Monday, September 17, 2012

Why we can't have a rational discussion about pole brands

One of the most important topics we can talk about is the difference between pole makes and manufacturers. Why? Because it matters and it's actionable. We can talk about whether we like stripper-style pole or Olympic-style pole, but it's not really an actionable debate on an individual level. You already have your mind made up, I already have my mind made up, and while we like expressing our opinions, and the open-minded among us like seeing other points of view, it's not going to change what most of us do on a day-to-day basis. Knowing why Dancer A likes booty popping isn't going to make Dancer B start rump shaking too.

What pole should I buy? Totally actionable. What pole should I buy? Brand Z! OK! Done! A transaction has taken place.

Plus, people really want to know this stuff. Most people who get into pole are going to want to buy one, and they're going to want to know what to buy. Few people, especially beginners, have the chance to try out different makes firsthand and decide for themselves. So they need advice.

The problem is that someone asks the room what brand they should get, and a bloodbath breaks out. Everyone is convinced that their pole is the best, that the opposing brand has horrible customer service, that Brand Q is unsafe, that Brand Y has a bad reputation.

Part of the problem is that our industry is so small that one complaint gets echoed around the community. If one vocal person has a bad experience with a pole, a significant portion of the industry will hear about it.

But the issue is psychological.

Let me pose a question to you. Why are people rabid and pushy about their preference for a Mac or a PC, but mild and reasonable about their preference for Pepsi vs. Coke?

I don't mean that people who prefer Coke over Pepsi are making a logical choice--the Pepsi challenge has proven that people might prefer the taste of one product but fall for the marketing of the other. And I don't mean they're flexible about their choice. Anyone who's ever worked in food service knows the look of disgust when a customer is told their beverage of choice isn't sold there. But there is no debating, evangelizing, or justification like there is with the computer.

When somebody (especially somebody passionate about computers) is asked their preference for computers, it's a different story. They will pretty much get up on a soapbox, and a discussion of vices and virtues between opposing parties can get heated.

Besides the fact that soda is simpler and there is less to debate (unless you bring up terminology--I lived in the Midwest for 7 years of my childhood and REFUSED to say "pop" because I was from the East coast), the difference is that the computer is a major investment. One of the biggest, after your house and your car, you'll ever make. Because not only do you have to buy the computer itself, but the software and hardware. You have to limit yourself to the choices that are available on your platform (or, *ugh*, run a virtual machine). And if you ever want to change teams? Best not to think about that. Your head might explode.

You know, we polers don't really argue about grip aids. They are important! They are complicated! You have to try them in person to know how it works! They all have advantages and disadvantages! But we don't fight. We just say "I like Mighty Grip." Or, "I like Dry Hands for tack but Tite Grip for sweat."

You see where I'm going with this. A pole is a major investment for most of us. Depending on what you get, you're going to be dropping like $500. And even if we had the money, most of us don't have room for two. You pick your pole, you get to know it intimately, you get used to it. You go to a studio that has a different kind, you get confused. How do I set this to spin??

What happens in this situation is that the purchaser can't afford to be wrong. You've basically bet everything on red. That's what turns discussions about major purchases into religious/political debates. I mean, people don't change religions often. Because it's like, not to dramatize, but "Everything I've ever known is a lie!" Obviously the stakes in a pole aren't as high--it's $500, not 20/30/50+ years of life invested. But you can see the same chemistry working itself out on our minds.

And yes, we do tend to evangelize, because we all want to be on the "right" side. When I think about it, I have to admit I did feel a little defensive of my Platinum Stages pole when X-Pole became the "cool" kid in town. It didn't bother me, because I knew it was a good piece of equipment, but I didn't want my reputation to suffer. I was afraid my students would think I wasn't "in the know" because I didn't have the "right" pole.

