Monday, December 19, 2011

High protein vegetarian cooking: Ground seitan with lentils

I made a cooking show!!

I am a vegetarian, and since I am also an athlete, I have to make an extra effort to consume protein.

I also do not care for cooking. Not that it's not enjoyable, but it's just not how I want to spend my time.

So over the years I've come up with a few repeatable recipes I use. High protein, vegetarian (most are vegan), and easy.

I decided that these are things some of my readers might want to know. Most aerialists need to eat healthy, and I know I'm not the only vegetarian poler out there. So I finally went through with my plan to make a cooking show!

Here's the written version.

Tools: cast iron skillet
spatula or stirring spoon


1 package ground seitan (Westsoy or, in this case, Upton's Naturals)
1 can lentils
leftover vegetables (optional)
olive oil or cooking oil of preference


1. Pour seitan into oiled skillet. If you're using Upton's Naturals, you'll have to crumble it or chop it with a spatula.
2. Drain and rinse lentils in colander.
3. Add lentils to seitan and stir.
4. (optional) Add vegetables and stir.
5. Turn off stove and season to taste.

If you don't add vegetables, try to serve alongside. I prefer a fresh cucumber or tomato.

Easy, healthy comfort food for us busy vegetarian athletes. Bon appetit! (My mom made me add that part in.)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Training when you don't have enough time

One of the primary complaints from polers is that they don't have time for all the training that pole encompasses. Learning moves, strength training, conditioning, flexibility, endurance, choreographing and practicing routines-- and all this on top of teaching, day jobs, schools, family, and just having a life. Basically, none of us have enough time for this, even those of us who do it for a living.

If you want to improve your poling but feel yourself extremely limited in the amount of time you have to commit to it, here are some ideas to help you maximize what little time you do have.

1. Get a good teacher.

A lot of polers are self-taught, and enjoy the challenge of figuring out moves for themselves. Or maybe they just don't have money for lessons, or don't know where to find a teacher near them. There are benefits to self-training, but there is the huge drawback that it is the least time-efficient way to learn.

A good teacher can look at a move that you could be frustrating yourself with for months, figure out on the spot what you're doing wrong, and tell you how to correct it. Sometimes it will be an instantaneous result, like if your positioning or weight distribution is off. Sometimes it will be a slow process towards correction, the path on which the teacher will set you, such as if you need to build strength or pain tolerance in a certain area. Either way, the idea is that the teacher can diagnose the problem quickly, and prescribe a remedy in a way that you can understand and execute.

Private, shared, or small group lessons are ideal for this. A class environment can work if it is a situation where you can get individual attention from the instructor, if only for a few minutes at a time. An overcrowded class where the teacher is just yelling out orders and demonstrating a routine will not be of much benefit as far as getting constructive feedback on your moves.

The idea is to find a teacher who is about two or more levels above you (this distinction being completely subjective, as there are no universally distinguishable "levels"), good at explaining moves and spotting mistakes, who can pay full attention to you. Training with friends and polers who are just learning to be instructors is fun and cheap, but not the fastest way to learn.

2. Get stronger

There are moves that are easier when you are more flexible, such as an iron X (the wider your straddle, the "lighter" you will be). There are moves that are easier when you are lighter, such as inverts (the less you weigh, the less you have to lift). But EVERY move is easier when you are stronger.

Aerialists who are physically stronger will usually advance much faster than their physically weaker counterparts. A strong person learning a new move can hold the position longer, fiddling with it until they find the positioning that works best for them. A weaker person might not be able to hold the move, thus has less time to think about it, and has to keep making fresh attempts. The catch: the stronger person is able to execute many attempts, while the weaker person will get worn out sooner.

I think teachers whose only advice to students is "get stronger" are not good teachers. At the same time, there's no denying that strength is one of the most useful skills in the aerial arts.

The good thing about strength training and conditioning is that it can be done without requiring much time, equipment, and space. There are plenty of bodyweight exercises that can be done anywhere you're not too embarrassed to get on the floor, and many coaches will tell you it's harder to keep an athlete from overtraining than undertraining. If you're not sure what exercises would benefit you most, talk to your pole teacher or a personal trainer about your needs and time constraints. Make sure they understand what muscle groups you need to prioritize for what reasons, so they give you a program tailored to your needs, and not just something generic out of a magazine.

(See also my post, Building Strength for Pole: From Global to Specific.)

3. Let yourself train for shorter intervals

There's no written rule that says you have to train for an hour. It's rather an arbitrary amount of time. If you don't have time for an hour of training, you might have time for a half hour. What's wrong with half an hour? You can practice a three minute routine ten times in half an hour!

You need to make sure you leave yourself enough time to warm up. Beyond that, you make the call. Besides, once you get going, you might not want to stop. (But be careful not to overtrain!)

4. Cycle your priorities

I hate to be the one to tell you this, but you can't do everything at once. You can't lose weight, build muscle, get stronger, get more flexible, perfect a routine, and master a smattering of new moves all in the same day. You probably can't even do them all in the same month.

This concept has two parts: 1. prioritize. 2. plan to change your priorities.

You can take 12 weeks to work on your dream moves, and then 12 weeks to work on your performance routine. That doesn't mean that's all you will do, it just means that gets top priority in your training schedule. You might dedicate 2 practice sessions to your routine for every 1 to new moves you want to learn. Or, you might dedicate 40 minutes out of an hour to your routine, then the last 20 minutes to new moves. Or vice versa.

Cycling is complicated in that there are a lot of variables. The important questions to ask yourself are, "What do I need to work on most right now?" (a new routine, losing weight), and "How long do I need to focus on that?" (until the competition, until the photo shoot).

Trying to master everything at once will overwhelm anyone, let alone those who already don't have the time. A little forethought in this will help you from burning yourself out.

Those are just a few ideas, but there are room for many more. I hope to do some more posts soon on how to organize your practice time, but this is a start. Hope it helps!

Image from The Vernacular Vicar

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

My 3 food epiphanies

I'm a medium-sized person (thin enough to be an aerialist but not a model), and a moderately good eater (a vegetarian who loves cheesecake). As you'll surmise, my diet is "pretty good." I know how to lose weight when I need to, but most of the time I work a couple good sins into my daily food intake.

It's easy for me to complain that people think I don't have to work hard to be thin(ish) and in shape. But I think I'm guilty of the same thinking for other people. Sometimes you catch yourself unconsciously assuming that some people are just petite and some are just big boned, and for the most part we just adjust slightly upwards or downwards in our weight bracket.

Fortunately, I've had a few lightning-strike moments in my life where I realized things weren't always what that prescribed. I'd like to share my top three with you.

The first "food epiphany" I remember was just out of college. I was being really dedicated about taking jazz and ballet classes weekly, even though I didn't have a talent for them. Just for my music/theater career I had going on.

I was so disciplined that I even went to class on Valentine's Day that year. I was taking classes at a dance studio with my college ballet teacher. As you can imagine, she was gorgeous. Tall, thin, long legs, blonde hair, blue eyes, and of course, impeccably graceful.

Of course she should be thin. She's a dancer! She exercises hours and hours a day! She no doubt watches what she eats.

My revelation came as we were waiting for the class before ours to finish, standing around in the hallway. "Happy Valentine's Day, ladies!" the teacher smiled. "Are we all gonna go eat some chocolate after this?"

Long pause.

Then she burst out laughing. "HAHAHAHA!! YEAH, RIGHT! Maybe a chocolate Balance Bar!"

I was a bit taken aback, because I'd totally thought getting chocolate after class was a great idea when she'd said it. And that was the difference between size 6 me and size 0 her. I didn't think much of grabbing a sugary treat. She thought the idea of eating one piece of chocolate on Valentine's Day after a workout was preposterous, and assumed the rest of us agreed.

