Tagdance

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! 🙂

 

Pole Mates

Pole Mate [pohl-meyt] (noun): A person who loves pole dancing as much as you do and who is always in class to encourage you, laugh with you, remind you to point your toes, take photos of your progress, and photo bomb all of your shots with booty shaking and crazy dancing!

It has always amazed me how quickly people bonded in pole class. Unlike making friends in other contexts, the factors that bring together two people as they swing around upside-down can lead to a magical friendship. And when a non-pole-friend becomes a pole mate too, this is something extra special!

One of the most talked about reasons for encouraging people to take up pole is the sense of community that grows from studios and pole classes. For women and men, these friendships boost self confidence, increase motivation, teach people how to share and celebrate success, and make exercising fun!

Dancing with Julie! Photo Credit: Steve Teng

Below are six more reasons why pole mates are the best mates (not forgetting hoop pals, silks friends, and all the other aerial buddies out there too!)

Accountability
Let’s be honest, life can be busy. Between work, family, children, eating right, cleaning the house, and watching the latest series on Netflix, it can be hard to find time to workout. Most likely pole dance classes are easier to show up to than just working out at the gym, but even then, after a long day it can be tempting to just curl up on the couch and chill. Good pole mates keep you accountable. You don’t want to let each other down, and you both know you’re going to have a great time together in class.

Spotting and sharing new tricks or flow
Ideally you want a trained professional to spot you for tricks and teach you the safest and most effective way into and out of pole moves. But during practice times or when training at home, a pole mate is an essential resource in helping you work up to being able to accomplish a trick on your own. If they have already accomplished the trick, they may also share their own knowledge, which may be just the feedback you need to nail your nemesis move! Don’t be competitive and hide all your secrets either. Pole mate relationships are reciprocal and information flows both ways.

Ksenia spotting me as I work out this silk lock

Increase in motivation
By far the biggest advantage of having pole mates is the increase in motivation, and not just to show up to class. Set goals together and support each other in working towards them. Yes this involves a little bit of peer pressure, but sometimes that’s just the push you, or a friend may need, to really be their best.

Celebrating successes
In line with the noncompetitive ideas mentioned above, having supportive pole mates allows you share in each other’s success. These might be pole goals you have worked on for months, or simply learning a routine together and performing at a showcase. No matter how small, reward yourself and add depth to your relationship – a day at the beach, burgers and ice-cream, tickets to a pole show, or a massage!

Objective Perspective
Sometimes you need a friend to just tell you how it is. I love the energy of a supportive pole class, but a real pole mate will equally bring you up and be honest when things are not going so well. It can invaluable to have constructive criticism to polish a routine or choose a costume that fits just so.

Share cross training equipment or even private classes
Having pole mates can even save you money! Can’t afford a private class? make it a semi-private and plan with your friend what tricks and transitions you will work on with the instructor together. Don’t want to buy exercise gear that you are afraid you won’t use? Share the cost with your pole mate and train together – thera bands, yoga mats and blocks, and ankle weights, are all portable and can be shared around if you are training at home or in the studio. As you practice with the materials you will also be able to show your friends new exercises further supporting your cross training goals!

“Strong people don’t put others down … they lift them up!” Photo Credit: Steve Teng

Always remember that your pole mate is also your friend. Know each other’s limits and know when to call it a day. Having motivation is awesome, but over training is no fun for anyone.

On a final note, if you and your pole mates are up to a similar level in your training, try out some acro or doubles pole moves! There are lots of inspiring posts on Instagram and Facebook and doubles tricks are a great way to support your proprioception, coordination, strength, and balance. Already having a strong sense of trust in your partner makes many of these tricks so much safer and easier too.

Send this article to your pole mates and share the love!

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!

 

Reflecting on Fundamentals

A lot has changed in my dance practice in the last year. Without access to a pole I am in a position to discover other ways to dance, to move, to create, and to express myself. More recently, however, I am finding that underlying all of my new discoveries on lyra, silks, yoga, chair dance, and even life modelling, is a layer of fundamental movements.

In many ways I am a beginner again. Five years of pole dance prepped my body for other aerial arts but each apparatus requires new techniques and new revision. I’ve found myself in a process of coming full circle and actually enjoying relearning many foundations of movement.

