Boulder Spirals Progressive Series: Level 1 & 2
Sunday, February 26, 2012
Pole dancing, or Pole Fitness, has been on my mind since a friend raved about the amazing transformations she saw, in physique, self-esteem and confidence, from an S-Factor Class she observed in L.A. I’m athletic and while I’m happy with my looks, I’m bored of the gym routine I dutifully bang out six days a week. Like almost every woman I know, I am intrigued by the prospect of learning how to pole dance, maybe because it’s a little taboo. But then there’s this other part that is reticent to try because, to quote Ryan Gosling’s character from Crazy, Stupid Love, “The war between the sexes is over. We won the second women started doing pole dancing for exercise.”
I’m not one to admit defeat but I’m also not one to give up something before I even try it.
I’ve never been a shrinking violet and I’m usually the first to wear something revealing if I think I can get away with it, so I’m not daunted by the exhibitionism of pole dancing, or the performance aspect. However, it still took me about seven years to finally get around to taking my first class. Having two kids has a way of setting one’s plans back.
Day One: Beginning Pole
My first experience at Boulder Spirals was a beginning level class that consisted of me and a couple of women redeeming a Groupon. Always one for research, I Googled my instructor ahead of time and saw some images of Sasha Viers, owner of Boulder Spirals and my soon-to-be instructor. I have to be inspired by my instructors and Sasha looked like she could inspire me. Armed with a preconception of who my instructor would be (young, childless, most likely a former stripper – clearly I am as guilty of stereotyping as the next person), I showed up in the requisite tank top and shorts but felt overdressed and bloated standing next to Sasha. Girl owns it.
Sasha quickly introduced herself started out with a warm-up routine of arm circles, isolations, core-strengthening moves and modified yoga positions. I had my eye on the clock and noted with some dismay that this was taking up a good deal of allotted one-hour class. We got down to business with a body wave which felt awkward but came together when Sasha put on an old-school Massive Attack song which gave me the sense that musically speaking, we could get along.
We spent a solid five minutes body waving from crouching to standing and working up a good deal of effort in the meantime. Sasha said, “This is way more fun than crunches. ” and I had to agree. Eager to get my feet off the ground, I was psyched to try our first trick: grip the pole one hand above the other at eye level. Hold on tight and lift up one leg, then the other, now put your feet down. Sounds easy right? Only one word was going through my head: RESPECT. This simple move, a galaxy away from the mind-boggling tricks I watched on Youtube, was at the outer edge of my ability and I’m no slouch.
Day Two: First Class of Level 1-2 Progressive Series
I brought a friend to the first day of Level 1-2 Progressive Series. The class was overfull (my friend didn’t register ahead of time, her bad) and had to share a pole with me. After the standard warm-up, Sasha re-visited the Booty Bump and the Speed Bump I learned previously, got our feet off the ground with a simple fireman’s hold, and taught us the Girl-On-Top spin and the Stripper’s Strut. To leave us with something to look forward to, Sasha demonstrated a Front Hook spin and walked us through it.
First, I have to say that watching Sasha move is like watching a bird catching an updraft, or maybe a minnow gliding in a lazy current. She’s lithe and incredibly slender. If not for her sensuous movement, she is almost childlike. Her spins float and her hands barely seem to grip the pole. She is the picture of effortless grace. That said, I got one doozy of a bruise on my shin from violently rushing the pole in an attempt to get some momentum up.
The next day I deflected questions about said bruise by claiming my husband kicked me in the shins. I want to get good at the pole before people start asking questions and demanding a demonstration. Meanwhile I discovered that my hooping instructor is a mutual friend with Sasha and I learned that she has a small child. I am not sure whether to be encouraged or dispirited to know she came to this with the same challenges as me. On the one hand, if she can do it, so can I. On the other hand, I don’t have an excuse if I can’t hack it. Driven much? You bet.