My second food epiphany happened in an airport. I forget exactly where it was-- Newark, maybe-- but the food court options were slim pickings. I fronced my forehead and reluctantly got in line at Subway as my best option.

Eating fast food when I'm not in the mood makes me feel fat. (When I am in the mood, it just makes me feel happy!!) It makes me feel unhealthy and icky. Looking around at the line I was standing in just confirmed that feeling. Everyone in front of and behind me was overweight. They all looked unhealthy. They didn't look like the kind of people you meet in New York (who are also usually the kind of people who think fast food makes them feel fat). They looked like tourists from states where everyone is just big. Probably some of them were, and probably some of them worked in the airport, and this was their best food option, too.

But slowly, as I waited my turn, I noticed something else, too. Every single every person around me, EVERY one, ordered a footlong (large) sub with both meat and cheese, a large soda, and chips or dessert. I ordered a six-inch (small) veggie sub. I don't think I even had cheese on it. I had a bottle of tap water with me, and did not feel I needed a snack on the side.

This was particularly telling, because we all had the same food options available to us. It's not like I could afford better food because I had more money. It's not a matter of who had time to cook. We were all a captive audience in this airport food court, and all in line at the same food stand.

My third epiphany came after a music performance I was in. We all went out for drinks (and eats) afterwards. A good friend of mine from circus class had come to see my performance, and we sat across from each other.

Most of the women (it was an all-female cast) around me were heavy-set. After we had all placed our orders, one of them piped up. "Can I ask, what did you two order?" she asked mischievously, pointing to my aerial friend and I.

"Huh?" I didn't know what she was getting at.

She explained, "They say if you want to lose weight, observe what the skinniest person at the table orders."

"Oh!" I laughed. "Rachel and I aren't skinny because of how we eat. We're athletes. We do aerial silks twice a week, we just burn a lot of calories doing that."

"Uh-huh," the woman said skeptically. "So what did you order?"

And then it hit me. "We're sharing one appetizer." She was right. Everyone else had ordered a full meal.

These three epiphanies are notable because they all involved unconscious, habitual choices. My ballet teacher didn't reject chocolate because she was on a diet, or because she was fighting a craving for it. In her mind, it wasn't even an option. I didn't order a small veggie sub with no extras at Subway because I was being health-conscious; it was my default. My friend and I didn't order less food than our tablemates because we were watching what we ate. Actually, we were probably just being cheap.

The choices made weren't choices. They were defaults. They happened, for better or for worse, without consideration.

I wish there was a button I could push when I ate a kale salad that said "set as default." Alas, it takes a little more effort than that. But less effort than fighting cravings every day for the rest of your life.

Image from Gracefully Saving.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

"Empowerment": On pole without acrobatics

Since reaching out to the pole world, I've noticed that a lot of studios I've talked to are what I call the "booty-popping" kind. Nothing ghetto, just that they're more focused on sensuality and "you go girl" than on hardcore athletics.

I think that's fine, and I think there's room for both types of dancing. I'm biased, because I've been acrobatics-focused basically since before that was a thing. I was running around trying to get hired saying "I'm not teaching you to shimmy, I'm teaching you to invert." I ended up working for myself, because nobody "got it." Now it's a huge thing, and yes, I feel vindicated. But there are still places like out here where it's more about femininity. It's about "empowerment."

I believe that pole dancing can empower women. I believe that bringing your sexuality into the light in a safe place can change lives. Especially for people who have lived in the shadow of shame about sex or even about being born a woman, sensual pole can be transformative.

But I want you to think about the term "empowerment," and what "power" means. Rotating your hips can empower your mind; it can empower your heart and soul. But it does not empower your body. It can get you in touch with your body, which is great for your mind and your soul. But it does not give you POWER.

One of the major aspects of power is brute physical force. Not just awareness of your body, but control over it. Power is a synonym for STRENGTH.

And yet so many studios that aim to "empower" women downplay their potential for physical strength. Sure, you might learn to invert, but to do moves that involve real power? "Too dangerous." "People will get hurt." "Our students aren't strong enough."

Really? Have they tried? Have you empowered them to try? Have you inspired them to work up to your favorite trick, or have you warned them, "This one's just for the pros?"

How hard is the conditioning you do in class? Would it challenge a man as well as a woman? How many of your advanced students are still doing push-ups on their knees?

There is the spiritual "power" that enables a battered woman to walk away from her abusive spouse. But there is also the physical "power" that enables her to wrest free from his grip, kick him in the nuts, and run out the door when he tries to beat her.

There are plenty of reasons studios stick to stilettos. The business model works. They're concerned about lawsuits. They don't want their insurance to go up. The teachers might not know advanced pole work. I completely believe that there is a place for this kind of dance, this kind of teaching, this kind of studio. But I also believe that you can't proclaim "empowerment" out of one side of your mouth while mumbling "you're not strong enough" out of the other.

If you like to pop your booty, by all means, pop it, girl! But never stop challenging yourself. Not everyone needs to be handspringing-- one woman's shoulder inversion is another woman's iron X-- but we all need to be empowering ourselves, and each other. Mind, spirit, AND body.

Photo from The Sun.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The push-pull dichotomy of suspensions in pole dancing

I've been trying to "clean up" my rep list lately-- learn new moves that I should know because they're less advanced than what I usually do, but that for one reason or another I skipped over in my training. As you can imagine, as a more advanced dancer and as an instructor, this leads me to a lot of *thinking about* the moves as I learn them.

The biggest thing I've been thinking about is what I call the "push-pull dichotomy" of suspensions. By suspensions, I mean any moves where your body weight is "suspended" away from the pole, like a straight edge or a knee lock.

What I've concluded is: You must push with the bottom, and pull with the top.

The bottom and the top what? Anything! Elbow, foot, hand, knee-pit, whatever is there and has the capacity to pull (top) or push (bottom).

Let's look at some examples:

Elbow straight edge. Bottom hand is pushing the pole, top elbow is pulling it.
 Photo from

Knee hold. Top inside of knee is pulling the pole, bottom outside of knee is pushing against it.

Photo from

Starfish: Bottom foot is pushing, top foot is pulling.

Photo from

Front armpit hold? Nope. Trick question. Not a suspension. Body weight is held to the pole.

Photo from

This is not just philosophizing about the yin and yang of pole; this is practical information you can use. If you're having trouble with a suspension, just ask yourself: are you pushing sufficiently with your bottom appendage? Are you pulling sufficiently with your top appendage? Chances are, one of these will be remiss. Now that you know, you can fix it.

For example, when students first try to elbow grip, whether it's a straight edge or a caterpillar, they often fail because there is not enough pull. They cautiously try to keep their bodies close to the pole, so their body weight is not far enough away from the pole to cause pull on the elbow, and they slip right down. If you were attempting a straight edge, and you knew about the push-pull dichotomy, you would be able to correct yourself.

You must balance the yin with the yang. Grasshopper.

Can anyone think of an exception to my rule? Are there any "suspensions" that don't involve a pull on top and a push on bottom?

Photo of Pippi by ValkyrieNYC.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Building strength for pole: from global to specific

If you are a pole dancer or other aerialist, chances are you want to get stronger. Not to invent statistics, but I'm pretty sure less than 0.001% of aerialists don't want to be stronger. This applies especially to polers, who often enter and, at first, advance in the field with much less strength than those who focus on traditional circus apparatuses.

