For the last year or so, I have been regularly taking lyra classes at an Aerial & Pole Studio in North Hollywood, CA, called Aeriform Arts. Over that time, I have struck up a friendship with the owners, Lea & Allelon, who sponsored me for Pacific Aerial 2014. They’re great folks, and I adore my class – I feel quite lucky to have found it!
The vibe of the studio is unlike a lot of others in LA. Everyone is welcome, and there’s no clique-ish-ness. I see people of all shapes, sizes, ages, looks, and backgrounds whenever I go. I got curious about how the studio came to be, so I asked Lea if she’d be willing to sit down to answer some questions about it!
Poleitical Diaries: How were you introduced to aerial arts?
Lea Walker: I have a fast paced career in TV, and I started having serious health issues that forced me to slow down a bit. I ended up bedridden for weeks and realized that the surgery had not only stripped me of my physical strength, but also my sense of body confidence and power. My scars became a symbol of how my body had failed me. I came to the conclusion that maybe I needed to finally slow down and do something for me. After I healed, I started taking pole lessons and then branched out to aerial yoga, which I found really helped improve some back disc issues I was having as well. At that point I was hooked!
LW: Aeriform Arts offers multi level, co-ed classes in Aerial Yoga, Hammock, Silks, Pole, Lyra, Trapeze & Aerial Cirque Conditioning (with stretch & dance workshops as well). We really pride ourselves with having an easygoing yet knowledgeable staff that works hard towards helping our clients explore and achieve their maximum potential. We like to have fun and encourage or clients to as well!
PD: What do you feel sets Aeriform Arts apart from other studios?
LW: I truly believe we are a studio that embraces all levels, ages, sizes & sexes. We really try to make it a fun learning experience for everyone, where everyone is part of the cool kids club. We do not allow any cliquishness and want everyone to feel important and cared for.
PD: What are you most proud of in regards to the studio?
LW: I love the fact that we are co-ed across the board and that we embrace both sexy and strong aspects of pole/aerial in the studio. Two great tastes that taste great together!
PD: What are some of your favorite studio-related memories over the years?
LW: Wow – there are so many. All of the friendships we have made, being ecstatic when we hit our 1 year & 2 year anniversaries (our 3 year is coming up in Nov), our last student showcase was amazing – I was so proud of everyone. Every time there is a full pole class and all I hear are squeals of giggling, any feelings I have about the energy that it takes to run a studio melt away. But I think the best memory I have is when this one woman crawled out of an Aerial Cirque class, literally crawled – in the middle of class I might add! She was a disheveled, sweaty mess, pooled on the front lobby floor and I leaned over the desk and asked “Um are you okay?” she looked up at me and said “NOOO that shit is HARD” then she tossed her credit card to me and said, “Can I get a 10 pack, and can you sign me up for the next 5 weeks? I love this shit – thanks!” Then she smiled and crawled back into class.
PD: Is there a class you wish you could add?
LW: Vertical Wall Dance or Bungee Assisted Dance – I am dying to learn it!!!! I would love to offer it but would need the height & instructors to even begin to think about it. Seriously though, I am looking to make a trip to England to take a workshop or two with Wired Aerial Theatre want to go?
PD: What’s on the horizon for Aeriform?
We have some new class offerings in the works! We just added in a Trapeze class, and Candice Cane [is slated] to be joining the studio in January teaching pole, and we’ll be adding a bunch of new workshops, starting in January 2015.
You can find more about Aeriform Arts and their classes at www.aeriformarts.com. They have some excellent aerial offerings, from silks, hammock, and lyra, to pole and aerial yoga, as well as special classes like aerial cirque. Thank you to Lea for taking the time to chat with me!
Until recently, I had never taught pole or lyra in an official capacity. I had always been a friend who shows people new stuff I have learned in class or in pole jams, and I’ve given private lyra lessons to friends, but I had never been contracted to teach my own class. I had never had a chance to create curriculum.
