“Why do you dance like a stripper?” Confessions of an exotic pole dancer

By Sveindís Þórhallsdóttir

The clear blue water in the pool reflects the endless stream of sunshine on this beautiful day. There is not a cloud in sight. Laying on my stomach on a pink towel with a large photo of a kitten, sweat is dripping down my forehead. 26°C warmth is hard on my nordic skin. I still love being on a vacation in Spain. Especially since I have my best friend, Viola Thorn, with me. She is laying on her back on a green towel, her light, Finnish skin gently kissed by the sunlight. She’s wearing thick sunglasses and a blue bikini. Her legs bearing a few lightly colored bruises. Visual marks of the struggles of being a pole dancer. Pole …. Dancer. The words linger in my mind.

“Viola” I begin. Her head turns towards me, her attention focused. “How did you get into pole dancing?” She is silent for a brief moment, thinking. “Was it a bit over two years ago?” She wonders. “I began going to the studio in my hometown after I had dreamt that I was pole dancing… It all started with that dream”. We both laugh at the coincidence. Both thankful her sleeping mind created that scenario one fateful night. Otherwise we wouldn’t have met. “At first I went to random beginner classes, but after realizing how much I enjoyed it, I bought a monthly subscription and joined a training group. I started practicing more seriously.” She says as she raises herself up onto her elbows, grabs a bottle of water and has a few sips. The air is calm, offering no relief in the form of a soft breeze. The children from our neighbourhood are playing in the pool, splashing and jumping into it. Their laughter fills the otherwise silent atmosphere.

“I know you love pole…but you quit the studio a while ago, though….Why?” I ask her. She sits up, turning her back to the sun. “I just felt I was not getting what I was looking for there, anymore.” She pauses briefly, before continuing “The classes all have the same set-up, they are very trick oriented, like ‘now we learn this trick’, ‘now we learn that trick…In a way I think it is important for a beginner to do that…but then you need something more. You need to learn to connect them, and I felt I wasn’t getting that so much from my studio, so I decided to do it on my own… at home, instead.” I nod. I do agree with her. My experience is similar to hers. “I definitely feel classes are very trick oriented…I don’t know if this is just the method of the nordic countries…” I softly muse. “Might be.” She answers. “After a while I started to really wonder what is really ‘me’. What defines me? How do I like expressing myself?” She says, gently rubbing her bruised knees. “I bought some heels and began practicing dancing with them… it was really hard, but so much fun. I felt at home. I realized exotic pole is more my style, rather than the acrobatic, modern type of dance my former studio focuses on.” I smile, thinking about her shoe collection that has grown massively in the last few months. “I’m so happy you found your style” I say, reaching for the water bottle.  “I love all of your flow videos, your attitude and your amazing floorwork. You’re getting so good at it!” I praise, genuinely very impressed with her progress.

“I don’t know if it’s a nordic country thing, but we seem to almost be afraid of exotic style, or judgemental towards it, not wanting association with it at all.” I wonder out loud. We’ve talked about this a million times before, yet it keeps surprising us. How can people be judgemental towards any certain type of movement? “Yeah” she says. “Like the time I asked my former studio for more choreography classes… they told me they offer a few but those classes aren’t so popular. Then, when I asked specifically for exotic pole classes, they literally told me that the studio is more ‘acrobatic and dance.’” She shakes her head in disbelief and again lays down on her back, allowing the sun to warm her face again.  “By saying that, they basically told me exotic dancing is not dance…. Why? It’s not any less dancing than any other type of dance.” I snort. I hate when people negatively judge other people’s choices, just because they themselves don’t understand. “I think some people are afraid to move on their own” She continues. “They just like being in a class where they are led through everything…told to do this, do that. People are afraid of creating their own movement… not to mention exotic movement, that scares them beyond anything. Because they don’t know how to move”. I wholeheartedly agree with her. “Pole dance came from the strip clubs.” I say. “I hate how people want to do pole, but not be associated with strippers. As if being a stripper is so beneath everyone. I can think of many professions worse than showing off your boobs on stage. Big corporations, corrupt politicians, animal cruelty… I could go on and on. But the world has more problem with a woman openly expressing sexuality, being sexy, than all of those things. It’s crazy”. I feel my voice trembling from anger. I take a sip of water. Viola nods. “When you think about pole dancing, you immediately think about strippers. The association is always going to be there. Embrace it, don’t be ashamed.” She says, offering advice I think every pole newbie needs to hear. “When you watch professional routines, you see DANCE. Not just tricks. Not combos of tricks connected by a few steps. You see effortless looking flow, connection from one to the next. It’s beautiful. That’s what pole dancing is all about, to me. I want to perfect that. I already know a lot of tricks, but I want to learn to connect them effortlessly in dance.” She says. “For me, exotic style is that connection. Stripper style is all about flowing from one point to the next. Having attitude. Showing how fierce you are.” She adds, grinning. I can almost see the spark in her eye behind her dark sunglasses. The passion, it’s there.

