I am finally clear to resume my pole training. Sort of.
The official recommendation is to begin with light weight training, then gradually add increased weight back in before jumping back into inversion flows and twisted grips. I’ll do my best to follow this sage advice, but I know that I won’t be able to resist a few delicious leg hangs.
I inverted for the first time in a few weeks today, and the feeling was at once so familiar and so new – perhaps because I was playing in Embody’s incredible new Orange County studio. It felt at once like home, with Embody’s warm, rich wooden floors, chocolate-washed walls and sumptuous red lights. But still, after the countless hours that I have spent at Embody’s Corona studio, this space feels new.
I cannot wait to dance on every square inch of that beautiful floor, to climb those brand new, beautiful poles, to learn the silks (yes!). I know that, with time, this studio, too, will become another home to me.
[Twenty foot poles! Silks! A dedicated fitness room! Oh my!]
I’ll begin my regular class line-up tomorrow night: first, Exotic Floorwork, Fluidity, and Flow, and then Pole 1. I am beyond thrilled for the opportunity to begin my regular class schedule. It is a great privilege to share my love of pole with my students, and it motivates me to be the very best dancer that I can.
Congratulations to Diana Renee and to the women of Embody Pole Fitness, on our new home.
I team-taught my first ballet barre class tonight. It’s definitely a change of pace, compared to pole class, but it is a welcome challenge – and how I love the barre! More specifically, I love the results of a ballet barre regimen on my pole training: cleaner lines, better extensions, increased flexibility, and pointier toes.
Because I don’t have a background in ballet (but for one semester at university), I have been training hard on my own, looking to improve my own form and develop a language for teaching ballet barre exercises to others.
The unanticipated bonus? An acceleration in my flexibility. Just in the past few weeks, as I have been incorporating little bursts of barre work and stretching into my days, I have seen (finally!) an actual, measurable improvement in my straddle and my splits!
In addition, daily forced arch exercises have improved my ankle strength and brought me up higher on my toes. I now find myself with better stability working around the pole, and the toe cramps that I experienced as a new pole dancer are a distant memory. Amazingly, these forced arch exercises have also made my daily four-inch heel habit a gorgeous, painless one.
Lastly, the focus on form, posture and lines at the barre has provided me with an increased level of awareness when I free dance. Instead of leading my movements with my hands and feet (or hips!), my movements are beginning from my core, my feet driving down through the floor, and my arm movements propelled from my shoulders and chest. I’m dancing with my whole body, and it feels just incredible!
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you need to get yourself to the barre, ASAP. I’ll see you there.
It is one thing to free dance, or to dance for your partner, but performing in front of an audience is a completely different animal. And, as in business or in really any part of your life, knowing your audience, and editing your presentation to suit your audience, is key.
In case we haven’t already told you (in our excitement!), Diana and I will be performing a doubles routine next Saturday, May 12, at a fundraising event for Michelle’s Place, an incredible local organization that provides support for women with breast cancer. The theme is Mardi Gras, and so we have picked a song which echoes that cool, bluesy New Orleans vibe. I won’t give too much away – you’ll just have to get yourself a ticket, and see us live! – but it is going to be a blast.
At least for me, it is tempting to throw the kitchen sink in when choreographing a performance – like, I need to put in every inversion combination that I have ever even attempted, and that new trick that I “just about” have – but with an amazing partner to hold me accountable, we have choreographed a routine from combinations that we know, and that we love to perform. As a result, we can spend our time running the routine again and again, and focusing on the dynamics of the performance.
Any time that you are performing for a crowd, it’s important to think about how your body language and facial expressions will read at a distance. Think about the facial expressions that pageant girls make on “Toddlers and Tiaras”. They’re awful and oversized in real life (much like their flippers and false lashes), but they are designed to read from the stage. In the same way, a raised eyebrow might give a little attitude at five feet, but at twenty five? You had better raise it high, and couple it with some aggressive body language, if that woman in the back row is going to understand what you’re trying to say.