Noel Burch talks about the learning cycle offering four stages of learning. Rather than thinking of learning as a liner process – not knowing —> knowing. the four stages can be viewed in a cycle. This allows you to adapt to new skills and information that may support or refute what you may know already. Your skills in relation to pole dance and aerial arts do not exist in a vacuum, putting you forever in motion of learning, relearning, revisiting, and mastering.

“The Four Stages of Learning suggests that individuals are initially unaware of how little they know, or unconscious of their incompetence. As they recognize their incompetence, they consciously acquire a skill, then consciously use it. Eventually, the skill can be utilized without it being consciously thought through: the individual is said to have then acquired unconscious competence.” (Wiki)

Let’s think about this in relation to a pole class. The first time you ever walked into a studio you were probably in a state of unconscious incompetence – unaware of the skills and concepts you were about to learn. After a few classes and watching some inspirational dancers, you may progress to conscious incompetence – that overwhelming feeling where there is so much to think about when doing pole moves, everything feels way harder than it looks, and the inevitable question, “when will I ever straddle?”

Gradually, through persistence and regular training, some skills become less difficult. You feel consciously competent – pole dance offers you so much joy and you find endless street poles to show off your new tricks!

The fourth part of the cycle is unconscious competence. An area where things have become familiar allowing muscle memory to take over. You can spin, invert, and dance with a sense of grace and letting go.

Learning does not stop here though. In my case, I took up lyra and silks and although I still remember how to straddle, I have had to consciously revisit the basics. Assuming that my pole dance experience was going to let me just start doing crazy advanced aerial hoop tricks was quickly leading me down the road of developing bad habits.

For instance, knee hangs. Very similar to our trusty outside leg hang in pole, but also very different. What muscles should I be engaging to hold me up? When placing my leg, where should the contact points be?

Interestingly, instead of be being frustrated as I waver between conscious incompetence and conscious competence, I have found that I am really enjoying the process of relearning. And my body is thanking me for it, remaining injury free, and continuing to become stronger and more flexible. I am also learning how to make moves less painful as I revisit how to engage my glutes, and hamstrings rather than just trust that my bent knee will stop me from falling to the ground.

I have found support in instructors like StudioVeena who stress the importance of learning proper technique and focusing on fundamentals. Veena’s Teaching Manual is a fabulous resource for both students and instructors.

She states –

“As instructors we need to remember that every level of pole dance can be fun, improve physical fitness, and provide emotional freedom and expression”

Returning to the basics does not just have to be repetitive drills and boring shapes. Learning about muscle engagement, correct alignment, contact points, and how to use your breath should all be part of each and every move you learn on the pole, or other apparatus. Taking your time to learn slowly, also offers you space to listen to your own body. How did your shoulders respond to that pole hold? Do you need to work on coordination and balance to refine your fireman spin?

My journey into training my goofy side was probably the first step I made towards revisiting the basics. So many pole holds and spins were now muscle memory (unconsciously competent), but to successfully complete the move on the other side meant re-entering the cycle and starting again, albeit with a bit more strength and a lot more knowledge.

Where do you find yourself in the learning cycle? If you have just completed a course or term in a pole studio, you may be resting a the top of the cycle – unconsciously competent. Enjoy it! Fly with freedom and relish in your new skills and learning. But also be aware that as a new term starts the process of learning will start again. Frustrations may brew as you feel like a beginner again but strong foundations are your key to further success!

Beginning Aerial Fabric Instructional Manual – Review

For one of the most beautiful aerial arts, fabric, tissu, or silks, is one of the most complex. A student of aerial fabric needs to be strong in their upper body and core, similar to other aerials arts, but also needs to train their brain and spatial awareness skills to think about how the knots and fabric are keeping them safe and supported in the air.

Many students report that their initial instruction comes from a “monkey-see, monkey-do” class structure. However, for a student to excel and eventually learn to create and compose moves on their own, it is essential they work from a basis of proper technique and understanding.

Rebekah Leach, a pioneer in the aerial arts, has created a set of manuals for aerial fabric, aerial hoop. aerial yoga, and rope, to ensure students and instructors can do just this!