“It’s not about how many tricks you can do in a row, it’s about all the little things that come together and make the picture huge. How you walk. Making the body rolls more dramatic. Sliding the hands. Little skips. Where you look. It all matters so much in exotic pole.” I smile, thinking of exactly how much the little things matter. “Unfortunately, the community in your country doesn’t feel the same way about exotic style…do you feel you’ve met some discrimination for openly liking it?” She sighs at my question and takes a moment before answering. “Definitely. As I said, they kind of told me exotic dancing is not real dancing. That sucks. I shouldn’t have to put myself in a certain box of dance to express myself. Dancing is expression. Exotic dancing is expression. If I’m forced to dance differently, that’s not ME.” She turns to lying on her stomach, sunshine again reaching her back. “I think people definitely are ashamed…people are scared of freestyling, showing emotions, but in exotic style you have to show specific emotion, and that’s almost impossible for some people.” She adds. “It does seem to scare them.” I say. “People seem to be ashamed of women expressing sensuality and being confident.” I add. “Yes, sexuality is a big part of human nature…there are for example strip clubs everywhere, sexuality is displayed in movies, ads, papers…everywhere” She tells me. “But when you openly want to practice it, then all of a sudden that’s a bad thing. I almost feel like people think that when I exotic dance, I am somehow degrading myself…that couldn’t be further from the truth!” She exclaims. “Yes! How can you degrade yourself by simply dancing?” I ask. “Hopefully, one day, we can all appreciate and respect each other, no matter our dance styles, choices or opinions.”

Click here to visit Viola Thorn on instagram

Photos by Wallineva photograhpy

 

Emily Laura’s tips for planning your training session

Training outside of lessons can be really hard! How many times to you get to the studio and have zero motivation and no idea what to do?

Here are my top tips on how to plan and have a great training session:

1. Plan your week. This doesn’t have to be super detailed but an outline of what you want to do on each day will really help shape your training week. I personally like to designate certain days to certain types of pole – one day for strength training, one for bending, one for combos and so on. I know I can’t do a crazy bendy day followed by a strength day so I make sure there’s a gap in between.

2. Plan your session. Even if it’s a quick plan written before you start, knowing your goals will focus your session. Here are the elements I plan:

Warm Up – warm up is so important. Start with some generally mobilisation, and then focus on movements that mirror the rest of your training session. For example, if you were focusing on splits moves, warm up your whole body and then focus on hamstrings and hip flexors to make sure they are ready! Aim for at least 10-­15 minutes.

Floorwork / Flow – using floorwork and flow is a great way to ensure you are really warmed up and it helps get the creative juices flowing (of course this could be a training session alone). You can experiment with movements you already have, linking different ones together. Alternatively, put a track on, move to the music and see what happens. Why not set a challenge, like keeping one limb on the ground at all time?

Stretch / Strength Training – now that you are super warm, turn your attention to the moves you want to train. If you need to stretch or train your strength, now is a good time.

Tricks / Combos – which tricks do you want to train today? I personally like a mixture of old tricks that I’m perfecting, and new tricks to challenge myself and keep it fresh.

Cool Down – make sure you do a cool down to allow your body to recover. A gentle stretch session is so beneficial.

3. Have a long term goal. Whether it’s a performance, competition, level of fitness or a particular trick, a long term goal will keep you driven and motivated.

4. Write notes from your training session. What went well, what do you need to work on Use this to plan your next training sessions.

5. Build in rest days. This one is so important. Overtraining is as bad, sometimes worse than not training at all. Your body needs time to recover from your session so make sure you build in rest days and recovery time to your plan. There is nothing more demotivating that having no energy to train.

6. Learn to walk away from a bad training session. This is my best tip and it has taken me along time to learn! Sometimes, for whatever reason, your training session just won’t go to plan no matter how hard you try. It’s okay to walk away from it, to stop training or to train something else. You don’t have to stick to your plan. Listen to your body, if it’s not happening, there’s probably a reason for it. It’s okay to leave it for that day and come back to it another time.