There are a lot of ways to gain strength, but it helps to have a gain plan. (That was a Freudian slip for "game plan," but I like it and I'm keeping it.) You can advance to a point by just doing random exercises-- it's better than nothing-- but you can plateau quickly and stop seeing results if you don't know what you're doing. So I'm going to get you going by explaining four ways you can go about gaining strength, from the general to the specific.

1. Heavy lifting multi-joint exercises

Exercises can be thought of in terms of what joints are bending. Dumbbell curls, which work your biceps, involve bending your elbows. Leg curls involve bending your knees. If you want to be efficient, doesn't it make sense to work more joints at once?

If you want to get strong-- not build bulky, heavy muscles, but just lift more weight-- you should be dedicating a good amount of your strength training time to lifting heavy. After all, you're pretty heavy, and you want to be able to lift yourself.

The traditional powerlifts are the bench press, the deadlift, and the squat. There are other variations and personal favorites, but those are the most standard. You can start doing any of them at light weights, but unless you already have perfect form, you should probably get a personal trainer to help you for a session or two. You can get away with a lot of mistakes at 20 pounds that could cause serious injury at 200 pounds. Whether you get a trainer or not, make sure you have a spotter, especially for the bench press. (If you can't get a spotter, you can use a Smith Machine, but it takes away the stabilizing effects of the lift, which you definitely want for pole dancing.)

Advantages: Good for efficient and balanced strength gain.

Disadvantages: Heavy weights can lead to injury if you err on form or try to lift too much; need a spotter.

2. Do muscle group-specific exercises.

Let's say you feel you have good strength overall, but you feel like a specific muscle group is lagging. Your abs have no problem with inverting, but your arms get tired from climbing and holding your weight up, so you want to work on your biceps. You might decide to take a more traditional "gym rat" approach: do extra "arms," "upper body," or just "biceps" workouts. 3 sets of barbell curls, 3 sets of machine curls, 3 sets of pull-ups-- or whatever your favorite workout of the month is.

Advantages: Variety; you can focus on your problem spots.

Disadvantages: You have to be careful not to create imbalances: if you work on your abs, you have to work on your lower back, too; You want to make sure you're gaining strength and not bulk.

3. Specifically targeted exercises

This zooms in on your needs even further than targeting muscle groups. In this level of granularity, you are finding or designing exercises that imitate the stunts you are working on. For example, let's say you want to work on shoulder strength, for all those inverted moves that involve putting weight in your bottom arm. That can be anything from the caterpillar to the twisted grip handspring. If you were on the "muscle group-specific exercises" level, you'd be doing shoulder presses. For "specifically targeted exercises," I like to have my students to handstand walk-ups. That is, kneel facing away from the wall or pole, place your feet on the wall or pole, and start walking your feet up and your hands in until you're in a handstand position, hold, then walk yourself back down. Not only are your shoulders getting a workout, but you are upside-down, you are balancing, and most significantly, you are briefly holding your weight in one arm at a time, which is what you will be doing in your stunt.

Advantages: You can tweak all kinds of exercises to make them more appropriate to your specific goals.

Disadvantages: You'll need a lot of creativity. You'll be creating your own exercises a lot of the time, and not every move will be easy to plan for.

4. Just do the move.

If you are pretty close to succeeding at a strength trick, there's a lot to be said for just doing the trick over and over and trying to get it. Each move is not just a matter of brute force, but of practice. Otherwise every powerlifter could execute every pole move perfectly on the first try. Experimenting with a power move, when you are already strong, can be more effective than hitting the gym. I got my flagpole straight and solid not by doing extra pecs and delts at the gym, but at repeating it in front of a mirror over and over and being picky about my form.

Advantages: You're training your strength and your stunts at the same time-- two birds! one stone!

Disadvantages: You have to be close to succeeding at the move in the first place, or else you'll just frustrate, and possibly injure, yourself.

Which level of granularity you choose-- from the global to the local-- will depend on your needs, your timeline, and your personal preferences. You can pick one of the above tracks and stick to it, or change it up and keep your muscles guessing. Either way, I suggest coming up with a "gain plan." Gain strength, gain repertoire, and gain the knowledge of how to make your body do what you want.

Photo from forums.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Reasons to learn tricks on BOTH sides

When we're eager young students starting out in pole or circus class, our instructors correctly make sure that we practice each move on both sides of our bodies. The hypocrisy is that most instructors themselves don't do this!

At some point in our training, we get sloppy about learning moves ambidextrously. It's so much more fun to execute a trick on our "good" side! We look better and it feels better. Or, if you've included a trick in a much-rehearsed routine, you might get used to doing it on that side, and neglect the other.

So I'm here to remind you to do your homework. Here are four main reasons why you need to make yourself learn every move on each side.

1. Imbalance leads to injury.

When one side of your body is stronger, more flexible, or excessively more dominant than the other, you start a chain reaction of muscular compensation that will lead to injury.

2. If you are injured on one side, you want to be able to continue poling on the other.

I don't mean a major injury that should be keeping you off the pole altogether, but something that makes it painful to use a certain part of your body. If you get a massive bruise on one knee from learning a new trick, you want to be able to shift everything you're performing that puts pressure on the knee to the other side. Otherwise you'll have to drop those tricks altogether until you're healed.

3. You might need the other side for a transition.

If you can only shoulder invert on your right side, and you can only land a forearm grip on your right side, and you want to execute a shoulder mount flip that goes from one shoulder to the opposite side landing position, you're gonna have a problem.

4. Improve your teaching skills by "teaching" yourself the move.

Once you get a move on one side, it becomes second nature. This is good for you as a performer, but bad as a teacher. It's hard to explain to your students what is automatic for you. But when learning a move on the opposite side, you can treat yourself like your own student. Try to break it down and explain it to yourself, and remember what you "learned" for the next person struggling with that move.

Reasons NOT to learn tricks on both sides

There are exceptions! If you have serious injury issues on one side of your body, such as a dislocating shoulder (right here!), there are some things you should probably not do. However, you should spend extra time hitting the gym to try and make up for the different in strength as safely as possible. If I want to balance my shoulder strength, I should do it by shoulder pressing some manageable dumbbells, not by throwing myself into a handspring.

Where to start?

So you've been slacking, and you wanna make up for it. Here are some ways to get your body back in balance.

  • Identify imbalances. Figure out which side of your body is stronger than the other-- for EACH muscle group, not just in general. It's just as important to find out if one side of your core is dominating as it is to find out which arm can do the most curls. Do you lose balance faster standing on your left leg than your right? Keep in mind that each person not only has a dominant hand (righty or lefty), but a dominant leg and even eye! You might be right hand dominant, but left leg dominant. So don't assume your "good side" is the same for your whole body.

  • Hit the gym, and concentrate on exercises where the hands/legs work independently of each other. For instance, when you lift a barbell, one arm can be doing most of the work. But when you lift dumbbells, there's no "helping"-- each arm has to do its own work. Many cable exercises can be done one hand/foot at a time, as can many machines.

  • Set aside practice time to learn your rep on your weak side. I know it's not as fun as learning new tricks, but it will pay off. I don't even think you have to learn both sides simultaneously. Once I figure out my good side, I stick with that 'til I've mastered it, and then I start slowly working the other side in when I've gone on to the next thing. It's OK if there's a lag, as long as you eventually get polished on your "bad side."

  • Find or choreograph combinations for yourself that will force you to to use your "bad side." If you don't incorporate your weak side into your acts, it'll remain relegated to "homework" and never become as polished as your strong side.

