Sunday, December 29, 2013

Should you get a (bottle of) grip?

Grip aid preferences are one of the most popular topics for polers (right after what brand pole to buy and before what material pole to buy). Other aerialists tend to be rosin or nothin', though whether they use rock rosin or spray is also a subject of discussion. Grip aids are interesting to trade notes about, because everyone has a preference. Some swear by Mighty Grip, others like Dew Point, some love iTac and some hate it. My favorite are the grip aid "cocktails" I hear people come up with: "I layer on Dew Point and then cover with iTac on my legs plus Dry Hands on my hands and shoulders, and Cramer's on the bottom of my feet if I'm going to attempt a Starfish!" It's like bros in the gym describing their supplement stacks. "Bro, I take casein protein before and 30 grams of whey after, and 4 times a day I take a stack of creatine, caffeine, and alpha-lipoic acid, bro."

But I know many aerialists who have sworn off rosin and suggest that you do, too. Relying on grip aid can create lazy fingers and prevent you from building up the strength you need to master your art. (See also How to stick to the pole.) So should you torture yourself to build up your grip, or should you even the playing field by using as much grip aid as everyone else?

As much as many people like to be dogmatic about this, there's no cut-and-dry answer. It depends on the individual. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

What are your goals?
Are you training for a career in the circus? To win competitions? Consider stepping away from the bottle. You need to be secure in your poses in ANY conditions--hot or cold, dry or humid, fresh or exhausted.

Are you working out in your apartment for fun? Then why torture yourself? If you're going to have an enjoyable training session with grip or a frustrating one without it, you don't have a good reason to make yourself miserable. You're doing this because you love it, so you should enjoy yourself.

What are you doing?
If you're running your competition routine for the 40th time, now's a good time to go grip-naked. You've got the moves, now you need to intensify your training. It's like putting on ankle weights--you don't need them every day, but when it's competition training time you gotta give 110%. (Note: you do want to practice under performance circumstances as well, so it's also important to do some runs using exactly what grip aids you plan to use during performance.)

If you're trying out a scary new move and are afraid of falling on your head, grip away. Above all if you are actually above all: getting on a 20-foot pole for the first time? Use whatever you want! You don't want to look down, get nervous, start sweating, and slip to your death.

What is your skin chemistry like?
I agree that there are circumstances where using your skin alone are ideal, but I also hate when people get preachy and judgy about it. Why? Because they haven't walked a mile in your skin. An aerialist who has a cooperative skin chemistry scolding one who has to use rosin without understanding their skin chemistry is like a skinny person scolding a fat person for eating too much without understanding their metabolism. I don't sweat a whole lot. Lucky for me and my dainty femininity. I have friends who break out in sweatballs like Texas hail the second their heart rate goes up. It's not fair for me to tell them not to use grip aid. On the other hand, Pippi at 34 has really dry legs, but Pippi at 29 had no problem with knee holds in any weather. As a result, I am much more likely to use grip aids now because getting older sucks.

What is the weather like?
I live in Massachusetts and it's December and my apartment is cold. Maybe if poling were my full-time job, I would have the time/patience to warm up my pole in front of the space heater, warm up my body with vigorous calisthenics, get the pole all hot and bothered with some friction-inducing climbs and drops, and eventually I'd be able to pole comfortably. But I don't have time for that. (See Training when you don't have enough time.) I have to cook dinner and practice music and write this blog! I'd really rather just put on some rosin than slide out of every move for the first 20 minutes of my 30-minute practice session.

The summer is a different story. Poling in the summer is so exciting because everything is so easy! Until it's like 100 degrees and the air conditioner window unit isn't cutting it anymore. It's a delicate balance.

What's your budget?
Sport-specific grip aids tend to be $10+ per bottle, so if you go through it fast the cost adds up. If I'm honest, probably the reason I'm so stingy with using grip aids is more because I'm a cheap bastard than because I'm being a hardcore aerialist.

Of course, there are budget, DIY alternatives. I like to use Corn Husker's Lotion because I can get it at CVS for like $4. Some people use shaving cream or even hairspray (thanks for the tip Peita!). But the cheapest option is nothing.

