CategoryCross Training Series

Cross Training for Aerial – Part 3: Ballet

ballet armsLet me preface this post by stating that last Monday was my very first ballet class. Unlike my other posts in the Cross Training Series, this one comes from belief and research rather than actual practice.

After an hour and a half of stretching, barre work, floor spins and runs, I am by no means a ballet expert.


What I am, however, is an enthusiastic adult student who got to live out her childhood dreams last night – albeit in active wear and socks rather than a tutu and ballet slippers!

Since taking up pole, I have allowed my dance obsession to take it’s own course. When I’m too tired, or it’s too hot to train, I read about dance, watch dance tutorials, and binge on YouTube clips. My research into ballet, just heightened my desire to join a class, and I really do believe it is going to help my pole dancing.

Coming from no dance background, my childhood was busy with hockey and athletics more than cartwheels and ballet school. My hips don’t like to turn out, I have trouble with neutral spine, and when I raise my arms in fifth position my lats and biceps bulge considerably, interrupting the dainty lines of the rest of the ballerinas #poledancerproblems!

If you were a ballerina as a child, you probably already know how your training is of benefit to your current dancing as an adult. You have muscle memory that supports your posture and ability to point your toes. You may even have retained a certain range of flexibility that helps your lines and success with splitty, flexi pole tricks. Your body may also remember that limp hands spoil the grace of many poses, thus ensuring your lines end with the most authentic and poised gestures –  “like holding a flower or champange flute” as I’ve been told!

These are just some of the elements of ballet that I hope I can bring to my own dance practice. I received feedback from a judge once who offered criticism of not using arms and shoulders enough. She explained, that common with many pole dancers, our shoulders are strong and tight, and may help stabilize movement but also restrict it to the point where we don’t use our arms at all except for holding on. I am hoping that ballet classes can help bring movement into my arms and help me coordinate that movement with the rest of my body.

I was given pointers for using my arms from the ballet teacher:

  • I should carry my arms like holding a beach ball
  • I should lower my arms as if I have an orange in my armpit

These are common cues offered to beginners utilising visualisation to think about engagement and alignment. The ballet teacher also came around and made adjustments to the class to help with maintaining posture.

On the barre, I was able to stand behind a girl who clearly was beyond a beginner but seemed to be in the class to refresh her basics. I studied her movements like a hawk, watching her back muscles fire and lengthen as she raised her arms and just floated them around above her head. I could actually see her flatten her shoulder blades against her back bringing new appreciation for the common alignment cue – “shoulders back and down”.

My other light bulb moment from the barre work was observing how my stabilising arm (the one holding on to the barre) was causing my body to do crazy things! It was like my brain was so focused on coordinating the other arm and my legs that it completely ignored cues from the other side of my body. It was only when I was completely out of balance and nearly falling over (yes! while still holding on!) that I realised. The arm holding on to the barre was gripping tightly, white knuckled even, and cramping under my shoulder. My torso became twisted as the tightness on this side attempted to compensate for the lightness I was so seeking with my other arm.

Clearly I was doing it wrong!

These observations provide near endless learning for my body work here on. I plan on taking a full ten week course in beginner ballet in the New Year, hopefully joining a class of true beginners who are open to the ballet teacher to working her magic.

I’d also like to share, perhaps a small consolation. The photo attached is a screenshot from a pole freestyle taken just yesterday nearly a week after my ballet class (when all the DOMs had finally subsided!). I was so pleased to see a little arm flourish appearing to come from nowhere.

Watch this space for more from the barre!

Cross Training for Aerial – Part 2: Handstands

I have included handstands as part of my cross training series, as I genuinely believe it is an exercise that compliments your pole dancing and conditions many parts of your body to make you a stronger and safer dancer.

I never did handstands as a kid, maybe a few cartwheels here and there, but being upside-down was not something that came naturally.

Through yoga I strengthened by headstand practice, but handstands were only something that we seemed to focus on during workshops, where there is more time to talk about technique, offer spotting, and allow people to work through the fears associated with inversions.

When learning handstands I was constantly demoralized. My teacher at the time wanted me to “bunny hop” up which I found very static and underwhelming.

If you are unfamiliar with this, check out this video. He calls it the “down dog hop” but it’s a clear explanation and visual of what it’s meant to look like.

The bunny hop technique asks you to put your hands on the ground in front of you, shoulder width apart, fingers spread and facing forwards. You then walk your feet up to your hands like a shortened downward dog, bend your knees and spring your legs up to position the hips over the shoulders. This technique takes core strength to hold your legs in a tuck once off the ground, strength in the arms to keep them straight the entire time, and a lot of power through the legs to move your hips into position. This technique might work for some people, but it did not work for my body proportions and strength at the time.