  • For exotic dancers, you have to make sure you're getting enough "training time" in along with "performance time." Strippers who do pole work tend to spend more time in front of an audience and less in the studio. That means they are under constant pressure to make everything look as smooth and impressive as possible, and tend not to bother much with their weak sides. Why do the move sloppily on your left side if you can do it beautifully on your right? Strippers, you gotta do your homework just like the rest of us. Make sure you are actively setting aside chunks of time to train in the studio or at home, when no one is watching and judging, to improve your opposite side skills.

Advanced polers and instructors, I know we are all bad at this. Let's promise each other to make an effort to learn our weak sides wherever possible.

Photo from

Monday, October 10, 2011

Working on your body: Hobby or Habit?

Like most polers, I expend a lot of mental and physical energy. Not only do I diet and exercise, but I spend a lot of time thinking about dieting and exercising. I've come to the conclusion that, as far as working on your body is concerned, there are two-- not so much strategies, but systems-- that work, and that work very differently.

I call them "hobby" and "habit."

The long and short of it is, most people I see succeeding at their goals (health or otherwise) either become remarkably enthusiastic about them, or find a simple system that works for them and follow it blindly.

I'm positing that both are equally valid approaches, depending on your personality and situation. To clarify, I'm going to give some examples.


I know people who decide they need to lose weight, long-term, and spend huge amounts of their free time on it. They start grocery shopping more, not less. They analyze labels. They research organic food. They read (or write!) books, magazines, and blogs about weight loss. They get excited about all the new recipes that will make them healthy. They "evangelize" to overweight friends. Weight loss becomes their primary hobby; possibly, in the case of nutritionists, their career.

On the other hand, there are people like me. People who don't want a new hobby might simplify their dieting process. They will find a few meals that work for them, and eat the same couple of things every day. This method is extremely efficient, but most effective if some leeway is allowed. (Leeway is more assumed in the "hobby" system; in the "habit" system, you have to plan for it.)

Which way is best for you depends a lot on you and the life you lead. Are you a foodie? Do you love to cook? To entertain? To eat out? Do you enjoy wandering around Whole Foods Market and comparing fruits for antioxidant properties? Are you excited to discover new "tools and tricks" that will help you along your way? Then you will have a good chance at success by being an "obsesser."

Do you already have too much on your mind to dedicate yourself full-time to your weight-loss goal? Would you rather expend your energy on a completely different interest, such as learning French or running marathons? Are you fine with eating at home and bringing your lunch most of the time? Can you adjust quickly to a healthy diet without excessive cravings? Then you'll be a better "automater."

When I need to lose weight, I make the same dinner every night. That might sound boring to some people, but I don't mind-- I go through long phases anyways, where I get the craving for a certain take-out (massaman curry or pineapple pizza or what have you) and order it, well, more often than not. If I can train myself to crave something healthy, that's perfect.


I used to (and probably will again someday) love reading Muscle & Fitness Hers. I would go to the gym with a different workout almost every day (or my favorite "flavor of the month" workout that I'd repeat once a week for several months). One day, I ran into some of my musician friends in the gym. I hadn't even known they went there! I asked them if they were hitting the sauna, and they said, "No, we just like to get in and out as fast as possible." I was confused.

When it comes to exercise, I am more of an obsesser. I know the names of the moves and machines. I log my workouts. I ran 4 marathons. I know how much I can bench.

Many of my friends are automaters. They hit the gym and get on the treadmill and/or circuit and go home. They don't love the gym, they just want to be healthy.

Are you excited about new workout options? Do you stand in the mirror and analyze the size of each muscle in your body? Do you set exciting goals for yourself, such as competing in Iron Man or entering a figure competition? You're a hobbyist.

Do you have a fixed schedule to work around? Is going to the gym torture? Are you happy with maintaining a decent weight instead of sculpting your body? You belong on the habit track.

Neither is right or wrong. It would be awkward for me to "habit" my exercise options, because as a freelancer I have a different schedule every day. It's hard to say "Go to the gym before work" when sometimes work is at 9am and sometimes at 9pm and sometimes I don't leave the house. And I just don't love cooking enough to "hobby" my diet.

This dichotomy can apply to other aspects of your health as well. Do you stretch every morning, just like you put on your make-up? Or do you hardly ever stretch and then one day decide you're going to get the splits if it kills you, and stretch for an hour a day, and read up on PNF and AI and ballistics, and buy workout DVDs just for stretching, and join a yoga class? Do you learn the new pole or trapeze moves taught in class and revisit them in next week's class, or do you spend hours a day watching YouTube videos, own your own apparatus, and drive yourself crazy trying to figure tricks out? (If you're reading this blog, chances are you're the latter!)

I'm pointing these things out not just so we can be more aware of how we relate to our own bodies, but also because we can make a conscious choice. Maybe you've been beating yourself over the head for years trying to become a fitness enthusiast, when all along you're better suited to be a habitist than a hobbyist. Here are a few advantages and disadvantages for both techniques.


  • Good for obsessive or enthusiastic people
  • You'll become very knowledgeable about the subject
  • You'll build up a community around yourself as you seek out like-minded hobbyists

  • Failure sets in as enthusiasm naturally wanes
  • Takes a lot of time and mental energy
  • Decision fatigue can set in, leading to temptation and overwhelm


  • Efficient
  • Fewer temptations, as you don't consider so many options
  • Good for people who like routine

  • Boring
  • Doesn't leave much leeway
  • It's just as easy to develop bad habits as good ones, so watch out!

So how do you approach your aerial life: hobby or habit?

Photo from Megan Fox Diet

Friday, October 7, 2011

Stop skinny-bashing

 I feel like lately I've seen an increase in hateful posts directed towards very thin women. Skinny women seem to be the most PC group to openly deride, along with the rich.

I write this as a moderately thin person. I'm not particularly skinny, I've never had an eating disorder, I am within my medical "ideal body weight." It's part luck and part practice. My genetics are decent (my immediate family includes both thin and obese members), but I've also made a strong effort to develop good diet and exercise habits throughout my life.

It's not myself I'm standing up for here. I've never felt particular venom directed at me for my size, as I'm not extreme in any direction.

I'm standing up for the very thin, from the lingerie models to the anorexic.

I'm having a hard time grasping how in a society where it's risqué to refer to a clinically obese person as "fat," it's OK to look at an especially thin woman and openly recoil in horror. To overtly voice one's utter disgust in no uncertain terms.

I don't understand how the same people who stand up for the dignity of the overweight can so openly spit upon that of the underweight.

I do understand that this is backlash from discrimination and derision against the overweight. I understand that our culture, both through putting the ultra-thin on a pedestal and trying to sell the overweight a diet plan, has caused damage to the collective psyche of women across the board: skinny, fat, and (especially) in between.

That does not make it OK to rail against people with physical or psychological problems that cause them to be underweight.

It does not make it OK to spew hate at women who have chosen to work hard at sculpting their bodies according to societal ideals.

I don't even think it makes it OK to make fun of people who are just born with a fast metabolism. We will, of course. Having a perfect body naturally is like being born rich. We all kind of hate you, even if we know we shouldn't.

Before you openly talk shit about skinny women, I'd like to remind you of a few things.

  • People can be naturally underweight just like they can be naturally overweight. You can't talk about your thyroid problem out of one side of your mouth and make assumptions about a thin person being bulimic out the other.
  • Anorexia and bulimia are serious psychological disorders. They are diseases in the same way that alcoholism is a disease. If you wouldn't insult the depressed, the schizophrenic, the bipolar, or the alcoholic, don't insult the anorexic or bulimic.
  • "It's harder for a thin person to gain weight than for a heavy person to lose it." I'm putting that in quotes because I don't have a source or statistics for it, but it's something I've always heard. If anyone has a good article about this, please share it in the comments.