Photo by me. Please disregard bottle of wine in the background.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Treatment of minor pole & aerial injuries

No matter how safe you are, the aerial arts hurt. Injuries, large or small, are inevitable for the air-bound athlete (see The stigma of injury.) Some are career-ending, even life-ending. Others are annoying. If you dislocate your shoulder or break a fibula, see your doctor. But for your everyday bumps and bruises, here are some handy tools that will get you back off your feet and back into the air.

(Disclaimer: I'm not a doctor, I'm not a nurse, take any of the following advice at your own risk.)

Pole/fabric burn: A+D Ointment
One of the first things you learn in pole is that pole burn is a thing (see Your first pole class.) The same is true for silks, rope, and other instruments of torture. Apparatus burn can keep you off your apparatus as you wait for it to heal.

Fortunately, during a particularly bad inner thighs burn a few years ago (you know the one polers--where you wear bike shorts under your skirt so your thighs don't rub together because OW) I had some A+D Ointment around due to a tattoo, and decided to give it a try. Problem solved. I can apply after training and get back on the pole the next day. Now, don't overdo things--and yes it is possible to get a more serious burn that will need more care (I fell out of silks in Berlin and had fabric burn that kept me in bandages for a month). But for your everyday pole burn, this trick should keep you going.

Blisters: Liquid Bandage
Blisters aren't one of the first problems that polers have (nor silks, though I can't speak to other apparatuses), but overtraining can bring them on, and then it hurts to touch things, which is not useful for training. A lot of people will soften the blisters by rubbing oils into them--but then your skin goes back to being weak and fleshy and the blisters will come right back.

When I first got my own set of silks, I really overdid the training, and after a few days my blisters were so bad that I could hardly hold the fabrics. Fortunately, my former teacher tipped me off to liquid bandage, and a CVS pharmacist confirmed that it would be my best option if I wanted to keep training in the near future. I painted that magic stuff over my lumps and I was back in the air the next day.

I covered all of this in Blisters: Soften or Toughen, but it bears repeating. If you want soft, touchable skin (and there's nothing wrong with that!!), oil away. If you want intense athletic training, don't.

Pulled muscles: KT Tape
I've always had neck problems. I remember at 8 years old waking up with a stiff neck and not being able to turn my head to the right. So when I threw my neck out a year and a half ago, it was nothing new. But it was worse than ever before, and I had performances and a workshop coming up, so something needed to be done. I had heard of KT Tape and tracked down a package at a local luxury gym. It was really complicated to apply--following the instructional videos, my mom wasn't getting it right and my dad had to take over. But once it was on? Night and day. All of a sudden I could move, I could breathe, I could hold my head up high, I could look around!

With KT Tape I was able to go back to training and complete all my commitments. And I know how well it worked, because at one point I thought I was better so I took it off. I was instantly in pain again and begged to be taped back up immediately. And then I was and I felt fine. Day and night.

Sore muscles: Epsom salts
You know what I like about hot baths? So many things that are healthy for us--exercising, dieting, waking up early--can be so unappealing. Not so for hot baths! You can relax with some bubbles and the radio and maybe some candles and a class of red wine if you're feeling fancy (and why the hell not? live it up a little!). Just make sure you add a scoop of epsom salts to the water and you'll be relieving your sore muscles as well. This is a popular treatment among aerialists and athletes of all varieties.

This one is hard to judge objectively. How do you know the extent to which the salts are helping? Maybe if your calves were sore and you soaked one in a big tub of epsom-salted water and the other in regular water? But subjectively, I do tend to feel better after one of these delightful restoration baths.

Bruises: Arnica
Even non-athletes swear by arnica oil for bruises. We all bump our shins on the coffee table sometimes! I use it and subjectively I think it works. But again, it's hard to test. You'd have to have identical bruises on both sides of your body and then just arnica up one of them. But anyways, a little bit of gel goes a long way, so it's not like using it is a huge investment.

I usually use gel, but I sometimes like to douse myself with Weleda Arnica Massage Oil after training. That's mostly just because it smells so good, though.

Most things: Ice
After 10 years of pole and aerial, I can tell you that the vast majority of injuries I've given myself, small or large, benefit from icing. Ice reduces swelling, and swelling is the body's response to lots of injuries, so it's usually the first place to go.