Over the weekend of 10/10-10/12, I had the amazing opportunity to participate in Pole Unbound. The Pole Unbound Retreat was conceived and organized by Aerial Amy. The central conceit was that everyone has something of value to contribute to the pole world. Therefore, Pole Unbound was established as a community pole retreat and jam, meaning that the instruction would be crowd sourced. As part of the retreat, each of the chosen attendees had to submit two possible options for workshops they could teach to the other attendees. At first, this was a little daunting, as I wasn’t quite sure what I had to offer, but I boiled it down to: what do I like to do and what am I good enough at that others may not be able to offer? The answers were freestyle exploration and lyra (since not all polers do lyra). So, I set about crafting two descriptions and basic curriculum, then sent my pitches off to Amy.
As a group, we voted on the workshops anonymously (it was double blind voting), and the top vote earners were selected as the overall curriculum for the weekend. My freestyle exploration workshop was chosen! It was such an awesome and validating feeling! And, also, a bit overwhelming, because it meant I really had to be detailed in my curriculum and come up with something I felt good about teaching.
I set about writing down ideas for possible prompts and sections, taking into account my own experiences in other classes, as well as my training in acting. What I wanted to create was something that melded freestyle exploration and my acting training, so I created a curriculum that was largely partner based.
Being me, I decided that I wanted a test run of the workshop, so I arranged to run it for some friends the weekend before Pole Unbound. I wanted to see if there were any timing issues or other problems that came up with the curriculum. The test went really well, though! I had to do some squashing of elements for time’s sake, but I was prepared for that. It was such fun to see everyone participate!
For me, it was a little unnerving to have to be the leader, especially in a group that contained a few girls that are teachers in classes that I attend. Running a warm up is an interesting art that I am not sure I have fully mastered, but I felt like the other sections went well!
Teaching the workshop at Pole Unbound was different. The class size was doubled, and the circumstances going into it were different: my workshop ran at the end of a very long day, and everyone was exhausted. It was hard for me. I knew people were tired, which made them distracted and less interested in participating. I struggled to find my footing early on, and then struggled to keep some students engaged due to the content of the workshop. Not everyone likes freestyle exploration. It’s very challenging for some people, and between that and the exhaustion of the group, I ended up losing about 1/3 of the participants by the end of the hour and a half.
I’m not going to lie. I was hurt. It felt really disrespectful to me, especially since I had stayed in the room for all of the other workshops, even when I wasn’t able to do the content being taught (i.e. I can’t do a back bend, so doing walkovers isn’t something I can participate in). Once I had processed everything, what stuck with me was not being pissed about how people left (valid reasons or not), but instead, being really overjoyed at the results from the people who DID stay. They were incredible. They gave so much to the work, and each person had such gorgeous, unique movement. I was blown away by what I was lucky enough to witness from the participants. It was such an honor.
Not long after I got back from Pole Unbound, I was asked to sub a lyra class at an area studio. I said yes, excited to get the experience, and it was interesting. Being a sub of someone else’s class is different than hosting your own, I think. Much like subs in high school, I think subs in pole classes are met with some amount of skepticism. I had actually been in class with some of the gals I was teaching in the subbed class, but nobody seemed to be that bothered by a fellow student moving into the teacher role (thankfully). What proved to be a challenge for me was teaching in a different way than the usual teacher.
I chose to run the class a little more like my usual class that I attend, which meant that the curriculum was based on learning elements of a routine. With 8+ students, it was a large class to control, and tough for me to bounce between two hoops to make sure everyone was spotted correctly and shown how to break things down properly. With only an hour of class time, i did a super short warm up, then launched into teaching. I also chose to ignore the trapeze, because I barely know any moves on it, so I didn’t feel comfortable teaching anything. I did allow students to use it if they had experience on it, but I offered no actual instruction (which I had told them would be the case beforehand).
Some of the challenges of this class included the fact that a number of the students were teenagers. The teens pick up stuff pretty well, but keeping their attention can be tough. I ended up teaching the first 8 or 9 moves of my Pacific Aerial Art routine (which includes the same moves I usually teach to friends who are new to lyra), and everyone seemed to pick them up pretty well – the last move was one they really seemed to like. I also showed them one advanced move, which everyone was able to try.