I understand that we want to give women who aren't size 2's their power back. We want to take back our pride in our bodies and the respect for "real women." If you want to fight someone, fight corporations who use rail-thin models. Fight people who discriminate against the overweight. Fight people who yell insults to heavy women on the street. But don't turn into that guy yourself. Yelling "Eat a sandwich" is just as bad as yelling "Moo."

Photo from here.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The value of improvisation

I've been reflecting on my teaching style as I consider job searching out here in my new home. Since I've only worked independently before, I was always able to teach my way, and now that I'm considering other options, I have to reflect on how much of my way is negotiable. Stumbling across this interview with Amber Richard, where she strongly touts improvisation as a means of discovering your personal style, brought the issue home for me, and I knew I had to write about improvisation in dance.

My teaching has always focused on improvisation. There are a lot of reasons for this.

I believe that the best and safest way for a student to learn tricks and transitions is "organically." That is, I can explain to you where to put your hands and how to distribute your weight all day, but if you get swept up in the music and discover a move yourself, it's going to be 1000% more solid than if you learned it by explanation or imitation.

I've been pole dancing since way back when it was more closely tied to the exotic dance industry, so improvisation is a way to pay homage to the strippers and gogo dancers, who improvise every time they go onstage. Because there's no way of knowing what song is going to play, who else is going to be onstage and in your way, where the customers are sitting, whether the pole will be covered in lotion, or dozens of other variables. So I had my students improvise much in the same way I wouldn't let them use the bottoms of their feet-- for "authenticity."

And most importantly, I always, always knew that every dancer has a unique style, a personal interpretation of the art form, and you'll never discover yours by my telling you how to move when. When you improvise, your subconscious takes over and your body finds its own way to dance-- a way that is entirely you.

I've taught more private students than anything else. I concentrate most of the lesson on learning tricks. Whatever the student has been working on, or whatever they're ready to progress on to, switching when one of their body parts becomes too sore from fatigue or pole burn and its time to move to another. And then, for the end of class, assuming the student isn't already too fatigued, I dim the lights, put on a great song, and let them improvise.

I often will advise on handy sequences, but I've never worked (or trained) anywhere that required me to teach (or learn) a "routine" in a regular lesson. Obviously, preparing for a performance or competition or learning a "solo" (in aerial terms) is another matter. But I'm just talking about a normal, day-to-day pole class. The concept of a rote routine to me seems foreign to the art of pole. Like it's something that's been imported from gyms, and other forms of dance, where dancers are expected to perform in ensemble. Pole is a rare form of dance in which you rarely see synchronization. In fact, you rarely see more than one performer at once, and if so, it's usually two. It is extremely individual. It can always draw from jazz and ballet, but will never be like them. A stage full of pole dancers moving in unison is certainly feasible and occasionally executed, but it is more of a gimmick than a trend.

I imagine some stricter teachers might gasp at the idea of letting inexperienced dancers improvise. "They'll hurt themselves without my guidance!" But I think the opposite is true. I'd rather my students execute their repertoire at their own pace than try to keep up with a routine they probably don't fully grasp. I'd rather them have a chance to (and learn how to!!!) "B.S." for a little while (ie, dance conservatively to stall for time) if they need to catch their breath or wait for their sweat to dry before jumping into something they might not be experienced enough to get out of if something goes wrong. Of course we all, for both health and legal reasons, tout "listen to your body" all day long. But I find people are more likely to listen to their bodies when they can listen at their own tempo.

I have my own favorite pole dancing songs, but a private student bringing their own song is even better. Not only are they inspired by the music and familiar with its structure, but they will quickly learn the lesson of "overdoing it." It's easy to get excited, run out of breath, and sweat too much to execute a shoulder mount when your favorite song is playing. But the ability to both pace yourself and recover from over-extension is what separates the men from the boys in pole, and I want my students to be on that page from the beginning.

If I'm working at a place where I'm required to choreograph routines, I do it. It's good for me, both in terms of choreography (since I don't compete, I don't have to design too many solos) and for learning how to simplify for beginners (since I sometimes get carried away and choreograph what my brain wants to do and not what a novice is capable of). But my favorite thing to do is to say, "OK, here's a song you know, here are 5 moves you know. The rest is up to you."

Put on your pole outfit and your favorite song. The rest is up to you.

Photo of Amber Richard from Midwest Pole Dancing Competition.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Pole and silks: sister arts

When I first started aerial silks and pole, I didn't know anyone else who did both. I was running around trying to explain to my silks instructors how similar what we were doing in class was to my pole work. I even convinced them to let me teach a pole class. I designed a curriculum and taught them some moves. Then I took some time off for my scheduled surgery, and while I was healing they found a Chinese pole teacher and instated that class instead of mine. I was sad because that was supposed to be my first formal teaching situation.

Still, I went ahead and started my teaching career, offering private lessons to the aerialists who knew me from silks. At the time it was still unusual to find instruction in the acrobatic side of pole, rather than the sensual side. Of course, now all the polers are doing silks and all the circus people are doing pole. This is totally not because of me at all; I was teaching in relative isolation. It was just an obvious connection that more and more people started making as each sport became independently popularized.

Today, pole is so accepted as a circus-style art that we call ourselves "pole aerialists," and I still often from of circus acrobatics who want to learn pole and polers who want to learn silks. So I thought I'd write a bit about the connection, highlight the similarities and differences.

Both silks and pole are vertical apparatuses. The difference is that the silks move, and the pole doesn't. (Spin pole notwithstanding.)

When you approach the pole with your hands, it stays firm. When you approach the silks with your hands, they yield. That means you have to grip more tightly. That's why silks usually work your hand and forearm muscles more than pole does.

When you approach the silks with your body, it conforms around you. When you approach the pole with your body, it remains place. You have to adjust your body to the pole, whereas the silks adjust themselves to you. That means that many silks move will feel much "off" on the pole, even if they're otherwise identical. An opposite side climb, for example, is executed the exact same way on silks and pole, but it feels very different. Your leg has to go around the pole, not the pole around your leg, so you will feel more horizontal or skewed to the side than the straight up-and-down of the same move on silks.

To attach yourself to the silks, you wrap knots around yourself. To attach yourself to the pole, you use the friction of your bare skin. This requires a greater mental capacity for silks. You have to memorize the ins and out of each "knot," and calculate in your head what wraps will land you in which position. There is a lot less to memorize and calculate on pole; success or failure in a move come down to physical ability (and practice of course). I find that silks attract many more "nerds," engineers, and chess players, than pole.

Silks are usually performed with the body covered in spandex, so as to prevent fabric burn. Pole is usually performed with as much skin as possible, pole burn be damned. This isn't because polers have higher pain tolerances (I have received MUCH worse burns from silks than from pole); rather, it's a frank necessity to our art. Our skin is what's holding us up.

I used to tell my pole students that one of the differences between pole and silks is the bottoms of the feet, because at the time nearly everyone performed in stilettos. Now that many members of the pole dance industry are trying to shed the "stripper" stigma, it is just as common to train on or perform pole barefoot as in shoes, so this may or may not apply, depending on where you're learning.

Silks require greater strength starting out than pole. There is very little you can do on the silks if you can't climb and invert. Pole has a whole repertoire of spins and other moves that can be executed right-side up from the floor. Of course, if you want to reach an intermediate level, you have to build up some serious strength. But the strength you need to get to the next level of pole is the strength you need on the first day of silks. (That said, I don't discourage anyone from trying silks because they think they're not strong enough. You can always have a teacher spot you until you can invert on your own.)

