Tagreviews

The Artist Athlete

For those who have been following my aerial dance journey, you will know that I have transitioned from calling myself a pole dancer to now an aerialist. I train with many apparatus since having been adopted by the circus and as much as I cannot wait to return to pole (yes it will happen!) I am loving the new discoveries I am making about my body, movement, and dance while on hammock, silks, and lyra.

The title of this post is not mine. Shannon McKenna is The Artist Athlete and is my most recent girl crush and go to for training advice and circus knowledge. Anyone in the world of circus, or aerial, or pole for that matter falls into the mixed up world of artists and athletes. We ask our bodies to do amazing feats of strength and flexibility, twisting, lifting, and bending, and then attempt to merge these movements with grace, story telling, emotion, and meaning. Jamilla Deville straddles these worlds quite successfully, training cross-fit alongside pole to balance her body, reduce training bias, and prevent injuries. I would love to know some more dancers who also train this way.

This is now, an invitation to you, as pole dancers, to reach a little further and come and visit the world of The Artist Athlete. Let’s bridge the gap –

Do pole dancers consider themselves “aerialists”? 

What could the lineage of circus and pole offer each other in terms of show creation and training advice?”

I don’t know if these ideas were part of Shannon McKenna’s  goal when she created The Artist Athlete, but I am so glad to have found a source of knowledge and experience that can guide me through the tents and fanfare of the circus, right to the nitty-gritty stuff. She asks the questions that keep me awake at night. And finds people to interview that actually know some of the answers!

You can find The Artist Athlete in the usual places, but I highly recommend you listen to her podcast! She is currently up to episode 16, so you have lots to binge on if you are just getting started. Her interviews with contortionists, circus coaches, physiotherapist, and acrobats are going to open your mind to the range of talent and knowledge that could help you in your aerial dance journey.

If you still need convincing, here are some of my favourite snippets that I related to with regards to my dance practice, choreography creation, and how I think about dance and circus as I get older, Whether dance for you is your full time job, a hobby, or just a way to stay fit and healthy, these insights into the artists’ practice may help you find new inspiration, new motivation, or just comfort that your journey is shared by others.

Episode 2: Liza Rose
“In a world where every trick and transition under the sun is already out on Instagram and YouTube, how do you go about making art that is truly your own? … aerialist, choreographer, and studio owner Liza Rose … found ways to create her own art and her own opportunities. ”

“… dedicated to finding transitions, finding story within the phrases I am working through, finding ways that I can make choices in the air … instead of my shapes looking like what I’ve learned in class or what would be known as traditional. I try to spend a lot of time finding my points of contact, assessing what I need to engage in my body to stay up in the air and stay safe while I’m there and then making choices with all the rest of my body. That’s my process of trying to create authentic movement.”

“… that’s the way you are going to be able to make your own style, if you are able to assess your own personal safety and you’re able to move in between these places of rest, these places that you know will keep you on the thing”

 

Episode 11: Laura Stokes
How [has] your relationship to the material changed …?
“… it’s so complex and it’s also like my relationship to the material is more physical than it is linguistic. But, yes my relationship has changed … it still feels relevant to the audiences that we play to, it doesn’t feel relevant to me and my current interest artistically but it doesn’t feel like a penance to perform it. Sometimes I thought like wow it’s so strange to have a time based piece of art that in order for it to be seen I have to enact it. It would be so different for me to travel with a painting or a sculpture that I made five years ago and say here is this piece of work that I still believe in, I’d like you to look at it. But the enactment and embodiment of it sometimes is a bit of a push, but there is also a practice and there is something that also becomes deeply familiar and comfortable … and there are discoveries in that, I am always looking for new moments and maybe it’s similar to a relationship with a person where trying to keep the lens of what is new, who are you today?, keeps it fresh while also appreciating the comfort that can come from deep familiarity. It’s not this raw edgy new relationship it’s something that I can sink into”

 

Episode 12: Brandon Scott
“The thing that I would tell myself when I quit gymnastics was this is not the peak of your athleticism. Because at the time that is what I thought … when am I ever going to be in the same shape as I am as teenage boy in competitive gymnastics. This is the peak, I was just resigned to it. And now as a person who is far stronger and far more flexible when I was at that time, I just want to give that past self the reassurance that you can always keep progressing especially if it’s something that you love there is so much more time and so much more to learn and there is so much more growth to be had …. at any point in your life”

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Want more? Shannon McKenna has also released a set of E Manuals to help you learn about how to hang upside down safely, efficiently, and consistently – we all want to be able to do aerials forever right?

