Ah, your first time on a pole. Can you remember yours? Chances are, you were smitten from the very start. And whether you are still an absolute beginner, or you are now years down the line, you will have invariably learned a great deal, not only on the pole, but about the process of learning itself, and how to be a better poler. Here are ten things I wish I’d known from the very start of my pole journey. 1. Train both sides Without doubt, this is the single biggest thing every poler wishes they had done from the start, so let’s start with this one. Train. Both. Sides. Even if you don’t read the rest of this piece, take this piece of advice with you, tuck it in your hotpants and keep it there. Take it to every lesson, as reliably as you take your grip aids and water. Think about it. Everything feels weird at first. So it may as well fell weird on both sides. Even left handed people will be stronger on the right If that’s how they learn, and vice versa. It’s not so much to do with your dominant side as it is to do with muscle memory and what you are used to. So you may as well get used to your “bad” side from the start. When you become more advanced and want to start linking moves together, finding that you are ending up on your bad side for a brass monkey or Ayesha or whatever can put an end to the combo of your dreams. If only you could do it both sides! And of course, training both sides means you won’t end up lopsided, with one bicep like Popeye and one like Olive Oyl. But quite apart from that, having even strength will prevent injury and help with balance and even weight distribution.   I do teach everything both sides now. Everyone moans and hates me for it, but in a few years when they want to iron X on the left I can at least say I tried to take them to the dork side. Both sides people! Got it? Good. Let’s move on. 2. Stretch In many ways when you are a beginner you are the perfect candidate for stretching. More often than not, a beginners basic level of flexibility will not be massively high, and increasing flexibility will possibly be one of the things that is attractive about pole. It’s a bit like a yoga class but with more fun stuff and less philosophy, right?? And all the other beginners will have a similar level of flexibility and not be all scarily intimidating. OK, there’s usually some bendy circus type freak – but apart from them, most beginners are not doing the splits, bending in half backwards or even able to touch the floor, so making stretches a part of your regular warm up and and cool down is going to make a difference. The problem is when those stretches don’t change and develop as your flexibility increases, taking your flexibility to the next level. When you are super comfortable with your jade, Allegra, cocoon or whatever, you are going to want it to look flatter, more splitty, more bendy. Wouldn’t it be great if you had already been working on that flexibility for months, rather than waiting until you achieved the move? But flexibility isn’t just to make moves look amazing. It helps to make holds strong, and prevent injury. As you build muscle and get stronger, those muscles become bigger and bulkier, and flexibility is often compromised as a result. This can cause issues with range of movement, making certain moves potentially painful or at risk of causing harm. Typically pole dancers build muscle around the shoulders and upper body, which is great and we all love memes of Barbie dolls with massive biceps, but without consistent stretching those muscles will reduce shoulder rotation and flexibility. Congratulations, you are strong and bendy enough in your back to do a seahorse, a dove, an eagle, a Phoenix! Oh though. You need someone to push that shoulder round. Stretch after EVERY pole lesson, especially those shoulders. 12351002_540533669446645_1406269024_n 3. See pole dancing performed at a show or competition First and foremost, shows and competitions are BRILLIANT. You get to hang out with cool people who don’t mind that you bang on about pole endlessly, and there’s always loads of good stuff to buy. But for a bit of inspiration, you cannot beat watching others perform for a crowd. It’s totally different from what you see in a pole studio, showing the difference between exercise and fitness, and an actual performance. It doesn’t even have to be a massive national competition. Go to a small local competition, or a showcase, or even a strip club. See how your sport looks when it is polished and practiced and covered in sparkles. You will come away with ideas for things you haven’t tried before. You may even be inspired to give it  go yourself. 