Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Facility Review: Chung Dam Spa, Cheltenham PA

Part of my time in Philadelphia I spent hanging out with my old circus teacher Cypher (see Masterclass with Cypher Zero). It was coincidence that we were in town at the same time. So we did typical circus stuff: training at an aerial space, consuming many calories, and hitting the spa.

Cypher wanted to check out Chung Dam Spa, a smaller Korean spa outside Philadelphia. So we headed there the Saturday afternoon before I came home. As with the last time I went to a Korean spa (see Facility Review: King Spa, Chicago), I was having a Very Bad Day, and a couple of hot tubs sounded like a good idea.

Chung Dam was way smaller and less impressive than King Spa or Spa Castle, but we weren't there to be impressed, we were there to relax and restore.

Be forewarned: unlike the larger spas, almost everything here is gender-segregated. Only the salt room and lounge are coed. So, it's not a great place to go and spend time with a member of the opposite sex. Also: we were both given a set of towels, but only the ladies get bathrobes. (The locker rooms had baskets of the typical Korean spa uniforms that you could wear into the common area.)

Here's a weird thing: as in other places, there's an area to take off and store your shoes before you go into the main locker room. But the shoe storage was just cubby holes, not lockers. So there was a sign up next to them advising against leaving your shoes unattended. Uhhhh, so that's why there are shoe cubbies right at the area where you're supposed to remove your shoes? (True story: I had a pair of sandals stolen from the NYSC locker room once. They weren't even nice. WTF?)

So once you get dressed or undressed, there are showers that you are required to take before using the hot tubs/not hot tubs.

The big question everyone has: Do you HAVE to be naked? I'm going to go with a yes-I-think for the hot tubs. There was a sign that said you could not even wear a bathing suit in the "lower body tub." But only one of the three tubs was labeled "lower body tub." I'm going to assume they meant all 3 tubs, because they were all about the same size, so what's the difference?

In the hot tub another American woman struck up a conversation with me. It was her second time and she was there for the salt scrub (a typical treatment in Korean spas), and she looked at me like I had 2 heads when I said I wasn't getting one. Side note: I cannot relate to people who talk about massages and spa pedicures and scrubs saying things like "It's ONLY $60 and it's SO WORTH IT it's like for 2 hours." As a person who's been broke and busy for most of my adult life, neither spending $60 on recreation nor laying around doing nothing for 2 hours sounds appealing. I don't even like the time and money investment in mani-pedis. I'd much rather get my eyebrows threaded. You're in you're out, here's $8, I look good.

The tub that was labeled "lower body tub" was not hot at all. Lukewarm. No one was in it. The third tub was a cold one with a stream of water dropping into the middle so you could give yourself a nice shoulder massage under it.

After that I went into the coed area to touch base with Cypher. The lounge was nothing special, although the recliner I ended up in was comfy. There were muscle magazines with frighteningly veiny men on them. NOT RELAXING.

What was cool was the salt room. I'd been in salt rooms before, but none that had A GIANT PILE OF SALT IN THEM.

I wasn't totally sure what to do with it. I tried rubbing it on my skin, but that didn't feel like anything special. I figured it was too hot to bury yourself in. (It was a salt sauna, not just a regular room with salt on the floor.) I settled for sitting on the bench and digging my feet into it. Later, when I looked through the window and saw other people in there, I saw them laying down in it. I guess that's what you're supposed to do? Anyways, it reminded me of being in Bolivia.

Finally, it was time to check out all the other saunas. These were back in the gender-separated areas, so you could be naked if you wanted, but not everyone was. Some people wore their robes, some wore their uniforms. If you're gonna be naked though, you should probably lay on a towel. That's why they give you like 3 towels.

The "hot clay with charcoal room" was pretty nice and smelled good. The "warm granite room" was super lame. It was supposed to be 98 degrees but it didn't even feel warm enough to be a summer day. I was like, "Is this thing on?" No one else was in there either, so I guess they agreed with me. Or it really wasn't on.

There was a steam room that according to the website is supposed to be "mugwort" but it seemed pretty normal to me. Still nice though. Steam rooms are my favorite.