But I consider myself a relatively unbiased person, and I can say with all honesty that I have owned and used both Platinum Stages and X-Pole, both at home and in studio/performance settings, and I can legitimately say that I've had good and bad experiences with both. I think everyone who's used both can say that. (I don't mean to make this a two-horse race. I've just had minimal experience with other brands. I've used Li'l Mynx and Markstaar--again, both good and bad aspects.) I originally bought Platinum Stages, and advised my students to do so, because it was the only brass option (this was years ago), but now that that's not the case, it's an open playing field as far as I'm concerned.

Anyways, thought I would point this out, because it's a legitimate psychological phenomenon that we should be aware of when we have this discussion. If anyone else has caught themselves being biased towards their pole of choice, I'd love to hear about it!

Incidentally, I use a Mac at home (because I'm cool) and a PC at work (because it works). I can legitimately say I see advantages and disadvantages to both of these, too.
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Saturday, September 8, 2012

"Free" "flavors": making your diet tasty

For those who enter diets or instate lifestyle changes, the restrictions we face can be depressing. We think about all our favorite foods we have to give up, and resign ourselves to either boring meals or having to become full-time personal chefs to ourselves. Even harmless-seeming condiments like our favorite salad dressing and sweetener in our coffee can become off-limits.

I know a lot of people who decide to go on a diet and just microwave a bowl of chicken and broccoli for every meal until they fall off the wagon. And there's something to be said for the effectiveness of repeating the same meals over and over. But you don't have to live off of bland, dry food.

You might have said good-bye to creaminess, sweetness, coconutty deliciousness and peanut-buttery goodness. Probably you are cutting out greasy or cheese-drenched comfort food, or, like my parents (and me to a less strict extent), oils altogether (see The Esselstyn diet and my family). But there are still plenty of "flavors" you can enjoy that won't put you off your diet.

Of course, every diet is different, and your restrictions will vary. But over the years of many methods of eating, these are some flavors (spices, condiments, whatever) that seem to be relatively "safe" for most diets.

I'm not going to go down the spice rack and list every bottle, but here are the more over-arching tastes that you can achieve without a lot of caloric sacrifice.

If you like spicy food, you're in luck. A little bit of hot sauce or jalapeno can add an enormous amount of flavor for almost no calories. And the best thing is the options for where you get your heat are boundless. Cayenne, Tabasco, sweet chili paste, sriracha, or even regular black pepper of salt-and-pepper fame all have different tastes and uses. Plus, there are even studies that show spicy food might boost your metabolism. If you don't like spicy food, you might try sneaking in just a tiny bit of heat. It's something you have to get used to, but once you do, it's a slippery slope!
Drawbacks: Could be bad for people with heartburn/reflux problems.

Soy sauce adds an Asian mood to anything on your plate. Unfortunately it has a lot of sodium, which is a no-no for many dieters. But there are several options that give you the taste with a lighter salt load. Low-sodium soy sauce is good, as is low-sodium tamari. You could also try an alternative such as Bragg's Liquid Aminos. Depending on sugar, teryaki might be OK, too. Mmmm.
Drawbacks: Most of us are supposed to cut back on sodium, and even low-sodium versions are probably more salt than we should be having. I would not touch it a few days before a photo shoot or other event where you want to look thin. Salt is bloating.

You love pizza and pasta? Me too. But it's probably not just the carb-load and fatty cheese you crave. You're free to have as much tomato as you want. That means pizza sauce and pasta sauce are in, as well as ketchup and (depending on sugar) barbeque sauce. You don't need a high-calorie bed to pour them on. I love veggies and beans in bbq sauce, and tomato sauce on my vegan meatballs!
Drawbacks: Like spices, should be OK for almost everyone unless you have a low tolerance for acidic foods.

Oil and vinegar might have too much fat, but vinegar by itself can do more than enough! Throwing a little vinegar on your stir-fry or in your sauce can give you that sour taste that makes any vegetable interesting. Sauerkraut is a great topping or side for a veggie brat, or even on a salad if you don't have any "safe" dressings handy.
Drawbacks: I seem to remember Fit for Life having a "vinegar is a cleaning product, not a food" policy. So some "internal hygiene" diets might say no. For most of us it should be fine.