Day Three: Second Class of Level 1-2 Progressive Series
My friend dropped out due to time constraints but I stayed on, resolved to give it the old college try. I am determined by nature and aware of how learning curves work. I figured if I could apply consistent effort, I might not embarrass myself for much longer. It was encouraging to see familiar faces yet I still felt self-conscious, which isn’t a normal feeling for me. I am known for my self-deprecating humor, for being the first person on the dance floor and the class-clown.
This class consisted of learning three basic variations of the Front Hook spin. Then we learned how to climb the pole, which got me exactly two feet off the ground and in a world of hurt. Throughout the class Sasha worked from student to student, spotting and giving advice on technique. I pried a little into Sasha’s background and was a tad disappointed (and chastened) to learn that Sasha was not a former stripper (because I love a sordid past), but had a background in modern dance, gyrotonics and yoga. The truth be told, it shows in her teaching style. She is methodical and balanced, with a strong emphasis on form, safety and technique. There is nothing informal about her approach. I’m not exactly young so I have a healthy fear of injury and will go to great lengths to prevent it. I’m glad that I have an instructor who feels the same way.
My original dismay at the amount of time spent stretching and strengthening was replaced with gratitude. Sasha clearly understands that people new to pole dancing have to build strength and stamina. She has us practice moves but not to the point of complete frustration-plus-fatigue fueled failure. This is very important because it kept me from flaming out too early.
Day Four: Open Pole
I dropped in on an open-pole session that consisted of lots of stretching and watching more accomplished performers practice for the upcoming showcase. Sasha kindly walked me through pole climbing and spins, which I worked on until my body cried “Uncle!” I got in about 15 minutes of actual practice which didn’t seem like much until I took the next class.
Day 5: Third Class of Level 1-2 Progressive Series
My seemingly unproductive open-pole session actually made a difference! Sasha commented that I had softened my approach to the pole, which I took as a compliment. The spins I struggled with came easier and, while I didn’t float effortlessly, I felt like I wasn’t hanging on for dear life and unceremoniously dropping myself on my knees. I was also able to climb halfway up the pole.
Sasha worked on our floor moves and taught us how to take a spin to the ground, roll it over, do some flirtatious leg moves and bring us back to standing and voila, we had a mini-combination. Add some music and now I was feeling damn sexy and a little bit good at this. We reviewed the three front hook spins and I felt like I was finally getting the hang of things.
As I write this, I am aware of the various tender spots on my body, namely my calves, tops of my feet (from pole climbing) and behind my knees. Maybe it is my age (I just turned 40), or my athletic zeal for muscling through the movement (I’m working on my finesse) but I’m feeling like it was pretty smart to start this during the winter months when I can hide my bruises behind long pants and tights. Like any athlete, there is a part of me that relishes my battle bruises and sore muscles. I worked for these and I am using parts of my body that I’ve never used before. I am also hoping that come springtime my legs will be as unblemished as my technique.
Day Six: Open Pole
After approaching the general manager at my gym about installing a pole in a corner of an unused racquetball court (and getting totally shot down), I decided that I’m going to have to take advantage of as many of open pole sessions as possible. I find it inspiring to be around more experienced dancers, and that would be everyone but me. Some of the faces looked familiar to me and although most, but not all, of the women appeared to be college age, I am eager to perform with them in a showcase one day. There is a small bulletin board near the entrance to the studio that advertises the services of various choreographers who can help with routines. It is encouraging to know that I don’t have to figure out a whole routine on my own. Nine times out of ten I’ll enlist the best help I can find because I believe in killing it. This gets me psyched.
Day Seven: Fourth Class of Level 1-2 Progressive Series
We reviewed our Front Hook spins and started in on the basic back spins and learned how to link the two together. Between all our “big” tricks, Sasha taught smaller transition moves, both standing and on the floor, that can work to make sexy little combination.
Linking moves together elevated the pole from simply trying to master a trick to doing something creative, personal and dancer-like. Sasha broke down how to execute a full back-bend to the floor that took it from being a total no-go in my mind to something completely doable. The great moment really came when she turned down the lights, put on some music and encouraged us to freestyle for the last five minutes of class. For a few minutes I almost lost myself in the movement that came easier and felt sensual and empowering.