There was also a regular sauna, which always seems wasted in a Korean spa. It's like "WE HAVE 10 KINDS OF SAUNAS and also a normal one."

All in all, it's not a mega-spa, and it's probably more worth it if you're getting a salt scrub (the $20 entry fee is included for that). But it's clean, cozy, and a nice place to relax if you're in the area.

Chung Dam photo from
Photo of me by Cypher Zero

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Snark is bullying.

As with many feminist-tinged communities, polers are apt to speak out against bullying. The power to love and accept your body as it is is a defining tenant of pole for some people, and as cattiness and intimidation is as rampant as it is in any female-dominated industry, taking a stand against such behavior is smiled upon.

What startles me is that the same people who say they are pro-supportiveness and anti-bullying will use social media to say, or, more passive-aggressively, retweet and share mean-spirited comments and captions under the guise of humor.

What's the god-damn difference?

Is it "ok" because it's funny? You think bullies don't think they're being funny? They think they're fucking hilarious. They're not name-calling and teasing to be jerks, they're doing it to get laughs. Any stand-up comic can tell you that nothing feels as powerful as making people laugh.

Is it "ok" because you're shaming a faceless group of people instead of shaming a specific person? I guess that makes racism, misogyny, and prejudice against all kinds of people "ok."

Is it "ok" because you're doing it out in the open and not behind someone's back? Well, when your victim reads your snark and has their feelings hurt, they can take solace in the fact that you're humiliating them in public.

I think I have a sense of humor. I use sarcasm, irony, wordplay, self-deprecation, and I think I'm clumsy enough to add slapstick to the list. And as you can plainly read in the pages of this blog, I have opinions and am not shy about expressing them. But I really do try to stop and think about how my words will be taken. Maybe that's more practical than big-hearted of me. I'm not famous or popular and I can't afford to make enemies. But I'm not going to try and get popular by putting people down for a few yuks, either.

I've come out against this kind of bullying before (see Four Things Women need to Stop Doing to Each Other and Stop Skinny-Bashing), but I was probably too specific. Let me open it up.

I don't always wear nice shoes. I accidentally write your instead of you're. Oh, and I sometimes use emoticons. ;) If making fun of me for these things and getting likes and lols makes you happy, well, I guess it's wrong of someone's happiness to make me sad, but... that's kind of sad.

And if you wear leggings for pants, you can still be my friend.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Studio Review: Philly Premier Pole Studio

I'm in Philly on music business for a few weeks. Since I finally have immediate access to urban public transportation for a bit (no commuter rail for me!) I thought I'd take the opportunity to get out and pole a bit.

Philly Premier Pole Studio was the place I really wanted to check out, partly because they were on my trolley line, and also because they accept male students (not into all classes, but the non-sexy ones). I like to support equal-opportunity studios when I have the chance, and anyways I like training with guys. Plus they had an interesting line-up of classes. There was one called "Modern Pole Dance." the blurb on their website reads:
This class is designed to in corporate the modern styles of Horton & Graham to the aerial performance of Pole. In this class we will learn to think of pole as a tool to take dance to the next level.      
I don't know who Horton & Graham are, but "aerial performance" and "the next level" lead me to believe that it would be the most advanced class, so I signed up for it. If nothing else, whoever was leading the class/wrote the description had a vision for what they wanted it to be, so it would be different. 

Tuesday night I made my way into Philly Premier Pole Studio, and the first thing to hit me was the smell. There was a conditioning class finishing up, and the stuffy room reeked of sweat. You might be saying to yourself, "ewwwww, sweat!" or "oh good, sweat!" and which of those rolls off our tongue probably says a lot about what kind of pole studio you belong in. For me, it's not ambrosia but I know I have to adapt to it if I want a good workout.

I arrived early, and nobody was all jumping up to talk to me, so I butted my way into a few conversations and met some nice people. Since I am self-trained, I mostly go "out" to pole for social purposes.

