Tagpole

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! 🙂

 

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.

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!

Wrist Care

As humans, we have spent a lifetime walking on our feet and ankles. As pole dancers and aerialists we now spend hours a day trying to balance and hold ourselves up on our hands and wrists. If you are finding that your wrists and/or forearms hurt when attempting various pole tricks, or ache after a workout, you are not alone. Aside from shoulder injuries and torn hamstrings, wrist injuries are one of the most common aliments for pole dancers and aerialists.

Personally, I have a genetic predisposition to Carpul Tunnel Syndrome. My mother, grandmother, and great aunt, have all had various surgeries to reduce pain and support their mobility and well being in their wrists. Hopefully, the strength and mobility I have attained from pole and aerial training is working in my favour. I still get odd nerve pains and tenderness, but have found massage, nerve flossing, and rest (which even included learning how to use my computer mouse with my left hand!) are all effective in reducing pain and allowing me to continue my aerial training.

I have known many dancers who suffer from wrist ailments, such as ganglion cysts which all impact on their ability to pole. It is important to listen to your body and know when to stop or alter a move. There is no use pushing through and hoping the pain will go away. Many spins and tricks can be accomplished with the forearm on the pole, or in cup grip which allow the wrist to stay in a more neutral position. Variations for an Ayesha/Static V are pictured below.

 

Disclaimer – The following content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

The wrist is a very complex set of joints, ligaments, and nerves that support the movement of the hand in four directions – flexing, extending, and deviating side to side. The wrist can also twist, what is known as pronation and supination.  The structure of the wrist is made up for four main ligaments, three nerves, eight carpul bones, and five metacarpal bones. It goes without saying that a lot can go wrong if you fall on your wrist on put pressure on it in the wrong way!

It is important to warm up the wrists just like you warm up the rest of your body before pole. As well as wrist circles and stretches for the forearms and fingers, try this exercise:

Wrist lifts from all fours

 

Moving your hands closer or further away from your body will alter the amount of pressure and change the required strength to execute the move. What you are aiming for is quality of movement over quantity. Try to make the movement as smooth as possible. You also don’t want to fatigue the wrists. This exercise involves lots of tiny muscles, ligaments, and tendons, that may not be used to working out.  5-10 repetitions as part of your warm up is more than enough.

If you have a theraband there is also a great wrist exercise you can do with a pole or even just a railing. Standing next to the pole with the theraband at waist height, wrap the band around your palm and make a fist. Bring your elbow to you waist so your forearm is pointing out in front of you. Move away from the pole to increase the tension in the band. Fold your hand down (in flexion) with your hand in a fist and slowly release back to a neutral position. Repeat 5-10 times with both hands. The tension offered by the theraband will support muscle strength throughout the wrist joint.

Massage can be great for the wrists too, especially after an aerial session. You can massage your own wrists with the opposite hand, or if you are lucky to have a friend to help you, this is a great partner exercise –

Have you partner interlock their fingers with yours as they are facing you. Let your hands and arms go limp, as your partner shakes your hands up down. They can alternate with large motions or short and fast ones. I find this exercise is great for releasing lactic acid after a workout.

For the next section I talk about the split grip position on the pole. I am primarily talking about the pose known as a jamilla or an apprentice, where many dancers report feeling pain in their bottom hand.

When setting yourself up for a split grip, be extra mindful of your hand placement. Rather than gripping the pole and trying to support your weight, the action should be more of a sideways push. As your strength and technique increases you will soon be able to do this without your fingers wrapping around the pole at all.

Other things to remember for a successful and pain free split grip are:

  • Try not to place your bottom hand too high on the pole. Allow the wrist to remain in a neutral position rather than extending.
  • Point the index finger of bottom hand downwards reminding you to push rather than grip (you can see my bottom hand in this position in the video)
  • Bend your bottom arm just a little, don’t lock out the elbow
  • Remember to pull with your top arm, this will help take the weight away from your wrist in the bottom hand

Split grips like the apprentice/jamilla are not beginner pole moves. You need to be strong enough to carry most of your weight in your top arm.

The team at Vertical Wise also offer advice for other wrist intensive moves too.

“In moves like handspring, butterfly, flag, etc. it is best to keep a straight line from the elbow to the wrist.
This way, our body weight is evenly distributed and we don’t put too much pressure on the wrist joint.

By forming a straight line from the elbow to the wrist.

  • Our grip strength comes from the shoulder blade (scapula) and not from the wrist. This results in activating all of the muscles of the core body instead of using only one specific group, that of the forearm.
  • We prevent prolonged hyperextension of the wrist, which might even lead to a carpal tunnel syndrome.”

As pole dancers and aerialists we all dream of being able to continue flying forever and ever. But to do this, we need to take care of ourselves. Listening to our bodies, stopping moves that cause pain, and developing good technique to reduce injury are essential for any dancer. Taking appropriate rest days to let our bodies heal will also ensure we can dance with strong, healthy bodies right into our 80s!

 

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!