Silks want height. Pole less so. Silks is so full of drops (or just slipping down) that you need a high ceiling to do it. Pole is more ambivalent about ceiling height. On one hand, there is more you can do (and more you can do in sequence) with a tall pole. On the other hand, the integrity of the rig can be compromised if the pole is too high. It will wobble when you do explosive moves, and might start to come loose, causing damage to the hardware or the floor/ceiling.

There are more self-taught polers than silks artists. Because the pole lends itself to a shorter ceiling, many people have poles in their homes. Because the pole moves are less complex (I'm not saying easier, just less to keep track of mentally), people feel more confident teaching themselves. As a result, there are more independent polers working in isolation than silks performers, who build a community through classes and workshops.

Silks allows stronger grip products than pole. Silks performers usually apply rosin before training or performing. But rosin is too strong for most polers. Too much grip and we can't spin (on a stationary pole), and get excessive pole burn.

That's what comes to mind for me. Am I missing anything?

Photo (of me!) by Igor Bass

Monday, September 19, 2011

How to stick to the pole

One of the top complaints I hear from novice polers is that they can't seem to grip the pole with their bodies. Pole-skin friction varies from person to person and pole to pole, depending on many factors: skin chemistry, pole material, products lingering on the skin or on the pole, temperature, etc. Since it's one of the questions I'm asked most frequently, I thought I'd write a little bit on "how to stick."

For the purposes of this article, I'm going to assume you're using a brass pole, but much of the advice applies to other materials as well.

For the love of god, don't wear oils or lotions.

This is the biggest problem I see in beginners. It's not that they're lubing up right before class; most know better than that. But they might have some product left over from after their morning shower, or putting on hand lotion on chilly days. This can kill your grip. I've found that some lotions affect my body grip much longer than others, and also that some dancers seem to retain product more than others. To be safe, it's best not to use any lotions the entire day before training. Ideally, apply them after your post-class shower, or at night before bed. If you really need something, there are some lotions made especially for pole dancers to be grippy, but I don't have a lot of personal experience with them.

Clean your pole

Maybe you're not wearing lotion, but the dancer before you was. Either way, cleaning the pole usually helps improve grip. Most dancers use Windex as they tend to have it handy, but rubbing alcohol I think works a little better. Wipe using a cloth or paper towels, and don't be afraid to wipe a little on your hands when you're done. It can help with your own grip.

Warm it up

Brass responds pretty drastically to temperature. The warmer it is, the grippier it gets. Cold temperatures make it slick. So if it's a chilly winter month, or a summer day with the AC blasting, you might consider heating up the room before getting started. Of course, you don't want it to be so warm that you sweat and that causes you to slip, so tread the line carefully.

Warm yourself up

A warmer skin temperature helps, too. Getting your heart rate slamming before you jump on the pole is not only good for your body, but helps you stick. I prefer kettlebell swings, but most people don't have both a pole and a kettlebell in their homes. So aim for anything that will get your heart rate up and your breathing hard. I've never understood the "jumping jacks" thing, but jump-squats might be a good option. Aim for something that will get you feeling warm without breaking a sweat. But then, I've found that dried sweat is the best natural gripping solution around.


There are tons of products out there to help you with your grip. If I use something it's usually Dry Hands, but Mighty Grip and iTac are popular as well, and there are many more options on the market. You can also use rosin spray or powder, but these might be too intense for most pole work-- too much grip slows spins and increases pole burn.

Check positioning

A lot of times I see students learning a new move who are convinced that they are too slippery-- but really, they're just not in the best position to complete the move. I feel like every dancer I've ever seen try to teach herself an inside leg hang (see photo above) thinks she's supposed to be using just her leg, and doesn't realize the armpit and the side of the torso are playing just as large a part. Reconsider your placement.

Don't be lazy- grip the damn thing.

At the end of the day, gripping the pole is your responsibiity, not a product's. You won't always be dancing under ideal conditions, and it's important to know how to hang on even if you or the pole are a little slick. Don't blame poor hand strength on hair oil, or inaccurate positioning on air conditioning. A good pole dancer has the strength and know-how to modify her force and angling to perform most of her rep under lame conditions.

If other dancers have favorite "grip tips," I'd really like to hear them!

Picture from Pole Dancing Expression

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The precarious ties between pole dance and stripping

Every year, more men and women are taking up pole dancing for fun, fitness, and artistic expression-- Not for the adult entertainment industry. Some of these adults enjoy the sex-positive aspects of the art. Some prefer to downplay it. Either way, most people who are not strippers don't want people to think they are. (Ironically, neither do most strippers.) We want to be able to train in our sport, to perform our art, without feeling like we have something to hide. As a result, a rift has grown between "fitness" polers and pole dancing strippers-- as well as between polers who prefer to wash their hands of pole dancing's smutty past, and those for whom booty popping and stiletto boots are half the fun.

I think one thing that we can all agree on, though, is that pole dancing as we know it owes most of its existence to the titty bars that installed all those poles, and the strippers who danced on them. Although pole dance has sister arts in China and India, the form of pole dancing that we who call ourselves "pole dancers" perform is based directly on exotic pole dancing.

And it's not just our history. Some of the world's top pole stars, including competition winners, are confessed current or former exotic dancers. They certainly don't see it as something to be ashamed of, nor should they.

Others are conversely very open about NOT having ever been strippers, and the media loves to bring that up. I love how that cleanses the image of the art in the eyes of the public; how it reinforces the message that pole dancing and stripping are two different things. But they are not two unrelated things. What if the pole star being interviewed HAD been a stripper, and not one that was public about it? Would she lie and wait to be outed publicly by a creepy ex-friend or lover or customer? Would she have to admit it, while possibly living or working in an environment where such things are not considered acceptable? Just today there was an article in USA Today about a NY attorney general lawyer who was suspended from her job after being outed as a dominatrix. We want to be idealistic, but the world is often not safe for adult entertainers.

I guess I see the relationship as analogous to that between modelling and acting. While these are two different professions requiring different training and skill sets, there is a lot of crossover between the fields. Many people pursue the two simultaneously. And while actors will jump through hoops to explain that the art of theater is one that involves extremely honed skills and extensive study, and not just about being beautiful and photogenic, if you were to inquire whether they'd ever modeled at any level, there's a good chance they'll say yes. Of course modelling and exotic dancing have their own skills that must be acquired, and are also not only about being beautiful. But the skill sets are related enough that there is some interchange between the artists and the arts themselves.

So how should we as a community treat this electrically charged relationship between pole dance and stripping? Do we try to sterilize pole dancing of all its exotic ways, silently shaming those who do it with 4 fewer inches of fabric than we do? Or do we accentuate its sexuality, making it unfit for children and public life?

I think there's no way we can be an art form that's truly open to everyone if we overly sexualize it. But if we ignore the stiletto-clad elephant in the room, we are just in denial. I believe that pole dance is a big enough genre that we can act kind of like a movie theater. We can have G-rated pole, or we can have R-rated pole. But if you want X-rated, you're gonna have to go to another theater!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Things not to say to a fitness pole dancer

Confession: I kind of hate telling people I do pole. Of course I'm not ashamed! I mean I have this whole website and blog and twitter and everything! It's just, you know, people jump to conclusions about your career choices-- and more often, they have really stupid, not funny, heard-it-a-million-times-before jokes.

In case you know a poler, or would like to know a poler, or are a poler and would like to share this article with your more uncouth friends, here is my list of comments that you shouldn't make to pole dancers. You are not funny, we are not amused, let's move on.

"You take pole dancing classes? What, preparing for a career change? HA!"

Pole dancing is a sport in and of itself, separate from stripping. Some strippers are also pole dancers. Most are not. Some pole dancers are also strippers. Most are not. Incidentally, I've never had a student who was taking pole dance to prepare to audition as a stripper. I've had strippers as students, but never aspiring strippers. If you've ever been to a strip club, you know that pole skills are not, not, not at all required to work in one.