One of the first things I noticed about the equipment was that they had a handful of brass poles. Most studios economize by going for chrome or stainless steel, so brass is a rare luxury. You could tell from looking, though, that the poles weren't brass due to any splurge, but because they were old school. The studio has been around since before mass-produced dance poles were a big business, so they had homemade, stripper-style (50mm, brass, static) poles. The rest of the poles were chrome X-Poles. 

The class itself was SO not what I expected. It was more like a ballet class for polers. We did all the ballet positions, and pliés, and across-the-floor spins both with and without the pole. 

Now, you may not know (or believe) this about me, but I have ballet experience. I took musical theatre-major ballet, tap, & jazz in college, then tried to keep up ballet & jazz after graduation. I gave up on ballet within a year, realizing that my body was better suited to jazz, and eventually let my half-hearted attempts at intermediate jazz trickle off after a few years, admitting to myself that I just wasn't a good dancer. (I have good rhythm & energy, but lack basic skills like staying upright and touching my toes.) So even though I suck at ballet, I know how ballet class works.

The thing about taking ballet as an adult who didn't grow up with it is that there's not really room for true remedial dancers. Even "beginner" classes are mostly populated with ladies who did ballet as children and now want to get back into it just for fun. I mean, during my couple years of ballet I managed to remain more or less the worst student in the class. Dance is sort of an old boys' club, and if you're not "born" into it by being inducted by the age of 3, there's never really a place for you.

This is a drawn-out way of saying that taking an ACTUAL remedial ballet class can be really helpful, and it was nice to do my pliés and feel like one of the more experienced students for a change, instead of the class dunce like I always was. 

After we were done playing ballet, we worked on the beginning of a routine. It (and the class in general) was meant as a study in transitions. We didn't do any moves more complicated than a fan kick or a--what do you call a reverse grab spin when you don't throw/grab, but start with both hands on the pole? Well, that sort of thing. (btw, I appreciated that the teacher, Katherine, didn't freak out when I told her I have shoulder problems. Anyone with an injury or physical problems knows what I mean.)

I think the whole chunk we did was only 4 bars, and we learned it slowly. It was like a normal dance class, where you learn what move goes on which beat, and the teacher goes back and shows you the tricky parts again, and you run it in chunks and at the end you run it all the way through a million times.

There must have been 6 students, because when we did Across The Floor we were in lines of 3 and 3. 2 of the students were men, which is a good ratio for pole.

Considering what a short & easy routine it was, we got a hard workout in (or at least I did). The teacher filmed the last round of the routine. (Students could opt out.) I think the idea was to give outsiders an idea of what the class was about, which is s good idea, since I obviously hadn't known. I don't think I got caught in any of the video, since I was in the corner, so don't keep an eye peeled for me on the website or anything.

My one complaint is that we only did the routine on one side. We did it a million times and it was driving me crazy not to be able to "even myself out" by switching sides for a few rounds. 

Even though the class had me winded, my inner pole trixter felt neglected, and when they didn't kick us out at the end I played a bit. Nothing show-offy, just to scratch the pole itch. (I was too sweaty to do most stuff anyways!) Some other students pole played, and some stretched. I got to chat with Katherine and some of the other students a bit. They were really cool and respectful of me as an outsider, which means a lot to me. At the end of the day, whether or not I have fun at your studio has more to do with how nice you are to me than what I learned. That might not sound like a good policy, but tell me it's not true in your book, too.

Generally I don't love group routines in pole, because pole is an individual (or potentially team) art and not an ensemble. But I do think it's good for polers to have a safe place to learn classical technique. There are so few places where you can really do that, and it's so beneficial.

Philly Premier has 16 poles, but some of them are in tight spaces. They apparently have another space with 16 foot poles (!!), but there are only 4 so it doesn't get used for classes regularly. The main pole studio location a few blocks from city hall (and next to Nodding Head brewery where I enjoyed some frosty pints with friends afterwards) is über-convenient. Overall, I'll stick with my nose's initial impression. If you want to sweat, come here. If you want frills & pampering, go somewhere else. 

Equipment: 4 homemade brass 50mm poles, 12 X-Pole chrome 50mm poles
Amenities: some chairs?
Drop-in price: $15