or performance, but also for our overall growth. As such, my goal as a judge was to give strong, positive, constructive feedback to each competitor. My advice for any person who is going to be judging a competition or feedback showcase would be:

Remember to be kind

This is especially important for competitions that include amateurs, but I also personally believe it’s important for the pros, too. Everyone wants to be told they did well and to be recognized. Even if their routine needs a lot of help, picking out one or two small details or moments and celebrating those in your notes can make all the difference in encouraging the recipient. Remember that people thrive best in pole when they feel validated for their hard work. We all love getting the stuff that we couldn’t get the week or month before, and this is similar – and, that sometimes, competitors don’t know they did something cool. They may just be focused on some mistake they made. Let them know that they are seen and recognized for doing something well!

Even when I watched someone who clearly struggled, I tried very hard to find something positive to say. People often know when they struggled. And, this doesn’t mean you have to overlook that, but…try to find something positive. An example for you: I watched a competitor who truly had a rough time with their routine and connecting to the audience, but they had a couple of small moments that shone through – a spinning climb on static, and the joy on their face on their spinning pole pass. So, I took a moment to mention those at the start of my notes. It’s a small, kind gesture that can encourage someone to keep going with their pole journey.

Be constructive in your criticism

Based the feedback I heard from my friends regarding their judging notes, the ones they appreciated the most were the ones that gave them clear ideas of what to work on. I tried to do this with every competitor, even the ones that were awesome. Constructive criticism can be anything from “remember to point your toes” to things like audience connection, costume effectiveness, pacing and energy, an increase in difficulty of tricks, and any host of other suggestions to improve the strength of a routine. Always try to find eloquent ways to express these criticisms. Some of my favorites were, “For next time, I would like to see you do [insert constructive note]” and “For the future, I would like you to work on [constructive note] to strengthen your performance.” Framing it as “something to work on for the future” can help a competitor really see it as a workable goal, instead of just a critique. If you do need to make a deduction, check to make sure you have it correct (at PAAC, I was personally deducted for something that was NOT correct, but the judge either did not listen, or was not informed). Ask the panel assistant, or your fellow judges, if you aren’t sure.

Also, remember that many competitors will suspect what they need to work on, but still want to hear it from someone else. When I did my PAAC routine, I knew I didn’t get enough momentum in my spin, and that I did not have a high difficulty level to my tricks, so it wasn’t a shock to me when those notes came up. It just reinforced that I needed to work on those things!

PAAC scores

The Judging Notes that I received for my PAAC routine. The gluteal fold thing still bothers me (I had on tights!)…

Take your time

Yes, you generally have a time limit within which you must finish your notes and scoring, but…don’t rush it just to beat the clock. Say what you want to say, and take that extra 30 to 60 seconds to let the competitor know your thoughts. Providing fuller notes only enriches the experience of the competitor, but also, it gives YOU more experience. I don’t think I got any notes done in under 2 minutes, and I would say that I was under 3 minutes maybe 50% of the time (maaaybe), and nobody cared. It doesn’t take all that long to say something of value.

Be honest

Sometimes, people do need the truth put to them. I will admit to having given a few notes that were terser than others, particularly in moments when I felt the competitor was sandbagging (a pet peeve of mine), or when they had potential and did something that I felt took away from the performance. An example would be a competitor I watched who started out super funny, but who – in my opinion – did nothing to sustain it. Without the dynamics and hard work that I saw from other competitors, their routine felt boring, as if they were relying on one gimmick to get them through, instead of having put in hard work to create a full routine. Keep in mind, that is MY personal opinion of what I saw, and my notes reflected it. I know another judge on the same panel absolutely disagreed with me!

Which brings me to this…

Judging is very subjective. Just because your neighbor loved something, doesn’t mean you have to. One thing that is interesting to me is the issue of handling deductions. During my pole panels, we generally didn’t chat much amongst ourselves about the performances, save for when there were some obvious deductions. But, in the lyra panels, there was A LOT of talking amongst the judges about the deductions – everyone consulted each other, and in general, the judges were a little more critical about what they saw. Again, if you ever aren’t sure about a deduction, ASK!:-) On a side note: There were definitely some issues this past PPC with judges not being informed of when competitors had gotten moves cleared ahead of time, so they were adding deductions for things that had been okayed by PSO, which upset me – I do hope they fix that issue soon.

As a competitor, you must be prepared that some judges will love you, and others…not so much. Case in point, in my PPC 2012 routine, one judge gave me the highest score on the board – a good 20 to 30 points higher than most of the others. I still don’t know WHY, though. I got very few actual notes back. Just try to not take it personally!

Remember that part of your job as a judge – as I see it – is to help these competitors be better! Providing excellent notes helps – it really does. So, if you’re thinking about judging soon, or you plan to in the future, keep these tips in mind. It might make all the difference to someone you watch.:-)

 

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