Monday, February 28, 2011

Why Yes, I'm Certified to Teach Pole Dancing!

I know you were all wondering what happened!  Well I’m officially certified to teach levels 1 – 4 for pole dancing.  Our last day was short but sweet.  I perfected my caterpillar climb, got into Aisha (with Collette holding my butt up) and learned how to spot perfectly for inversions and climbs.  Which, by the way, is not as obvious as you might think. 

For some reason I also thought that my last day would be an excellent time to take a Chinese Splits class.  And actually, it was!  The class was a bit like Yoga, and we used mats and blocks to gently stretch and elongate our muscles.  There was seventy-two–year-old student named Lynn who put us all to shame by performing full Chinese Splits on an armchair.  Talk about inspirational!

Speaking of inspirational, Celeste Ayers (pronounced AIRS) modeled many of the advanced moves for us in teacher training the last day and WOW!  Her movement is amazing to watch.  She is gracious, fluid, sensual, flexible and has nearly flawless technique.  Celeste was a competitor in this year’s California Pole Dance Championships.  If you have not seen her dance yet, check her out here.

I was extremely pleased with the level of professionalism, the attention to detail and the amount of fun and connection I had with the other students in my Teacher Training Class.  Collette offers the perfect blend of technical skill and sensuality to her teacher trainees and she breaks down the art of pole dancing into easily digestible, clear instructions.  Collette also trains her teachers to have an incredibly good eye for correcting mistakes in their students’ movements.  “I created this program by applying how I was trained in my academic and consulting careers to study a craft and organize information.  It was tedious and meticulous, but so necessary given the huge responsibility we take on in training others.”  In the future, I would love to see this training expanded into a week-long or ten-day endeavor (as would Collette!), because there is an enormous amount of material to cover.  It would also be wonderful to see this program expand its floor work training and dive into the emotionality of pole dancing in greater depth.  Of course, those are my biases!
I want to thank Collette, Natalie, Felicia and OC Pole Fitness for putting together a very comprehensive and positive training program that offers its trainees the flexibility to create their own curriculum while maintaining rigorous safety standards.  I also want to thank my amazing co-trainees, who made the experience fun, exciting, supportive and very positive.   Can’t wait to train for the upper levels!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Pole Teacher Certification - Where Should You Go? Part IV

Day 3 of Training:
 I mean it’s past the point of me complaining how SORE my body is.  I’m presently numbing some of that soreness with a margarita. 

Today I started my day by assisting Collette in an Intro to Pole Class.  I had SO much fun.  Collette has a very upbeat style of teaching, and she keeps the energy in the room high, which I think is good for beginners.  She also takes a lot of time to explain why she is doing what she is doing.  She does not take it for granted that her students will understand why they are spending class time learning floor moves. She explains to them that this will help them to learn sensuality and “swagger” as she likes to call it.   I am not used to classes where the warm ups are broken down with explanations and a part of me just wanted to get lost in the flow of movement.  But I have to say, it seemed to work for this class, and a lot of the students loosened up and were having fun.  I was surprised at how few moves were taught from a curriculum standpoint, and yet how much material it seemed like the students were being given.  And I loved, loved, loved assisting.  There is nothing more satisfying to me than helping a student and watching her face light up when she gets a move.  I also loved showing the students how to embrace their sensual side and enjoy their bodies.  It truly made my day.  I noticed too how much the language that Collette had taught me for pole moves came in helpful for finding small mistakes in the student’s movements and correcting them.  I have primarily studied pole dancing in a studio that has no mirrors, which I always thought was great.  But I must say, I was fascinated (and surprised) by how little the mirrors were used by the students during the floor moves portion.  Partly this is because Collette had everyone facing each other in a circle.  But I also think the students were more absorbed in their movement then in the image of their movement, which is lovely.  On the other hand, I think the mirrors were a great tool for learning pole tricks because pole requires precise and proper body positioning in order to avoid injuries.  Collette finished class with a beautiful demo that had all the students’ jaws on the floor.

