Sunday, April 29, 2012

I have silks!

Finally, after six years of recreational tissuing, I have my own set of silks!

Why didn't I have them before? Well, two main reasons. First was that, since I started circus, I lived in a tiny Manhattan apartment. I didn't have room for both pole and silks. Pole works better (not optimal, but better) with a standard-height ceiling than silks do, and pole is my primary apparatus anyway.

Secondly, I had no shortage of training opportunities in New York. There were both session and drop-in classes every day of the week, and even when I couldn't afford classes (most of the time), finding training space was easy. The Skybox, Streb, and Circus Warehouse were all easy to get to and affordable for open workouts or silks rental, and I had people who I did pole-silks exchange with.

It's different where I am now. The couple of places to train, which I'm sure are all great, are really far away from me. Aside from my pole teaching and some small-time music and writing gigs, I'm basically an unemployed grad student, so there's no way I can afford classes. And anyways, now that I'm living it up in suburbia, I have more space. Not a luxurious amount, but coming from the Upper West Side, it feels staggering.

Plus, my students have been begging me to teach them. I've even had a local pole studio ask me to teach silks classes for them.

So I finally used my tax refund to buy my own set of silks. My dad's a skilled engineer, and he and I carefully weighed all our rigging options. We came up with something that allows a decent amount of space and height, and excellent safety. I'm gonna experiment with it for another week or so to make sure I like it. So far, so good!

So I've been re-training myself. I've actually been going with the extremely basic building blocks so far. Unlike with pole, I didn't originally train in silks in order to teach, so now I have to look at everything again from a pedagogical perspective. What's the clearest way to explain this? What mistakes are students likely to make? How do you bail out of this if something goes wrong? (My students laugh that when I teach them a difficult new move I usually start by teaching them what I call "the bail.") So I'm revisiting things that I normally do without thinking, and thinking very hard about them. Which, honestly, I love.

The silks I got are really wide, so it's an intense hand workout, but doesn't pinch the body too much. Not too stretchy. I do have a swivel (whee). They're far enough away from the pole that the two can live in harmony.

So I'll be busy playing on that for the next few weeks, getting my silks mojo back and developing a pedagogy. Hope to see you all in the studio soon!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Studio Review: Tiger Lily Vertical Fitness & Dance, Geneva IL

Tiger Lily was the first pole studio I visited when I moved to Chicago. I mean, it's one of the first anythings I visited. I was right off the boat, and a local poler I'd been corresponding with tipped me off to their grand opening party, and invited me to meet up there. I didn't know anyone or anything about the local pole or aerial scenes, so this was my introduction.

Last night, over six months later, I went back for open pole. I'd been wanting to go for ages! They kept mentioning their Open Poles on Facebook, and it just kept not working out for me. Mostly because, as a severely underemployed grad student, I just didn't have the $20 (for non-Tiger Lily students). But I sincerely did want to go. I love my Platinum Stages brass convertible, but my space is just too tight for some of the things I need to do. I need to do hard climbs (shoulder inversion climbs, no-feet climbs, inverted climbs) to train my muscles, and I need height to climb. I mean, I can jump to the top of my damn pole at home. Plus, as an independent poler, I am pretty isolated, and I like to get out and meet people. And sometimes it's nice to train when other people are looking, 'cause then you have to make an effort to look good and not just drag your feet!

So I signed up for Open Pole online the night before. I got an email from Sarah, one of the co-owners (whom I've met several times in person--actually she took my conditioning class once, she's strong!), telling me the class was moved an hour later (and of course offering me a refund it that wasn't OK). That was fine, as Geneva is not that close to me, so I got to take the extra time to digest dinner before jumping around like a poling maniac.

The door was actually locked when I got there (they let me in when they saw me standing there looking confused though). Turns out I was the only Open Pole student, and there was a photo shoot going on before my class. I was disappointed that it wouldn't be a more social workout, and probably would have cancelled if I'd known it was going to be just me. But at least I got to hang out with Caroline, the other owner, who I hadn't gotten to really talk to much yet. She's cool, I like her!

Tiger Lily is not a huge studio, and while they do fall back on hot pink, they use it in much tamer quantities than other studios, alternating it with easier-to-digest shades of lilac. So we can forgive them that.

The dressing room--I'm not sure if that was their usual dressing room or if the photo shoot people were in the usual dressing room. Anyways, it was small but cute, I think it had a fainting couch or something. And it's OK that it's small because they only have one pole room, and there are only 8 student poles, and they only do one-to-a-pole classes, so there's not gonna be more than eight people needing to get dressed at the same time anyways.

