Sunday, 27 January 2013

Set Your Freestyle Free...

Today I want to write about freestyling, or free dancing, as some call it. I love to freestyle, and I try to do it as often as I can. It's something that comes really naturally to me now, and it gives me such a wonderful feeling of freedom. There's nothing quite like being alone in the studio with your music, your pole and your body, expressing yourself, dancing out your emotions, and creating your art.

It sounds easy - right? Freestyling - seems like something you just do automatically. Just press play and off you go. Wheeeee! Right? Um, no. I will happily admit that there was a time when I really struggled to just let go, and dance. I felt embarrassed, and silly, even when no one was in the room.

I got to thinking about the art of freestyling a few weeks ago, because I was about to teach a workshop on Freestyle Techniques. This is because at the Pole Dance Academy, we recently ran an Intensive Summer School Program. It was a crazy 7 days worth of intensive workshops and classes catering to a range of really specific pole-related skills (handstands, sexy basics, lyrical pole dance, contemporary pole dance, how to flick your hair properly, how to dance in heels, basic acrobatics, striptease, boot camp, dirty sexy floor work, acro-lap dance - just to name a few!). The idea was that we wanted to create time to really hone the skills that you need to be a well-rounded pole dancer - and focus on all the stuff you don't always get time to work on in class. It was an awesome week of fun in the studio, and on the beach, with plenty of free time. I know I'm spruiking a little bit now, but it was so much fun and we're running it again next year too so keep an eye out for more info ;-)

Beach Acro at Pole Dance Academy's Summer School

So I was planning out my workshop, figuring out ways I could help my students improve their freestyles with some skills and techniques to make them feel more comfortable and at ease with their dancing. Halfway through, it struck me that it seemed a little bit of a paradox to talk about preparing for a freestyle. Isn't "freestyle preparation" an oxymoron? Can you really prepare for something that is supposed to be spontaneous and improvised?

The answer is yes, you can. And you should. Preparing to freestyle will make you feel more comfortable in your own skin (and stilettos). And that will improve the quality of the freestyle you do.

So here are some of my tips from my workshop. I hope they help you to feel at ease with yourself, and eventually, to set your freestyle free.

Take yourself seriously

This is the first and most important point. By taking yourself seriously I do not mean that you have to stare intensely into the camera, furrow your brow and pound the floor passionately with your fist (although if that's your thing, by all means go ahead and do it - it's your freestyle!).

What I mean is that you need to take yourself seriously enough that you are able to give yourself permission to dance. A lot of pole students seem to think that they are only entitled to freestyle once they've reached a certain level. This is just plain crazy talk - you don't need approval or permission from anyone to dance.

Just yesterday, we were lucky enough to have the fabulous choreographer and pole dancer Kelly Yvonne teach a workshop at the Pole Dance Academy. During the class, one of the girls was asked to perform her choreography for the rest of the students. Reluctantly, the student agreed. Before Kelly could play the music, the student began to apologise in advance for the mistakes she felt she was bound to make. Outraged, Kelly stopped her, crying "No! Never apologise for your movement! Never apologise for your dancing!"

Sneakily, I got out my notebook and wrote that down for my blog. It fit so perfectly with what I wanted to say. So if I can take Kelly's words and mix them with my own, it would go like this: you don't need permission from anyone but yourself to dance however you like, and you certainly don't need to apologise for the dance your body creates when you finally allow it to do what it wants to do.

You might even surprise yourself once you finally let go - the student in Kelly's workshop went on to give an incredibly beautiful mini-performance, and she had the class mesmerised. You've probably fallen in love with pole dance because you love the way it helps you to express yourself and the emotions you feel. So go ahead and express them. Don't laugh at yourself. Don't tell yourself that you're lame. Don't sigh in exasperation at any mistakes that you make. Just keep dancing.

There are so many excuses to not freestyle... I'm too uncoordinated. I'm not flexible. I have no dance background. I look silly. I'm too old. I'm too out of shape. I'm not good enough.

Just try to remember that pretty much every single pole dancer started out inflexible, uncoordinated, out of shape and silly-looking. I know I certainly did. So refuse to accept your own excuses and GET ON THAT POLE.

Take yourself seriously. 
Charlie Sky knows that pole dance is serious business.

Let yourself be carried by the music

Choose a song that you respond to on an emotional level, on that day and at that time. I have a freestyle playlist in my iPhone, and on the day I pick the one that resonates most with me at that particular time.

Dance to the music. Try to find ways to build your movement as the music builds, and bring it down when there's a quiet or softer part of your song. Don't just run through every single trick you ever learnt, try to create a flow between tricks and floor work.

