Power & Pole: Some Thoughts
A note about this post: I’m working on a theory about pole that I have not fully fleshed out, but this post is my attempt to get some of it out of my head. I apologize if it is not fully formed, or does not make sense, but I hope to eventually get it all put together in a coherent form.
When someone asks you what you’ve gotten from pole, or how it has changed you, what do you say?
- It’s fun
- It makes me happy
- I have made great friends
- It’s an awesome work out
- I’ve lost weight/gotten in shape
- I have more confidence
- I feel sexier
Do any of these sound familiar?
I think all of these are common expressions of the types of things that people enjoy from pole. One of the great things about this activity is that it can bring so many great things to so many different people. What I am curious about, though, is how these may fit into a larger picture.
I have a theory that pole brings one thing to the majority of people involved in it, which manifests itself in all of the ways I have listed (and more).
Pole brings Power.
I think that the reason that pole is so challenging for some people to accept – especially in those they love – is that the power that comes with it is scary. When people who were not previously empowered begin to change and grow, it challenges those around them. How their community responds to them is interesting to me.
If you think of a person as part of a whole community, and the idea that the community reacts to them in a certain role, think about how a change in that person can challenge how the others in the community see and know themselves. (It’s related to Gestalt Psychology.) If you are an insecure person when you begin to pole, and pole inspires you to have more confidence in yourself, what happens to those around you who knew you – or even relied on you – to be insecure? This isn’t to say that people be aware enough to know that your insecurity was something they relied on…but…think about it. If the change in you causes a shift in you, and a shift in the balance of your relationship with others…wouldn’t that be considered a threat to them?
Why am I talking about this?
A friend of mine recently spoke with me about the reactions her significant other was having regarding her journey with pole. The reactions range from pouty when she goes to class to demanding (if not borderline controlling) regarding the amount of time she would like to spend with pole. In chatting with her about how she has changed since the inception of their relationship, and particularly since pole came into her life, it made me wonder: was the new insecurity expressed by her partner a result of the shift in her personal power? Or, does it have nothing to do with pole, i.e. the fault lying only in the insecurity of the partner in question.
I would love to hear about the personal journeys of those of you who read my blog, particularly in terms of pole and your own empowerment. How have others responded? What changes have you noticed yourself, and have those changes heralded changes in others in your circle? It’s certainly something to think about.
A couple of weeks ago, my incredible friend Claire of The Pole Story wrote a great entry over at the Bad Kitty Blog about having Respect For Pole Class. I loved what she had to say (despite the fact that I’ve definitely been guilty of being late!), especially in her closing remarks:
“I’m going to say something that is probably controversial (surprise) but that I think it needs to be said: There is an overdeveloped sense of entitlement in parts of the pole world – a kind of low-level narcissism in which things like respect for your teacher, your fellow dancers and a sense of service to the studio is missing. Now, I realize that certain studios may contribute to this attitude by proclaiming that “It’s all about YOU YOU YOU!” and/or by charging exorbitant amounts of money for classes. And I firmly believe that if you pay for a service, you are entitled to a positive experience. But at the end of the day, you are a student. You are there to learn, as is everyone else in the classroom. So show respect for the rules of the studio and for your classmates and teachers.”
Claire’s piece came to mind during my most recent lyra class. Our class has a max of six students – some days, it’s full. Other days, there are maybe three of us in attendance, but we tend to see the same faces. We’ll have new people drop in now and then, or some faces will be absent for a couple of weeks, then back at it (I’ve been in that group, due to travel). I’m getting to know some of the girls a little better, becoming a little friendlier. It’s a mixed level class, and our teacher runs it in a great way: each week, we get on the hoop and run through the sequence of tricks we’ve learned since the beginning as a warm up, then she’ll teach everyone something to add to it – in our final turns, we again run through everything we’ve learned from the beginning. The tricks we learn as add-ons vary depending on how advanced everyone is in the class, but with the mixed levels, she’ll usually break everything up so that the newer gals are learning the same things, while the girls with more experience are trying harder sequences. She’ll challenge the girl with the most experience with harder stuff and make her review things she isn’t yet teaching the rest of us, but she gives everyone something new to do on top of reviewing their previous tricks.
I happen to love this way of teaching – progressive curriculum is great for truly learning the moves, building strength and endurance, and – something I’m finding to be really important – learning how to string the moves together into a sequence for the purposes of a full dance/performance. It might not be for everyone, but it is how the class works. I love getting to see more advanced moves, and while there are times when I think, “Aw, I bet I could do that!”…I also know that I’ll get to it eventually, so I don’t push to do it now.