The pole room is very simple, with nine poles--8 for the students and one for the teacher--reaching close to 10 feet high (they weren't able to give me an exact height measure so we were estimating). The really cool thing is that the eight student poles are at the front and back of the room, with the teacher pole in the center--not in the front of the class, as in a normal dance class. I think that's brilliant. Not only does each person get an equal view, but pole is a three-dimensional art form. There is a lot of spinning (and unintentional rotating), so you really do need a 360-view. After all, while theaters where traditional dance takes place usually present a two-dimensional, face-front view to the audience, like a TV screen, aerial pole has its origins in strip clubs and circus tents, both of which usually offer seating on all sides of the performer. So it only makes sense that we should perform it that way when we can, or at least teach it that way.

Since there wasn't a class before me, the poles weren't as warmed up/grippy as they might have been. They were stainless steel, and I know people say those are less grippy than brass, but I find that as long as they're warm they are about the same. I picked out the four poles that were the warmest (all towards the center of the room--those must have been the ones they were using for the photo shoot!), and used them for my climbing, and then settled on one towards the front so I could use the mirror.

There was a wall of mirrors, which is always helpful (I like to check to make sure I'm even on things like iron X's and shoulder planks), but there was a ballet bar attached to it that always seemed to be RIGHT in my way. Guess I'll have to practice my power moves aerially next time!

The ceilings are drop ceilings, and the ribbing is on the narrow side, so it's nigh impossible to do any ceiling work. I can usually find a happy place for my feet in a ceiling lay on a drop ceiling, but here no matter what I did I ended up poking through the ceiling.

The sound system was solid. Caroline offered to put my iPod on, but I'm sick of my own music so I let hers run. We didn't play it that loud 'cause we wanted to chat, but I'm sure it can get crazy in there for a dance party.

I don't think they had a shower (correct me if I'm wrong), but they did have a nice bathroom with baskets of complimentary q-tips and tampons for those in need, which I thought was cute! 

Like my last studio review, this was Open Pole, so I can't really say anything about the instruction. Caroline offered to spot me plenty of times though, and asked if I needed help if I even made the slightest grunt. So I guess that's the best "instruction" you can get in a non-instructed class!

I wish I could say something about the clientele, but obviously I can't in this case! Apparently there are usually a few women at Open Pole, but I just came on an off night.

Anyways, Tiger Lily is a smaller place than Flirty Girl and Tease and Rondi's and I think even Bombshell (trying to think of all the studios I've been to in Chicago), but it has a nice feel and friendly instructors. Open Pole is their only drop-in class, which is on Fridays at least once a month (sometimes more), so if you're in the area and looking for a place to practice, definitely check it out!!

Tiger Lily Vertical Fitness & Dance
Equipment: 9 10' 50mm permanent poles, Platinum Stages, stainless steel, static-spinning convertible
Amenities: Just the entryway (some merch available) and the pole room, with one or two small dressing rooms
Drop-In Price: $20 for non-students, $10 for students. Open pole is currently the only drop-in class.

Photo from Tiger Lily's Facebook page, because I forgot to take one.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Should aerialists run?

The fitness world is divided into two camps: those who run, and those who don't. Most people are firmly on one side of the fence or another. Although health benefits and drawbacks are often given as reasons, I find it tends to just come down to personal preference. Still, if you are an aerialist considering taking up jogging, you should weigh the pros and cons pretty seriously.

As a pole instructor and four-time marathoner, I find myself in a good position to advise students on their running habits and aspirations. I ran distances for years, and several of those years alongside aerial training, so I've been through it all. Here's what I've learned, first-hand and from observing my classmates and students.

Pro: Running will make you lose weight. As a person who's been through all kinds of diets and exercise throughout my lifetime, my thinnest, leanest body has always coincided with distance jogging. Whenever I take up a running regimen, I lose weight. I can do pole, circus, walking, circuit training, power lifting, and dance classes, but none of these shed the pounds for me like running does. I can diet obsessively and train hard, but I will still be at a much higher body fat percentage than when I am marathon training. In theory, there are many ways to lose weight. In my experience however, on all occasions, running works the best. 

Con: Running will destroy your flexibility. Back when I was a NYCA/Firefly student and running marathons, there were two other marathoners in my class. Whenever we all bent over for hip flexor stretches, the three of us would look at each other and laugh. We were literally the only three people in the class who couldn't get to the floor. This was no coincidence. Running is horrible for your flexibility. If your poling is going to suffer because you can't get a center split, chose another sport.