"Heheh, you said POLE, heheheh... *stupid penis euphemism*"

Oh wow, pole is a euphemism for penis? Really? Gee! Have you read Freud? EVERYTHING is a euphemism for dongs! After about one week of pole dancing, we really are sick of the penis jokes.

"Are you a stripper?"

Most people who are strippers don't like to talk about it. So unless they're "out," most people will say no whether it's true or not. Might as well not make an awkward situation. If you really wanna know, wait for them to volunteer the information-- or at least wait for better evidence before you go prying.

*watches someone perform superhuman feats of strength* "Wow! You're really FLEXIBLE!!"

OK, this is a legitimate compliment. In and of itself, it's not harmful. Here's my problem: I am NOT flexible. I am really, really strong. 9 out of 10 men recognize that when they see me dance. But there's always that 10th guy who can't recognize a strong woman for what she is. They'd rather covertly sexualize my skills by fantasizing about me putting my legs behind my head than admitting that they might not beat me in a fight. So, by all means, compliment someone on their flexibility if its appropriate. But if you can't admire a woman's strength, you're spectating at the wrong event.

"Yeah, if I was 100 pounds I'd be able to throw myself around like that, too!"

That's something akin to the "flexible" subversion, and likewise something of a compliment ("You're skinny!" I'll take it!). But it's similarly downplaying a woman's strength, while making light of your own weakness. Maybe you're not weak, but you're probably making the comment because you felt somewhat intimidated watching a woman perform and thinking to yourself, "Holy crap, I can't do that." I understand the bodyweight issue, but please understand that we're not this strong because we're skinny, we're this strong because we're strong.

"Shhhh! There are children present!"

Children pole dance now. Pole is not inherently sexual. Kids love poles. Watch them on a subway car, spinning around and trying to climb.

"Wanna come pole dance for me in my bedroom?"

Pick-up line FAIL. No sex for you.

I'd love to hear some more pet peeve comments from other polers. Please share!!

Pic from Maverick Entertainment.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Pole Nomenclature

There's a bit of inconsistency in what People Who Do Pole Dancing Outside of Gentlemen Club Settings choose to call themselves and their art. Pole dance, pole fitness, aerial pole-- these are all terms that get used somewhat interchangeably, even though they have different connotations. We may be some time away from an industry standard, but here's a breakdown of some of the options so at least you can decide what to call yourself!

Pole Dance

This is the most accurate descriptor of what we do. Whatever our skill level and performance or training venue, we are all dancing on a pole. The problem is that "pole dancer" to many people is just another euphemism for "exotic dancer" or "stripper." Some people who do pole dancing are current and former strippers, and we owe the art form as it is today to that industry. But most people who are not strippers (or who are but want to keep it under wraps) don't want everyone they meet to jump to that conclusion. Not to mention that many exotic dancers-- who are known as pole dancers-- don't actually do any "pole work." (And we love them anyways. You go, girls!)

Pole Fitness

"Pole dancing is a great way to stay in shape and have fun!" So goes the pitch of gym classes and pole studios everywhere. Pole dancing is an amazing form of fitness. The upper body strength and flexibility required to perform advanced tricks are no less than insane. But what if you're not doing pole to get in shape? What if you're doing it for the artistry, for performance or competition? "Pole fitness" to me is a positive connotation, but it inspires images of gym pole classes and pole crunches. Fitness is just one facet of pole dancing, but it neglects the artistry that many of us strive for. And even more problematic, there's no name for a person who does Pole Fitness. A Pole Fitness... Participant? Enthusiast? Dancer? Performer? Pole Fitness doesn't sound like something you perform.

Aerial Pole

This is the term I use to describe what I do. It took awhile for pole to become an accepted part of the aerial community (with the exception of Chinese Pole, which is not found as often as more popular arts like silks and trapeze), but eventually there was enough crossover between the pole and circus worlds that everyone realized how much pole has in common with its sister arts in the circus. I myself started taking aerial silks when I saw how similar it was to pole, and my first formal pole students were all aerialists. But I want to point out that "aerial" means "in the air." I consider myself an aerialist on the pole because I'm accustomed to working on 15-20 foot poles. Most people are learning pole in their homes or in pole studios, with standard ceiling heights-- not much air happening there. Not to mention that some polers spend their entire routines on the floor, spinning, prancing, and doing floor work. I don't want to dismiss my colleagues who practice more sexually-charged forms of pole dancing, rather than the acrobatic-intensive form that I do, but I don't think the term "aerialist" applies to them.

Acrobatic pole

Acrobatic pole is similar to aerial pole, without the height connotations. My own site is "," and before it was acceptable to refer to ourselves as "pole aerialists" (I have been doing this for 8 years-- 8 years ago aerial acrobatics wasn't even that popularized that people knew what an aerialist was), I called myself a "pole acrobat" and taught "acrobatic pole dance." I think this is relatively problem-free as a catchall term, with some of the same reservations as I had for "aerial pole"-- not everyone who takes pole dancing classes gets anywhere near doing what could be recognized as acrobatics.


Among the pole community, many of use just refer to the sport as "pole" and refer to ourselves as "polers." It sounds funny and doesn't really clarify anything, but I see it as akin to motorcyclists being called "bikers" and video game players calling themselves "gamers." It's just a convenient little nickname that makes sense and will be recognized by those in the know, even though there are other kinds of "bikes" besides motorcycles and other kinds of "games" besides video and role playing games. I see this as gaining prominence among our community, but probably not formal enough to describe our art.

Personally, I call myself a "Pole Aerialist" because it best describes what I do. But I think this varies from dancer to dancer. What do you refer to your pole art as?

Pic from gallery.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Do I need a pole dancing teacher?

There are a lot of different paths people take to learn pole. Some join classes at pole studios, circus schools, or gyms. Others find their way to a private instructor like myself. There is also a huge ratio of self-taught pole artists, who use instructional videos and imitate moves they find on YouTube, and might give back to the community by posting their own videos in turn.

I'm often surprised by how many beginning polers tell me they don't need a teacher. "I can just copy videos from YouTube and practice at home." I'm really glad more people are getting poles for their homes (makes me seem less weird). but I wanted to advocate for the teachers a bit.

Full disclosure: As a pole fitness instructor (especially one who just moved to a new city and needs new students), I have a vested interest in this debate. But I will be open and honest, because that's my thing!

Reasons to have a pole teacher:

I believe a huge portion of a teacher's job is to help you avoid injury. A good teacher knows the dangers inherent in each individual move, and can quickly spot errors in your form that could lead to injury. This is the #1 reason I recommend polers find an instructor. Injury is always possible (and bumps and bruises are inevitable), but you want to reduce your chances. Pole dancing is an extreme sport, and your life is at stake.

A teacher will greatly accelerate your learning speed. Alone, you can spend months stuck on a move, whereas a good teacher might be able to tell you immediately what you're doing wrong and how to fix it. An experienced teacher has not only learned each move themselves, but observed and taken part in the process of many other polers learning them as well. They know all the mistakes that are usually made and can often catch them before you make them.

A teacher can give you all kinds of information that will help you on your pole quest. How to take care of your pole, products to use, products to avoid, standard practices, where to train, strength training and supplemental sports, where to get shoes, etc. I always find myself giving this information (for free of course) to novice polers who "don't need a teacher." Hmm...