After assisting, I got to “teach” my fellow pole students, which was far more challenging.  Each of us took turns being the teacher and Collette came up with a number of student problems for us to tackle; everything from improper positioning to dead pets.  My “students” included someone with a serious cold, another person who couldn’t deal with the sick student, a student whose pet iguana had just passed away and two students who were improperly positioned on the pole for the trick they were about to learn.  I did ok.  I didn’t catch everything, but I taught the trick properly.  The role-playing was extremely valuable.  The amount of stuff going on in a classroom at one time can be overwhelming, and it sometimes feels like you need eyes in the back of your head, a phenomenal memory bank, a ton of empathy and a long fuse.  These scenarios did a great job of preparing us for what to expect in the classroom.

Last, and CERTAINLY not least in my day, I finally learned to do the Shoulder Mount!  I have been practicing that move for months and months and months…improperly it turns out!   No wonder I couldn’t get it.  With a few small, but important adjustments (here is a hint: you will never, ever get your legs over if you are in a back bend) I was able to get my legs over my head flip up onto the pole.  I am ecstatic!! Here is the best part (and it’s kind of a story): When I was little, I was terrible at gymnastics.  I used to take dance and tumbling classes and in spite of my intense love of ballet and tap, at the young and tender age of five, I quit all of it because I couldn’t do a cartwheel.  Everyone in the class could do one except for me, and I was devastated.  My teacher came to the house to talk to me and reassured me that he could teach me a cartwheel and that it would be his priority, but I had already decided that I was a failure and would never accomplish such a feat.  It’s kind of heartbreaking in retrospective.  And today, while trying to figure out the shoulder mount, that old feeling came creeping back in, and I felt like the five year old who couldn’t do the cartwheel.  But no one was going to let me give up – least of all Collette.  She made it her personal goal to teach me that trick.  And I got it.  After five or six tries and some additional adjustments and a lot of encouragement from the women around me, I got it.  And I have to say, whenever I overcome a challenge like that, a little piece of that five year old feels a whole lot better about herself.  And that is priceless.
Last day of training tomorrow!  Oh and I’m taking some sort of Chinese Splits class in the morning…if I can move.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Pole Teacher Certification- Where Should You Go? Part III

Day 2 of Training:
Owie ouch ow, ow, ow, whimper.   Did I say I was sore after the first day? I had NO idea what I was talking about.  Because today, after covering level 3 AND 4 spins, I am truly sore.  But wow do I know a lot!  More than I ever have- even after three years of pole classes. 
I want to take a minute to talk about my fellow trainees, because they are awesome.  There are two women named Skye Tacker and Natalie Goldwin from Core Fitness Pilates in Dallas, Texas.  They recently added pole to their repertoire of classes, and they are really starting to take off.  They are both incredibly sweet, high energy and positive.  Then there is the very strong, very wise Jennifer Van Deausen from Pegasus Pilates Plus in Solano Beach.  Much like the first studio, she has added pole into her Pilates regimen.  Her studio is named after the Pegasus because of the transformational qualities both pole and pilates have brought to her life.  And then there is the very beautiful, very kind and very talented Celeste Ayers.  She regularly competes (her performance at the CPDC this year was lovely) and she is a whiz on the spinning pole.  She will be teaching at OC Pole Fitness, however she has already taught quite a bit.  And she has an amazing smile.  Together, the six of us (including Collette) have formed a tight knit group and there is a great deal of support and sharing going on.

(Picture from L-R: Natalie Goldwin, Skye Tacker, Celeste Ayers)

