CategoryDance

Same Same, But Different

Last month the International Pole Championships brought the best of the best to the world stage. Live streams and social media stories allowed even those across the globe to watch each routine. As I sat there with my laptop perched on my knees, red wine in hand, the next routine started … “I know this song!”

Not only did I recognise the song, I had also choreographed my own routine to it. The waves of joy and appreciation I felt as I watched the competition were then mixed with nostalgia, memories, and connection. Hanka Venselaar … we speak the same language.

Across five years pole dancing in Sydney I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to perform over 15 self choreographed routines.Not only did the studio host regular showcase nights, but we also had access to a theatre venue once or twice per year, allowing us mere mortals to grace the stage and get at taste for the limelight.

Choosing a song for these performances was always so hard. I read over people’s playlists for pole and usually roll my eyes. They were just not my style.

So when I watch competition pieces it is rare to find such a connection with an artist. Tricks are always impressive, flow is inspiring, but when someone perhaps feels something that you feel …. priceless!

In hip-hop culture there are constant references to other artists. A title of a song included in a lyric, a sample from a record inspiring a whole new flow from a new MC. There appears to be less of a threat of copyright infringement and more an appreciation for each other’s talents. Don’t hide your source, name and fame them!

Not to say here that I expect Hanka Venselaar to have seen my performance from 2016. Or to understand how important that piece would become in my growth as a dancer and aerialist. That is not why I write this article.

Dancers, especially from pole, sometimes feel that revisiting a song that someone else has danced too, is the wrong thing to do. What if we changed our perspective to see just how many different interpretations of a song there could be? Not to make them hierarchical, not for the sake of for better or worse, but to learn, to grow, and to be encouraged to also think … more?!?

It is for this reason I have selected to play myself and Hanka Venselaar side by side (or at least simultaneously, my video editing skills only got me so far hahaha). My dance, from 2016, a part time pole dancer of five years, with a number of performances under her belt but far from a professional. And Hanka Venselaar, a competitor in the International Pole Championships and who has tens of titles and a lifetime of experience in aerial arts.

This video was created as a comparative exploration and should in no way diminish or criticise either performance. This one minute sample is from the same piece of music, matched identically as we both reach the climax and move towards the end of the song.

I have the utmost respect for Hanka Venselaar and the other competitors from the International Pole Championship 2018 and believe this platform for pole dance adds value and greater understanding to the idea of pole dance as art. The pole dance community supports creativity, diversity, and unique expression. This video compilation explores how one song, interpreted by two unique and creative minds can lay a foundation for a dance that is both very similar yet entirely different.
Personally, I am elated to find a dancer that shares a certain musical taste and I hope, if Hanka Venselaar sees this, she will have witness how her movements and dance inspire others involved in aerial arts.

May we forge a path of shared vision and shared passion, collaboration over exclusion and judgment. The tens of thousands of pole videos now dancing through the Internet have created a library of people’s stories. The threads of music and songs that now join dancers together throughout the years and across the other side of the world are just waiting to be discovered.

Happy dancing! 🙂

 

Musing on Beginnings

One of the most appealing aspects of the pole dance community is how vibrant and diverse it is. You can be a classic pole dancer, stripper, lyrical dancer, rock’n’pole star, or explore any niche that takes your fancy. Within this, you can also adapt any trick and make it your own. Bend a leg, add a new hand gesture, hold on with your ankle instead of your knee, the innovation is endless and this freedom supports so many people in being able to join and be accepted.

As I find myself in a more aerial world these days, I keep remembering how great this exploration of diversity was. How enlivening it was to just freestyle and play on pole. I cannot wait until I feel as free and creative on silks and hoop that I used to on pole. An old adage is finding it’s way through however, as I realize that it’s not until you know you the rules that you are able to break them!

Being a beginner on hammock, silks, and hoop is an amazing learning experience, but I do sometimes feel trapped by my limited knowledge. With only a handful of tricks up my sleeve, and so much conscious effort going into remembering how to do them, I find it hard to find space to let them flow and evolve. My pole dance background has put me in a position to learn other aerial arts quickly, but as much as hoop and pole, silks and hammock can be similar there are just as many differences and nuances that make each unique and challenging.