Icing yourself can be a pain. Do yourself a favor and invest in reusable, anatomy-specific ice packs. If you hurt your knee, buy a knee ice pack. If you hurt your neck, buy a neck one. Yes, your freezer will be more first aid than ice cream, but if you don't make it easy on yourself you're not going to do it. And you'll probably end up needing it again. Keep the 80/20 rule in mind: 80% of your injuries will probably be to the same 20% of your body. (Or, for an alternative, see my mom's idea.)

Everything: Rest
You are probably here because you are overzealous about training. (See Are you overtraining?) You hurt yourself (everyone does), and you want a shortcut so you don't have to wait for it to heal before you start training again. OK, I gave you the shortcuts. But we all know that there are no real shortcuts in life. You need to rest. Lay off a little bit. Don't expect to jump back in at full force, no matter what potions you're using. You'll only make it worse. Think long-term about your training--and your life. It's not worth really hurting yourself to get back to training a couple days sooner.

Photo by me!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Your first pole class

Going to your first pole dancing class can be intimidating. You might be confused about what to expect, what to wear, and what the workout actually consists of. Maybe you are trying pole as part of a Groupon or Living Social deal. Maybe you'll be attending a pole dancing bachelorette party. Or, maybe you're an experienced poler (self-taught, learned from friends, or "on the job" in the case of exotic dancers) who's never been to a pole studio, but wants to give it a try. Well, consider me the Welcome Wagon. Here's an introduction on what to expect at your first pole class.

Finding a studio and signing up for a class
Unless you found a studio by driving by one in your town or joining a Groupon deal, you probably started by googling for pole dancing classes in your area. You probably came across a studio's website (or maybe many studios), maybe read some Yelp reviews or even a review on this site. Some areas are glutted with pole studios and some have no options for miles around. It makes sense if you think about it: pole is a hobby that becomes obsessive quickly, so pole studios tend to multiply as students take class, get hooked, train to become instructors, and open their own studios nearby.

Most pole, aerial, and yoga studio websites use an online class sign-up site called MindBody. So the look-and-feel of the signup pages may be familiar from site to site, but unfortunately a lot of administrators have a really hard time configuring MindBody in a way that makes sense. You might have problems such as not knowing which tab to click on to get the class you want, not being able to find out how much a class costs until you create a login, and differing schedules on the studio's web pages vs. the studio's signup site. Hopefully you end up on a site that is well-organized and can sign up for class without too much of a headache.

What to bring and wear
The first question most newbies have is, "what should I wear?" It's actually pretty tricky to dress for pole. You need enough skin exposed so your skin can grip the pole, but you need to be covered enough that you don't have any wardrobe malfunctions. Even something that seems reasonable on the ground, like shorts, can look very different when you're upside-down (and everyone can see up your shorts legs).

The standard uniform for experienced polers is: tight-fitting "booty" or "boy" shorts, a sports bra, and a tank top layered over the sports bra (you might want to take the tank to off to have more skin to grip with, so don't plan on wearing one of those that are a tank top with a sports bra built-in). However, at your first class you probably won't do moves that require as much skin grip, so you're probably fine in long pants. Think "yoga wear."

Some studios allow/encourage students to dance in "stripper heels," but barefoot is the norm.

You also want to bring a water bottle. Some studios make you bring your own yoga mat, but that's rare, so if it's not specified on the website don't worry about it. I like to bring a little snack (power bar or something) for classes that are over an hour so I don't get "hangry." Finally, experienced polers will bring some kind of grip aid, but if it's your first class you probably don't have any grip aid yet. They will probably sell some at the reception desk and/or have some you can use in the studio.

Arriving at the studio
Plan to arrive at the studio plenty early on your first day, to leave time for finding it (some of them can be really hard to find), signing waivers, getting dressed, and just having time to look around and chat. Parking might also be an issue in some areas.

Size, layout, and amenities vary drastically from studio to studio. You may be in a cushy lounge area, or you may be in a single pole room. This largely depends on how much money the studio has. But don't be put off if you end up in a single, unimpressive room--it often means that the owners are more interested in the art of pole than in making money, so you might get better training in the end.