Saturday Laturday!

At some point, pole dancers and aerialists will begin to see their upper back and shoulders becoming stronger and larger. Racer back tops and sleeveless dresses are now the norm as we cater to our growing lats, shoulders, biceps, and traps. Our bodies are stronger because of pole, yet many women question if their growing lats are something to be proud of or something to cover up.

So, in the spirit of embracing strong women, it is with great pleasure that I introduce #SaturdayLaturday! Show off your lats to the world and support women growing stronger – inside and out!

Just like #sundaybumday, and in the spirit of training safer and stronger, let’s look more closely at our lats, how they work to support us upside down, and how you can keep them injury free.

In the diagram you can see that the lats are the muscles that wrap around the middle and lower spine, extending up through the armpit. They insert on both shoulder blades and the upper arm at the humerus.  Their full name is “latissimus dorsi” which basically translates to “broad muscles of the back” – latissimus = broadest, and dorsum = back.

The lats connect and support movement through the spine, ribs, sacrum, and shoulder blades. Every time you lift you arms above your head and engage your shoulders, sit tall with good posture, or twist and bend your torso, your lats are put to work. Having strong lats will stabilise your scapula and upper back and also aid in shoulder stability. The lats pull your arms down towards your body and help with rotation. Try this: hold our your arm out straight and make a “thumbs down” action rotating from your shoulder. You should be able to feel your lats working in this movement. If you are familiar with a twisted grip mount in pole dancing you will also see the similarities and how your lats work to rotate your arm and shoulder for you to turn your arm and grip the pole.

Bodybuilders use exercises such as chin ups, pull ups, and pull downs  to strengthen and train their lats. Your inverts, shoulder mounts, and any work on silks and lyra, are going to engage your lats as well. Hence, the surprise when someone snaps a pic of you at the beach and you realise how much your back has changed because of pole!

Aerialists and pole dancers spend lots of time pulling with their arms overhead. Having strong lats will help with these movements and will give you better posture. But if the lats are too tight, you may be at risk of rotator cuff injuries as your shoulder overcompensates. Tight lats also make it virtually impossible raise the arms full over head in a backbend, and may even reduce your ability to create a stable base for a headstand (ref).

If alarm bells are going off in your head as you realise tight lats may be stopping you from reaching your flexibility and aerial goals, then read on!

One way to counter tightness and care for your lats is to foam roll them. Lay on your side with your bottom arm outstretched and the roller perpendicular to your torso. From here you should be able to roll forwards and backwards as well as side to side, being careful to not roll over your ribs. Regular foam rolling will help soothe and soften the lats.

When stretching the lats, ensure that your pelvis and ribs remain stable. If you raise your arms over head from a standing position and you find your ribs popping and lower back arching, your lats will not be stretched effectively. “Stabilise the origins” of the muscle by keeping your pelvis and tailbone tucked under and your core engaged. When you raise your arms, you should feel a stretch at the back of the armpit.

You can see how tight your lats are, and have a great lat stretch by trying this exercise on the floor:

Lie on your back on the floor with your arms by your sides. Feel where the back of your rib cage touches the floor, taking special note of the point of contact that lies closest to your waist. Turn your palms up, then lift your arms up and overhead to the floor, or as close to the floor as they will go without you bending your elbows or separating your arms wider than your shoulders.

For most people, this movement will make the lower ribs lift off the floor in back and jut out in front. Now return your arms to your sides and repeat the same actions, but this time, as you reach overhead, press the lower rib cage—the point closest to your waist—firmly into the floor to prevent it from lifting up at all. This will probably create a sensation of stretch on the outer sides of your armpits and make it harder to reach the floor. The stronger the stretch and the greater the restriction of movement, the tighter your lats are. (ref)

Here are some simple stretches to include after your pole dance or aerial session to balance out your training and give your lats some love –

1- Assisted Squat – Use stall bars or a high bench to offer resistance as you hold on with your hands. Start with a neutral pelvis (pictured) and then sink your hips down towards the floor. Tuck the pelvis and feel free to let the back round and relax, gently swaying from side to side to increase the stretch.

2- Elbows on chair – Use a rolled up towel or something to hold on to, to keep your arms from rotating back in. Sit on your knees in front of the chair and rest your elbows on the chair edge (roll up a blanket or yoga mat to make this more comfortable. Sink your hips down and lower your chin to your chest to feel the stretch.

3 – Eagle Pose – Doing this pose seated on a chair will ensure that you keep your pelvis and ribs in alignment, focusing the stretch on your lats without arching the lower back. Wrap your right elbow inside your left and curl your wrists around so your palms are facing each other (or as far as you can go). Lift your elbows towards the sky until you feel the stretch behind your armpits. Take a few breaths and then change sides.


With all the technical talk out of the way, it’s time to show off your lats! Join the #SaturdayLaturday movement, show off how strong and proud you are of your body and give your lats some love for all they do in your dance practice!

Use the hashtag #SaturdayLaturday on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and lets share the love for our lats!