“It will all come in time” I keep telling myself, but I’m so eager to return to that space where I used to dance. When all the moves were so familiar that the spaces in between became so much more interesting. That is where the creativity is! I encountered this same learning curve with traditional dance classes. The structures of ballet and the poses of contemporary dance were so overwhelming that I just stopped, completely hindered by my lack of ability to just flow. I know it’s worth persisting, but some days feel easier than others.

I am writing this as a musing of my current circumstances, but also as a reminder to myself as I explore the role of teaching beginners. Too much freedom and too much information can lead to confusion. As a teacher it is important to find a balance between “sticking to the syllabus” so to speak. and encouraging students to make something their own. I don’t want to overwhelm a student with too many rules about how a pose should be. And I think aerial dance is the perfect community to share an acceptance of diversity of body shapes, performance styles, and freedom of expression.

This is still part of my personal experience. I choreographed a silks routine with a friend, incorporating a few doubles tricks and interchanging combos. We both have different strengths and were very accepting that the combos were going to look different when performed by each of us. I am incredibly proud of the end result and believe that the variations in our movements add to the quality of the finished product. I really hope to be able to perform this routine with her once again!

But, there is something nice about tradition, and being able to recognise things that are the same, as markers of your own progress and connections to a community.

I think about my teachers in the past. I followed the same yoga teacher for over 10 years, attracted to his playfulness and innovation. Yes we did Sun Salutations and Warrior poses, but we also did cartwheels, dynamic jumping transitions, and ballet! My favourite pole teachers had a way of making everyone feel successful. They started the class with the aim to teach a move and at the end of class we all had our own slight variations and probably understood the move better for it.

Wearing multiple hats as a teacher may be useful here, and having space to perform for students – and share your creativity – as well as teach, and share the basics. Inspiring students to look beyond the studio and find other dancers that they like is also part of the package, allowing the teacher to gain insight into the student’s motivations and ideas.

Starting a studio was always going to be a huge learning curve. Starting it in Cambodia was only part of it! Realizing what you really want to achieve is the next step.

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Check out our studio on Facebook and Instagram, or keep up to date with my dancing on my personal pages –

Mel Nutter as Baudelaire on Facebook and on Instagram

Spin City Instructor Training – Review

Aerialists and dancers are constantly bombarded with information and advice about training techniques. Stories flood forums with personal accounts of how someone got their splits in just 6 weeks, or how this one rehab exercise supported their recovery. It should be common sense to take such advice with caution and always compare it to research and personal experience before taking up someone else’s training practice. However, it can be all too easy to carried away in the excitement, and forget to consult the experts when it comes to body mechanics, anatomy, and strength and flexibility training.

Seeking to update my skill set and learn from the best in the business, I recently signed up for Instructor Training provided by Spin City Aerial Fitness. They offer a range of courses for pole dance and hoop, as well as training programs for burlesque, aerial fabric, stretching, and anatomy.

This review is focused on the online Stretching and Flexibility for Pole and Aerial course as of January 2018.

Spin City offer face to face as well as online courses, allowing students to complete training at their own pace and from the comfort of their own homes. Their courses are internationally accredited and provide ongoing support post-training including access to a huge library of training resources, manuals, tutorials, and workshops to ensure your skills are always up to date and in line with current best practice.

The material is thorough and full of practical ideas to incorporate into a pole or aerial class, or for cross training at home. If you are already an instructor it may only take you a few weekends to work through the modules in the Stretching and Flexibility for Pole and Aerial course and a following hour or so for revision and assessment. For someone new to pole and aerial training or with little knowledge of anatomy and body work, you may need more time to work through each unit. The team at Spin City generously give you 12 months to complete the course after signing up, so even if lots of life gets in the way, anyone and everyone should be able to manage to fit it in to their schedule.

The Best Parts

– Online training can sometimes be hit or miss with connectivity issues and bad design. This was, however, not the case with Spin City! The team have ensured that nothing is overlooked and you are even assigned a mentor at the beginning who is available for all of your questions about the course. The interface is seamless and caters to various learning styles with integrated videos streaming from Vimeo to supplement the written material.