I’m still trying to figure out how to approach talking about my new passion. I don’t want to be snippy with people about it, but I’m getting a little tired of the smirks and the jokes about my “second job”. I challenge anyone to try it and not walk away with a deep respect for the athleticism and commitment of an accomplished pole dancer: stripper or otherwise. So if I’m unlikely to blurt out in a mixed crowd that I am taking these classes, it’s because I want to get so good at it that I can wipe the smirk off anyone’s face who thinks it’s easy and for layabouts. When I’m that good, there will be a pole in my living room.
Day Eight: Fifth Class of Level 1-2 Progressive Series
Now that the showcase has come and gone there aren’t any happy hour open pole sessions on the calendar. Bummer. I appreciated the unstructured time to practice and this new development means I’m gonna have to take a closer look at the schedule. As you can probably tell, I am definitely working towards and end result and one class a week won’t get me there. Add to that a rather alarming anecdote from a fellow classmate about a rapidly progressing cohort:
“Did you know how much so and so goes to class? Sometimes three times a day!”
Excuse me? Three times a day?!? I better step up my game.
But back to the class. It was on the day the BIG STORM was to hit, the one that the networks kept yapping about like it was going to be Armageddon. As if we don’t live in COLORADO where it has been known to snow from time to time. Thursday rolled around and it seriously wasn’t looking like it was going to snow, but you couldn’t turn the radio or T.V. on without someone warning you to batten down the hatches. A few flakes started to sift down when it was time for me to head out around 6:30pm and it looked like something might happen, but I was still skeptical.
The upshot of this was that it gave the whole day that Will It or Won’t It feel, where at any moment the whole city (and class) was going to get shut down, and it might be nice just to stay in and relax on the couch in front of the fire, so maybe it would be okay if class was canceled, so I kind of had one foot in and one foot out the door. It’s not the greatest state of mind when resolve is key.
Class started on time but I wasn’t entirely all there. In an inverse of previous classes when an hour seemed to be too short, it seemed interminable since my ass was already on the couch. Once Sasha got us going with the warm-up and stretching I got my head back in the game and the time flew by, especially when we learned the pinwheel spin I had been admiring, and when we learned how to link a forward spin with a backwards spin. There were some requests to learn certain moves – as seen in the showcase which I must go to next time – which sounded to me like, “You take your leg and put it waaay up here and then your hand goes there and then you kind of go like this and it’s really awesome!” Sasha looked as perplexed as I felt and said, “You’ll learn all that, but not today. Today we’ll be working on …”
Me? I’m okay with the old step-by-step. Truth be told, I’m wondering if I should do the beginners series again, just to really nail all the basics. Either that or I’m going to have to find a place in my house to put a pole.
Day Nine: Sixth Class of Level 1-2 Progressive Series
This was not one of my better days, the problem being entirely my own. A blow-up with a close friend has got me stewing in my own juices and thinking about stuff that has nothing to do with spins and climbs. Sasha also approached me about doing the instructor training. I have to say that I am so incredibly flattered, yet a bit incredulous. Clearly she sees potential in me and I trust her instincts. However, it does make me turn a critical eye to just about everything I do.
My work in this class took on a whole new level of gravitas as with each move I asked myself, “How can I teach this if I can’t do it?” Of course I have a long road ahead of me before I could ever teach, a 20 hour teacher training, probably a repeat of the 1-2 Progressive Series while doing the Level 3 Series simultaneously (provided a get my yellow garter), sneaking in to practice once or twice a week… Actually, when I think about it that way, I see some possibility, but you get the picture. It was a challenging day on lots of levels.
The big news is that I had an important breakthrough. I noticed that all of the sudden I was naturally placing my lower hand further down on the pole and pushing away with it, rather than having it up high and hanging on it. While this is a small thing, I see it as the key to looking like I are floating around the pole rather than flinging myself around it. This small victory did a lot of buoy my spirits and keep me thinking forward and up.