Further, in the same way that your body language needs to be clear, to effectively engage an audience, your point-of-view and your story must be clear. “I’m happy,” or “I have a broken heart,” are lovely emotions, but are they really going to keep your audience captivated for four whole minutes? Better, challenge your audience. Tell them a story, incorporating various levels in your choreography: highs (climbs, inversions) and lows (floorwork). As with any good story, your performance needs to build, to reach a climax, and then to provide your audience with a satisfying denouement. This may sound impossible, but you’ll find that, when you have written the right story, the choreography will soon follow. I promise.
I love the story that Diana and I have created, and I cannot wait to share it with you. Please come out and support us, and support Michelle’s place, if you are free on the 12th!
It’s hard to talk about pole dancing without getting to the element of exposure that’s inherent to the art form. Certainly, as we progress through more and more advanced levels of pole, we ourselves become physically more exposed. Requiring an increasingly intimate number of points of contact, we peel off the layers in order to connect to the pole.
As we progress in our pole journeys, however, it’s also emotional layers that we peel away. Pole dancing is incredibly humbling; it has a way of first making us painfully aware of our insecurities, and then of stripping them away. It’s the vulnerability that we expose in our dance that makes it so beautiful, and which encourages us to embrace ourselves. The first time that I free danced at the studio in front of a pole class, I felt naked, and I felt awkward. But even then, I knew that the movements felt good, and when my classmates cheered at the end, what I heard was: We accept you, flaws and all.
In the Narrative Pole workshop last week, a few brave, gorgeous women came together to express themselves, and to tell their own personal stories, through pole dancing. Each woman choreographed her own routine, through which she told us a story about herself. We laughed, we cried, we drank chocolate wine (What would an Embody event be without chocolate wine?). I have seen my friends, Julie and Terry, dance many times, and neither looked as beautiful as she did when she peeled away her layers and told her own story.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, be fearless in your dancing. Pole dancing is a wonderful way to discover – or rediscover – yourself: your strength, your femininity, your sexuality. And Embody is a supportive and loving community, where we’ll always applaud you, and where we already think that you are beautiful, flaws and all, just the way you are.
Lately, I have been thinking a lot about beginnings. So it seems fitting, as I begin blogging for Embody, to share a little bit about my own first experiences with pole dancing. If you struggle in a pole class, whether it’s with a new trick, with climbing, or simply with your own self-consciousness, please know that we have all been there. For some of us (like me), it takes many, many times to learn a new trick, and it took months for me to come out of my shell, and to begin to develop my own style of movement. But the journey, albeit full of struggles – and bruises – is incredible. I hope that you’ll share it with me!
When I first came to Embody, I had never taken a pole class. I was reasonably fit, running around 20 miles a week, and practicing yoga in the backyard on sunny days. I expected the class to be sexy and interesting, but I did not expect it to be as challenging as it was. I worked through the movements – hip circles, body waves, goddesses – watching myself critically in the mirror, and I learned my first spin – the back hook. So, girl trying to hide her fear of “falling back” into the back hook? I recognize the look well. Because I had exactly the same look on my face in my first pole class.
And then, there was climbing. I confess, I did take my first step up the very first time that I tried climbing. (I got lucky.) It took several more classes before I figured out how I might possible get to my second step, and I was all bruises and sore muscles. Many classes later, when I finally climbed to the top of the pole, I panicked. It seems as though the ground was no less than 20 feet down. I death gripped that pole so hard that my bruises got their own bruises. (This gets better, too.)
As you progress, the things that once seemed so impossible, like falling back into a spin, or climbing to the top of the pole, will begin to come more naturally. Eventually, you’ll stop watching yourself dance in the mirror, and begin to rely on how the movements feel to you. You’ll watch the instructor break down a new spin, and you’ll just go for it. And trust me, you will look gorgeous.
Diana told me, the first day that we met, that pole dancing is a journey. She is so right. And as with any journey, we all travel at our own pace. I hope that you will give yourself time, in your own journey, to slow down and enjoy the ride.