I haven’t always been a pole dance instructor. Sometimes I lament the fact that I didn’t find this amazing sport until I was approaching my mid thirties – think of all that time I wasted, all the combos and strengthening I could have been working on for the past fifteen years! I envy the girls who start in their teens, at the peak of physical fitness and flexibility, who don’t get out of bed each morning groaning like a pensioner, whose hands aren’t already becoming twisted and gnarled, or whose joints seize up every time the weather dips below 20 degrees.
Pole dance didn’t exist back then – or at least, not in the way it does now, with a pole dancing school in every town. At least I can comfort myself with the fact that I wasn’t missing decades of poling going on just on my own doorstep.
Recently I was discussing with a friend the career I had before motherhood and pole dancing came into my life. Surprisingly for my friend, this career had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with fitness instructing. And yet, interestingly, I came to the massive realisation that actually, all the jobs that came before this one have, in their own way, contributed hugely to the skills I use every day in teaching pole dancing.
|Would you like an
extended butterfly with that?
One of my very first jobs was waitressing. While I’m lucky enough – ie. old enough – to have gone to university in the UK in the days before tuition fees, that doesn’t mean we were rolling in cash. I followed the tried-and-tested route of impoverished students everywhere into waitressing to fund our electricity coin-slot meters and textbooks/rock and roll lifestyles (as rock and roll as you can be in Canterbury anyway).
One of the key skills to waitressing was being able to know exactly what was going on with every table in your section – who is waiting for dessert, who will need their drinks refreshed in a couple of minutes, who is between starters and mains, which person didn’t want cheese and who is skipping the entree. It’s like holding 17 ever-changing thoughts in your head simultaneously.
Think about how it is in pole class: 12 students, all with strengths and weaknesses, all with different attitudes and fears and needs. It’s my job to know exactly how each one is getting on, who will need spotting and who can do this alone, who will need a little extra on top of what we are doing because I know they have already nailed this move. And that tide will constantly change and fluctuate throughout the session, as someone gains confidence and will need to be given the freedom to try it alone, or someone has a bad day and struggles with something they have previously found easy and need a little more encouragement, or maybe a refresh on some key points.
The ability to know exactly what is going on with everyone, and to be aware of it whilst you are dealing with one individual is vital first and foremost for student safety, but also for student satisfaction. Just as diners don’t want to leave a restaurant thinking “well, my waitress was too busy focussing on the big noisy birthday party in the corner and forgot my margarita”, so the pole student does not want to leave class thinking ” well, my instructor just left me in the corner flailing about without a clue” or “I’ve done that move so much I could teach it myself, couldn’t she have given me a variation or something just to break the monotony?”
As a waitress, you also get to say the same things over and over again all day long: Are you ready to order? Can I get you another drink? Is everything OK with your meal? This is true of pole instructing, only this time it’s Point your toes! Engage your abs! Hips over shoulders! Control the core! You get to shout a lot more in pole instructing than you do in waitressing 😉
|Club dancing in the 90s…
|…in some very 90s boots
I also worked as a dancer to supplement my university lifestyle. I danced in cages, on stages with featured bands and acts, on a podium next to some of the biggest names in the 90s club scene and was a feature dancer for all the superstar DJs. Not once in all that time did I even touch a pole. It would have helped if I did. I would have fallen over a lot less.
After university, I started training to be an English teacher to 11-18 year olds. I didn’t complete the training, as I quickly learned that teaching (at least, this type of teaching) wasn’t for me, but you can see where the similarities lie with my current job.
One of the things I did like about that teacher training though was the study of the psychology of teaching. I liked learning about all the different ways people learn, and the best ways to approach these different learning styles. This is never more true when teaching a pole class. Some students are visual learners. Some learn by doing. Some prefer to be talked through moves. Some will listen carefully, then immediately forget everything you said. It’s my job to know exactly how to teach each of them, how each will respond differently to each approach and to know which technique to use to get the best response.
Some students will do nothing until you approach them, and then they will do their absolute best because you are stood right next to them, but the minute you walk away they go back to wiping the pole and nervously watching everyone else. Some are the complete opposite, and fall to pieces when you are with them, putting themselves down and doubting themselves, but the minute you are helping someone else they quietly and determinedly get on with it. These are the people I watch in the mirror, so I know they are safe and what pointers they need, but they don’t know I’m watching them.
Some students don’t like praise – it makes them feel awkward and embarrassed. Some need constant praise and reassurance. Some need to be the star of the show, and some would never walk through the doors again if even the slightest bit of attention was drawn to them. Aren’t people amazing? It’s my job to spot these details quickly, tailor my teaching to each of them and ensure that all these different types of student can work together as a harmonious group.
After I left teaching I entered a long career in journalism, and later PR. Admittedly, this has helped me when putting together my business, and enabled me to write all my own company literature and indeed articles such as this. But more than that, it taught me so much about people. Everyone has a story to tell, and more often that not it’s a surprising and unexpected story. I am lucky to hear such stories every day from my students, and getting to know such wonderful people, and I believe this is what has created such a friendly, welcoming pole school – a collection of warm, supportive, loyal, interconnected women for whom pole is so much more than a once weekly fitness class. It’s inspiring to see these woman blossom and grow in confidence as well as in strength, flexibility and coordination, largely thanks to the support of those around them in class.
Then came the career path of motherhood. What did I learn here? So, so much, more than it is possible to write here, or even in a book. Embarrassingly, I hear that maternal voice pop out in class sometimes: “Oh well done!”, I’ll say, clapping my hands, perhaps even jumping up and down a bit. On occasion, I have even heard myself say: “Good girl!” Luckily my students are usually upside down at this point and can’t slap me for being so patronising.
I have been teaching for four years now. I do think that in that time my teaching style has improved, evolved, developed. I think the experience of those years has made me a better teacher than I was when I started out, but when I look back over the past two decades, I can see this journey began long long ago, well before the day I first walked into a pole studio and fell in love.
Education, training, qualifications: they’re all incredibly important. But experience is infinitely valuable. Everything you are doing is getting you where you are going, taking you where you need to be.
Without knowing it, I have been training to be the best pole dance instructor I can be for twenty years.