Pole dancing has carried me through lockdown, giving me an outlet to express my feelings while self-isolating alone, allowing me to have daily chats with my students and to work on myself. Yet, in those gloomy three months from March to early July 2020, something about my pole dancing style and training changed. As studios in the UK set to reopen this weekend, this post features some musings about how my dancing has changed in lockdown.
Looking Back On How My Pole Dancing Has Changed Post-Lockdown (Hopefully)
I think it’s fair to say that lockdown and Covid-19 have changed a lot of things for many of us. Never in our lifetime have we faced such an uncertain, destabilising, lonely, difficult period.
As you’re probably very tired to read – given my Insta whinges and my numerous blog posts about self-isolating away from my partner, staying sane in lockdown and so on – lockdown was very hard on me, because I was completely alone. The nightmare, really, started at the beginning of March, when things started going downhill in Italy and I was separated from my family, watching it all unfold and feeling like it might come to the UK. When it did, even if I should have been prepared, I struggled to accept the complete and utter loneliness, putting all my projects on hold and feeling like nothing had a future. Basically, I felt what most people were feeling.
Luckily, dancing was both my lifeline and my source of income, and I was fortunate enough to already have a pole in my house to do it. Looking back, I went into lockdown a complete different dancer than I was when I came out. I’ve been pole dancing for nearly four years, I’m a trained instructor and I started teaching regularly last year, but before lockdown, I was always plagued by self-doubt about my dancing. Every time I taught, I thought: “Why me?” and impostor syndrome was always there in the back of my head – something I often never feel, but that has always characterised my experience with pole dancing.
Only now, a few weeks after I’ve left the UK to spend the summer with my parents in Sardinia to work on my PhD, I can look back at my dancing with a bit of perspective. So here are 15 ways in which it changed during lockdown.
#1 – I Expressed Actual Feelings Through Dancing
Those of you who have been following me throughout my pole dance journey will probably know that I really had just one emotion in my range while dancing, which was: OMG I’M DANCING HOW EXCITING, YAY I FEEL BADASS. Which is fun, don’t get me wrong. It’s also pretty honest: that’s genuinely how I feel when I dance, so blown away that the girl on stage (or in the living room) dancing to her favourite tunes in an ok way is actually little awks me. You can literally read it on my face: the grin, the eyes, the excitement.
Before lockdown, I don’t think I was able to explore any other emotions, and I probably wasn’t even remotely interested in doing so. However, when shit started getting real, I found solace in sad vibes, musically and stylistically. For the first time ever since I’ve started pole, I began enjoying dancing barefoot and exploring my feelings this way.
And even if I still consider the in-your-face, badass showgirl side of me my favourite, exploring feelings in different ways than crying or writing broadened my dancing range and actually helped with my mental health a great deal during that horrible, lonely time.
#2 – I Changed My Pace and Slowed Down
Another pre-lockdown characteristic typical of my dancing was my speed. It’s very well known in pole circles that speed can sometimes equal sloppiness, particularly with beginner dancers. It’s not always the case, but the critiques I often got at competitions before I started teaching was: take the time to finish each movement – which you can’t always do if you’re rushing.
I am an instructor, and I don’t think I lost the need to rush in my dancing until lockdown began. At some performances, I’ve been called ‘polenado’. When she first started training me, my boss and mentor, Veronica from Exotica Pole Dance, told me with her very Russian directness: “What you do is very good. But it is mess.” Lol. She was not wrong.
Slowing down is something I’ve always struggled with. I do everything at breakneck speed: learning, writing, academic writing, reading and so on. It’s often very unhelpful, even when it feels productive. Yet, slowing down is something we’ve all had to do during lockdown, and with my dancing – unlike with academic writing – it came perfectly naturally.
I felt like I had all the time in the world and like, in fact, I needed to waste time to make the days more bearable. So I made my long warm-ups even longer, my training sessions even lengthier, just to avoid being left alone with my thoughts. Even the songs I chose to dance to were slower, so to have any musicality my body had to follow them. And, somehow, it worked. I felt like finally I wasn’t running after a beat only I could hear, but like I was letting the music and my feelings guide me. Hopefully that’s the end of ‘polenado’.
#3 – I Made Myself Smaller
I am not particularly tall, but in a smallish, crowded living room and while wearing 8 or 9 inch heels I suddenly felt like a giant. No matter where I turned, extending my range of movement meant hitting a table, or a door, or the sofa, or the kitchen cupboards. So I had to learn to make myself smaller to fit around my pole without damaging too much around me.