– The online presentations compliment a PDF of the Stretching and Flexibility Manual which you can download and print off. I loved this as it is not always preferable to read on the screen. My print out is now covered in notes and highlights and I can take it to the mat or studio to work through the sequences. You also get teaching notes for leading a class in a variety of stretches and the videos are all still accessible after you complete the course to ensure you never forget how to complete each stretch or exercise.

– Spin City have ensured that all types of stretching are covered, dispelling the myths about how to stretch effectively. They talk about foam rolling, PNF, CR, as well as cite case studies outlining how different techniques worked for people with different body types and different training requirements. There is no one size fits all and it is great that Spin City stress this point, allowing instructors to develop an open mind when sharing skills and techniques with their students.

– Videos! Dancers are usually very kinesthetic learners. We like to actually do it, not just talk about it or read about it. The team at Spin City have created very clear videos so you can see the exercises in action. There are also hundreds of photographs in the manual to help explain what the positions and stretches look like, including partner stretches. My only additional comment here is that I would have like some verbal instruction to be included in the videos – for example, reminders about keeping the pelvis tucked in this stretch, or notes about using the breath to support going deeper. Lots of this information is in the slides, but hearing it while seeing it in action can really help you connect to the areas of your body as you are engaged in the stretch.

The Details

Spin City offer a range of courses for pole dance and hoop, as well as burlesque, aerial fabric, stretching, and anatomy. The courses range from £89 (about $116 USD) to £295  (about $400 USD). Choose a course that is right for you here.

You are given 12 months to complete the courses online, and get to do a mock assessment before embarking on the real thing. Spin City have structured the course to support your success! Failing is not really an option, as it is more about learning and providing the safest and most effective advice about stretching and flexibility training to reduce injury and make better dance teachers.

After you complete the course you will also receive a certificate in the mail and a digital stamp to include on your studio’s website or personal instructor page. Spin City’s approach to training and teaching is effective, organised, and professional, allowing you to trust them for your first course and right through your career in physical fitness.

On a final noted, I personally liked how the courses acts as a great reminder of the fundamental movement skills that are sometimes forgotten in the endless quests for the best tricks. Consider your pole and aerial goals that you have just set for yourself at the beginning of this year, and consider how many of those nemesis tricks would be more achievable with a more effective approach to stretching and flexibility training.

Read more about Spin City courses here.

Imagery and Visualization for Choreography

I have always been fascinated with the process of choreography, actively seeking out connections between pole dance and other forms of movement. For me, the elements of choreography for the pole, aerial, or floor routines, should overlap. Incorporating narrative is important, as well as including motifs and themes. These help the dancer communicate with the audience as well as tie the whole routine together so it is much more than just a sequence of clever tricks and poses.

I recently came across Wayne McGregor from his TED talk and hearing his ideas about choreography just blew my mind!

Dancers from the pole and aerial community talk about “combos”. Thousands of videos are all over social media, linking tricks together in familiar or innovative ways with the change of leg or hand or direction around the pole. Hundreds of questions flood pole discussion groups asking how to link poses – what do I do after a superman? – any tips for my leg hang to ayesha transition?

Creating smooth combos is an essential part of creating a routine, but listening to Wayne McGregor opened up an entirely new way of thinking about movement and what comes together to make a dance.

What struck me is that he didn’t talk about poses, but about movement. Rather than stationary shapes connected with transitions, he uses spatial language and direction to inspire dance. Sometimes he places an imaginary object in the room and asks the dancers to move around it, to trace it’s shape, go under it, or respond to it changing. The eventual dance may have familiar shapes and poses but how they were created and how they flow together becomes a unique collaboration between the choreographer and the dancer.

When we work on a spinning pole we are essentially holding a shape and allowing the motion of the pole to accentuate our movements. The language of pole dance can be limiting as we think about choreography as a sequence of poses – climb, straddle, scorpio, butterfly. Even for floor work, movements can also become quite static, one pose to the next, even if they are choreographed to the rhythm of the music. Naming poses is useful, especially to help us communicate choreography with other dancers, but it should be remembered that this is not the only way to think about movement.

What if there were other elements on stage to inspire your movement? Real props, or imaginary ones, can fill the space and will influence the way you can move around it. If there was a box in the middle of the room, you could leap over it, dance around it, or even pick it up and dance with it!