Then one day in 2011, I joined an Acro class at the pole studio. The teacher showed me a more gymnastic inspired way to get into a handstand – the kick up. I see kids in playgrounds handstanding like this all the time! By kicking off one leg, my other leg was free to stretch in the direction of kick, naturally using my body weight to help shift my hips over my shoulders. In one class I was already kicking up further away from the wall and using my legs in a front split position to toy with the balance point.

After 4 years, I still cannot bunny hop! But, I can practice my handstands with the kick up method, and it’s allowed me to begin to feel more comfortable in the position so that I train it more often and find other ways to get in and out of the pose.

After warming up for pole dancing at home, I usually try out three to five handstands against the wall. Kicking up and then seeing if I can take my toes off the wall to find balance. If I’m feeling brave I also try against the pole – a smaller target to kick up against that is easier to hit if you get your butt to the pole before your toes.

The other night I came up with a new way to train my handstands – in the hallway!

There wasn’t any space to kick up, so, facing one wall, I placed my hands on the ground in the centre of the hallway and walked my feet up the wall behind me. At the top, I opened my legs to have one foot on the wall behind me and the other in front.

handstand open legs


My arms and shoulders were feeling the burn as I stabilised through this whole sequence, pushing the floor away and clawing with my fingers.




handstand legs together

My goal was change feet, scissoring my legs from wall to wall. I managed about three before I was exhausted and walked my feet back down the same way I got up.
Looking at the video (it’s always a good idea to tape yourself to see your form) I was pleasantly surprised how solid my body was throughout the leg change. I was holding a vertical alignment, with a little bit of an arch in my back which could improve, but the scissor action did not put me off balance.


Considering how this applies to pole dancing, think about an Ayesha or Static V and it’s leg variations. You need a solid torso to stay stable in the pose while your legs might go up into a Pencil/Straight Edge, out into a split, or behind you into a back bend.

If you have a solid handstand against the wall, have a go at this variation and see how it benefits your pole inversions too!

Cross Training for Aerial – Part 1: Yoga

IMG_7430I was a yogi well before I came to pole dancing. Starting in 2005 in a backyard studio in Sydney’s outerwest, my partner and I found it an easy way to exercise regularly and incorporate a little bit of mindfulness into our day.

As we moved around Sydney, I found other studios to join, settling for a long time with Jivamukti Yoga in Newtown. Different to Hatha and Bikram, Jivamukti is a very dynamic practice. We explored handstands, headstands, and bound poses, and the studio ran regular immersion weeks. Like a retreat, we would do about 4-6 hours of physical yoga a day and investigate the yoga sutras as we learned about the history and theories of the practice.

It was around this time that I first fell in love with my body and what it could do. I wasn’t the strongest or the most flexible, but I found a grace in the vinyasa and a groundedness in in the body work and breath practices.

This year, I was able to reconnect with one of my favourite yoga teachers as he started teaching close by. Richard is a dancer as well as yogi and it made sense to return to his classes as a way to compliment my dancing.

A typical yoga class with Richard looks something like this –

  • gentle stretching to limber the joints and bring movement in the body
  • a series of sun salutations based on the traditional Surya Namaskar
  • a focus on a particular series of postures – one legged balances, hand balancing,inversions, seated twists, even the splits!
  • back strengthening and flex – including bow and wheel poses
  • shoulderstand and headstand sequences
  • Shavasana

These classes incorporate all three elements of a great workout – cardio (when performed with breath practice), strength, and stretching, and gives you space to assimilate it all as you rest in Shavasana (corpse pose) at the end. All of these can support your pole dancing, making you stronger, more flexible, and more balanced.

A stronger core? Check!
Back strengthening and flexibility? Check!
Shoulder openers? Check!
Hip openers? Check!
Awareness of how your body moves through space? Check!

It’s great to have a teacher who adds their own touch to the traditional yoga sequences too. Many pole dancers started pole as they found other forms of exercise too regimented and boring. Try to find a yoga teacher who will throw some surprises in there.

The benefits also go beyond just strength and flex training. A great class leaves me feeling like I had a great massage all over. The increase in circulation and movement across my upper back and shoulders is amazing therapy after a week of pole dancing. The focus on alignment also irons out the kinks caused by the one sided bias of pole dancing too.

Take a look at the yoga classes on offer in your area, or check out some of the free videos online. One of the great aspects of yoga philosophy is that many teachers believe it should be accessible to anyone, meaning there are a great range of free, or very cheap, options available.

Further Reading – Everything You Need to Know About Yoga and Pilates

Om Shanti!