Overall, I think it went okay, but I did feel like it was disorganized. I wasn’t sure if that was my fault, or just that there were so many students. I don’t know if the students liked the class, but I hope some of them took something good away from it.
Coming up in November, I’ll be taking an intermediate/advanced pole instructor training course. I’m interested to see what the content will be and how it will work. I genuinely don’t know what will be covered. I was planning to take a beginner/intermediate, but the company doesn’t have one until next year, so the owner suggested I do the int/adv because my personal skill level is suitable for that level of instruction.
In the meantime, I’ve got teaching on my mind: how to improve, how to work with different types of students, how to create curriculum for new workshops. I really want to have more opportunities to teach freestyle exploration workshops.
Some things I am considering:
Confidence – Through observation and experience, it can be tough to remain confident, both in your own abilities, but also your curriculum. One of the things that was great about Pole Unbound was that we got the chance to see that everyone can contribute. We all have value. It’s just a matter of owning what it is that is ours to do. One of the things I want to work on is feeling confident that I am worthy of being a teacher of others and being confident in my choice of curriculum.
Teflon – Realizing that some people may not like you, may not like your teaching style, or may not like what you teach, but that you don’t have to take it personally. I don’t mean ignoring solid, constructive criticism, because I think it’s valuable to self-assess and reflect, but taking things personally when they aren’t meant to be personal – when they are more about the other person than they are about you – is damaging.
Flexibility – While getting off topic can be really easy (“hey, can you show me this?” can bring you pretty far from your lesson plan if you aren’t careful), it’s also important to be flexible about the structure of class, especially when you have a student having difficulty.
Compassion/Empathy – With difficult students, sometimes it is hard to remain calm. Some people are toxic. It’s a fact. But, instead of being reactive, I think it’s valuable to take a step back and see if there is an empathetic approach possible. There won’t always be, but sometimes, you can find a way to create an encouraging, safe space for people to explore and move through their fear. And, if you can’t, it’s okay to wish them well and let them go. Just try to not carry that with you and let it impact your other students. This is a great lesson that I am working on for myself.
No Nonsense – On the flip side of empathy, I want to learn how to effectively shut down nonsense. Not being a bitch about it, but just silently demanding the respect that is deserved when instructing others.
On a final note, about Pole Unbound: the next retreat has been planned for May 2015, in Toronto. If you are interested in joining, use this form to add your name to the list of potential attendees!
Something to consider before applying:
What can you teach? Pole Unbound is founded on the idea that everyone has something to offer. This is not a “pay money to be taught by pole celebrities” retreat – it’s an “everyone teaches each other” retreat. With that in mind, consider your strengths as a poler and what you can teach to others in a workshop setting, because you will be asked for what you might be able to bring to the table in a workshop setting.
Everyone has something that makes them unique as a poler. Find yours!
Note: this sign up page is not binding, and the registration application process closes November 15th.
Soma System very graciously provided me with their Full Body Complete Soma System Package, and I have really enjoyed testing each of their items!! I think that we, as pole dancers (and aerialists) are pretty used to being sore: whether it is the latest bruise or burn, or our knotted shoulders and tight hamstrings, we are almost all in some state of physical disrepair. And that totally impacts your ability to perform at your best level!
You can read a little more about Soma System’s philosophy here: http://somasystem.com/our-philosophy/ The great thing about Soma System’s tools are that they allow you to work on your body at home. Through using their products, with their guidelines, you can begin to work out the knots that are robbing you of your full strength and ability. I would LOVE to get the chance to take a workshop in person, but Soma has some really helpful videos on YouTube, as well as great written tutorials on their website. Below is a breakdown of each of their tools and how they can work for pole dancers!
The Roller Squad:
The Roller Squad is this mitt-like tool that is used for massaging tension out of areas like your pecs, quads, soles of the feet, trapezoids, calves, and more! The tool fits well across the palm of your hand – the silver balls face outward and are used as the massage points. They roll as you move the tool around!