Join the conversation – aerialist? pole dancer? circus artist? all of the above? I would love to hear your thoughts – hit me up on Facebook or Instagram!

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!

The Spin City Aerial Hoop Bible – Review

How many times have you dreamed of a having a reference book of all the pole moves ever created? Or all of the lyra poses? You could bring it to class, write notes next to the moves to help your remember how you transitioned in and out. You could date and star the moves that you can do, visualise your goals, and have a step by step curriculum for your learning and progression.

Well, dream no longer!

Aerialist Kate Edwards and her fabulous team at Spin City Aerial Fitness have created the bible of our dreams! Now in their 4th edition, The Ultimate Pole Bible and The Ultimate Hoop Bible are going to become your most favourite training companion. For everyone with partners you can also now purchase The Ultimate Doubles Pole Bible and The Ultimate Doubles Hoop Bible.

I got my hands on The Ultimate Hoop Bible last week, and it has already been such an asset to my training. I was a pole dancer for five years in Sydney, but now living in Cambodia I only have access to silks and lyra. My experience on pole has allowed me to progress rather quickly with lyra, however The Ultimate Hoop Bible has really opened my eyes to the variety of artistic expression and dance possibilities.

 

What you need to know
The Ultimate Hoop Bible contains:

  • Over 800 clear, professionally photographed lyra poses
  • Spotting techniques, with photographs
  • Poses grouped into families based on contact points and difficulty
  • Glossary with pose names (and other common names) with page numbers
  • Combo ideas, combining moves from each section
  • Strength and conditioning tips and techniques
  • Dynamic moves and transitions for more advanced aerialists
  • Break down of transitions with photographs of the start, mid point, and finishing positions
  • PDF, soft cover, and hard cover version available

The authors of The Ultimate Hoop Bible have been incredibly thorough. The book begins with a series of Core Hoop Moves progressing from beginner to advanced. The next 200 plus pages are then filled with families of poses, grouped together based on –

  • contact points with different grips (hand, knees, elbow, armpit, hip hold),
  • specific positions on the lyra (top vs bottom bar, in front vs behind the bar, or using the strope)
  • advanced strength and flexibility poses

For students:
Keep in mind that The Ultimate Hoop Bible is not a manual. The authors make note at the beginning of the book,

“This book should be used as a memory aid for the moves you have learnt from a qualified instructor, rather than to teach yourself new moves.”

There are no step by step instructions of how to get into or out of each move. Despite the fact that so many pole dancers and aerialists use Instagram and social media for inspiration and learning new tricks it is important to be reminded of the mantra “do not try this at home”. Learning without a spotter or instructor increases the chance of injury and also puts you at risk of adopting bad habits that make it difficult to learn more advanced moves down the track. I personally think it a positive aspect that the authors have created the book with such ethical training principles in mind.

I am convinced that The Ultimate Hoop Bible will compliment what you are learning in class. I am in a situation where my instructor has limited English language skills – learning lyra in Cambodia has its pros and cons! The language of dance is universal and modelling and repetition go a long way, however, The Ultimate Hoop Bible has been an amazing asset in bridging a communication gap between myself and my instructor. I can show her moves that I want to learn, and she can suggest variations from the book that are more or less suited to my current skills. Even if both you and your instructor speak the same language, it is so valuable to have a common point of reference, including pose names, removing those moments of trying to explain a trick, “you know the one that Bendy Kate does with her leg up here and her arm is kind of wrapped under and then she does the splits?”

For instructors:
Over 14 aerialists feature in The Ultimate Hoop Bible and worked with the author Kate Edwards to produce the book. For this most recent edition, poses and transitions were also inspired by renowned aerialist and trainer Rebekah Leech, who’s research into movement, safety, aerial dance, and expression have fostered innovation in the field. Rest assured, that as an instructor or studio owner, the advice, techniques, and poses in The Ultimate Hoop Bible come from industry professionals.

Throughout every chapter there are notes on shoulder engagement, hand grip, spotting, and body awareness, that you can share with your students as you explain and model each pose. I was particularly impressed at how the depth of the authors knowledge comes through in the organisation of the book and also through the notes. Kate Edwards has an extensive understanding of body mechanics, anatomy, and safe training practices that will support your own training and instructional techniques.