I always hear people say "I can't afford a teacher." But give it a second look before you reject the prospect. If your gym (Crunch, for one) offers pole dancing classes, it's probably free to members. There are many small, independent pole studios out there, and rates vary. Instructors who have their own poles can often offer a good rate for private lessons in their own homes, since they don't have to pay to rent a space. Many, like me, are welcoming to students who want to split a lesson with a friend to save on expenses. And if you still can't afford many of these options, be on the lookout for someone you can do some sort of exchange with. I've occasionally done lesson exchange with aerial instructors who specialize in other apparatuses, but you could offer a trade for music lessons, tax preparation, babysitting- whatever's your thing!

If you still think you don't need a teacher, I hope at least the following apply to you:

You have a strong background in other aerial arts or gymnastics.

You have a training partner who can spot you or at least be in the room in case an accident happens.

You have good visual and spacial learning skills.

You know how to build moving strength and active flexibility.

You have health insurance.

My story:

I'm being a little hypocritical here, because I am largely self taught. But I'd say I learned the hard way.

I was a good candidate for self-instruction, as I was taking aerial silks classes and lessons parallel to learning pole, I was initially taught pole by more experienced friends, and had a training partner who, if not always present, I could ask for spotting when learning an intimidating new move. I also had a strong athletic background, having studied several forms of dance, run multiple marathons, and been a gym rat. I started learning pole 8 years ago, when there was very little available in the way of instruction if you were trying to do stunts, and not "get in touch with your inner vixen." (That's fine if that's what you want to do. That's just not what I wanted to do.) So I was pretty much left to my own devices. Did I learn? Hell yes I did. But I also dislocated my shoulder 6 times, eventually needing surgery, and experienced a lot of other smaller, entirely preventable injuries. If someone with more experience and a good eye for form had been paying attention and told me I wasn't engaging my shoulder correctly when I was spinning on one arm (and that I had to wait more than a week to heal from my first dislocation), I would have been at my current level 5 years ago, instead of having to wait so long, so many times, to heal.

Of course, having gone through injuries has made me a better instructor in the long run. It's inspired me learn a lot about injury prevention, and put safety first with my own students. But it's depressing when I think how good I could be today if I hadn't had to tiptoe around a recurring injury for five years. (It is pretty solid now, but I still have to be careful, and I'll never gain the flexibility back.)

I feel that my own history, more than my current need for employment, has made me such an advocate for instruction. I understand being broke. God, do I understand it. But I wanted to put my thoughts out on the table so people who "don't need/can't afford" instruction can make a truly informed decision, rather than an assumption.

See you in the sky.

Photo taken from The Inquisitr, in a completely unrelated story for which I can't figure out how to play the video.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Check out my new rig!

NOW it's home! Got my pole set up! My dad and I did it today. Now I can train and teach!!

Like my last home pole setup, it could be better. It's mostly an issue of the sharply vaulted ceiling. Basically, it's easy when doing inversions to be like, OH! There's a ceiling there! Gotcha! And it's close to the fan at the top. But I opted for that rather than have it close to stuff on the floor, which can be really dangerous to bump into when spinning or dismounting. (I once broke a toe dismounting from a "straight edge" elbow grip and slamming my foot on a desk chair on the way down.) This layout may have its annoyances but it's not dangerous.

I got the vaulted ceiling adapter from Platinum Stages in the mail. We were really confused because the piece didn't seem to pivot. My dad was convinced that we'd been sent the wrong piece. I figured there was a trick to it, so I called and asked. All I had to say was, "I need some tech support for my vaulted ceiling adapter," and the guy was like, "OHHH, because it doesn't seem to pivot? People call about this all the time and think they've been sent the wrong thing!" So he explained how it worked and we fixed it.

Then I was like, um, why don't they have instructions for this? OOH WAIT! I'm getting my masters in technical writing!! (ie, writing user manuals.) I SHOULD WRITE THE INSTRUCTIONS!! So I emailed them and offered to do it in exchange for store credit. They haven't written back yet, but I hope they do, because I think it would be a good deal for both of us.

Had my mom take a couple pictures just to show you the setup. Yeah it's embarrassing that I'll be teaching in my room at my parents' house for awhile, but it's actually a lot better than my teeny tiny Manhattan apartment!

Already got to train a little bit. We are experimenting with leaving the carpet under it. So far it seems perfectly secure, and I love that I can fall and it doesn't hurt as much!! If we need to later we can cut out the carpet around the base. They were going to tear the carpet up eventually anyways.

Come on by and check out the new rig soon! Would love to meet some new students!!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

What's on your pole playlist?

I'm a musician through and through, so what I dance to is very important to me. The most vital quality for me in a song is contrast. quietLOUDquietLOUD, or BANGBANGBANG(silence....)BANGBANGBANG totally does it for me. So as part of launching my blog, I thought I'd share my pole playlist with you!

In no particular order:

"Killing in the Name" by Rage against the Machine

"Creep" by Radiohead

"Kashmir" by Led Zeppelin

"Du hast" and "Te quiero puta" by Rammstein

"Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" by Black Sabbath

"Danse sur la merde" by Prototypes

"Smells like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana

"We're in this Together" by Nine Inch Nails

"I live in New York City" by Sxip Shirey

"Swamped" by Lacuna Coil

"Super Sex" by Morphine

"Mickey" by Toni Basil

"Bodies" by Drowning Pool

"Comfort Eagle" by Cake

"Cry little Sister" by Gerard McMann (Lost Boys soundtrack)

"Livin' on the Edge" by Aerosmith

"Stockholm Syndrome" and "Supermassive Black Hole" by Muse

"Seven Nation Army" by The White Stripes

"Helter Skelter" Beatles AND Mötley Crüe versions!

If you don't know any of these songs, check them out for your next workout! Just do this starving artist a favor and obtain your music legally. <3

What's on your pole playlist?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Why a Pseudonym?


So I've suddenly created this new website, Twitter, and now blog for myself. Because I needed to post under a new name.

It's a little weird for me. I'm a very private person who lives very publicly. On one hand, I hate prying questions, never talk about what I consider personal matters, often refuse to answer basic questions even by people who know me.

On the other hand, I'm a writer, a performer, a prolific tweeter, and a long-time blogger. I've had a lot of websites, I write press releases and send them to newspapers, and I don't shy away from talking about day-to-day life on my many platforms.

So most people who know me know I teach aerial pole. It's been a big part of my life for many years. So why the sudden pseudonymity?

Well, I am more a teacher than a performer, so I didn't usually have to use a stage name. I mostly taught people I knew, friends and friends of friends, so I never had to advertise. People knew me from aerial acrobatics and my general wide social circle.

Now I moved to a new city-- well, it's sort of an old city 'cause I lived here when I was a teenager, but that was a long time ago-- and I need to start over. So all of a sudden I'm having to advertise and reach out and connect and put myself out there in a way I didn't have to before.

I do way too many things. I have a pretty serious music career, many day jobs, and I'm currently in school for another career. I'm up for two jobs so far in my new city-- one in a church, the other in a high school. So even though I'm relatively open about doing pole, it's not the first thing I want people to see when they Google my name.

Not because I'm ashamed of it, but because I don't want to confuse people who might think I'm less serious a musician and writer because I also have another career in aerial pole. And because there are some sheltered, conservative people who don't understand that pole dancing and stripping are two different things, and might not want anything to do with me, or want me near their children. I have no problem educating them, but I'd prefer to do so in person, rather than be prejudged by them based on pictures of me standing on the ceiling in a bikini.

A lot of pole dancers and other aerialists use pseudonyms, but they don't usually switch over to one this late in their careers, which is why I felt like I owed my many contacts an explanation.

Anyways, I have a lot of things to blog about, so watch this space in the near future for my thoughts on pole and its sister aerial arts.

Pic by Valkyrie NYC.