Pro: Running is amazing for your mental health. Most exercises are full of ups and downs. Aerial acrobatics especially are rife with frustrations. We have good days and bad days. We feel elated when we conquer a new trick, peeved and irritable when we can't. Running, on the other hand, is almost always a mood lifter. You can have fought with your boyfriend, boss, and mom all on the same day, then go for a jog in the park and feel like a million bucks. Really, what's more important than happiness?

Con: Distance running takes up a lot of time. If you are running marathons or half-marathons, you will have days when you are out on the trail two, three, even four hours at a time. If you have a day job and are poling or circusing as a hobby, you are probably already really, really busy. The time and energy spent in the park will likely cut directly into your poling time. This is OK if you are poling as a casual fun thing to do, but if you have set goals for yourself, time spent running might be a considerable setback.

Pro: Endurance. If you're moving your poling from doing a few tricks and sequences to performing an entire routine, you need some serious aerobic and anaerobic endurance. Running is a simple way to achieve that. You might need to do more HIIT than straightforward jogging, to get your heart rate up where it needs to be. But it's good to be able to train yourself to relax and breathe while you're doing strenuous things on the ground, rather than wait 'til your in the air.

Con: The weather. While running is the perfect way to enjoy a beautiful day, a beautiful day is not always what you get. Running in the cold or rain could weaken your immune system, and running under a heat wave isn't good for you either. You don't want to catch cold or have a stroke. On the other hand, restricting your jogging to nice days only is not really a good training plan. Of course there's always the treadmill, but if you are running for any sort of distances, that can be tedious. Hope there's a good Simpsons rerun on the gym TV.

Pro: Running works different muscles than aerial. Because pole and other apparatuses depend mostly on upper body and core strength, running can be an excellent complement. You will be using your quads and glutes a lot, which are relatively neglected when we are swinging around in the air. By running, you can tire out muscles that won't interfere with your poling, and create balance in your body.

Con: Injuries. You won't get as many injuries running as you will in the circus, but it can still happen. Knee complaints are common, and hip, IT band, and foot pain happen to the best of us. While sore glutes shouldn't mess up your aerial work too much, a pulled muscle needs to be rested, period. So it's still possible that running injuries can keep you off of the pole for awhile.

So, my dear aerialist, is running right for you? It depends on your priorities.

Are you overweight? Is your performance inhibited by extra pounds? After all, in aerial acrobatics, we are working with our body weight. Dropping some extra weight is one of the most efficient ways to improve performance, and overall health. And running is, for me and many people I've worked with, the most effective way to lose weight.

Are you training to become a professional performer or elite competitor in the near future? You will have to find some other way to keep thin. You need your flexibility in this profession.

If you decide that jogging is the right choice for you, here are some pointers:

  • It doesn't have to be all distances all the time. HIIT is an effective way to lose weight. Although I have to say that it is much more manageable on a treadmill, where you can control your speed. It can be too hard while running in the great outdoors to lose your concentration.
  • Stretch like crazy. You can't just stretch like a runner, soothing your calves before and after your workout. You need to stretch like a dancer. It will be time-consuming, but if your flexibility matters to you, you need to do this.
  • Get foam rollers and massage balls. I have these "barbells" from Trigger Point Therapy, which work WONDERS on overworked calves.
  • See a professional for help with your body. I had an IT band problem cured after one Feldenkreis session. I also visited a studio in NY that works with a lot of aerialists and dancers. Doing things like this is a cash and time investment, but it's important that you keep yourself aligned.
  • Go ahead and run a marathon. If you are an aerialist, you are probably already an overachiever. Running a marathon is a good life goal. But you can stop after one. Marathons have excellent marketing, and it's easy to get sucked into trying to beat your "PR" and seeing the world's greatest cities via mass running. That's fine if that's what you want, but you don't have to fall for the hype. Again: if you are an aerialist, you probably have the self-discipline to stick to a training regimen without such an extreme goal.
I describe myself as a former runner. I like to say that I ran four marathons, but I "retired." I decided that it was interfering with my flexibility too much. I am not a flexible person and never will be, but I care about the aerial arts enough to prioritize them. Plus, it's fun to look out the window on a freezing, snowy day and say, "Guess what? I don't have to go running!" But I don't regret a minute I spent in Central Park or along the Seine or the Charles River. I was happy, I was skinny, and I got to eat a lot of spaghetti.

Image from