For example, in the section titled Splits Based Moves, there is note made about the difference in the quality, and safety, of the move when using active flexibility rather than just external resistance. Keeping this in mind when teaching certain split based moves, will allow you to make adjustments for each of your student’s current skill set.

Overall, The Ultimate Hoop Bible will make a great teaching aid, offering options for structuring your class, and supporting safe teaching and dance practice.

For a sneak peak of the Ultimate Hoop Bible head over to the SpinCity YouTube channel.

Or if you are already convinced of the value of this product, head over to the SpinCity website and grab your copy now!

http://www.spincityinstructortraining.com/

Pole In Style

I recently partnered with Pole In Style, where you may have seen my guest blog post – The Devil in the Details. As I get to write more content, you as a reader receive a gift of 10% your purchase from their collection. Just use the code MELNUTTER at the checkout and the 10% will be taken off the price straight away!

I am so pleased with the quality and design of the Pole In Style collection. Too often pole brands offer pieces that are too bulky, too skimpy or just plain uncomfortable! I have both the Floral Set (in blue and purple) and the Dancing Warrior Set (white), and I can recommend both to upgrade your pole wear collection.

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Bottoms
We’ve all stood in the change room when trying on new pole shorts and checked for coverage. Bending over, squatting down, turning ourselves into a pretzel to double triple check that there are no bits hanging out!

The Dancing Warrior bottom are cut like briefs, but with elastic all the way around the crotch and leg holes, nothing is going to move while dancing. They sit low on the hips to flatter any figure, and there is no centre seam for that awful camel toe! I wear an extra small in these bottoms which fit like an Australian size 8. Ordering online can be tricky, but these are true to size.

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The Floral Set bottoms I have in both blue and purple. They are more like a boyleg short than a brief, so offer more coverage and give a more sporty look. The contrast waist trim really helps to make these look flattering, and the side trim details sit perfectly on your hips. Same as above, I wear an extra small in these shorts. The entire Pole In Style range is made with four way stretch fabric offering the best in comfort and fit. My dance practice sessions often go for two hours or more, and not only did the shorts not move, they also did not dig in at the seams.

Tops
All of the Pole In Style tops come with removable cup inserts. I am an Australian bust size 10D and some crops tend to flatten my shape so I tend to leave them in. The lining inside the tops create a stable pocket for the cup inserts so they don’t move around. The lining is also made with four way stretch fabric, so even without the cup inserts you fell supported and comfortable.

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The Dancing Warrior top is a halter design, with a high neck at the front and cut out detailing in the back. I wear a small and was pleased that the base of the top did not ride up and create underboob when dancing and stretching. Everything stayed in place. I love the look of the back detailing. It’s a striking addition to what looks quite modest at the front. You could easily get away with using this set as a costume for a performance.

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The Floral Set top offers great support. Once again there was no chance of it riding up and creating underboob. For bustier women who feel more comfortable with a bra under their crop, this top is cute and strappy, with enough coverage to make it possible.

Leggings

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Pole In Style also have a range of leggings and tees in addition to their pole wear. I snapped up a pair of their gray leggings to trial and they didn’t disappoint! I wear an extra small and many other brands are often too short in the leg. These are made for tall women in mind! The leggings are full length with a waist that sits just below my belly button. I love the sneaky bit of colour on the waist band, and once again the four way stretch fabric keeps everything in place, all day. They even have two pockets, perfect for holding your phone or keys if you don’t want to bring your bag to the gym! I wore these leggings on a hiking trip. They were super comfortable, and breathable, and I didn’t have to keep hitching them up like other leggings I have tried.

Customer Service
Mai from Pole In Style is available to answer any questions you may have about your order. She is a pole dancer and yoga enthusiast herself, so she knows what active women are looking for in design and fit. Pole In Style are also on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter where the pictures speak for themselves!

All of the Pole In Style range can also be used for swimming! How versatile is that?!  You’ll definitely see me at the pool or beach rocking my new Floral Set soon!

code-logoHead over to Pole In Style and check out their latest collection as well as their pieces on sale. You can use the 10% off code for any purchase!

 

If you are a studio owner, Mai is also able to set you up as a wholesale partner, enabling you to stock Pole In Style in your studio so your students and customers can by directly from you! Contact me or Pole In Style directly to talk about this option.