4. Spinny pole Spinny pole seems to be something that is considered to be for advanced students only (and Australians). Outside of the occasional lesson or one-off work shop, It’s rare to find beginners regularly practicing the art of the spinning pole. What tends to happen is someone buys their own pole, puts it on spin mode, jumps on and spins at 800 rpm, tries to invert, feels sick, has to go and lie in a darkened room with a cup of tea until the world stops moving, then declares “I hate spinny pole” and never does it again. But what shame! spinny pole is a wondrous thing of joy and beauty! If only polers were introduced to the delights of controlled spinning early on and practiced it regularly. Just look at the Australians. They train on spin from the start and make it look easy and amazing. Who doesn’t want to look like Maddie Sparkle on a pole? Nuff said. Get dizzy bitches. Dizzy 5. Find your own style When you start pole and eagerly, excitedly, breathlessly check out alll the polers on social media, you’d be forgiven for feeling a bit disheartened at the sight of thousands of girls doing amazing things with the caveat “sorry for my rubbish phoenix/crap splits/poor iron x”, especially when you’ve only just learned your first spin. Being good at pole takes time, patience and perseverance. Some students have a background in dance, gymnastics or even contortion, and they will pick things up fast and make them look awesome, but most are average women or indeed men who are not taking the pole world by storm just yet but they are making amazing progress and getting stronger and fitter week by week. Everyone’s journey is different. Find your own style. Don’t try to be like someone else, not your teacher, not your classmates, not your pole idol. It’s fine to be inspired and influenced but there is only one you. Don’t push yourself too hard. Be kind to yourself. Appreciate different strengths and weaknesses and that you don’t have to excel at everything. Spins, floor work, inverting, climbing, spinny poles, combos, flexibility… there are so many disciplines. Be encouraging and supportive and you will be encouraged and supported. And if not, you are in the wrong training space 6. Find a good teacher Or rather, find the right teacher for you. You don’t have to stay at one studio out of loyalty. Maybe you want to work on slinky floor work but your school is more about conditioning or vice versa. If you feel that you could benefit from another teaching style, it’s OK to train somewhere else. There’s no reason you can’t go to two different schools and get the best of both worlds. Even if you train alone, you can still benefit hugely from masterclasses, workshops, pole jams, private lessons or the odd group class elsewhere. 7. Take photos. Taking photos is a great learning tool. It’s the easiest way to track progress, to see how your gemini now varies from your very first one, how much your flexibility has improved, or how much that old hair colour absolutely did not suit you. Photos are also a great communication tool – when you are upside down clinging on for dear life, your instructor’s cry of “leg down! leg down!” is likely to make less sense than those websites helping you with HTML. But with a photo in front of you, your teacher can point to the leg in question, and explain where she would like to see it instead. Ahhhh it makes sense now! Photos are also great when you want to revisit a move but can’t remember the name. “Can we do that one where you’re upside down and your leg is on the pole and the pole is here… or is it there… and the arm is up here somewhere and oh I can’t even remember it now…” A photo here saves everyone’s time and sanity. Plus, it’s always amusing to look at what people are doing in the background. Just don’t get distracted by text messages, Snapchat and Facebook. photo 8. Freestyle, and dance it out. There’s more to pole than just tricks and competitions. Freestyling is a thing, but it’s unlikely this will be taught at the average pole school, as it’s such a personal thing, and it feels weird to pay for classes but essentially be told to make it up as you go along. You can dance without learning what to do first , you can just let yourself move and flow and roll on the floor and spin and see what happens. Many, many advanced student never learned the art of freestyle, and can drop a fonji without breaking a sweat but freak out at the thought of a two minute freestyle, Add a movement flow practice at the end of every session and learn how your body moves. Do it in the dark if you feel self conscious, or even blindfolded. It will make a world of difference. 9. Don’t get into bad habits Don’t flex your feet. Don’t run and jump into inverts. If you do get to a level where you want to perform, compete, or even teach, it’s going to be really hard to break those habits. No one is saying you have to be perfect, and every invert must be deadlifted with perfect straight legs from day one (a pretty unreasonable expectation for most), but as soon as you are strong enough, get into the habit of doing moves to the best of your ability. It’s harder to do it that way because you are using more effort and muscle technique. So guess what – doing it that way all the time will give you a killer workout, washboard abs, thighs like Wonder Woman and buttocks you could crack walnuts with. Who doesn’t want that? 10 feel free to ignore all of this completely Let’s face it most people go pole for a fun fitness class. For most, getting to a competition level or even an advanced level of pole is not really a priority. If you just want to turn up once a week and have a great time having fun with a bunch of like minded individuals and at the same time get a bit fitter and stronger, that’s absolutely brilliant. Do not feel you need to embody those bullying “you just have to keep pushing yourself” memes. You only have to push yourself as far as you want and do what you want. So feel free to ignore all of this advice completely, and make pole your own personal Journey. But seriously. Train both sides.   BEXIITA ACKLAND

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