Pole Sports: The Great Debate Continues…

Hey everyone. I hope you had a good weekend. I did a 10k hill run in Durham on Saturday, which was hard, and then I had my first pole lesson in about 8 months yesterday!!

 

This year, I haven’t had any time to train pole myself. And when I have trained, I’ve looked like a little fish that’s out of water, flopping around all over the place as my guns skinny arms let me down. These bad boys have shrank!

 

So, sadly, I’ve stepped back from teaching, and yesterday – with all the nervousness of a new girl at school – I once more became the student in the hope of actually progressing. After all that hard work last year on my splits, I’m still where I was on January 1st! Don’t worry though, the splits won’t dominate this blog like they did this time last year. I’d feel like a fraud. Although I could just recycle all last year’s posts…

 

My teacher and I looked at some moves that were new for me, and worked out what the focus areas will be moving forward. There’ll be more strength training, more back and shoulder flexibility, and more ab work. My shoulders are sore today, but that’s only a good sign (I tell myself, as I grimace just trying to bring my coffee cup to my lips).

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And, if it wasn’t the biggest coincidence, when I was eating my recovery chocolate (an absolute must in my book), I read this article: Pole Dancing: Olympic sport or strip-club sleaze? . The basic arguments are:

  • This journo went to the World Pole Sports Championships with a number of preconceptions, including doubt as to whether it could be a sport
  • She found out that she was wrong

Ok, I admit, that’s a pretty basic summary….

 

What she discovered was that the world of pole is dominated by supportive women, not the ‘dirty mac brigade’. She learned that it was in the same family as gymnastics, but was less dangerous as the pole itself supports you (says a mother of a 13 year old competitor), and that it’s easier to actually do because you don’t need as much room. This skeptical journo closed the article on a positive note, and wondered if ‘anything could get (her) flying like a human flag’. And everyone was happy.

pole sport

 

What the article doesn’t do is apologise for the sport, or it’s background: the competitor she speaks with credit strippers for helping make today’s incarnation what it is, and in fact one girl believes that it’s empowering to have taken pole dance out of the strip clubs and developed it into a competitive sport.

 

I don’t want every post I write on this to have a slightly defensive tone, but when I write them, I can’t help it. Sorry guys! I am working to remove this huge chip from my shoulder. In August I wrote about pole dance vs pole fit, and said that as long as UK pole has a conservative view towards the sexier element of the sport, I would prefer the Aussie way (which is all sexiness). However, this article today pointed out that if it wants to be taken seriously as a sport, it needs to set certain limits. And apparently these limits lie with cleavage and actually taking clothes off on stage.

 

I can understand this. To conquer people’s preconceptions, the sport must be seen to differentiate itself from ‘titillation’. Even though the journo closes the article more positively, she still litters the article with phrases like ‘gyrating on a pole’ (twice) and ‘grinding prop’, when her quotes from the performers themselves make pains to show how the sport has actually progressed. Which proves the whole point.

 

So…. I guess I’m backtracking a little from my stance in August. While it’s not my personal preference, I do admire what these people are trying to do: bring down the conceptual barriers surrounding the sport, and which stop people from seeing it for what it actually is. If you see two people doing the same dance – but one is in a sports crop top and pants, and the other is in a glittery bikini – I wonder how your interpretations would differ. These little things do matter if it is to be taken seriously, even if they do eliminate a certain kind of art from the whole proceedings.

 

Although I can’t back track 100%:  it’s still not my personal preference to have such strict guidelines on what’s acceptable and what’s not, because if taken too far, I think they could actually bolster the same prejudices they’re trying to break down. I don’t mean to back track from my back track, but hey, I write these posts and so I can do that, people!!

 

The Winners of the NSW Heat for Miss Pole Dance Australia

The Winners of the NSW Heat for Miss Pole Dance Australia

And, for panache, extravagance and outrageous costumes, well thankfully we have the Aussies for that!! They  have just had their Miss Pole Dance Australia championships, with bikinis, cleavage and stilettos galore!! Thank God for the Aussies, who dance and strut and are proud. Aussie Aussie Aussie!

 

Ellie B

 

 

When Pole and Pop Culture Meet

This is the second of my little pole dance series of posts (the first one is here). Since the first post, things blew UP in the pole world because three dancers appeared on The Voice Australia as back up dancers for a guy named Frank  Lakoudis. As they ducked and dived around the poles, weaving their magic, Twitter erupted.

 

Because I am a geek the coolest, I love watching shows alongside social media: getting involved in the discussion, seeing the immediate public reaction. And public opinion did not like these dancers being on family tv. I’m sure that Joel Madden calling them ‘stripper gymnasts’ really improved the public mood.

So. I get that parents might be surprised at seeing Michelle Shimmy and her gang on family television, especially because of the association pole dancing has with the sex industry. On the other side of the coin we have dancers standing up for something they love, who are getting tired of people making snap judgements on something which is moving away from it’s association with the sex industry. You can see the video of the performance here. Check it out and see what side you fall on!