Lemon and lime
Here's a recipe for making guacamole out of edamame instead of (high-fat) avocados. Add some lemon or lime juice and cilantro and it's almost like the real thing. I like fresh-squeezed lime juice on my corn on the cob instead of butter. Even if you are on a low-sugar diet where fruit is a no-no, lemons and limes don't really have the sugar that other fruits have.
Drawbacks: Why are all the good lemon squeezer devices like $15? Rip off!

If coffee was caloric, no one in this country would ever diet. It's a way of life for Americans. As an add-on flavor, it tends to be more of a dessert thing, and most diets aren't very dessert-friendly. But if you find a way to slip it in, whether it's in a smoothie or in a low-sugar muffin, it's a healthier option than chocolate or peanut butter.
Drawbacks: Lots of people go off caffeine for health reasons, weight-focused or not.

Cinnamon is sort of the "spicy" option of dessert foods, in that it adds a zing and may increase metabolism. It can be a great substitute for sweeter in pastries or coffee. There are a lot of sweetener options out there that may or may not be healthy, depending on who you ask and what diet you're on, but for most of us it's better if we can cut back on them altogether. There's still an adjustment as you slowly lose your sweet tooth, but if you replace your sugar shaker with a cinnamon shaker you'll be much better off.
Drawbacks: Can't think of any.

So that's a very general survey, but those are the major "flavors" I've found that make a huge difference without detriment to my health or diet. The fun part comes when you combine them. Hot and sour soup! Lime salsa! Cinnamon latte!

Bon appetite, and feel free to add your own favorite flavors below!

Photo from take the day off

Monday, September 3, 2012

Sexy vs. sporty pole: understanding each other

OK, I'm finally going to tackle the sexy pole vs. fitness pole thing. It's pretty much the most controversial topic in our community, and I don't shy away from hot topics. I've just been taking the time to figure out the best approach to adding to the conversation in a way that will benefit everyone.

First off, there's a point we need to clarify that tends to get overlooked. We are not arguing whether pole should be sexy or athletic. Neither side is trying to do away with the other side. I don't know any reasonable person who thinks you shouldn't be able to dance exotically if you want to, or should have to if you don't want to. (If you do think that: Mind your own business about how people want to dance.) The argument is not which of these two styles should exist, but about how they should coexist.

And the problem from my perspective is that people are so adamant about their opinions that they are not really understanding each other. Fortunately, as an independent poler/instructor not attached to any studio, I've been exposed to a lot of different poling environments, and I feel I'm in a good position to see both sides of the story. And since I can see how passionate everyone is, I think it's a good idea to step back from the particulars of the pole community and turn our thoughts elsewhere.

It's the 80's. (Late 70's, whatever. I'm good at music, not history.) You're a disenfranchised youth. Everybody's running around in suits trying to screw each other out of money. Greed, hypocrisy, and a life that tastes like cardboard. You're in school, it's horrible, but real life is going to be worse. Dead end.

And then one day you and your friends are out smoking and being bored and you wind up at CBGBs and your life is changed. You have found the counter culture, you have found music, life, friends, actual fun, and a big fuck you to society. You don't have to be a prick in a suit, you can be a badass with spiky green hair. You don't have to have a white picket fence, you can have body piercings.

You become totally immersed in the punk scene and you've never felt so alive. You adopt the fashions, worship the bands, and let society know how you feel about it. You trade the emptiness of jumping through hoops for disinterested teachers for crazy nights of drinking and partying with your friends.

And you're going along finally feeling like yourself, when some moron shows up spewing all this stuff about how we have to get all the drinking and drugs and crazy clothes and hair out of the music venues. They wanna play "punk music" but they don't want any punks around. And you're like, "UH, DUDE. YOU'RE IN THE WRONG FUCKING PLACE. THIS IS WHAT PUNK IS."