7. Progress pictures. So, not really part of a plan but taking “start” pictures will really help you see how far you have come and will motivate you to go futher!

 

Top 5 Freestyle Tips by Tiffany Jane

Whether you’ve heard the perfect song, want to increase your movement vocabulary, or just want to dance like no one is watching…

Here are some quick tips from Tiffany Jane (@titojane) that will help jump start your freestyle journey.

Megan Dyga (@merghern) in the Flier top & Bombshell bottom

1. Plant yourself

This is a great place to start for both newbies and experienced freestylers.  Start in any orientation around the pole and plant your feet in one spot. Now begin dancing and explore what types of shapes you can create all while keeping your feet in one spot.  What are the ways you can curl yourself around the pole? Explore twisting and turning while standing or coming down to the floor, all while keeping your feet stationary.

2. Clothing

Find any article of clothing, like a loose shirt, sweater, skirt, dress, pants, scarf, leg warmers or socks.  You can wear several layers or just one. Play with movement that focuses on incorporating the use of clothing. What are ways you can pull it off or put it back on while still dancing and moving around the pole? Clothing can add a new layer of creativity.

3. Body Parts

Assign yourself a body part that will be the initiation of all your movement. For example, let your head or heart lead your dance and be the focal point of your movement.  Challenge yourself by trying less obvious body parts, like the elbow or knee, and see what movement your body uncovers.

4. Levels

Challenge yourself by dancing at different levels.  Levels can be floor work (ex: nothing above the crawling position or lying down), standing, or up in the air.  If you’re up in the air, start with a simple sit or leg hang. Linger in the position for a few seconds and explore different hand/arm movements, leg shapes, and body twists.  Naturally, this often leads to another move, uncovering new transitions and flow.

5. Practice

Practice makes progress! Freestyling is a challenge and requires just as much attention as fonjis and handsprings.  Start your freestyle with eyes closed, feel your breath, the floor, the pole, move without looking at yourself in a mirror.  Clear your mind or use those emotions to guide your movement.  Record yourself and watch it after, you’ll be surprised what you find. Sometimes you’ll only like 10 seconds of dance to a 4 minute song, but eventually 10 seconds, will turn to 15, 20, 30 seconds.

The beautiful thing about freestyle, and dance in general, is the infinite movement possibilities and creations that come out of it.

The tips above are designed to make freestyling less overwhelming and daunting by giving the dancer a focal point on where to begin their freestyle exploration. 

Remember not to take yourself too seriously and embrace all the new movement your body is about to experience.

–Tiffany Jane (@titojane)

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Elbow tendinopathy – a common injury in the pole dance world

elbow tendinopathy

By Phoebe Armfield

Elbow tendinopathy (which leads to elbow pain) is quite common among pole dancers. I’ve had it in both elbows….at the same time….while trying to train for a competition! As a physio and a poler I often get asked for advice, so hopefully some of the tips I share here will help if you are suffering elbow pain or prevent elbow tendinopathy in the future.

I’ve found that most pole related elbow pain is caused by disruption of either the forearm flexor and/or extensor tendons. A little anatomy lesson: The muscles on the anterior surface of your forearm (the same side as the palm of your hand) are the forearm flexors. Most of these muscles all join at one point (smaller than your little fingernail) at your elbow. If you have your elbow by your side, this point is the closest boney prominence to your body. Similarly with the forearm extensors all the muscles on the back of your forearm (hairy side) attach at a single point at the boney prominence on the furthest side of your elbow in relation to your body.

So what you ask? Well, as we are gripping onto the pole and contorting our bodies into weird and wonderful positions the muscles of our forearms are working overtime to assist our hands to grip, as well as stabilise the wrists and elbow joints while they carry the full weight of our bodies! The muscles of the forearm are pulled from the small attachment point at the elbow towards the hand, and this can create strain on the attachment point, which can then lead to elbow pain.

How do we fix it? There are a few techniques which I’ve found to be super helpful in relieving elbow strain and pain.

Myofascial release – The best thing about it is that you can do it yourself! As discussed the cause is the muscles being pulled to the hand away from the elbow…so, we can reverse this by using your fist to massage TOWARDS the elbow in one motion to give the attachment point some slack. I do this throughout my training sessions mostly but can be done when not training. In my experience this is by far the most effective technique. It will take time, weeks to months for the pain to completely alleviate but don’t be disheartened – you will return to your former glory!

Bracing – You can buy elbow braces for around $30 from most chemists or sports clinics. They are a band that fits around the top of the forearm just under the elbow and acts to offload the attachment point. They can work to alleviate pain while training but may not fix the cause and can get in the way while training.