I first heard Kristy Sellars talk about giving the pole in your routines a character or status, which offers similar possibilities. Think of the pole as a lover, or an enemy, and explore how you might respond to it differently, in the way you touch the pole, walk around it, or dismount from it.

Using these ideas will change the way you enter a pose and move through it, or may inspire a new shape or movement all together. Rather than your combos looking like everyone else’s, your dance will become uniquely you.

I highly recommend watching Wayne McGregor’s TED talk and taking inspiration from his ideas about dance, choreography, movement, and expression. We all have movement habits and it’s easy to let muscle memory and familiarity take over. Adding imagery and visualization to your choreography will help you break these movement habits and dig deeper into your creativity. For those who also feel uncomfortable with freestyle, these exercises can also be a great starting point to exploring new movement and inspiring a new direction for a routine.

I created a simple dance flow with a scarf to explore the prop vs no-prop concept. A small dance was recorded with the scarf and then repeated without it, attempting to recreate the movements as closely as possible.

This clip could be worked on and polished for accuracy, however the point of the exercise needs no more clarity. What amazed me was how the eventual choreography would never have come about without the experimentation with the scarf in the first place. Sure, I could have danced and imagined I had a scarf in my hand, but the result is a completely unique flow that emerged from my body interacting with the scarf in the first place. My body learned “the dance” so to speak and could then repeat it for the second take.

These experiments may never become a final dance, but they do teach us something about the way we move in relation to our environment, and how to inspire new movement through the use of props, imagery, and visualization.

I’d love for you to share your experiments too! Tag me on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram with your videos!

 

Floor Flow Drawings

A new space inspires new ideas. At home, my dance space is a few square meters on the floor in front of the kitchen bench, stretching out towards the couch. Our floor is polished concrete, slightly too hard on the knees, but amazingly slippy for wearing socks and doing some slinky floorwork or chair dancing. Sessions of yoga often flow into dance sessions as I let my body move with or without music.

The nature of the space creates boundaries for my movement, but I’d rather think of them as creative limitations. I can’t move the fridge or the cupboard, but I can find a new way to slide under myself or turn around, reaching the boundary and bouncing off again.

One morning, I had an idea of being able to draw my floor flows. Inspired by other artists and dancers, I was curious as to how a movement, or a series of movements, would translate to a 2D field of lines on paper. My eagerness grew as I slowly collected the materials to complete the project.

Sourcing charcoal here was a challenge, so for my initial attempts I strapped together six 8B pencils and held them in each hand. Finally getting lines on paper was immensely satisfying, yet I craved to be able to smudge the lines as I rolled across them. Three drawings later, however, I already had a new understanding of the process and output that I was creating.


The freestyle drawings gave great insight into the way my body was moving on the page. It tracked the path of my hands but not my feet or legs. For a long time I have struggled with knowing what to do with my hands when dancing. Body waves, and leg sequences flow quite naturally, and as a pole dancer I could always just hold on to the pole. But now it was the movement of my hands and arms that was in focus.

After a few more pencil freestyles, and a run through with charcoal I took a step back and reflected on the shapes that were appearing. The boundaries of the paper had to be respected, but in the same way as the walls of my lounge room and furniture had to be creatively avoided, I was confronted with almost endless opportunities of how to move within the space of the paper.

Watching the videos of my freestyles, I began to isolate movements that offered shapes and lines that I found aesthetically pleasing. Breaking these down there were sixteen sequences. I made notes of these sequences and shapes in small drawings, numbering each line to recall how my body moved to create the shape.

Just like the process of creating choreography for a dance, my body and mind formed a relationship around the language of movement. My body had showed my mind a new way to move. But this new language needed translating, my mind breaking down the patterns to something more understandable. I am now at the stage where my mind is retelling these ideas back to my body. With a greater understanding of how my movements are reflected on the page, the process is now less of a freestyle and more a choreography.

My small sketches speak to me and tell me how to move. Without words, the lines and shapes ask me to pirouette, turn, thread through, and extend. Some of these dances were seemingly endless repetitions that lasted for 20 minutes or so. Others existed in the boundaries of a song, inviting me to stand up and look back at what I created as the music moved back in to silence.