Michelle

I’m sure you’ve been waiting with bated breath about what I think, and I bet you can’t predict what side of the coin I’m on. 😉 Well, here are my two cents:

  • If you look at the video, they’re not actually stripping. They’re not even dancing, really. There’s no twerking, booty-popping, or slut-dropping. It’s more a series of gymnastics and acrobatics on a pole.
  • The outfits they wore were chosen by The Voice Australia, and were leotards rather than anything seductive.
  • Any kids watching might not have picked up on all the sexual associations with pole dancing based on that performance. But they could well have picked up on the uproar and reaction, which sends slightly different but still important message to them about how we view dance, pop, women and television.

 

Ok, so maybe that was three cents. Taking my own bias into consideration, I think that when presented with something that challenges you, it’s helpful not to jump to the first reaction/conclusion, but to actually consider what’s in front of you. Read what Michelle Shimmy, whose classes I’ve attended, has to say about it.

 

Which is a more legitimate form of dance?

Which is a more legitimate form of dance? Does the addition of a pole really make this inappropriate?

I said in the last pole post that I know pole is not to everyone’s taste. But calling these dancers strippers is not helpful or necessarily constructive, and suggests that the performance was probably viewed through the veil of already-established opinion rather than with an open mind. There is definitely a sexy side to pole dance, which would not be appropriate for family television, but I don’t think that what we saw on The Voice Australia was it.

 

Anyway, I guess the point is that it should be ok for one thing to evolve into something else. Part of that process is to rock the boat of what’s currently accepted, and feeling threatened by something’s sexual associations has been going on for centuries. But it would be nice for the dancers to be judged on their own merit in that performance, and whether what they actually did was appropriate. Otherwise how can any art form develop and evolve?  Now we look back and laugh at people’s contempt for Elvis and his controversial dance moves, but at the time they were considered a threat to America’s security (no joke. Check out his Wikipedia page). And remember Rose from Downton Abbey, causing Mary all sorts of grief when when she insisted on frequenting a jazz cafe? My how times change.

 

Ellie B

The Path to Pole

I know this is a running blog and all, but it occurred to me that I mention very little about my other favourite fitness: the dance of the pole. Or pole dancing as most normal people call it. So as well as running, over the next few weeks I’ll do some posts on pole to shed some light on this sport.

 

My love affair with pole dancing began in March 2007 when I was a fresh-faced young professional finally earning my own money. I had been a student for what felt like forever, and now with (a little) money to burn I was loving being able to spend it on what I wanted.

 

One of the girls in my office decided that we should all do an 8-week beginner pole course – what better thing to spend my new money on than a frivolous new activity? So we all trooped to the studio filled with anticipation, excitement and a little fear. ‘You know you’re probably going to meet some strippers’ one friend said to me – which wiped the smile off my face. To be honest I wasn’t too sure how I felt about that. At 24, I was very naive and over the next few years the whole world would open up before me.

 

However, I reckon my initial attitude is what a  lot of people feel towards the pole trend: curiosity, mixed with apprehension about entering the dark side. In 2007 it was just getting popular in Sydney, and it wasn’t yet the main-stream activity it is now.

 

In our very first class we learned two moves: the Kate Moss and the Vanessa spin, and by the end of the class I knew I was in love. The swing around the pole, the way you needed strength and grace (I’d work on the latter over the next few years), and the feeling that it was still a bit of a sub-culture made it all the more fun. However, I tended to keep this new love affair secret from most people because I was worried about their reaction.

POle

As the weeks turned into month I started ticking landmarks off. I remember the first time I went upside down, the first time I went upside down whilst spinning, and the first time I did a headroll without whipping my eye with my hair (although it was a while before I was able to make the headroll look any good).

 

The school I went to in Sydney has a structure of 8 week terms, during which you learn a routine to be performed on the eighth week to any friends and family you wanted to invite. It was a very safe crowd, and the atmosphere was definitely more towards supporting family in a local theatre production than… whatever you might think it would be like.

 

Somewhere in between doing my first spin and probably my third week 8 performance, I realized that my hobby shouldn’t be kept hidden like an unwelcome lover. I had found a particular form of exercise that helped me view my body in a completely different way. Yeah, I know, I always talk ‘My Body’ as if it’s some kind of magical vessel that no one else has. But I don’t think I really appreciated what it could actually do until I started pole. I saw how it worked with me and not against, I learned how to trust my strength and my instincts, and I started to hold my head up higher when I walked because I owned it.

Pole1

With all this new-found confidence, I became more open about pole. It was funny how people reacted. My Dad was supportive in an I understand-I-think-but-please-god-let’s-not-talk-about-it-too-much kind of way (thanks Dad – it was the right kind of support from a Dad!). I got the impression that my wider family also preferred not to talk about it, which is fine. It’s not for everyone. And I kind of hope that my grandmother doesn’t know. Some people are immediately dismissive or critical without even knowing anything about it, and some people go and sign up for a class now they know someone who does it.