I used this on the tops of my shoulders to help work out the super stubborn knots that I have in that in my trapezoids, and I have also used it on my forearms to loosen them when they start to feel locked up. It’s a nice feeling to rub it in long strokes, like down your arm, and if you put pressure behind it, you can really feel it in your knots! The plastic holders for the metal balls can be a bit scratchy on the skin sometimes, so I would recommend either not pressing too hard as you make your strokes, or wearing clothing that covers the area when you do the massage.
You can find some excellent exercises for this tool here:
Oh, my. I LOVE the Double-Track Roller This bad boy is soft on the outside, firm on the inside, and makes a great tool to work on the muscles on either side of your spine! My boyfriend and I have used it to help massage each other when we’re both feeling achy, and it’s his favorite! This is a great one to use on your own, too – you can lay on the tool and move around to manipulate it into the right areas. I love it to help release my entire back.
Soma System has some great exercises in their written tutorial section, with options for your neck, back, forearms, and even legs! You can view those here:
You can also check out their helpful video, too, which shows some exercises being done through a glass surface – it allows you to see how the tool works on the specific areas:
(note: the tool in the video may be an older version – the one that I have is entirely coated in the orange foam)
The Big Orange is an ideal transition tool between softer massage options and firmer options. It’s inflated, so it has some give to it, and it’s larger than the other items. You can use it on hips, feet, shoulders, pecs, etc. I find it easier to use on my own, i.e. trapping it between the floor and my body, than to use with a partner, but that’s me.
Here’s a quick little video on one of the uses – the technique shown can be applied to other areas of the body, too:
And, here’s another video, which has a series of exercises (featuring some assistance from a yoga block – or maybe it’s a brick, I can’t tell): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j04GooBG-ik
This is one of those tools that can hit some of the most neglected areas for pole dancers: hips and hip flexors! Sure, we work to strengthen them, but how the heck do you STRETCH them?? There are some great examples of exercises on the Soma System website:
Myofascial Five Pack:
Oooooh these make me squeal! The Myofascial Five Pack is made up of five plastic balls in different sizes, which allow you to really pinpoint areas of need. Holy crap, do they work! I use them to work out stubborn knots, and while they generally elicit terrible noises from me, they do help! My boyfriend has used them on me, when I ask for his help on working out knots, and it’s sweet, sweet torture. You can also use these on your own, obviously.
The largest ball has more give to it, but the smaller ones are all harder and provide more focused pressure. They’re amazing for addressing deep tension in a variety of areas. There are some diverse exercises on Soma System’s website, including a rotator cuff massage!! You know that’s perfect for pole and aerial!
Soma Foam Support:
The Soma Foam Support is a small foam roller, about a foot long and 4 inches in diameter. It’s used as support while working with other tools, but you can use it as a traditional foam roller, too. It’s just not as large as most rollers (but, hey, that’s great for travel!!). Like all foam rollers, it can help you to stretch and increase mobility, which is WONDERFUL for pole dancers and aerialists! Foam rollers can open up your quads like nothing else, for example! I love it for that.
Here are a handful of exercises for the Soma Foam Support (of the foam roller variety):
The Focus Roller is a nifty tool that helps to pinpoint areas in need of release. I found it easiest to use with my boyfriend – he would use it to apply focused pressure along my back and neck, but they recommend using it on the chest, too! Unfortunately, there are no videos or tutorials yet for this tool.
The Spiky Life Mat:
Okay, so this one is unusual and intense! The Spiky Life Mat is pretty much what it sounds like: a mat covered in tiny, spiky points (over 6,000 of them!) – I wasn’t sure what to think of this, especially when it came to how to use it – there aren’t any clear tutorials available online, but the Soma System store explains that it’s to help release tension in the areas where your body is in contact with the mat. You can lay on it in different positions and allow the points to work their magic. In my tests, I wasn’t quite sure how it was working for me, but it seems to increase blood flow to the areas in contact with the spikes – or maybe it’s simply increasing energy flow in the area! Here are a couple more sample photos, as examples of positions you can take with it:
Spiky Life Belt:
This is a smaller version of the mat above. The Spiky Life Belt is used like the mat, but on smaller areas of the body. You can also use it in conjunction with other Soma tools, like the Soma Foam Support. Again, for me, it seemed to increase a flow of something to the areas it touched – whether it was blood or energy, I am not sure, but the spikes can be a bit startling at first – you just have to go with it.