As much as I am so excited to share these drawings as themselves, I am also curious as to how a pole dance or floor routine could be choreographed with similar symbolism and design. Last year I wrote about Merce Cunningham and how his theories about movement and dance influenced my choreography, and how these thoughts inspired a new way of recording movement. Reflecting on these ideas, the drawings seem instrumental to the evolution of my thinking about movement and dance.

The following video is a floor flow drawing routine I created with choreography with charcoal. This sequence was choreographed based on the sixteen flow shapes I discovered through my freestyles. It was a whole new learning curve discovering how to link the flows together so I didn’t have to get off the paper during the song. After the rehearsals though it was exciting to find that the dance felt similar to my early freestyles where I just let the music move me. I love those moments when the dance takes over, and even though this sequence was mindful and choreographed, it was wonderful to let go and just flow.

 

 

I’m so grateful to my husband for letting me take over the space and helping wash off the charcoal for so many days in a row! I hope you enjoy and are inspired to work creatively in your own space. I’d love to hear your feedback or share in your own ideas for new work!

Everyone who has subscribed to my newsletter will receive exclusive access to the behind the scenes videos of these floor drawings, including the small sketches, process notes, and outtakes! Don’t miss out! Sign up before April 19th to share in this new venture into creative movement.

 

Chair Dance

Since being away from my pole and a regular studio space, I have had more time to explore other aspects of my dance practice. Mornings start with at least an hour of yoga and stretching before breakfast. After some work or time exploring our new city I find that my desire to just move leads me to long floor work sessions and most recently choreographing a chair dance routine!

The processes involved in chair dancing has challenged my creativity, flow, and stage presence and has offered a new perspective on tricks and floor work. It’s a great foundation to strengthen your dance skill set too!

Many pole studios offer chair and lap dancing in conjunction with pole, or as separate classes. Training in Sydney, I joined chair dance for one term a few years ago. As a group of three we performed what we learned at a showcase. But aside from this class, my experience dancing on, with, and around a chair has been limited.

Creating a chair routine and recording my chair dance freestyles, I have become aware of three elements of chair dance that may compliment your pole practice.

Creativity
I have to admit that when I first chose to start working on a chair routine I was stumped. I had a song, and knew what feeling I wanted the choreography to take, but it was hard to know where to begin. I could not rely on standby pole combos or spins. I was also limited by the type of chair available, how it could hold my weight in various balances, and the space it offered for placement in poses.

Making shapes and coming up with something new is challenging. I was surprised though at how many of the tricks and shapes I was able to translate from my pole experience. A pike, a back bend, a dynamic transition from a closed shape to an open one. I was reminded about the quality of the movement that matters, not just a shape having a name.

Unpacking this took time and experimentation, but I’m so glad to have had these moments. When I do get back on a pole I hope to have such a larger repertoire of tricks and formulations to return with.

Versatility
Using a prop such as a chair, or an ottoman as you can see in my final routine, offered new angles to explore floor poses and transitions that I was familiar with. It also challenged me to think of new ways to move around the space. The ottoman does not have a back, so I had to make a decision to have it against the wall, or to be able to move around it from all sides. When working with a chair in conjunction with a pole you can also choose to have the chair rest in front of the pole or place it to one side.

I really enjoyed the process of discovering the wall and then working it in to my dance. As I recorded my freestyles and watched how my arms and legs responded to the space, I found a new sensuality in my movements. Touching the chair and wall could be a movement in itself in a way that is not always possible when dancing with a pole.

Engagement
Eye contact, facial expressions, and hand gestures, are all elements of chair dance that make it more intimate. The audience is right there with you and being able to captivate them is much more important. I have already written about stage presence and polishing your choreography, but there is a whole language of the body that can help you tell your story. This was perhaps one of the most powerful lessons I have learned from engaging in chair dance, and something that is probably more related to burlesque and exotic dancing. I’m excited to see how this evolves as I work on new chair and floor routines too.

 

My “What To Do When You Don’t Have a Pole” videos from my pole hiatus last year got some great air time. Chair dance has reminded me how much I do just love to dance. There have been many moments in the last few weeks where I warm up by just putting on my long socks and turning up the volume. A space to dance needs just a floor and your body, no props required.

I do, however, recommend a chair (or a footstool) if you are looking for ways to change up your dance practice and inspire new movements and inspiration.

You can watch my chair dance routine on Vimeo here.