Lose yourself in the music

Get off the pole!

That's right. You heard me. Step away from the pole.

During a freestyle, you need some downtime away from the pole, or you'll exhaust yourself. Another great reason to learn to love floorwork is that it will make your freestyles more interesting for others to watch. I often find that the freestyles I enjoy the most are the ones that have a lot of creative floorwork. Everyone knows I love a big old power move, but I also love to watch a dancer who can move confidently away from the pole (possibly because I'm still not 100% comfortable away from the pole myself).

So if your brain explodes at the mere thought of dancing away from the pole, let's make it sound less threatening: just try to learn how to do some things with your arms and legs away from the pole. Experiment with striking and holding poses. Change levels - go from standing to kneeling, get all the way down on the floor, and then work out how to get back up again.

And remember - floorwork is not just walking around the pole in circles over and over again. Although of course, if that's all you can think of to do in the moment, do that. It's better than stopping in despair and staring mournfully at yourself in the mirror or banging your head against the pole repeatedly.

There's plenty to do off the pole - don't be scared!

Film yourself. And watch yourself. And don't squirm uncomfortably inside while you watch yourself.

Filming yourself and then playing it back is without question THE BEST WAY TO IMPROVE. Even if you hate watching yourself, do it. Try to be a fair critic of your performance. By that I mean be as objective as you can, and recognise the good things you did, as well as the bad.

I know that when watching yourself, you will always spot the flexed foot, the bent leg or the awkward landing, but try not to focus too much just on the mistakes. Look for what you like, and try to replicate it in your next freestyle. And try to avoid making same the mistakes you've just made.

Watching your own freestyle can be a rollercoaster of emotions.

Don't stop. Whatever you do, just don't stop.

You're 2 minutes and 45 seconds into your song, and you stuff something up. Everything was going so well, and then you stumbled. It feels like the whole freestyle is now lost and completely irretrievable. So you stop dancing and throw yourself down on the studio floor and say "This is so stupid! I suck! I'm going back to yoga."

Noooooo! Don't stop! Don't go back to yoga! Keep going!

You have to keep going, for 3 reasons:

1. Your freestyle will never be perfect, so stop thinking it has to be perfect. You're allowed to make a couple of little mistakes (or even big ones). The purpose of the freestyle is not to create a perfect piece, but rather to practice dancing without choreography. So don't let yourself be put off. Keep going. Dance through it.

2. Another excellent reason for not stopping is stamina and endurance building. It's really hard to pole dance non-stop for 3 or 4 minutes, and you will never be able to do unless you actually do it. So keep dancing, and get stronger.

3. The third, and perhaps more persuasive reason is this: I can't even begin to count the number of times I have disobeyed the above golden rule, and stopped halfway through a freestyle. Then, when I've gone to watch to video afterwards, I've found that the massive and inexcusable error was actually nothing more than a nano-second of a wobble. Sometimes, I've actually groaned out loud watching the video because what felt like a mistake was actually what looks like a really cool and interesting transition, and I'd abandoned the freestyle for no reason. Some of the best tricks were the result of a fall into an awkward position that turned out to be an awesome move... So you never know! Keep dancing and hope for the best.

Have a couple of tricks up your sleeve

Don't think that you need to go into your freestyle with zero clue as to what you're going to do next. It's not cheating to know that you want to showcase one or two particular moves in your freestyle.

I usually have an idea of a few combos or tricks that I want to use, and then what happens in between is the freestyle.

Don't rush

Take your time. Be sure that you finish off each move, each gesture and extension before you move on to the next trick. Time may feel like it's dragging, but force yourself to hold poses for slightly longer than you want to. It gives the audience (or your video camera) a chance to admire what you're doing.

Haters gonna hate

You might just keep your freestyles all to yourself, or maybe you'll share them with friends, your partner, your mum, or maybe you'll throw them out there to cyberspace and see what happens. If you do choose to make them public, you have to be prepared for the wild, weird, sometimes wonderful, sometimes hateful world of youtube and Facebook comments. People can be really supportive and generous, but they can also be really cruel (and sometimes random, like the guy who inexplicably wrote the comment below on one of my videos). Don't let the negative comments get you down. If they do, check out my blog post on the topic.

Whatever, weirdo.

And remember - practice makes perfect

Make time to freestyle as often as you can. I would say at least every week. The more you do it, the less awkward it feels, and the more accustomed you will come to moving without knowing where you're going.

I wanted to get some input from other pole dancers, to see what they thought. So I reached out to Natasha Wang, because she is an amazing and poetic performer, and also because she's sitting right behind me as I write this in my living room, so it was convenient :-).