While there are no written tutorials on this tool, there IS a video!
You can pair this with the Soma Foam Support for a number of exercises, including a great one for your lower back!
In addition to selling tools individually, Soma System also offers kits and packages, if you prefer to purchase more than one item! Here’s a breakdown of each option:
Roll & Go:
Roll & Go is Soma’s smallest kit, with just two items. According to their website, it was originally designed for tennis players – and you know that’ll translate well to pole dancers, with all of those sore forearms! It pairs the Roller Squad and the larger, squashier ball from the Myofascial Five Pack, into a combination that can help you restore circulation and release your tight areas (respectively). There is no exact tutorial on how to use the kit together, but by checking out the earlier, individual tutorials, you can work some stuff out! And, the website lists some info on the shopping page for the kit!
The Basic Soma System Package:
This is an excellent option for people who want to invest, but may not be able to afford the full package! The Basic Soma System Package includes the Big Orange, the Roller Squad, the Soma Foam Support, the Myofascial Five Pack, and TWO of the Double-Track rollers. It’s recommended for all levels, and specifically for athletes (or anyone stuck in an office).
Full Body Complete Soma System Package:
The Full Body Complete Soma System Package is the comprehensive package of ALL of Soma’s tools! If you’re super into the system and have the cash, it’s totally worth it! It contains 10 of their tools: the Spiky Life Mat, the Spiky Life Belt, the Focus Roller, the Big Orange, the Roller Squad, the Soma Foam Support, the Myofascial Five Pack, and TWO of the Double-Track rollers. Mine came packaged in a cute little orange duffle bag, too! Makes for very easy transportation of everything!
Office Worker Sequence Tutorials
In addition to the tutorials on the Soma System website (which I liked in the relevant tool breakdowns), they also recently posted this great set of exercises specifically for office workers! It gives 11 tutorials, utilizing different tools, with office workers in mind, but you could easily use them at home, too!
There are also two videos on their YouTube channel, which breakdown the tutorials for the Office Worker sequences – the first is almost 15 minutes, and the second is around 5 minutes:
In summary, I think Soma System is a great set of tools for pole dancers and aerialists dedicated to doing self-body work. With regular practice, you can really work out the knots, increase energy, strength, and circulation to promote healing! I have found their tools to be really helpful, and I think that if I were more disciplined about using them every day (or after every class), I would have remarkable results. At the moment, I’ve been using them when I feel like I need them, but I think my results would improve if I create a regular routine with them (this is something I need to do in a lot of areas, not just with these tools). I also like that the items are mostly pretty easy to transport on their own – makes them great for those of us who travel! I’m excited to see Soma System add more tutorials, especially video lessons, online, too.
As I said at the beginning of my review, I also would REALLY love to take their workshops – I feel like it’d give me a better sense of how to do each exercise and get the most out of them. So, pole studios in SoCal: please bring them in for a workshop! If anyone attends their Pole Expo workshops, please let me know your thoughts!
At today’s Lyra class, we worked on tying our tricks together and smoothing out our transitions – something important for pole, too! I’m still working on making combos mesh well and smoothing out the moments between tricks so that I get rid of the awkward, “okay, now I’m gonna do a trick” pause.
With Lyra, it feels like I know a lot of tricks for someone who started 2 months ago, but I don’t yet know how to full incorporate all of them. If I mount one way, I can get into this trick and that trick, but I haven’t figured out how to get back around to do these other three tricks, and then if I mount this other way…yeah, it goes on. So, in today’s class, Leigh had us working on transitions within a specific series of tricks off of the Mermaid. We had the option of taping ourselves, so we could learn a little more – video below! – and we also had to work in pairs at the end! She had us pair up to choreograph our movements – again, doing the same specific movements, but we could add more if we both knew how to do them – and then having to sync our movements while performing on different hoops. It was an interesting exercise! We also worked on center straddle mounts – Leigh makes it look so easy and stunning, but damn, it’s hard! I’d venture to say that it’s harder than straight leg inverts on the pole, but that’s also not my strong suit (still tweaks my back a bit). I was able to do the straddle mount better on the shorter hoop, so I ended up practicing more on that one. We did a fair amount of conditioning for that mount, so I am hopeful to get to continue and improve!