Ice – this is good after training sessions if the elbow has been stirred up or inflamed. This will not fix the cause just reduce the inflammation caused by the latest training session.

Heat – this can reduce pain in between training sessions, however it will actually increase blood flow and inflammation to the area so avoid using it just after a training session. Again it will not treat the cause of injury.

Stretching and strengthening exercises – Stretching can help but can also stretch the forearm muscles the wrong way pulling the muscles off the elbow attachment point which is what we want to avoid. Eccentric strength exercises are suggested by research, however I find these only aggravate the elbow so these exercises should be saved for after the pain has resolved.

And lastly….

Rest – um… but who wants to rest from pole?

Hopefully this helps shed some light on elbow pain for polers! Let me know if you have any other helpful tips!

Phoebe xxoo

P.S. Large poles (e.g. 50mm) can be a culprit, especially if you have little hands. Try using a thinner pole if available. Or give yourself a break from moves or positions that cause lots of pain, just train something else and come back to it SLOWLY.

 

Tips for pole dance – flexibility tips to help you get your splits

 

Having a flat front split is a key goal for most pole dancers, for good reason – splits look beautiful, on & off the pole! Here we share some of our best tips for working toward a flat front split on the floor. We will deal with centre/straddle splits in another tutorial.

Firstly, which muscles are we targeting when we stretch our front splits? Gaining flexibility in our hamstrings and hip flexors is most important when we’re trying to get our split. Most positions in which you fold forward while your leg is straight will target your hamstrings, while bending backward slightly while in a lunge position will target your hip flexor. Tip 5 is a link to stretches that target these muscles.

Top tips for front splits.

1. Practice often, even for short periods. While a long stretching session is ideal, sometimes we just don’t have much time between pole classes to devote to stretching. Often, I’m surprised how much progress students can make when they implement even just 10 minutes of stretching at regular intervals. Developing the habit of stretching is just as important as doing each stretch correctly. Reflect on your daily routine – you’ll most likely find that you have 10 minutes a day in which you could incorporate stretching. Stretching while sitting in front of the TV/working on the computer/checking facebook really works! I often eat dinner sitting on the floor in straddle! If you’re stretching without a prior warm up, be extra gentle, never push to the point of pain.

2. Relax your MIND. Your body should still be active during splits, but to develop a deeper stretching practice it’s essential to train your mind to relax. Once this happens, your body will start to accept stretching, you will progress faster, and it will be much more enjoyable. Start by holding your splits for 15 seconds, then with time, work up to holding them for a minute or even two. Try focusing on your breath & notice where you’re holding unnecessary tension (e.g. shoulders, face). Slow your breath down & listen to your internal dialogue. Be aware of negative thoughts, but don’t hold on to them.

3. Keep your hips square. Keeping your hips in line with each other as you face forward is important for stretching the hip flexor of the leg that’s behind you. By keeping your hips square, you will gain flexibility more quickly, and your body will remain evenly balanced. Balance between the left and right sides of the body will be important when you start to do standing splits/leg mounts/needle scale/handstands. To keep your hips square, focus on keeping the hips in line as you go down. When you start to feel the hips opening out sideways, draw them back into line using strength & stop here until you feel you can go lower with your hips square. Use yoga blocks to rest your hands on for support, so you can relax your shoulders. When you’re performing or are on the pole, you might let your hips open out to get a deeper split, but keeping your hips square during training will get you on the floor in splits much more quickly.

4. Start practicing oversplits before your splits are flat on the floor. Many students think they need to wait until their splits are flat on the floor before they start oversplit stretching (splits with either the front or back foot raised). Not so! In fact, oversplit stretching can start when you are 10cm (4 inches) or more from the floor & will help your splits become flat much quicker! Use a foam yoga block to raise your front foot of the floor (heel resting on the block). Place yoga blocks or other supports under your hands, keep your hips square & relax your shoulders. Repeat with the back foot raised (top of the foot resting on the block). Once you’ve stretched your oversplit, take the block away and stretch your splits on the floor again. You might be surprised how much closer you are to the floor!

5. Target your hips & hamstrings. Here are videos of stretches that target your hips and hamstrings by master trainer, Kit Laughlin. This video shows an excellent wall lunge targeting the hip flexor and here is another video showing a lunge hamstring stretch. Both are excellent stretches to do prior to going into full split.

6. Always train both sides!

Happy poling!

From indi @ indipolewear