Collette started us off today with a discussion about what it takes to teach a class.  She talked a lot about the amount of giving being a teacher requires and encouraged us to make sure we have the resources to replenish ourselves after teaching classes.  Anyone who has ever taught knows that it requires a tremendous amount of energy and focus, and no matter how much you love the topic, it can be draining to impart your knowledge to others.  She also talked about the different ways in which anxiety can manifest itself in our students, and why it’s important to see beyond the behavior to the underlying issue.  And she reminded us that for new students in particular, pole dancing classes could actually feel very threatening, and you as the sensual, embodied teacher, could induce a great deal of fear in your new students.  As someone with a psychology background, I greatly appreciated her taking the time to bring such things to our attention.  Pole dancing can be as much of a psychological exploration as it is a physical fitness practice.  The more aware teachers are of this, the better they will become at addressing and potentially helping their students through mental blocks.
We also learned floor moves today.  I have to be honest, as someone who thinks there is no better way to spend her time than rolling around the floor in ecstasy (and you can take that however you want, by the way) I was a little disappointed that more time wasn’t spent on the floor.  Floor work has been so grossly overlooked in so many studios and it has the potential to unlock a great deal of a woman’s innate sensuality.  Collette did mention this but I wish we had spent more time playing with it.  I don’t think it’s something that comes naturally to a lot of women. 
On the other hand, one of the many delightful things about this Instructor Certification program is that Collette is incredibly open about the fact that we are learning from her mistakes.  There is no pretention on her part, she does not presume to have it all figured out, and she openly talks about her mistakes and what she learned from them.  This gives the program a very alive and malleable feeling that allows for updates and new information to easily be accepted, digested and implemented.
So you probably remember that yesterday I was talking about how one of the downsides of having teachers learning tricks in the program was that it could slow down the pace of the training?  Well that was smug of me.  Because guess who could NOT get a trick that everyone else could get today? ME! The Drag and Fly was my nemesis for about twenty minutes.  It’s a spin, but it lands your hips in the opposite direction of the Fireman Spin.  Something my hips have never really done before.  And so OF COURSE, my hips were convinced that they were doing the right thing – and they had me convinced too!  It took one of my lovely classmates dragging my foot around behind me and telling me where it should end up for me to get it!  Tomorrow we are role playing, and teaching a trick.  Guess which trick I have to teach?  Like I said….stay tuned!! 

Friday, February 18, 2011

Pole Teacher Certification- Where Should You Go? Part II

Day 1 of Training:
I am ready and rearing to go.  There is nothing I like better than learning (I’m a HUGE nerd) and I show up at OC Pole Fitness with what I hope is a beginner’s mind: empty and hungry.  OC Pole Fitness has a brand new studio space in Aliso Viejo, and the first thing I notice when I walk in is a beautiful picture of Collette on the pole with her two adorable girls.  All three are dressed as angels.  If you spend just a few minutes talking to Collette, you will quickly understand that the angel metaphor is actually quite fitting, which makes the picture that much sweeter.  She has a huge heart and her goals in teacher training, in class and in the pole industry seem to be driven by a very sincere desire to give of herself while building partnership and trust with others.  For example, OC Pole Fitness is running something called The Pole New You Fitness Challenge right now.  They offered five women a free 90-day program to lose one hundred pounds.  This kind of gifting is the brainchild (or should I say heartchild) of Collette and reflects her devotion to spreading the joy that pole dancing can bring to women.
Now, back to the d├ęcor!   The second thing I notice in the lobby/retail area is the fabulous rhinestone jewelry and leather cuffs on display.  I am a huge sucker for such things and they are arranged in a way that makes the whole entry seems to sort of shimmer like a magical fairy room.  Add to that the purple walls and curtains and the zebra striped furniture and instantly you are in the mood to get your sexy on.  There are also a number of dance and fitness clothes for sale, and yes, some of them have rhinestones as well!
            The main pole studio has a total of eight 15-foot Platinum Stages poles, all of which can be turned into spinning poles and three of which are on a stage with a one-foot rise and lights.  Yes a stage.  I can’t imagine anything more fun for a pole party!  There are mirrors on two of the three walls and the back of the room is a row of ceiling high windows that have been covered with heavy purple curtains for privacy.  However they can be opened if daylight is desired.  The lighting is low and pleasing and the floors are a walnut colored hardwood.  In one corner there is a large, overstuffed easy chair.  It’s a lovely, nurturing space, but functional as well.  In addition to the main pole room, there is a smaller room for private lessons just next door.  A room for aerial yoga is still under construction, but has a similar feel to the pole room, with more natural light. 
            There are a total of five of us in the instructor training and most are already teachers or studio owners.  Their reasons for being there are similar to mine: to learn proper terminology, to learn how to teach and because they love the sensuality of pole dancing.  Collette starts us off by talking about why students come to pole dance classes, who is drawn to them and what keeps them coming back for more.  She makes the point that everyone will have a different reason for coming in at first and that while we will have to adjust our teaching styles accordingly, it is important for us to stay true to why we are teaching and what our credo is.  There are, after all, many different ways to teach pole.  She then spends a fair amount of time on safety before leading us through a warm-up.
What I found so interesting about the training was just how much sensuality was in the movement.  Because I knew the classes would be focused on pole safety and proper technique, I kind of figured that sensuality was out of the picture.  But I was SO wrong.  Collette manages to teach both sensuality and proper technique and she blends the two seamlessly.  I was pleasantly surprised.  Also pleasantly surprising was the amount of freedom offered to us in the choreography.  There is no “one way” to get to where you want to go next in pole dancing, and, as Collette explained to me later, the goal of certification is not just to have an eye for good moves, but to develop an eye for variations.  Longevity of curriculum after all, is an excellent way to keep your customers coming back for more.
            We covered a tremendous amount of material on the first day.  The certification process is designed to teach those who might not know a trick how to do it.  This has both benefits and downsides.  The downside of course being that each student might be on a different page when it comes to learning, and the class can get bogged down.  The benefit is that there are live learning experiences happening which makes it the perfect arena to practice teaching with one another.
             One of the strengths of this program is that it provides the students with a comprehensive and consistent way to approach pole tricks by using specific terminology for foot and hand placement (i.e. outside foot plant, baseball grip).  This primes the mind to begin to think about where the body is in space in a very specific and consistent way, trick after trick, which makes it easier to build on tricks and makes corrections to form much easier.  That is, until your arms turn to jelly.
            Six hours and I don’t know how many spins later I am exhausted and ready to go home.  I’m in need of a hot shower and a soft bed.  I now have so much more sympathy for dancers who train competitively and practice like this 5 times a week.  My head is swimming with all of the material I’ve covered – Thank God for those PFA flashcards, that’s all I have to say.  Stay tuned for Day 2!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Pole Teacher Certification - Where Should You Go?