Anyway, here’s my video from today’s class – I’ve already launched up to mount the hoop when it starts, but you’ll see Leigh spin me – she wanted us to all work while the hoops were spinning, so she gave us each a spin just after we inverted. It’s such a challenge when spinning, and I had a momentary panic attack about getting dizzy, but the moment I focused very intently on what trick I was doing and where my hands needed to be, I was able to work through the spinning and not get dizzy – I’m still working on that with spinning pole!!!
Also, a couple of videos of Leigh, because she’s awesome:
This is her performance from CPDC 2012, which I loved:
I was back in my regular Lyra class today, and it got me thinking about the benefits of picking up a second aerial art. Pole is hard on the body. It’s a beautiful sport, but it’s not an EASY sport – the bruises, the conditioning required, the knots you get in your shoulders once you start inverting regularly and going aerial…it’s not gentle. So, adding a second form of aerial seems insane. More pain? More bruising? More stiff muscles? And, with Lyra, you add in occasional scrapes from the hoop, plus terrible calluses – it’s on par with when I started using the 45mm pole more often, but almost worse, because your hands are not only callused, but rubbed raw all over.
Now, I don’t tell you this to dissuade you – because I LOVE Lyra. It has given me more than I expected. For one, it renewed my love for pole and my interest in pole. For a while, I felt like I had plateaued in pole – I was working the same tricks over and over, trying to get them solid, but not feeling like I had clear progress from week to week. Was I better than I was a year ago? Yes, for sure. But even six months ago? I wasn’t sure. I wasn’t loving the process of learning anything. I just wanted to get to the next level. I think plateaus are pretty common – it certainly wasn’t my first with pole.
Cut to Lyra. I found myself LOVING the process of learning (which I found carried over to my stretch and flex class, too – the ridiculous smile I have on my face when I’m in there – that is, when I’m not in pain – is hilarious). I loved that the conditioning from pole helped to make me better. I loved that things just made sense to me. I loved the feeling of success that came with it – the feeling of getting a trick again!
All of that happiness while learning was something that I brought back into pole, and I think it has re-energized me. I’m happier in class, I’m more interested in learning new tricks, and I walk away from class with a higher level of satisfaction. I really believe that I owe that to Lyra.
In addition to the mood and outlook changes, Lyra has also helped to cross-condition me. I started the classes while still healing from my dog bite injury from my day job, and it accelerated my ability to use my left hand in the old ways. I still have some lingering pain or weakness, but overall, it’s great. The grip required for Lyra is different from pole, and there is often less direct pressure placed on the hand, but the strength of grip is better – because the hoop is smaller than the pole, the grip required causes my hand to contract in a way that strengthened it faster. It’s been great.
Lyra has also really helped improve my back and shoulder strength. Prior to the classes, I had a lot of issues with straight leg inverts – my back would tweak whenever I did certain tricks, and I would abort the mission for fear of hurting myself. Since starting Lyra – and getting a pull up bar to do Lyra shoulder shrug conditioning at home – my back is A LOT better. I try to do shoulder shrugs every night, to help with it. The added strength has helped me with going aerial. I’m still not 100% solid, but I’m noticeably better than I was two months ago.
I look forward to seeing what else it holds for me. If I can muster my discipline (oh, to have it…it’s not my strong suit) and be diligent about working on my flexibility, I hope it’ll help me advance in both pole and Lyra. 🙂 In the meantime, I’ll keep happily trying new tricks – and, of course, taking photos whenever possible.
In these photos, I’m wearing the sexy tank from our Poleitical Clothing collection – it was great for the class! It stayed in place well, even during inversions, and the length kept my tummy covered for photos. 🙂