Dance and Body Image

This post is part of the Pole Dance Bloggers’ June blog hop. Better late than never!

I have had the great fortunes of being naturally thin and growing up in a family where it was more important what your brain and heart were like than your body.

Never once growing up did I worry about my body shape or size, and while some of that was due to me being genetically lucky, a large part of it was my parents NEVER, not even once in my memory, say anything about not only what me, but anyone else, looked like physically. My mom has struggled with her weight for years, but she never said anything disparaging about her looks. Neither parent ever mentioned anyone else’s weight or body shape to me, whether it was another family member, friend, or stranger. It didn’t matter to my parents what our bodies looked like, as long as they were healthy and our minds and hearts were in the right place. I am very thankful that there was no pressure on me, from ANY angle, at home for my body to look a certain way (other than modestly clothed!)

But I was involved in ballet and swimming for my entire childhood, two activities in which you wear very form-fitting clothing and one of which places a great amount of emphasis on what your body looks like. I never thought twice about my body until freshman year of high school, when I hit puberty. In comparison to a lot of teenagers, I had a pretty easy time of puberty, though like all teens I was a bit weirded out by the changes going on. I hit puberty at the same time I started weight-lifting for my high school swim team, so it seemed like in just a few weeks I’d gained 20 pounds. I went from a training bra to a B-cup, and got some hips as well. It wasn’t a huge physical change, but enough to make me start thinking about what my body looked like in various stages of undress.firstandlast

middleAgain, I am very thankful that none of the places where I took ballet placed an emphasis on our bodies. I did take classes for a while at a ballet school in a larger city than the one where I lived, and there was more of an emphasis on training future professional dancers. After a year there, my parents decided for various reasons that it was better that I didn’t continue there. I did have some classmates very concerned with daily calories, though that was a completely foreign concept to me.

swimteamI was quite happy with my body and its abilities all throughout high school. I wasn’t the best at anything, but neither was I anywhere near the worst. I was above average, and comfortable there. Then I went to college and stopped all physical activities. I wasn’t dancing anymore, and I wasn’t on a swim team. I was hanging out with new friends and taking full advantage of the amazing food my university serves. (Seriously, the best food ever!) My freshman year of college I gained 15 pounds and grew to a C/D cup bra.

I had a pretty awful summer after my freshman year of college and ended up losing a fair amount of weight by eating very little. It was not a healthy thing to do, but I looked great! I gained all that weight back and more my sophomore year by eating TONS of junk food during what has been the worst year of my life thus far. Just in case you don’t already know this, don’t try to fix your emotional state with food, either by eating too much or not enough. It’s not a good idea.

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I ended up at a happy comfortable weight for the rest of college and beyond, and was generally pleased with my body and thought about it very little until about 3 years after I graduated from college. I was taking a ballet class because I’d really missed dancing. It’s hard to find adult ballet classes that aren’t for total beginners, so I was in a class with a bunch of teenaged girls. They were built like teenaged girls, and I was built like a 24 year old. We’d stand in a line facing the mirror, and I couldn’t help but notice that my hips stuck out further than everyone else’s, that my thighs had more meat on them than the beautiful thin 15 year old legs beside me. I got discouraged with my body’s looks and abilities (6 years off from ballet takes a major toll on your flexibility), and drove home from almost every single class in tears.

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A couple months before the ballet school year ended, I took a pole fitness class with a friend who had been going and convinced me and another friend to join her. I was so giggly and unsure, because I’d been raised so conservatively: what was I doing twirling around a pole?! But I took one introductory class and was hooked: I went home that very night and bought the unlimited membership to the studio. I’d go to my ballet classes on Monday and Thursday afternoons, change in the dressing room and race to the pole studio. I felt SO comfortable there. I found out my body could do amazing things, and it didn’t matter so much what it looked like. No one at the pole studio cared if my butt stuck out while standing (something I was constantly being corrected on in ballet), or if my thighs were muscular (on the contrary: even better in pole!)

This is mortifying and I cringe watching it, but here’s the video of my very first ever pole performance, almost 13 weeks to the day after my first class. The studio I went to at the time was heavily focused on the sexy side of pole, and I loved it. I hadn’t gained too much muscle at this point.

I went to pole class four days a week and was obsessed with it. On Monday nights, the same day my ballet class used to be, I would still drive home crying though: that night was the tricks class and I felt like I was never going to be strong enough to get those moves. I would get so frustrated with myself for not learning as fast as I wanted to. Eventually though, I got those tricks, and I drove home in euphoria instead of tears.

Since I’ve started pole, there have been so many INCREDIBLE things I’ve found out my body is capable of. Yes, I’ve gained about 10 to 15 pounds since starting pole, but the vast majority of that has been muscle, and I’m proud of my muscle.

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Pole has opened up my eyes to what the true definition of having a great body is: it’s not having a body that looks nice sitting around posed in clothes. It’s having a body that can hold itself upside down with two hands, it’s having a body that can hold a split in the air, it’s having a body that can flip in the air. It’s not what your body looks like, it’s what your body can do that makes it great. And even if your body is not like Marlo Fisken (whose is?!) or Anastasia Skukhtorova or whoever you’re comparing it to, if you can walk and dance and swim and run, you have a great body. Enjoy it!

