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 www.poleexercise.co.uk