OK, chance of scene. It's the 80's. You're a young musician. Played guitar your whole life. Obsessed with Hendrix, the Beatles, everyone. Every paycheck goes straight to the music store for another stack of records (or tapes, we never did decide what year it is). You've been gigging around a bit and jamming with your friends, but nothing you would call a real band.

And then one day you hear the Ramones and your life is changed. You have found your musical calling. Punk puts every other kind of music in its place. It is strong, it is loud, it is in your face, but it has a disingenuous simplicity. No frills, no trills, just real music. And it sounds awesome.

You instantly get your friends on board and start a band. You start playing out at CBGBs and you are awesome so you amass a following very quickly, enough to make you local celebrities. You make some demo tapes and fans are going wild for them. You're finally right where you want to be.

Before you know it, a major label gets ahold of your tapes and is interested in signing you. Your career would be made. A rock star.

But the label wants to see you live, and there's just no way. You appreciate your fans exuberance, but those venues are a mess. People are dressed to intimidate. Underage kids are drinking and fighting. A suit wouldn't last thirty seconds in there.

Not to mention, the whole fans behaving like jerks thing is kind of getting to you. You're all in support of tossing back a few beers, and leather jackets do look pretty awesome, and sure guys should be able to pierce their ears if they want to. But the "image" of punk is sort of drowning out the music, and you're sick of fights breaking out at every show. Your little sister really wants to come see your band play, but you're afraid something could happen to her.


So here we have two people drawn to the same scene for very different reasons. Two people who value different aspects of it, and find their goals at odds. One thinks that punk is about what you wear, how you party, and your attitude towards society. The other thinks it's about three chords and the truth, and the rest is fluff that is currently driving people away. Unfortunately, the scene is so small that musician guy and spiky hair guy don't have a lot of room to break off from each other, They don't really have anywhere else to go.

Stalemate. End scene.

I think you get the point. And I'm not really proposing a solution, just wanted to show how both sides can make sense if you look at them from a different perspective. Can you separate the music from the message? Well, I think Paul Ryan being a fan of Rage Against the Machine answers that question.

Some people want to pole to express their sensuality, and taking that away would be missing the point for them. Others want a cleaner image so that they can share pole with their children and get it into the Olympics. And we can have different naming conventions (pole dance, pole fitness, aerial pole, pole art, exotic pole dance, acrobatic pole), but for the most part we are too small of a community to split ourselves up in a way that will affect how the public views us. I mean, I used to do taekwondo. Did you know there are two versions of taekwondo, traditional and WTF? If you're not already involved in martial arts, you probably didn't know that. If you formed a mental image of someone doing taekwondo, you wouldn't have asked yourself first which branch it was. This is as opposed to say, being a politician, and being a Republican or Democrat. So many more people know basic politics than basic taekwondo that they would know to ask that question if you introduced yourself as a politician. But unlike with taekwondo practitioners, the image matters more for polers, because due to the sexual aspects, it affects when and where it is appropriate to perform it, or even talk about it.

There is one more point I want to make about naming conventions, though. OK, so let's say athletic people call what they do "pole fitness," and sensual polers should then use "pole dance" or "exotic dance." But they don't want to do that because they want to imply that what they are doing is different from stripping--not that they think there's anything wrong with stripping, but they don't necessarily want people to think that's what they do. Guess what? That's exactly how many athletic polers feel about exotic pole. They don't think there's anything wrong with dancing sexy, but they don't want people to think that's what they do.

Anyways, I know it's kind of a dick move to point out a problem and not propose a solution. But I felt that the problem was that people didn't understand the problem. So I hope I helped a little bit with that. And before anyone flames me, let me point out that I'm not an interested party. I'm not attached to sexy pole, I'm not trying to get it in the Olympics; as always I'm happy just doing my own thing and working with anyone who wants to work with me, whatever their persuasion. So I don't have a horse in this race (until I come up with a solution and write a blog about that). Just want to see everyone getting along!

Image from