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Hit ‘Em Up Style – Blu Cantrell

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This song randomly popped into my head a few days ago and since it was time for a more upbeat song after the somewhat depressing Skinny Love routine last week, I knew I had to do it! This song brings back memories of driving my car in high school with the windows down and thinking I was the coolest girl on the block. (Spoiler: I absolutely was not.) It has such a fun beat and just begs for hip shakes!

Next week we’ll have one more dramatic routine before United Pole Artists’ Bringing Sexy Back Fortnight begins!

Skinny Love – Birdy

 

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When I first started hearing this song on the radio, I swore I’d heard it years ago when I first started to pole and I was confused as to why it was just now becoming popular. I looked it up, and it was released in 2011, so I’m not going crazy! I’m still not sure why it had a resurgence, but it’s a beautiful song, so I’m not complaining.

I know I’ve said this before, but just to reiterate, I try to do one sexy and/or upbeat song followed by a slower/more contemporary dance so we can explore different kinds of movement as well as cater to the students who prefer one style over the other. I think a lot of beginner pole students and students aren’t in it to ever perform or compete generally tend to prefer the fun sexy dances and more serious polers are looking for dance and floorwork they can incorporate into a competition routine.

There are quite a few pole moves that require skin, but I wanted to explore some floor movement using socks and covered legs. After going through any routine several times, we all get super sweaty and that leads to getting stuck while trying to move on the floor. Wearing clothes and socks keeps the movement more fluid and creates new challenges (pushing off the floor into the spins was interesting!). I particularly liked pushing up onto the tops of my toes and scootching back.

I recorded myself once I had finalized the routine, mostly so I could remember it, and partly so I could compare what happened in class to my original idea. Generally very little changes, but I like seeing how different people interpret moves and when to hit certain poses.

Wiggle – Jason Derulo

Screen Shot 2014-06-11 at 8.26.51 PMI knew I wanted to switch it up this week with a sexier song, but I couldn’t decide on one. I had it narrowed down to two when it came time to put something together, but then this song popped up on my Pandora and I decided to go with it. I wasn’t feeling particularly inspired, so there’s no real new combinations or moves, but I still think it’s fun and I hope my class enjoyed it.

I’ll always take song suggestions!

Chandelier – Sia

Sia routineThe knee up and down part came to me one day while I was listening to this song at home and the rest of the routine was built around that one small part. I particularly enjoy the knee-hold spin into the pull-up hold spin transition, but it is HARD, way harder to control than it looks. The trick is to slide your legs out and down so your pelvis/lower abs end up on the pole before your legs go back and you can control your lower body instead of swinging wildly away from the pole. There’s not much more to say about this one, other than this song is going to be one of those songs that polers everywhere use to death, which I’m ok with (for now). I loved this routine. It’s a little different, and it makes me happy. I hope you guys like it too! Compliments, critiques, song requests? Let me know in the comments!

Style Mix

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The same move in different songs. From left to right: Skinny Love, Gold Dust, Human, She Looks So Perfect, Coming Undone, Chandelier

One thing I see a lot of people struggling with is varying styles. There were auditions recently for Bittersweet Studios’ performance group, and one thing was very clear: selling a performance in a particular style is hard. Some girls had fantastic routines with great tricks and flow, but the little things – their hands, facial expressions, head movements – were nonexistent. I know it’s hard, really hard, to think about the little things when you’re flipping through the air, but it’s the little things that make watching a performer exciting. Think about a dancer performing a lyra piece to some flirty burlesque music. She executes each move perfectly, has incredible flexibility and smooth flow, pointed toes, extensions, all of the technical aspects. It’s lovely to watch. But then she performs the same piece again, but this time it’s different: as the lyra spins, she whips her head around in order to keep eye contact with you, a sexy smirk on her face. Her fingers beckon you instead of holding a dancer’s shape, her toes flex into a point, suggesting an intimate stretch after having just taken off a pair of heels. In a simple sit, her head is thrown back, chest out, fingers splayed instead of clenched onto the steel. How much more exciting would that routine be?

Music is so incredibly important when it comes to style: I know some people who put together trick sequences and almost full routines before choosing their music, but there is no way I could do that. I think you have to have the music before you can even decide what tricks you’re doing: my mermaid routine from National Aerial Pole Art had lots of moves with my legs together, so that limited by choice of tricks (which is a good thing! Sometimes no parameters leaves you overwhelmed with choices). Some tricks are a pose (dragontail), and some are an action (fonji). Depending on your routine and your music, some tricks are going to work better than others.

With music and style in mind, I put together a very crappily edited music mix with songs from various genres. I came up with a short combination of simple moves that could be easily learned by all levels so instead of focusing on the moves, we could focus on changing the style to fit the music. Each song had a different tempo and emotion to it, so even the same moves could look completely different. I really enjoyed this class and want to revisit this idea again, though perhaps with 2 or 3 different songs and a longer combination that could be explored more. During the class we also freestyled to Skinny Love by Birdy focusing on making circles with our movements. I think everyone got sick of me saying the word “circles”! We also danced to Chandelier by Sia and worked on the concept of up: chest up, head up, hands up, feet up, upward focused movement without necessarily going up the pole. I LOVED those freestyles, even though it was totally awkward and unnatural for me to move in those ways.

What are your thoughts on style and making your movements match the music?

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