Most studios have a reception desk that may or may not be manned. If it's not, someone will wander out and see you waiting to be helped eventually. The first thing they will do after meeting you is give you a waiver to sign. It's a pretty typical legal form that says they're not responsible if you injure yourself. Don't be alarmed, every studio has this. (But yes, pole dancing is dangerous and you can hurt yourself. Be careful!)

Of course, not all pole classes are in a pole studio per se. Some may be in a gym or a dance studio. Oh, and keep in mind that policies on men taking class vary from studio to studio as well. If it's going to be too creepy for you to train alongside dudes, check on the studio's policy first.

Getting dressed
Bigger pole studios will have locker rooms and even showers. Smaller ones might just have a bathroom that has to be shared among the students. That means you need to arrive early enough to get dressed and wait in line for the bathroom. Alternatively you could just show up dressed already, depending on where you're coming from.

Waiting for class
Depending on the layout of the studio, there might be a lounge area to wait in. Or maybe you are in the pole room, trying to stay out of the way of the class before you.

It's possible that some friendly student will introduce themselves to you, but don't feel bad if they don't. Pole studios can be a little cliquish. However, we polers are REALLY excited to introduce new people to our art, so if you tell people it's your first time they'll probably be really happy to talk to you about it and tell you how much you're going to love it.

If it's a "teaser" or "taster" class, you'll be there with a lot of other newcomers. Some of them will be pretty nervous and chatty, so it's easy to make friends. :)

On the other hand, maybe you're there with a bachelorette party. There could be a regular class before yours, or there could be another bachelorette party. Either way it's nice if you can get a peek at what's going on so you know what to expect (and see all the smiling sweaty people having fun).

Start and warmup
Once it's time to start, everyone will pick a pole. It's up to you whether you want to be in front where you can see the teacher best or in back where you don't feel like everybody's watching you. Also, in some studios the poles aren't all the same--they might be different diameters, and some might be set to spin mode and some to static. But it doesn't matter much on your first day.

The norm is one student per pole, but some crowded classes will have 2 or 3 students sharing a pole. Many studios have an across-the-board "one student per pole" policy, though, and won't let the class get overbooked.

You'll probably find a place against the wall to stash your stuff and the teacher will warm you up. A warmup often includes stretching and/or conditioning (usually a lot of situp-like exercises). If it's a more "sexy" style pole class, there may be some "booty popping" in there as well.

Then you get to the meat of class. The teacher will demonstrate and explain something, and then you'll try it a few times.

And the first thing that will happen is you'll bang your shin on the pole and yell "OW!!" Congratulations, you've earned your first merit badge: your first pole bruise! Expect your legs to look "like moldy bread" the next day, as one aerialist colorfully put it to me after her first lesson. Yes, the bruising subsides over time. Most of us only get bruises when we're learning a new move. Right now, all the moves are new for you, so you have a lot of merit badges to collect.

The next thing you'll notice is the pole burn. Yes, pole burn is a thing. It's like rope burn, but caused by the pole rubbing against your skin. Expect any body part that's not bruised to be red and raw.

I know this sounds really awful and horrible, but keep in mind that everyone in the room went through this and came back because poling is amazing. Trust me, it's worth it.

So you'll try some moves and you'll probably get some and not get some. But what you will definitely get is a workout. And the best part is, you will be concentrating so hard on getting the moves that you won't even notice that you're exercising.

Some classes teach little routines, especially bachelorette party and teaser classes. In my experience, the majority of regular pole classes are not based on routines. On the other hand, some classes have a short "improv" session at the end, where the teacher puts on a song and you can dance or trick out or just practiced what you've learned. I've noticed that by the time it's "improv" time, most people are too tired to dance anyways.

After class
Make sure you eat something after your workout. A soak in the tub with epsom salts can help with the muscle soreness you'll feel. Most importantly, do it again! You might book some classes at the same studio, or maybe you want to try out every different studio you can before you decide which to make your home. Either way, I can almost guarantee you that you're going to get on your computer that night and figure out how much it would cost to get a pole for your house.

Welcome to the club.

Image of Intrigue Fitness from