Pole Dancing is a relatively new form of dance fitness, which means there are a limited amount of teacher training programs available and a large number of teachers who teach pole without any certification whatsoever  - which seems insane to me.  As someone who suffered a pole related shoulder injury as a student relatively early in my training (an injury that could have been prevented had proper body mechanics been taught), my inclination is to be cautious on the pole and sometimes I avoid it altogether while dancing.  I've also always been a little bit of a snob about people who prefer to throw trick after trick on the pole while incorporating almost no dance style or sensuality into their movement, labeling them as gymnasts only, not dancers.  To me, being precise on the pole used to mean losing some of the sensuality of the movement.  With that said, I fully recognize the skill and strength it takes to properly and safely execute beautiful pole and floor moves, and I've avoided studios that don't require their teachers to have some kind of certification program in order to avoid injury.  Additionally, being a good pole dancer - even a competitive dancer - does not necessarily make you a good teacher.  Learning to teach any sort of movement (let alone pole) requires you to have not just a good knowledge of the material, but the skills to impart that knowledge to your students and a trained eye that can both recognize and correct mistakes in body mechanics, assist with issues like self-consciousness and lack of confidence, all while making class a fun and rewarding experience.  That is no small task.
 When I decided to explore teacher training programs, I had a list of things I was looking for.  I wanted the program to give me the freedom to develop my own curriculum, rather than being committed to one particular studio's vision.  I also wanted the program to be very detailed when it came to teaching pole tricks.  That is to say, I wanted it broken down step by step and I wanted the vocabulary I was learning to be consistent with what pole studios were teaching around the world.  I also wanted the program to have some "street cred" a reputation that they needed to uphold.  What wasn't high on my list was a program that taught me how to be sensual and encouraged me to explore the emotionality behind my movement.  This may of course seem surprising since all I ever write about is female sexuality and emotions, blah blah blah.  However, I knew I already had the skills to teach that portion of the class.
After researching multiple programs over the course of several months I chose the OC Pole Fitness Instructor Certification Program.  OC Pole Fitness was founded by Collette Kakuk (also the co-founder of the Pole Fitness Association) and she runs the studio with Natalie Hammons Hamilton.  The PFA has been the driving force behind things like insuring that pole tricks and spins have the same terminology from studio to studio, as well as pushing for instructor certification programs that emphasize safety and body mechanics first.  Their Instructor Certification Program is the only one to be endorsed by Felix Cane, two-time World Pole Champion.  And while they teach a very comprehensive beginner/intermediate instructor program, they are not teaching you a specific sequence of movements to teach your students.  Rather, they are giving you the the tools to build your own curriculum with confidence.  All of this appealed to me tremendously.  So I signed up!
Over the next few days I will be up to my eyeballs in pole (which sounds like heaven to me) AND I will be chronicling my journey through The OC Pole Instructor Certification Program in order to give my unbiased, in-depth, insider review of what's going on behind those purple curtains!  So stay tuned my pole pets!