Can Pole Be Taught Like Ballet?
If you have taken pole dance lessons with different teachers, then you might have noticed similarities and differences in their teaching methods. This, of course, has to do with the instructor’s style, but it also has to do with the studio’s style.
For example, in Venezuela, where I live and train, there are studios that are known to have a very sexy style, while others have a more fitness based approach to pole. In my six years of pole training I have seen many different methods for teaching: teachers who dictate the class without demonstrating much on the pole, teachers who demonstrate EVERYTHING over and over again, some that spot students, and others who don’t.
In the most advanced levels of ballet, dance or gymnastics the teacher just dictates the exercises, without having to demonstrate the steps. The student knows what he or she has to do, and goes for it. If there’s need for a demonstration, the instructor will probably ask a more advanced student to show the class the moves.
This is why many instructors in these disciplines don’t even train anymore, and they can’t even do the steps themselves. But it doesn’t matter – the students’ training can still be successful. So, does that hold true for pole dance? Can a teacher sit down and dictate the class without touching the pole?
I spoke with a pole dancer friend about this. She told me about a teacher she had who didn’t get on the pole much to demonstrate. He would just verbally explain the moves or have another student demonstrate for him. He is a very talented pole athlete and has won many awards nationally, but in class he just doesn’t demonstrate many moves.
However, students have not embraced his teaching method very much and they eventually sign up for classes with a different teacher. Maybe in pole we are not advanced enough yet for this style of teaching. Or maybe we lack a universal theory (unlike ballet, for instance, which has steps in French and that’s it. There aren’t new tricks being invented every week).
The common class structure in Venezuela
I decided to speak with two pole dance teachers I have had the privilege of training with and ask them about their teaching ways so I could compare them.
María Eugenia Fernández is a pole dance instructor at VIP Studio in Caracas, Venezuela. She confessed to me that in her studio the teachers are selected from the same students who attend class. (I assume, the most advanced ones.) In her case, she had only been poling for a few months in 2014 when she was invited to be trained as a teacher. “The process lasted about six or seven months and consisted of a theoretical portion and a practical portion”, she said, and added that she had to sit in other instructor’s classes to see what was going on and learn from them.
The more experienced teacher would explain to her how to perform a correct warm up, how to help the students, and the class structure in general. “As time went on I would lead the warm ups and then the entire class, always supervised by another teacher, until I was allowed to teach by myself”, María Eugenia says. This method, for her, increased her love and passion for her studio, because it allowed her to grow in many ways.
At her studio, an hour long class is divided in a 15 – 20 minute warm up and the second part focuses on pole tricks. She finishes with a 5 – 10 minutes cool down. “Since I sometimes have 2 or 3 classes in a row so I generally dictate the exercises so that I can correct more, but sometimes I do the exercises with the students”.
María Eugenia says prefers to demo the tricks on the pole in order to be able to attend to the students more effectively. I have been her student and she is very attentive towards everyone, and demonstrates the tricks if she has to. If there’s a more advanced student, with more strength or flexibility than her, she investigates with videos and photos from other pole dancers to help the student make progress, even though she can’t demo the tricks her herself.
Keryne Esté, is another pole dance instructor with five years of experience who currently teaches at Star’s Pole Dance in the same city as Maria Eugenia. Because they hold hour and a half long classes, she dedicates 45 minutes to warming up and physical training, and then the students go on the poles.
“I usually demonstrate everything, and many times if the student doesn’t understand. But if I’m not feeling well and can’t get a hold of a substitute, I dictate most of the class”. Keryne says. She also does this a lot if she can’t do a trick herself but knows the student has the potential to do it.
One of the benefits of a teacher dictating a class is that they won’t suffer from excessive fatigue. This is a concern for Keryne, especially if she has to explain something more than three times in a row.
So, should the instructor get on the pole all the time or not?
In María Eugenia’s opinion, every instructor should do as they please. “In my case, I do get on the pole to demonstrate but I like to tend to my students too”, she says. “Whenever I have to teach a new trick I do it on the floor first and explain how the body should be positioned, what works for me and what doesn’t. I think I’m recognized mostly for this method, and to be able to do this I can’t be on the pole for the entire class”, she added.
Keryne says that “It’s hard to see a teacher in pole who doesn’t touch the pole at all. You would at least need a model, even if it’s a student, to demonstrate the movement”.
Personally, I believe that someday, when pole has been around for many more years, instructors, for advanced students, won’t have to demonstrate at all since everything will have already been invented. It will be like those old ballet teachers who verbally explain the exercises and then they are performed perfectly by everyone in class.
What do you think?
Pole Dance Venezuela (www.poledancevenezuela.org)