I am not naturally flexible. Every millimetre of gains I’ve had to work for, usually sweaty and miserable. But the way the pole industry is going, and certainly for circus, flexibility is a must for more advanced moves. And so here I am. Continue reading “Flexibility: Gains is more than muscle”
Most polers I know have a complex relationship with pole. It’s so addictive, it delivers you the greatest highs and feelings of empowerment, but also, on a rough day, there’s nothing that makes you feel crappier than a bad practice session. You feel vulnerable, weak and exposed. And nowhere are those feelings more intense than in the run up to performing a routine.
Most polers I know LOVE performing, including me, passionately. It’s a chance to show off what you can do, your strength, your trickery, your fluidity. I’ll change up what moves I perform and they style of my dance depending on whether it’s other polers or non polers watching (non polers are blown away by a crossed leg drop back but don’t give a crap about janeiro. Also, when it’s non polers watching, hello twisted grip!)
Our studio, Polefire, has a summer and a winter showcase, where the top attendees are invited to perform and bring along friends and family to show them what it’s all about. This year I found it particularly difficult. As mentioned before, I overtrained and injured my elbow recently, and ended up being out of real strength training for about 6 weeks. In that time I also became rusty on my freestyle skills; moves and flow usually seem natural to me, suddenly they weren’t (although I have to work my butt off for any strength or flex gains, fluidity has always been a friend of mine). I panicked, felt on edge, like I’d lost everything that made me, me, in the world of pole.
In the end I decided on and sacked off two separate themes and costumes within a few weeks, and just had to concentrate on the basics – finding my flow again. With about ten days to go there was no way I could put together a routine considering I was still officially easing my way back in to training and couldn’t do anything where my right arm is straight and has too much pressure on it. All I wanted was to be able to dance, to freestyle to one song without freezing up in front of everyone.
I went heavy on the emotion, choosing sad and intense songs to try to feel creative and inspired. Eventually it worked. After some stropping and dramas I felt ok about dancing again and could get through a song without feeling clunky and awkward. I choose Placebo’s cover of Running up that Hill, as the words spoke to the self-induced drama I’d enforced on myself -‘If I only could, make a deal with God, and get him to swap our places, I’d be running up that road, running up that hill…’ #emo #sorrynotsorry. The theme of the showcase was Heroes and Villains, and I chose Bad Dreams as my villain. In the end although I messed up my angles due to not rehearsing enough, I was generally pleased – you can see it here but be warned, it’s ass to camera.
On top of the pole melodrama, I’d also volunteered for my first ever silks performance. Silks is insane – there’s virtually no rest and it’s much more difficult to naturally flow in and out of moves as a beginner, being all tangled up and suspended in the air. I chose to be Kaylee from Firefly (obv) and set about a routine consisting of moves I could confidently get in and out of easily and with flourish rather than faffing around figuring out what goes where like I do with most silks moves! It was a very simple routine, but I was ecstatic that the performance went without hitch, and I’m really excited to build on that (uninjured and in training next time!) Video will follow.
There’s no doubt that I’ve lost a lot of strength, and also confidence. But it will take more than this for me to cancel a show :p
When sport or fitness is your stress-buster, an injury that gets in the way of your routine can feel like the sky is falling down.
It’s inevitable that if you have a regular sport or activity, you’re going to hurt something at some point. Whether it’s repetitive strain or overuse, or an actual injury, enforced time out has you kicking yourself – why did/didn’t I do that, why didn’t I listen to my body. We fill up with frustration and anger and direct it inwardly. This makes the situation worse – you already feel stressed from losing your outlet for release, and suddenly there’s all this pent up anxiety to deal with. At this point it’s easy to comfort eat and start destroying all the results you’ve spent months working towards. Cue more anger and more eating.
Which brings me to today. A few weeks ago after finally getting my handspring (VICTORY!) I started getting pain in my elbow. I tried to manage it by working around it but it continued to get worse. Now I’m in a cycle of icing, ibuprofen gel and deep heat. I felt pretty crappy. I tried to just do some gentle dance and stretching but even when I found things I could still do, I felt too unmotivated to do them.
I waited a week for a doctor’s appointment after the pain started increasing despite resting it. The nurse’s advice? ‘Rest more’ – up to 6-8 weeks. She didn’t understand how hard that was to hear, nor did she ask any questions about how it started hurting, where it hurt, my training or so on. I mean, I get it, I wasn’t dying or anything, I don’t expect to be the NHS’ number 1 priority, but I was hoping for an explanation and any potential way to speed up recovery, even by a day.
