Tagballet

What to do when you don’t have a pole

This Christmas break my partner and I are cat sitting at a friend’s place down the road. It’s a lovely house with air conditioning which made the move an easy decision for this time of year. But I don’t have my pole 🙁

What’s a dancer to do?!

DANCE!

I’ve been watching YouTube clips of Merce Cunningham and revisiting some of the ballet technique I learned in my class. The back room of the house has amazing wooden floors so I indulged, rolled back the rug, put on my thigh high socks and flirty dress and spun around to Chino Merino’s new album. Bliss!

 

The nature of floorwork is changing in poledance, gaining influences from contemporary dance and hiphop. Working on carpet at home, it’s hard to come up with new things. The floor boards gave me real freedom to slip and slide and just flow, throwing a little bit of Marlo Fisken in their too!

It has been wonderful to have time to revisit my yoga practice too. I took my mat out onto the grass and down dogged with the ants and creepy crawlies.

The softer grass offered a safer lander for me to work on some freestanding headstands. At home I practice against the pole or the wall, but here wall space is limited. Learning to roll out safely and find balance away from the wall is challenging, but with so much time off on holidays, I was able to dedicate a whole afternoon to refining my practice.

The outcome? I haven’t missed my pole as much as I thought I would. We still have a week or so left here so I still might get withdrawals, but it’s been an enjoyable and productive break. If I had just been at home I probably would have focused on tricks and new transitions, but it’s been great to work on dance, floorwork, and balance. Hopefully I can bring some of this flow and headstanding, back to the pole when I return home.

How do you find ways to still train when away from pole?

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!

Pole Goals

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How long is your pole goal list? I would put money on it that it includes “flat splits” and “deadlifts”, but it’s important to set realistic goals as well. And create a plan to be able to work towards them.

 

 

A plan will keep you on track, and support your strength and flexibility training so when you do finally reach that goal, you’re less likely to injure yourself.

My pole goals include both strength, flex, technique, and performance goals. Things like straight leg inverts, something I find I get lazy about maintaining because I really just want to get up the pole and do that other amazing trick!

Another one this year was working out what to do with my hands! I have so many videos and photos of a great trick that is spoiled by sloppy lines caused by weird hand shapes.

Planning to work toward these things can be hard. To work on my lines and hand gestures, I’m trying to find a ballet class in the area, hoping it will help me learn how to use my arms more effectively when I’m dancing.

I also had a goal this year to work solidly on my bad side. This is a hard one to keep, but I made a commitment and spent an entire term in the studio focused on my bad side. I let my instructor know and she committed to the pain with me. It was hard work, but it has definitely paid off. I can now hold a comfortable inside and outside leg hang on both sides, as well as brass monkey with both sides. Now when I’m trying more advanced moves, I have a solid starting point and am working on balancing out my strong and weak sides.

As the end of the year approaches, have a think about the pole goals you started with and reflect on what you might need to change in your pole practice to make them happen. Like my extracurricular ballet classes, some might even involve cross training, or conditioning away from the pole.

Happy poling!