Which brings me to my story…
In class this week, we had a newer student that I couldn’t remember if I’d seen before. She had been to one class, and it may have been one I missed – there was also a sub for the class, so the teacher hadn’t met her yet, either. The class was made up of one advanced girl, two intermediate gals (including me), and two new gals. Our teacher has us warm up individually (after a group warm up on the floor), starting with the more advanced students and working back to the newer gals. It gives the new students a chance to see what comes with time, since there’s generally just one hoop strung up (occasionally two, but we warm up one at a time – the second hoop is for throwing in some extra practice while others are going through their tricks later in class).
After having the more advanced gals warm up, our teacher went to instruct the two newer students on their initial moves. Now, I can’t quite recall the sequence of events, but throughout the class, one of the newer gals – the one with one prior class under her belt – kept asking to be taught more advanced moves. She would pipe up while watching the rest of us and say, “I’d like to do that.” Each time, firmly but politely, the teacher would say, “No, I’m not going to teach you that today.”
I totally get wanting to learn the hard tricks – believe me. I also get that some gals have that need for validation that drives them to throw themselves into the hardest stuff they can find. But, here’s the thing: if you’re throwing yourself into advanced tricks too quickly, you probably look like shit in them, aren’t doing them correctly, and are more likely to be injured. And, speaking from experience, you probably aren’t really retaining anything you’ve learned.
The thing that bothered me about this girl’s requests was the energy surrounding them – like I said, it’s not that I don’t get why someone would want to learn something advanced sooner than they should. But, the way she requested it was rude. Her tone was demanding. When she was told no, her energy curdled the air around her. She allowed our teacher to continue teaching her the basics, and – not surprisingly – she struggled with those moves. I’m not sure she realized how much she struggled with them, but it was among the most struggling I’ve seen in the class. I don’t say that to be mean, but more to highlight the importance of having respect for your own limits.
This isn’t to say that you should diminish yourself or not believe in yourself. It’s to say that you should know your body. Learn your limits and challenge them in a smart way. Build steadily and safely. You’ll learn how to trust yourself and what you can do, while still also learning when it’s time to challenge yourself. AND, you’ll find that you surprise yourself, too. 🙂 With a great teacher, you can grow and push your limits safely, retaining what you’ve learned and building on it to be a better dancer and a more well-rounded performer.
Beyond having respect for the limits of your body and abilities/knowledge, there’s also the issue of having respect for the teacher and the rest of the members of your class. This girl was disrespectful to all of us with her requests, particularly because she made them repeatedly and in a tone that implied an overdeveloped sense of entitlement. (And, lest you think it was just me feeling this way…it wasn’t.) Now, this might offend some people or be controversial, but it’s my opinion, and I am sticking to it: I hear about pole classes where they teach people to invert on the first day, and where they throw people into complicated tricks without ensuring that they a) are strong enough/conditioned enough and b) understand the mechanics of the move. I cringe when I hear about those classes. They’re not only irresponsible in regards to safety, but they’re breeding an obnoxious kind of pole dancer. Of course, I can’t say for sure that this student came from one of those classes, but the level of aggression in her desire to progress made me wonder…
The other new girl in the class? She was like most of the new students: a little scared and intimidated, but game to try things, picking it up more as she went along. She looked so happy to get what she got and satisfied with her success. It was a marked difference from her counterpart, who didn’t seem to even take joy in learning the moves she was actually taught. Our teacher doesn’t care how much experience you have in pole or any other sport – she doesn’t care if you’re an Olympic athlete or an out of shape school teacher – everyone starts in the same place in our class. Everyone learns the same few moves on their first day. You’re learning a new apparatus, and while you may bring in a level of strength, flexibility, or athleticism that helps you learn faster, you still are on a new apparatus. And, sometimes taking it back to the beginning is good. You get to discover the joy again. Pole can be so hard when you get further along – the tricks get harder and require more, and the successes seem further and further apart (at least, for me). Why not take the opportunity to enjoy learning something new, instead of pushing so hard to jump ahead right away? Why not take the chance to learn and have it stick, so you can be better overall? These are things I’m going to try to keep in mind as I continue in my pole and lyra classes. Because, let me tell you: class without joy is a waste. You’re less likely to succeed if you aren’t happy.
(My longest dance yet! My arms were like jelly afterward – that’s A LOT of work on my grip – but I’m happy with where it’s all going. I wasn’t able to get the full new trick we learned – unholy pain – but hoping it comes soon. Going to continue working on smoother inverts and transitions, too.)