This review looks in detail at the Beginning Aerial Fabric Instructional Manual (4th Ed)  published in 2011. The Intermediate Part 1 and Part 2 versions are also available to purchase as paperback and digital download from her website and on Amazon.

What you need to know
The Beginning Aerial Fabric Instructional Manual contains

  • over 250 step by step photographs including close ups of knots
  • over 40 poses, tricks and transitions on the fabric
  • amazing explanations of knots and wraps using clear language
  • conditioning tips
  • teaching, spotting, and safety advice

With chapters based on moves and transitions from basic climbs to single and double footlocks, students and instructors can easily see how moves can be connected together and even begin to play with their own variations once comfortable in each position. The progression of moves also introduces the student to the hip lock (aka the hip key) and various climbs inviting students to develop strength and techniques that will support them in their aerial dance journey.

For students:
Although being a fan of aerial fabric dance for many years, I have only started training on the apparatus recently. My background in pole dance and lyra offered some familiarity in going upside down and being off the ground, but nothing prepared me for the complexities involved in tying knots with my feet and learning how to control my body as it spun and sway in the air!

 

Currently, my instructors (who speak only a little English) work from a modelling approach, completing the move or sequence themselves and then spotting carefully while each student in the class attempts the same pose. If your circumstances are similar, of even if you are learning on your own, you may find that this manual fills in many gaps in your training and understanding.

Rebekah Leach borrows language from ballet to clearly explain the direction of wraps – en dedans and en dehors – supporting the mind-body connection that pure modelling cannot achieve. Studying the manual outside of class and revisiting how knots and footlocks are created, offers essential theory to my practice. Her notes about weight distribution, exit strategies, and common mistakes, revise concepts taught in class and have even made great talking points for me to discuss with my instructor.

From a safety standpoint, the advantages of such an approach are obvious. To really understand what is holding you up and why, you need to learn how to see the knots in your mind and be able to follow the direction that the fabric is wrapped around your legs or body.

The clarity and quality of the photographs in the manual are really impressive! Each movement sequence used to create knots and transitions have been broken down with photos at every step. Close attention has been paid to make note of how to position your feet, or keep the fabric running along one side of your body, to support your progress in replicating the moves and ensuring the fabric ribbons don’t slip from where they are meant to be.

One of my favourite parts of the book is also how the author notes how to practice the pose on the ground first! If it’s just for balance, coordination, or to train strength and flexibility, this is such a great training tip for beginners, allowing you to feel what the move is like before attempting it in the air without all the nerves of danger and physical exertion. In a similar way, Rebekah Leach also regularly refers to the concept of “exit strength” making note of how important it is to have the strength to return to the ground safely as well as the technique. This idea may not come naturally to beginners who will also benefit from learning resting poses in the air.

 

For instructors:
Even if you are a seasoned aerial fabric instructor, each year or term your students will arrive to class with different skills and learning abilities. Rebekah Leach has laid out the Beginning Aerial Fabric Instructional Manual as a curriculum for a term of classes with references to how to know if your students are ready to progress or attempt certain moves.

Sharing her teaching expertise, Rebekah Leach offers instructors guidelines of how to structure the entire class, from warm up to cool down, and how to maintain the motivation of students who may not be ready for aerial poses or to go upside-down.

Most importantly perhaps, the author’s notes on spotting and how to catch common mistakes, supports best practice in focusing on how the student entered a lock or wrap, how to verbally direct a student to unwind or de-tangle themselves, and where to support a student when physically spotting transitions and tricks.

I also love that Rebekah Leach has included reference to pioneers in the field, and innovators of certain poses, inviting instructors to broaden their knowledge base and find inspiration from other aerial artists.

One of my favourite quotes from the Beginning Aerial Fabric Instructional Manual is

“Each skill is like a word which builds sentences to tell a movement story”

Something that comes through in each tutorial, is the author’s passion for unique expression. From a solid foundation in understanding how the wraps work and support the dancer, one can then explore movement with the fabric as a form of self expression. The emphasis on proper technique is strong, but not without vision for what can be achieved even from students at the beginning of their aerial fabric dance journey.

Get your copy of the Beginning Aerial Fabric Instructional Manual from Rebekah Leach’s website and begin your own exploration into aerial fabric dance!

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.