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How To Handle Emotional Crisis in the Pole Dance Classroom

By on September 30, 2012

Pole dancing is generally associated with health and well-being.  But every once in a while, pole dancing can shake emotional baggage loose for a student, resulting in tears, shakiness, feelings of overwhelm and anger, and sometimes confusion and fear.  As teachers and fellow students, it’s important to not only recognize when this is happening in the classroom, but to be able to effectively address it.  Just to be clear: I’m referring specifically to an emotional event that comes up in an individual, and not between two people.  Those types of crises need to be handled a bit differently.


If we agree that the state of the mind influences the body and the state of the body influences the mind, then it becomes easy to see how movement and emotion are connected.  But how exactly does that work? And why would pole dancing “bring up” emotions? Well for a couple of reasons. First, working through the body (i.e. through movement) can provide direct access to early developmental, nonverbal and implicit behavioral issues.  And second, working through the body allows access to the physiological aspects of the nervous system, which are often compromised when someone suffers from depression, PTSD, anxiety or dissociation.  That doesn’t mean that everyone who has an emotional experience in class is suffering from one of these things.  It simply means that working with the body can often access the neurological implications of each of these issues.  An extremely simple example is the connection between exercise and symptoms of depression.  Certain research studies have shown that half an hour of exercise daily can be very effective in reducing symptoms of depression.  Why? Because it raises serotonin, reduces feelings of sluggishness and quite literally “activates” the body.  It works the other way too.  If we activate the body we have the potential to access untapped emotional issues, particularly if the movement we are doing is charged with, say, sexuality.

So how do you identify a person who might potentially be in the throes of an emotional breakdown?  It sounds easy right? Not always.  What may look like a deeply emotional dance can often be a “release” of traumatic energy.  This only becomes problematic if the person expressing the emotion becomes overwhelmed by it.  Some signs of emotional or psychological overwhelm in the body that we might see in a pole dance class are:


  • Shaking and Trembling (often a sign of deep release within the nervous system. Not to be confused with muscle fatigue.)
  • Freezing or immobility (a sign that someone is feeling deeply overwhelmed and trapped)
  • Rage and Aggression, particularly if directed at other class members or the teacher
  • Extreme sensitivity to light and sound
  • Increased breathing (shallow, more rapid, etc), cold sweats
  • Constriction in breath and/or musculature
  • Dilated pupils
  • Tears, when accompanied by any of the above


The presence of such symptoms does not necessarily indicate trauma and trauma may be present without any of these symptoms.  Nevertheless, they offer us a good guideline for recognizing when things might be getting out of hand.


Ok, so you have figured out that your student or classmate is having a meltdown.  What do you do?  Push them to dance through it? Stop them and ask them if they are ok?  Ignore it and hope for the best?


One of the biggest mistakes teachers make is encouraging their students to “dance through” the emotion.  This approach works fine if the person is not overwhelmed. However, if a person is flooded by their emotional experience, pushing them to move through it is a risky endeavor if you are not a licensed mental health worker and/or experienced in somatic work.  Oftentimes, a person will become so overwhelmed that they will begin to dissociate from the present moment and the intensity of the experience will re-traumatize them.  Trauma can only be resolved through movement and therapy if a person is continually experiencing a conscious awareness of their emotional state, and if they are able to complete the traumatic cycle in a way that is markedly different both physically and emotionally from the initial trauma.

Instead, encourage the student to come back to the present moment.  Have them slow down and connect to their breath, and feel their feet on the ground.  Separate them from the group, and if at all possible, do not draw attention to their situation.  Be very careful about touch.  Always ask for permission to touch them and be sure to announce what you are going to do before you touch them.  Many people have trauma that is connected to inappropriate or traumatic touch.  Above all, be gentle. They are in an extremely vulnerable and fragile state.  This is not the time for tough love.  Give them water to sip slowly, and encourage them to stay until the end of class if they can. Once class is over, be sure to address their experience privately, acknowledge it and offer the proper resources if they seem open to it. Do not diagnose your student or tell them what you think happened.  Instead, offer support and ask them what their experience was.  Reflect their experience back to them along with any (non-judgmental) observations you may have.


Lastly, it is easy to address a student’s concerns if he or she comes straight to you and tells you their experience.  But do not underestimate the seriousness of your student’s situation and never overestimate the limitations of your training.  Unless you are clinically trained to work in the mental health field, you should not be trying to resolve your students’ issues in class.  And even then, referral to a more appropriate setting is always recommended.

For More Information on Trauma and Referrals to Mental Health Resources Please Go To:




Claire Griffin Sterrett
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Claire Griffin Sterrett

Editor in Chief at Bad Kitty Inc.
Writer, pole dancer, teacher, social worker and editor of this whole awesome thing.You can find out more about me at
Claire Griffin Sterrett
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