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Choosing the Right Pole Class

By on September 7, 2016

Looking to get into pole? Yay! Find an intro to pole class.

You’ve got a background as a gymnast and want to give pole a shot? Great! Find an intro to pole class.

You’ve been dancing for years and think pole could be your next journey? Awesome! Find an intro to pole class.

As an instructor, it’s my personal opinion that, no matter how much experience you have in other sports or dance disciplines, the smartest way to start your pole journey is with an intro class. Why?

Learning to pole dance is not just learning about your own physical movement, but also about learning to master the apparatus itself. The muscle engagement and coordination required is not something that is inherently present, even if you have an athletic background. You still need to learn about athletic strength and coordination while also dealing with skin grip, invert disorientation, etc. Chances are that you’ll pick things up quickly, and that things that others struggle with may come easier to you, but starting with the same foundation as everyone else will benefit you in the long run.

For those who do not have a background in athletics or dance, it may seem obvious that an intro to pole class is the place to start. But I think it’s important to talk about why progressive learning – and not rushing into higher level classes – is the best route to go.

Photo by Alloy Images.

Photo by Alloy Images.

As a beginner, you don’t know what you don’t know. Starting in an intro class and working your way up allows you to build strength, yes, but also to build body awareness. Having an awareness of your body is vital to your success in pole, and it’s an ongoing lesson. You learn what your body is doing and how to control it as it moves around the pole – how the physics work, how small changes in body position can impact the power, grip, or overall shape of a spin – but all of this will be challenged anew once you begin to invert. And again, as you begin to take your body weight away from the pole while inverted. And again when power and momentum and drops come into the picture. It’s an ongoing process, and one of the most interesting things about pole – there is always something new to learn!

Rushing to advance in classes is ill-advised for obvious reasons: it is unlikely that you’ll have the conditioning to keep up, and if you do have the strength, you may not have the coordination or body awareness yet to stay safe and really absorb the lessons. Plus, if you skip over the process of nailing the basics, you’ll run into problems. Take it from someone who completely missed learning how to aerial invert and still struggles with the mechanics to this day: take your time and learn those essentials!

There’s another reason to wait on those higher level classes, though, and it’s a little more complicated. When you show up to a higher level class – and this can be even just one tier above your current level – you can ultimately throw off the class itself. The instructor may have to modify the curriculum on the fly to accommodate you, impacting the class for the rest of the students who are already working at the level; or, they may need to give you completely separate material to work on, meaning that they are also splitting their focus. If an instructor has to spend more time with you than with the rest of the class, the night then becomes unbalanced. Other students don’t get the attention they deserve, but also that they may need. As a result, their safety may become compromised.

Photo by Alloy Images

Photo by Alloy Images

If you’re ever unsure if you can drop into a higher level class, ask your instructor their thoughts. They should be able to advise you on what level or levels are appropriate for you, and they will know when you are ready to be challenged by moving up to the next level. A good instructor will always know when it’s time for you to stretch your wings and should support you in doing so. You can also always chat with the studio manager/owner and see what their thoughts might be. While some studio websites offer helpful class explanations and pre-requisites on their info pages, not all do, or not all will seem clear to you. If in doubt, always ask! Assuming that you’ll be fine, or that the instructor can modify for you is not the best course of action.

This is true not only in your home studio, but also when visiting other studios – always reach out and ask, as levels can vary wildly from studio to studio. Most places should be able to chat with you about what you’ve been working on and which class(es) will work best for you. In my city, there are over a dozen pole studios in the general area, and every one of them has a different class structure. This includes their level setting – no two studios operate with the same basic level breakdowns. If you like to take classes at different spots, this can get confusing: am I a level 2? A level 3? Intermediate? Advanced? Much as it is with the names of pole moves, the lack of standardization in levels can be frustrating and confusing for many students. This is where communication becomes key: reach out to the studios and ask where you belong before you sign up for a class, so you have the best experience possible!

Photo by Alloy Images

Photo by Alloy Images

But what if you’re more advanced? The answer is pretty much the same thing: reach out and ask for clarification on levels. If you’re at a studio that welcomes drop-ins to lower level classes, remember to be mindful of the instruction in those classes. An advanced student who comes into a beginner class can be just as much distraction as a beginner who goes to a higher level class. This is not only true for the instructor, but also for other students. Many beginners can feel intimidated watching more advanced students in their classes, and sometimes, it will cause them to shut down and not participate, or to be distracted from their own work. Plus, there is a safety factor: some beginners will see a more advanced move and immediately want to try it (we’ve all been there!). As an instructor, I have seen people who can barely invert attempting to kick into handsprings, simply because they saw a more advanced student working on it while visiting their class. Not everyone has the good sense to realize that certain moves are beyond their current level, unfortunately.

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Bad Kitty® Ambassador Michelle Natoli. Photo by G Mark Art

I have a policy in my beginner class: advanced students are welcome, as long as they work on the material for the evening or other level appropriate material. I bring in more advanced versions of the tricks or combos, or give them one more step to add on to make it more challenging. If any student wants to try something higher than the level, I will happily spot them after class.

Ultimately, studios create these levels and class distinctions for a reason, and in respecting those levels, you’ll do right by yourself, your fellow students, and your instructors.

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Danielle C.

Danielle C.

Creative entity, cat mom, dog auntie, consumer of too much sugar. Pole and lyra enthusiast, amateur foodie, local explorer. One half of Poleitical Clothing. Read my musings at www.poleitical.com.
Danielle C.

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