Day Ten: Seventh Class of Level 1-2 Progressive Series
Today was the make-up/review day before we attempt to test out of Level 2 next week. Something really profound has happened to the class since last week. Until tonight I can’t say that I knew any of my fellow students. I know a few names and everyone is familiar but aside from random tidbits of information thrown out here and there (Eliza is a teacher and has a child, Desi works for Spirals, Neka is married, etc.) I know next to nothing about anyone. My work feels largely solitary and when we freestyle, there is a sense that everyone goes inward and deep, which is actually quite remarkable, yet I don’t make a whole lot of eye contact or small-talk.
Increasingly, though, people are showing up 15-30 minutes prior to class to do a little warming up and stretching on their own. In this time there is a little more conversation and connection. Today the subject is the Level 3 Progressive Series and who has signed up. Suddenly there is a sense that we are in this together. “What? You haven’t signed up? Who here is in? C’mon, everyone else is doing it!” There is a camaraderie that we didn’t have before and the desire to stay together in this journey.
Since most of us were there early and already warm, Sasha got us moving along, doing drills on the poles and across the floor, which is a first for us. As we waited our turn in line, there was a little talk. Stacy talked about her experience with the teacher training and encouraged me to do it. Alisha cracked everyone up by drawing an imaginary circle around her and calling it her “Sexy Space”. We commented on each other’s progress and encouraging each other. It was like a wall came down, right as we were in the home stretch.
We went over all the spins, climbs and holds and I noticed how much my stamina has increased. I can climb all the way to the ceiling on both sides and the tops of my feet don’t hurt quite as badly as before. Some of Sasha’s technique is clicking with me and I can see a great difference. I can’t believe that the instruction portion of this series is over and next week will be the big test. I feel confident about next week and unconcerned about whether I pass or not. I know that Sasha wants us all to succeed and will provide us with the tools we need to do so. I’ve already signed up for the next series and am excited to keep going, especially if there are some friendly faces with me.
Day Ten: Level 1-2 Progressive Series: TEST DAY!
I’m in a room with a handful of ladies whom I have just started to bond with and we are at the end of our Level 1-2 Progressive Series. It’s test day. When we started this class about two months ago we could barely hold onto the pole and lift up our feet, and forget about climbing the pole. What’s most striking is how far we have all come.
The only goal for today’s session is to go down the list of must-know moves: spins, holds, climbs, booty bumps and stripper shuffles. I’m less nervous about this than I thought I would be, in part because Sasha is so completely supportive of everyone. She’s not here to fail people or intimidate, she’s really here to help and teach us. So after a quick warm-up and stretch we take our places at the poles and she pulls out a list and starts calling out moves for us to do. Since we are all going at the same time, she has us do each move several times on each side so she can get a good look at everyone. She’s not concerned whether we know the technical name of the move and we often turn to Stacy (a newly minted instructor) to demonstrate when we are confused.
The hour goes by quickly as everyone demonstrates a working knowledge of the mechanics of the move, if not complete mastery. What I like the most about taking classes at Spirals is the sense that this is a journey. There isn’t the pressure to be perfect or perform in class. It’s about learning the technique and getting to the point when all the pieces line up and fall into place. I hear the word “breakthrough” bandied around often and that’s because it really is the best way to describe the process. You observe, you attempt, you get instruction, and you try and try and try then suddenly your hand just goes to the right place, or your leg is able to find that mysterious arc that it was missing and BANG, you’ve got it.
For a test day there was so much support and encouragement from everyone in the room. No one had to fail for someone else to win, quite the contrary, we wanted everyone to pass so they could come along for the next step in the journey. At the end of the hour we all sported our yellow garters for a group photo. Some signed up for the next session while others lamented not being able to swing it. I can’t believe that two months have gone by so quickly and that is is over. Fortunately the Progressive Series: Level Three starts next week. Same time, same place.