Keeping the Dance in Pole Dance

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Do you speak through movement? Are you interested in learning how broaden the scope of your pole dance choreography?

I have previously shared some of my research into different forms of dance and how it influences my choreography and dance practice. As much as pole dancing shares it’s roots with stripping, exotic dancers, and Chinese pole, I believe it has the scope to stand up as a form of contemporary modern dance. Ideas from Merce Cunningham, Martha Graham, Isadora Duncan, and many pioneers in dance,  can be applied to movements on or away from the pole, and their theories about movement and how to convey meaning with the body are just as valid for pole dance as they are for lyrical, contemporary or ballet productions.

So with this is mind, you can probably see how excited I was to come across Pole Purpose: Speaking Through Movement by Rowena Gander – a publication specifically aimed at helping pole dancers with their choreography.

Rowena Gander is an internationally recognised dance artist and a BA Hons graduate of Dance Practices. Her dance background and knowledge of how to integrate concepts, improvisation, meaning, and story telling into choreography has been such an asset to my own dance practice.

Her ebook, Speaking Through Movement, is super affordable and accessible to every pole dancer. The book is laid out in parts so you can work through each stage of the choreography process progressively. It is also really easy to to flick through to refer to during your rehearsals to keep you motivated and on track.

Aside from Kristy Sellars’ publication Key to Choreography, most of the media surrounding pole dance is fixated on new tricks, increasing flexibility, and capturing the sexuality of dance to empower women. Rowena acknowledges that sexuality and sensual dancing is tightly interwoven with the history of pole dance, however she asks the questions “where is this going?”

“When using the pole with a deliberate sexual intention, regardless of how the movement is executed, you will pull the attention of the audience. That’s easy. The real challenge is keeping them engaged like any other dance genre could. Ask yourself; where is this going?”

I don’t want to get shamed here for shunning sexy pole dance. You can read about my opinions about sexy pole here, and I have dipped my toe in this style with many routines. I do find I have a personal preference for story telling performances that are grounded in contemporary dance.

Chatting with a friend Richard a few weeks ago, I shared with him my latest choreography. Richard is my yoga teacher but also an accomplished dancer. Working constructively, he asked about my intention related to my movements, and about the character I was portraying. To me Rowena is asking the reader to also consider these points, “where is this going?” Who are you dancing for? What are you trying to say?

Rowena Gander recommends using improvisation and freestyle as a way to explore movement. Freestyle is often something that scares many pole dancers. It’s a space that makes us vulnerable and the limitless potential can be daunting, causing us to freeze up. However, practicing freestyle is a great way to find new movements and learn what feels natural for our own bodies. Rowena suggests taping your freestyles and experiments and reassures those dancing along at home that “there are no rules” – don’t be afraid of making mistakes.

In line with my own philosophy about dance, I believe if it feels authentic to you than no one can tell you that it’s wrong. Owning your movements and your expression can be scary, but often this is where the juicy bits of the choreography come from!

In addition to her advice on the theory behind the dance, which I could muse over for hours, Rowena also offers really practical ideas for working with music, movement, props and the pole. From how to begin mapping out your ideas, to how to refine your choreography to best convey your intention. Rowena’s words are relevant to both the beginner and professional pole dancer.

I don’t want to reveal too much about the content, but couldn’t write this without sharing some of my favourite quotes.

When talking about choice of pole tricks and transitions, Rowena guides the reader to refer back to their intentions and keep things simple. She states,

“The thing about tricks is that it can sometimes cripple the creativity of a routine.”

Adding,

“A simple arm gesture is much more effective than a false back bend that has no relevance to the artistic intent. “

I have watched, and been tempted to choreograph, many routines that end up just be solely trick based. As hard as it is to let go of a combo you feel like you’ve been working on for months, but it is sometimes to the benefit of the entire work and the synergy of the routine to find something simpler.

I am so excited that Rowena Gander has contributed this book to the world of pole dance. As we find ourselves in a field that is growing quickly in so many directions, I find it reassuring to hear from someone who shares my sentiments about pole.

Let’s keep the dance in pole dance.

 

You can read about Rowena’s research and dance practice on her website, and see some of her performances here.

I am also available for individual choreography advice, or for group workshops for your students and/or instructors in your studio. Please contact me for details.