I went to see a sports physio, who fit me in straight away. I showed him pictures and videos of what I’d been training, and he examined the joint and its movement from every angle. It turns out it was a ligament injury, which has now been surrounded by scar tissue leading to the soreness and stiffness that I feel even when resting it. In fact, keeping it immobile has probably made it worse. He treated me with some acupuncture to stimulate blood flow and gave me an intense sports massage all around the joint. For the rest of the day it felt like an awful bruise, but a day later it feels more agile and lighter, less painful already. He says I can even go back to pole next week, but taking it easy. I felt optimistic and relieved!
Injuries are the price we pay for passion, and fortunately most of the time they’re only minor even when they feel like the end of the world. Stepping back and giving yourself the time you need to heal can feel like you’ve lost part of yourself. Maybe I’m being overdramatic, but especially in the pole community, being out of action for any period of time is widely understood to make you feel crappy. Maybe that’s our own fault when we lose perspective, or maybe it’s an inevitability when something becomes such a huge part of your life. I’m the first to admit that my whining about this is self indulgent, but I also know I’m not the only one who becomes overwhelmed at these little setbacks.
In 5 weeks time I’m supposed to be performing a pole routine and a silks routine at our summer showcase – at this point, both will be freestyled rather than choreographed, and I probably won’t be pulling out my best tricks. But at least it seems like I’ll actually be there, and that’s put me in a much better mood.
A few years ago an old friend suggested we go to a pole fitness class. I hated the gym, hated running, but was finding that my teenage metabolism was leaving me and putting on weight became easier and easier. So we went to the class, nervous as hell. Would we have to be sexy, what will the other people be like? Would there be judgement?
Honestly, the class wasn’t great. It was mixed level, and as a beginner, we were sort of just left doing the same boring moves again and again rather then be inspired or encouraged. Some of the other girls were lovely, others I was intimidated by. Anyway, when my friend couldn’t go, I didn’t go, and only going once every few weeks or so wasn’t fast enough to progress. I’d look at the advanced girls going upside down, and there was no thought in my brain that I’d ever be able to do that, it just didn’t seem like something I’d be good enough to do, and I had no encouragement to the contrary. Anyway, we gave up pretty easily.
Fast forward to January 2013, the year I was getting married. I said things like ‘I want to tone up’ and ‘I want to burn fat’ – both polite ways of saying ‘I want to be skinnier’. Still a gym hater, I looked for a new pole dancing class to try it again, this time on my own.
Oh the difference. One day in January I turned up at Polefire, nervous again and not knowing what to expect. At the time, classes were downstairs at Grand Central on Oxford Road, which meant you had to go behind the bar to get there, which was scary in itself! But the girls there were amazing – supportive of every little victory, helpful, funny and outspoken. I felt like I could achieve something one day, like I might become ‘ok’ at this. The founder of Polefire, Sarah Fenney, is now a hero of mine. She sees things in you you don’t see in yourself, makes you believe, makes you harder, better, faster, stronger!
The first time I climbed up the pole to the ceiling my eyes pricked with tears of pride! I’d be covered in bruises, sweaty and aching (the first morning after your pole class you’ll discover arm and ab muscle pain you never knew existed!) I was exhilerated, I was inspired. I stopped saying crap like ‘tone up’ (which doesn’t actually mean anything) and started saying ‘muscle definition’ and ‘build up strength’. The weight fell off, but more importantly, I started to be OK with body as it was (most of the time anyway, I’m only human).
As I progressed, I started doing more freestyle and dancing. It was an outlet for creativity, to forget your everyday worries and just create beautiful shapes, losing yourself to the music, experimenting with little variances on moves to make them unique to you. Then I started doing performances, and discovered a whole new level of adrenaline. I was hooked.
When I’m stressed at work ( or about anything else) I walk into that studio and it’s OK. There’s nothing like the adrenaline of a ‘drop’ to push worries out your mind, or the excitement of getting a new move to make you feel powerful and capable. When you’re hanging upside down by your ankles, trying to rest the pole on the right bit of your back without falling, the stress of work seems a million miles away.
I always suffered from insomnia, but now I sleep much better. I think about the food that goes in my body, about iron and protein. As I’ve become more confident about my body, my shorts have got shortened and my abs are out more and more.
I’ve taken up aerial arts (particularly silks) and have started working actively on my flexibility – posts for another day!
As luck would have it, a family trip to Vegas this year is coinciding with the World Pole expo and I’ll get to train with one of my idols, Marion Crampe.
Pole is incredible, it’s a crazy sisterhood of support, creativity and empowerment. I would encourage ANYONE whatever your age, shape or size to give it a try. I’m also on the Polefire performance team, and get to frequently show off at various Manchester venues. Feel free to watch my pole journey on Instagram.
And if you’re thinking about taking a class and have any questions, feel free to just ask 🙂
Much love, Kayley