It was an interesting exercise. While I can’t wait to be able to do big spins around the pole, to fish flop from one side of a studio to the next, to forget having to be mindful about what’s around me, I also learnt how to engage and control my body better.
That sofa can fuck off though.
#4 – I Worked On My Flow
Every time I looked at flowy pole dancers I’d be full of envy, but I’d also dismiss flows as: that’s not me. It doesn’t work with my style. Truth was, I wasn’t working on my flow enough.
While I still like accents, big drops, bouncy moments, I’ve now enjoyed connecting each movement in a way that flows and that isn’t just about hitting a beat.
I guess you can say that flow in pole can be compared to my partner’s ‘line of argument’ advice in academic writing: if your argument doesn’t flow, if your points are disjointed, all the good things you can express are going to confuse the reader. So here’s what changed during lockdown: I finally figured out hitting a beat means nothing if everything else feels disconnected.
I think this came from forcing myself to try to freestyle to songs without stopping, but that was just my way of doing it. Other people might find their flow differently. But when you find it, you will know.
#5 – I Experimented With Transitions
Transitions are strictly related to flow and reader, I sucked at them for quite a while. Before lockdown and thanks to my instructor training, I had improved a lot. I had a library of transitions I could use that I had seen others do, that I had learnt in classes or during my training. But none of them felt ‘mine’.
What changed in lockdown was that, by dancing endlessly, I found my transitions by joining bits of dancing I loved, by experimenting or, sometimes, by falling. And suddenly dancing became even better.
#6 – I Overtrained
Because I have other jobs, even when I was teaching in the studio I would only teach once a week, for three hours straight. In lockdown however, I went from a minimum of 5 weekly hours to 10 hours (including privates, workshops etc.). Because to come up with routines for classes and to stay sane I needed to dance, there would be weeks when I would add other 5 or 10 hours of training to those 10 of teaching.
I felt so lucky that people were booking that I assumed that, at some point, it would end. So I trained, and trained, and trained. And I injured myself.
Because of stress and overtraining, my neck and shoulders would sometimes ache so much that I couldn’t turn my head. I also managed to fuck up my hamstring in my more flexible leg for doing too many split drops one day, something that has just begun to heal. In short, I didn’t practice what I preach to my students: I didn’t let myself rest, because as soon as I’d stop dancing, my emotions would run wild.
So if you take anything away from this, remember that despite how beautiful dancing can be, you have to know when to stop.
To be 100% honest, after this crazy spring, I’m now scared to go back to teaching. But I now know what it means for my body to take it slow, and hopefully I’ll be able to stop when I need to in better emotional circumstances.
#7 – I Lost Love For Dancing
When dancing is an expression outlet, a passion and a job, it can be tricky to stay motivated, particularly when, because of lockdown, you don’t have access to your weekly dose of training and to the opportunity to learn something new.
In another apt metaphor by my partner, for a while my brain felt malnourished: I was so tired from teaching up to 10 hours a week and adding my own training on top that for two months I didn’t take classes with other people. I didn’t add to my learning. And having to come up with new content every week for the five studio online classes plus the never-ending privates I taught, I felt depressed and stuck. I had a dancer’s block.
My body was hurting, too. I didn’t have access to a massage therapist and felt achey and touch starved from loneliness. For a good while, dancing stopped being a pleasure.
#8 – I Challenged Myself Through Online Classes
When I realised even my dancing was depressing me, I spoke to my partner and to my pole wife who both recommended I started learning again. Suddenly, I felt like the only idiot in lockdown who didn’t take advantage of all the amazing opportunities to learn from pole stars and idols from all over the world. What was I even thinking!
Jazzy K‘s Indi Pole Dance online workshops were particularly life-changing. I think her classes where when it clicked that my dancing had actually changed. Her heelwork and pointe are so incredibly flawless, her transitions so effortless, that if I hadn’t worked as hard as I did throughout lockdown and before I would have never been able to pull off one of her routines. Even just half a year ago I would have struggled. On top of that, Jazzy is a fantastic, patient teacher that breaks down the movement to the tiniest detail, and she inspired me both as a dancer and as an instructor.
Following an IG competition I won with Pole Junkie, I was also able to do a private class with another one of my idols, Sarah Scott, who helped me with one of my weaknesses (fun basework) and jazzed up the combos for a routine I’m working on.
In May I was also able to learn from Little Dee, one of the loveliest people from the @pdfilthyfriday community and one of the most badass and flexiest chair and pole dancers out there. Learning her acrochair tricks was a breath of fresh air and a chance to learn skills I never thought I could have. She’s such an encouraging and thorough teacher that, even though I felt my chair was going to slide off my useless floor any minute, I managed to keep it together.
