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.
As much of a pole fan as I am, you’d think I’d have taken a workshop by now, but no! I’ve taken a class from Natasha Wang at a local LA studio, but never an actual workshop taught by a pole star (by the way, Natasha is great, and you should always take classes or workshops from her).
Thanks to the generosity of a pole friend, I was able to attend my very first pole workshop last night…with Marlo Fisken.
Pause for extreme fan-girl reaction.
I was in shock. It was such a nice gesture, and I can’t even think of how to say thank you properly!
In preparation for the big day, I squee’d a lot and made my boyfriend watch multiple Marlo videos, like this one:
Marlo’s workshop was at Smoke and Mirrors Fitness in Orange County, which is about 20-30 minutes from my house depending on traffic. I had never been there, although I know some of the students – it’s a nice place! Super tall poles, very atmospheric. I hope to get to take one of their classes sometime! A few of my pole friends from LA came down for the workshop, too, and it was nice to have friendly faces.
Marlo herself is art in motion. She moves like liquid. Really hot liquid. The workshop was focused on her flow movement, so we worked on the principles of creating seamless motion and continuous movement in transitions. It was tough in different areas, for all of us, but some people got the tricks faster/easier than others. I was not one of those people. 🙂 I struggled.
Our warm up was movement based, and while it was tough, it wasn’t impossible. I kept up for most of it, and my asthma kept itself in check for most of it, which was excellent. The movement was so foreign to me, so it was like learning choreography while trying to stretch and get warm. It was interesting while being challenging, which I appreciated. Marlo also had us do some conditioning and floor moves that were also interesting – cartwheel presses across the floor were tough, but the floorwork (shoulder stand/roll) was very cool.
She followed up the warm up/conditioning with spin instruction, and wow. She’s so pretty in her technique. She just floats. Her instruction was meant to teach us how to achieve that kind of flow, but I had a really hard time with the timing of the hand switch – I got it once, I think, out of all of the attempts I made. I ended up working on the three segments of the spin separately, in hopes I could tie them all together once I had the basics. It was tough to not get something I felt like was fairly simple, but it definitely spoke to my weakness at pirouettes – a simple transition that has always tripped me up. She taught a cool move out of a spin that landed on the floor, but it was tough for most of us – I hope to work on it some more in my normal classes.
Part of Marlo’s trick instruction was based off of aerial inverts, which are my nemesis. I would rather try a fonji (which I do not have the skills to do) than do an aerial invert. All of my pole friends and instructors tell me I can do one, and I am sure that I can, but I have failed at them for so long that it’s become a mental block. So, when Marlo included it in the instruction, I was immediately put in the position of having to suck it up. Which is good, because I NEED to suck it up, but it was a tough thing to do when I had just felt like rather a failure at the spin instruction.
How did I do? Meh. I ended up just feeling bad about the fact that I was sharing the pole with one of the instructors from Pole Garage, who ended up having to help me quite a bit (I felt like I was infringing on her learning experience, which is really just my brain being mean). She did an incredible job keeping up with Marlo, though – it was so fun to watch her do well.
Regarding my own work, I will say this: I did a few aerial inverts better than I ever have before. I usually struggle a huge amount, and I did okay – especially since they were on my non-dominant side. So, I consider those to be wins – the fact that I even got into the invert is a big deal. (It may not sound like much, but consider the fact that I was so under-conditioned on my non-dominant side that I couldn’t even invert from the floor a few months ago – and the fact that I can barely aerial invert on my dominant side.) In fact, I was so unaccustomed to aerial inverting, especially on my non-dominant side, that once I had gotten up, I was totally confused on what to do. I couldn’t sit up over it to continue the climb – it was like my brain shut down. It’s entirely possible that I have never climbed up on that side!
To end the class, Marlo gave us the challenge of stringing randomly chosen tricks together, with the aim of having there be the least amount of steps in between. It was really challenging, but in a fun way – we had to really think about it, and some of the success depended on our level of expertise.
Marlo is ridiculous to watch. She’s the most graceful person I have ever seen – she floats in slow motion, but still moves quickly. I don’t know how to explain it, but watching her was incredible. It was like taking an acting class from Meryl Streep. A really sexy, buff Meryl Streep.
I left the workshop and realized very quickly that I was up in my head. I was thinking, a lot, but was not immediately able to pinpoint what it was that had me so introspective, if not upset. I kept thinking that I should have been super elated and excited, but I wasn’t. I did not walk away inspired and energized, and it took me a while to figure out why, until I realized what the overall lesson was that I took away from the night:
My lesson learned was that of commitment. That to be excellent at this thing that I love takes a commitment that I have yet to show. A commitment that I’m not even sure that I have in me. It was a real wake up call. To even be a little better than I am – not even like Marlo or Natasha or any of the greats – but to just invert in a pretty way, to get my aerial invert, to not struggle so much to make things smooth…that all takes commitment. It was really daunting to realize. I was a little despondent to have that reality check, even though it seems SUPER obvious – OF COURSE it takes commitment and hard work! Um, duh? As of late, I had been feeling stronger in my pole work – like I was physically stronger than I had been (and I know it’s true), that I was getting things I hadn’t gotten before, that small things were getting better. So, I think I was just really surprised to feel so far behind, even though I know I’m not some great poler – I’m never the most advanced in any of my classes, by far. The simple feeling of being rewarded by doing a little better than I did a few months ago was kind of squashed when I saw the long road ahead. It seems so far away, to be so good. Or, to even be the kind of good I feel like might be attainable to me.
It didn’t make me want to give up. It just left me distressed. If you haven’t read Sparrowhawk’s wonderful new post about comparing yourself to others, do yourself a favor and read it – it totally applied last night. I left that workshop upset with myself, and while I was able to see the small victories in what I did, I was also afflicted with a heavy dose of “NOT ENOUGH”-itis. And, really, that’s a mindset. It’s an opportunity to recognize it for what it is (a cognitive distortion) and to be forgiving and gentle with myself as I lead my poor, bruised self out of the dark alleyways of my mind.
As for what to do next: I want to work in more classes, to fix the things that are not pretty, to master those things. I would say that I don’t know how, but the HOW is to just do it. How is a road block for most people, myself included. The how is to go to class whenever I can, to work on those little things in between the lessons of class, to work on the conditioning at home. To allow myself to recognize the small wins along the way, and to look at the next step in front of me, not the entire staircase to the penthouse.
I might never be Marlo, but I can be a better version of me.