Natasha says:

"The more often you free dance, the more easily you will be able to let yourself move to the music and improve the flow you create. You need to do it all the time - it's a skill like anything else, and you'll lose it if you don't practice it."

For some inspiration, below are two videos. The first is a recent freestyle, one that I'm quite happy with. I have other videos that are more tricks-based, but I chose this one specifically because there is a lot of posing away from the pole and floor work, as well as pole tricks.

Below it is an old freestyle, from when I first opened the Pole Dance Academy and really began to freestyle regularly. It's funny watching an old video of myself, I think there's a big difference (I hope you do too!), and I think the difference comes from practising freestyling. I mean, obviously over the course of three years I have improved in terms of strength, flexibility and tricks, but the flow and confidence of the freestyle only comes with practice. Watch the second one closely - something goes quite wrong for me at one point, but like a good little freestyler I kept going! See if you can spot what it was ;-)

Recent freestyle:

Old freestyle:

Look closely at 2 minutes 10 seconds. I actually hit my head on the ceiling beam, but in keeping with the golden rule of freestyle, I didn't stop. Did you notice that I'd whacked my head??


You have a right to dance! So go on. Let yourself dance. Give yourself permission to move to music with purpose and passion. It's ok to make mistakes and to feel silly and awkward. It gets better, and eventually, it will feel less like pulling teeth and more like freedom :-).

So now you know what you gotta do. You gotta fight. For your right. To freeeeestyle!

Shimmy xxx

PS One final but random tip. I like to freestyle with clean hair. It swishes better that way. So I always wash it the morning of a potential freestyle day. This is my last random tip for you.


  1. Great picture of you at the Tattoo Expo :)

    To anyone interested, you can see more from the day here:

    1. Thanks Lee! I love the photos you took. Do you have a website?

    2. Thanks Shimmy :) My web site is

  2. Great post, I really enjoyed reading it, thanks :) I' LOVE floorwork, even more then pole... I do stop sometimes while freestyling bc I feel silly or I'm not doing good enough ugh... u're right, less thinking, more relaxing and go with the music!

  3. Lovely blog! I agreed 100% with everything you said. I love free-styling and struggled a lot with it when i first started. I began to incorporate many of the tips you mentioned and have seen a huge improvement in the past few months. Also I wish i lived near your studio as that week long pole camp looks super fun! I want to try beach acro!

  4. love this post!!!! I agree 100% with all of your points, well written too!
    I've gotten into the habit of sending my freestyle videos to my teacher (who offered to critique) and she is always able to point out issues that I had never even considered

  5. Bwahhaaahahahaha Whatever, weirdo. that sounds like something i would say to my kids. I did a workshop with Kelly (and a couple with you) at WA Pole Camp. She was awesome at really getting you to create your own stuff. It was quite liberating to perform sort of freestyle for my classmates. I left out half the choreo by accident, even though i was trying to sneakily glimpse at my notebook while walking around the pole, but guess what? no one really noticed. Plus I have some strange condition where every time I hear a song I imagine what pole combos could work with it......

  6. If you haven't heard of it, there's a GREAT group on facebook that has a freestyle challenge each week (posting a vid is optional). VERY supportive!

  7. I dont come on my blog much anymore.But i saw this on facebook. And at first thought, ill look throught it, i read so much today already lol. Once i started reading i couldnt stop. And then i came across your videos thinking... I really want to watch these but ive watched literally over 100 videos today ( bc i am learning how to do moves properly off of this one site) and i was just too tired to watch more. But once i played them i couldnt stop them. Not only that i couldnt stop watching you i had to subscribe to you if i wasnt already. I did not notice you hit your head which i guess is exactly your point in... keep going.. it feels worse than it looks ;) Free style is something ive always wanted to work def have to say... you have inspired me =)

  8. This post is so apt for how I 'm feeling right now! Was super bummed out over my lack of form and flexibility, especially when my instructor called it out last night in class and worked with me after to help me improve it. I still hesitate about freestyling becos I don't think I'm good enough and have only ever done ONE so far.

    Thanks for the tip, Shimmy!

    Will also remember to wash my hair on the day I decide to freestyle :)


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  10. What an inspiring and motivational post! Thank you! Didn't know, you were also having a blog! Will follow you right away. It would be great if you checked out on my blog too and followed back!
    Let me know!


    Elle A.

  11. Wow I wish I had skills like this! Im even an instructor lol. Props from everyone here.

    Gloria Simms

  12. i like youe post and thank's for your infromation ^___^