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Imagery and Visualization for Choreography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Floor Flow Drawings

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

The Best of the Best!

Great pole dance is often so subjective. A dancer’s choice of song, their style, heels no heels etc etc. Some performances strike a chord depending on when you saw it and what else might have been going on in your life. Occasionally, there are standout favourites that everyone agrees upon, and each dancer usually has their own personal treasures that they revisit time and time again.

 

As I get ready to release my own February Favourites (for all subscribers!), I found time to reflect on my favourite performances from the pole world from last year.

I love the innovation in these routines. The dancer’s ability to turn themselves inside out on the pole, not just in a flexi way, but in a way that expresses creativity and understanding of poses to link them together in a new way. I love seeing old tricks put together in new ways. And I especially love a dancer who expresses a new sense of musicality, hitting beats and finding flow in a way that draws you in, silencing everything else around you as you watch!

If you are still adding pole goals to your list for 2017, perhaps these routines will give you inspiration to think outside the box.

 

Natalia Tatarintseva – I stopped watching a lot of pole dance from the Ukraine and Russia, feeling overwhelmed by their gymnast bodies and apparent mastery of flexi tricks. Then I saw Natalia Tatarintseva who blew me away with her innovation and dance style. I love her use of the prop as well, integrating it into her spins and tricks! Prepare to watch in awe!

 

Elizabeth Gerrard and Nicola Burke – As well as being incredibly in sync, these girls offer new twists on old combos. All coupled with great connection and expression which helps tell the story of their performance. I love their simple gestures emphasised by musical beats.

 

Ke Hong – This guy has amazing flow, grace, and strength. And OMG his pointed toes! I love the drama of pole dance to classical and orchestral music. I’ll be watching what this guy does in the coming year.

 

Kristy Sellars – For all those polers who were hiding under a rock in 2016, Kristy Sellars changed the game in pole dancing forever! After her “Alice in Wonderland” performance, she created “The Abduction”, a collaboration of dance, visual effects, and amazing imagination! I love to share this routine with people who are not pole dancers. It really brings the art to the world stage and sets a new standard for the possibilities of pole dance.

 

Did I miss anyone? Who were your favourites from 2016? And who do you have your eye on for this year?

Let me know on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter and continue the conversation!

Chair Dance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

You can watch my chair dance routine on Vimeo here.

An Effective Warm Up

Whether you are training in a studio or at home, it is essential that you incorporate a warm up routine into your poledance or floorwork session. An effective warm up will prepare the body for exercise, lubricate the joints to support mobility, and increase blood flow, bringing oxygen to the muscles.

When leading a warm up, your instructor should be able to offer movements that prepare the entire body, and also include exercises which target muscles and joints that are specific to the pole moves you will be working on. For example, extra hip stretches for a class working on split moves, or some added shoulder and upper back exercises to help you engage the correct muscles for deadlifts and ayeshas.

At home, this can be a little tricky. You may remember movements from a warm up in class, but without the instruction and guidance from a teacher, you may be tempted to skip over reps or rush your routine just to get on the pole sooner.

I’ve seen many dancers do this in practice time too. Walking in, getting changed and doing a few shoulder rolls and hip circles before jumping on the pole and pulling out a crazy combo. Nine out of ten times you could do this and be fine. But you increase your chance of injury by not preparing the muscles to engage in such vigorous activity.

When planning your home practice, make sure you have included time for an effective warm up and cool down. Both should take about 10-20 minutes, longer if you are adding conditioning exercises, or working on flexibility and foam rolling.

“The warm-up should be a combination of rhythmic exercise which begins to raise the heartrate and raise muscle temperature, and static stretching through a full range of motion. “ (DanceProject.ca)

Consider the muscle groups that will be active in the types of tricks you are training. Working on Jade Splits? be sure to warm up your hip flexors, hamstrings, glutes, and quads. Working on your Handspring? You will need to warm up your shoulders, back, forearms, and wrists.

When creating your own warm up, keep these points in mind:

Keep it Dynamic – you are aiming to increase blood flow and get your heart rate up. Don’t just sit in static stretches. Flow through the movement and explore your range of motion. Yoga flow can be a great way to get started.

Jump Around – Break up the kicks and stretches with some cardio, star jumps, burpees, mountain climbers, or just running on the spot. It will help you feel warm and support your stamina for those long pole routines.

Turn It Up – if you are lacking motivation for your warm up, put on some music that gets you moving. The hardest part is often getting started.

Make it Functional – consider the movements and tricks you want to train and ask, how can your warm up support these? Knee lifts and high kicks for hip mobility. Add a thera band and put in some resistance exercises to warm up your wrists, arms and shoulders.

Range of Motion – Explore the movements from all angles. Lay down on your back and do you leg kicks and extensions. Add a chest roll to your upper body movements, or pause in a pose and do some arm circles, and see how you can target and engage different muscles.

Coordination – remember, a warm up prepares your body for what it is about to do. Pole dancing requires lots of coordination and body awareness, a relationship between your mind and your body. Animal walks are a great way to get you brain in the right mindset for pole, offering exercises that alternate between both sides of the body.

Breath and Movement elevatED Education talk a lot about how breath supports movement. There is no use increasing blood flow if your breath is shallow and not spreading oxygen around the body. If you have been to a yoga class before, you would have been instructed to pair your movements with your inhale and exhale. Try this in your own warm up, finding your own rhythm and breathing into a stretch.

Add Weights – Use a medicine ball, kettle bell, or ankle weights to up the challenge. Keep the ankle weights on as you start some pole conditioning, doing some pencil spins or straight leg straddles!


On a final note, remember that during a warm up you also have a chance to check in with your body. Any injury or illness you have can often be recognized, and further injury prevented. It’s much safer to be alerted to a tight hamstring or unhappy hip flexor when you are still on the ground, rather than mid combo 2 metres up the pole!

Being a regular home poler, I found myself a consistent warm up routine that I have now recorded and can share with you.

 

If you are a subscriber to my newsletter you will also be granted access to my Dance Warm Up at the end of November, a fun way to freestyle around the pole before starting any big tricks. Great for some added cardio and to work on those staple pole moves – body rolls, hip circles and kicks.

 

Time to Say Goodbye

Last month my partner and I landed in Cambodia, the beginning of an undetermined period of time abroad. Saying goodbye to Sydney was full of mixed emotions. I quit my job of over ten years, bid farewell to friends and family, and had to say goodbye to my home pole!

As pole dancers know, dance is therapy. So before taking down my pole and leaving my home studio I spent some time freestyling and revisiting flow, reflecting on the performances that were created in that space.

Each morning for three weeks before we left, I woke with the earworm Time To Say Goodbye. Responding to the call I began to choreograph a piece to the song. There wasn’t enough time to record it as a single take, but whilst wrapping up the lose ends of Sydney over the last month I’ve had time to work with the video, revealing snippets of emotive dance and favourite tricks that have come together for a kind of compilation performance.

There are no big tricks or funky floorwork, just me in my happy place, a bittersweet moment in the process of closing a chapter and preparing for something new.

Thanks for watching!