 

Most people are impressed, and really interested. Funnily enough, there’s a definite ‘type’ who went to the classes at Sydney: professional women, or quieter women, who enjoyed the idea that they had a darker side to them, that they were expressing themselves in ways that would shock the people they knew. I think that I fell into this category back in 2007, I enjoyed the feeling that people felt they had underestimated me.

 

And now, what category am I in? I’m in the old folks category: I know how hard I’ll have to work to learn the moves I want to do, and with everything else going on, I’m kind of choosing to chill out a bit. Which is kind of a bummer, but I still have my wish list….

Felix

 

So that’s the first pole post! Hope you enjoyed it. :)

 

Ellie B

 

 

A Beasting at Ecole de Pole

Traveling with work definitely has it’s bonuses: new cities, nice meals and adding the spice of variety to an otherwise ordinary work week. However, traveling frequently does mean that you miss out on things too.

 

So far in 2014, I haven’t been able to get to a pole class regularly – I’ve taught, but not been able to get to a class for someone to teach me! London has a couple of really good pole schools, so while I’ve been here this week, I decided to make the most of it, and experience something new.

 

Ecole de Pole has two studios in London: one in Camden, and one near Tower Bridge. It’s run by Justine McLucas, who has been nominated as ‘Instructor of the Year’ by the International Pole Dancing Fitness Association in 2013, was number 17 globally in 2011, and was in the Top 34 for Sky’s Got to Dance in 2012. Here is her performance from the Miss Pole Dance UK. And here is a picture of her work:

Justine

So….. not too intimidating then?!

 

The class I attended is called the ‘Whack Me Workout’, which focuses on strength and technique for some of the more advanced moves. Known for being a toughie, I braced myself for a beasting….

 

When I arrived, I sat talking to two lovely girls, one of whom turned out to be Justine: not intimidating at all, but lovely and friendly. Phew. And, bonus, she’s an Aussie too! This doesn’t matter much, except it was nice to hear some of the Aussie names for moves again. Jamillas and Static Vs, people!!

 

The class itself was really good, lasting 90 minutes in total. Justine led a warm up for the first 15 minutes, which was made up of different Michael Jackson songs, and their dances. Basically, it was a chance for me to humiliate myself with my awesome dance moves, but by the end, I was warmed up all the same.

 

The next 30 minutes or so focused on some conditioning work for our legs, glutes, abs, shoulders and forearms. The glutes stuff was insane! You expect your abs to hurt, but my glutes were on fire approximately 5 seconds after we started the exercises. The same with my forearms. That exercise was simple: clenching your fist as if you’re grabbing a stress ball, but doing it over and over made my arm-veins pop out in a most surprising – and highly unattractive – way. At least I’ll have a better grip on that pole now!

Ayesha/Static V - one of my faves

Ayesha/Static V – one of my classic faves

 

The rest of the time was spent working on some power moves, including:

  •  Handstand techniques – on the floor, on handstand bars, on the pole and up the pole
  • Climbs
  •  Handspring variations – where you grip the pole and swing yourself upside down into an upside-down v
  • Deadlifts – where you lift yourself upside down using your abs, not by jumping off the floor!

 

Some of these I have mastered (handspring, some handstands), some I am very much still working on (deadlifts). It was also really cool to learn new things that I’ve not seen before.

 

Sneaky, sweatty selfie at the end of the class!

Sneaky, sweatty selfie with Justine McLucas at the end of the class!

 

I left the studio later that evening absolutely starving, covered in sweat, and with a big grin on my face. It’s great to know that when I come to London now I don’t have to miss out on training, and I’ve met some really friendly new dancers too :)

 

Ellie B

 

PS – this isn’t a sponsored post, I went to genuinely get some training in whilst away from home. All views are my own, and I 100% intend to return.

Monday Night Pole-a-Rama

Tonight I re-kindled an old flame. A firm favourite. A reliable old pet. The Pole.

 

Honestly, I don’t know how we’ve only got 1 week left in 2013. Since June, it feels like time has been on double-speed, and I’ve not had time to catch up on Keeping up with the Kardashians let alone wave goodbye to the whole year.

 

Since the competition in July, pole has taken a backseat, what with my races, knee troubles, a little lack of confidence, and just…. you know, life. However, tonight the stars aligned: the studio was free as classes have finished for the year, SB is at a conference, and my head was brimming with ideas. I wanted to get back into the groove I’d fallen out of, and in particular work on two things: 1) getting my head round some moves that I’d seen, but not had the chance to practice properly, and 2) doing some freestyle, because my freestyle is the worst needs a little brushing up.

 

It was 90 minutes where form, technique, and rhythm weren’t important (and the latter was highly questionable!). And it was a success! I achieved two new moves, and did some improv to an Artic Monkeys song – where technique was definitely not a priority! 😉 And then at the end I did some splits work.

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Dragonfly

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Soooo close….. Come on!!!!

 

It was a great session, and I’ve come home in a cloud of endorphins. I may even have put a picture on Instagram with the hashtag #beastmode. When you’ve just spent your Monday evening upside down, sometimes #beastmode is the only way to describe it.