#9 – My Twerking Got An Upgrade
Last but not least, before I left for Sardinia I studied and trained towards the Twerk Technicians twerk teaching qualifications, one of the biggest challenges in my dancing life. I don’t think I’ve ever been this sweaty while training – Exhibit A.
I realised I really do run on anxiety and adrenaline and knowledge, and having to study for something, and having an exam, albeit an online one, almost felt like the thrill I feel when I’m training for a competition. So that definitely jazzed things up during social distancing, while providing a much needed change to my workout schedule and teaching me some moves I’d never even heard of despite nearly four years of twerking.
#10 – I Found Love For Dancing Again
Thanks to all these new injections of knowledge and creativity, luckily, things changed and I found love for dancing again.
I don’t think I’ve ever properly lost love for pole like some people I know say they’ve lost it. But from what they say, they always come back to it recharged after doing something else. Taking all these classes and learning from someone else really helped towards that.
#11 – I Fought My Fears
Some people imagine instructors as flawless goddesses / gods that have no weaknesses (move or dancing wise). That is a LIE. We all have weaknesses, fears, moves we hate – even my pole idols do.
I have a thing about neck / feet grips. So iguanas and brass monkeys were a no for me before I started teaching, and I only mastered them confidently during my instructor training. Some more difficult transitions from those moves, however, were still a no-no, or something I’d try in the studio with a crash mat.
At home, I sucked it up and I did it. I honestly don’t know what changed, but I just felt ready. Not stupidly ready, not reckless. Just ready. And it turns out I was. I just told myself: “You’re an instructor. You know how to fall. You know what you can and can’t do.” And I did it.
Sometimes your body sends you a message and your mind is the only thing stopping you. So yeah. You got this.
#12 – I Developed My Style
I’ve already talked about how the music I chose has changed during lockdown, and about how I worked on my flow and transitions. I think another thing that changed during lockdown was my understanding of the things I liked on me and on others, and the pole dancing styles I admired the most.
So I realised that, for me, the perfect combo I want to work towards features the Aussie showgirl spins and hair flicks, the Russian legs and pointe and the stripper style heel clacks, twerking and touching. This blends my first pole home – Australia – with my Russian Exotic instructor training and with my admiration for strippers and their incredible stage presence.
It will take me forever to be happy with it, but in lockdown I felt like maybe it’s going somewhere for the first time.
#13 – I Learnt I Can Actually Provide Value To My Students
The “Why me” aspect of teaching never really went away until May, when I saw a lot of my beginner students’ incredible progress after months of hard work in lockdown. Something changed right then: it wasn’t only their words, although they always came to me with praise and thanks; it was their actual dancing. It was their work on transitions. Their ability to pull off moves that seemed impossible to them in lockdown. The development of an attitude.
Even if my boss saw something in me, even if I’ve been trained to teach, even if a lot of people have booked my classes before and throughout lockdown, I don’t think I’ve felt comfortable in my skin as a teacher until May, when I realised what was happening to my regular students. And a knot in my stomach went. Suddenly, I could breathe out in relief without thinking: “Why me?” anymore.
#14 – I Danced For Others
In lockdown, dancing became another way through which my partner and I could share something while being apart. He would ask me to dance to a song, and I would perform it for him. At the same time, I also did a few live freestyles, including the first @pdfilthyfriday live showcase, Quarantine Queens.
It was the first time that my dancing incorporated so much freestyle in it. So much changed from the days when I needed to choreograph every breath: in lockdown, I started letting my body do what it wanted even ‘live’ and letting go of the control freak in me.
Around this time, I received a lot of requests for other live performances – some for charity, some for shows – but sadly, I turned them down. In the future, I need to get better at managing my physical pain, my teaching and my anxiety to allow me to do what I love the most: perform.
#15 – I Danced For Me
Mostly, in lockdown, I danced for me. I have always danced for myself, don’t get me wrong. But in lockdown, I did it differently.
When I first started pole dancing at Sydney Pole, I danced to get better and to prepare showcases. When I came to London, I danced to get better and compete. Then it became about getting better and teaching. Then it just became about teaching. Dancing made me feel good, but it always had some sort of aim, some objective.
What changed in lockdown was that I danced for me. I danced because I wanted to. I danced because I needed to fill the days and the empty spaces. I danced because it was the only thing that made me feel free.
Fingers crossed lockdowns will become a thing of the past very soon, and that we can all incorporate the good changes we found during this difficult time!