What happens to experimenting, vulnerability and learning when you become an instructor? In this blog post I reflect on where I’m at with my movement, my creativity and my needs after having taught non-stop during the pandemic.
Reflecting on being an instructor
The feeling of being stuck in a rut with my dancing and a series of conversations, posts and events inspired me to write this post and weigh in on what creativity and growth mean for me as an instructor.
One of the posts that inspired me was by one of my favourite instructors and pole idols, Jazzy K. Jazzy argued that to be a good instructor, you still need to learn and do the things that keep you alive to nourish your passion. She concluded that being an instructor isn’t separate from who you are as a human being, and that we need to remember to be ourself to teach well.
A discussion I’ve had with my friend and idol Beanie The Jet also gave me more to reflect on during this post. Beanie and Lauren Elise, one of the first pole instructors I’ve ever learnt from here in London and one of our community’s leading dancers, expanded on this conversation in Filthy Friday’s 4Play podcast, where they chatted about movement supremacy. Essentially, they argued that we need to move away from the idea that one style, one type of movement equals perfection; instead, we need to allow for more exploration and representation of different styles for pole not to feel like a closed shop to those who don’t fit what’s trendy.
Before these posts and conversations, the thoughts and experiences I’d been having felt a bit too uncomfortable for me to share. However, I’ve been realising more and more that it’s important for my students and followers to realise that even if you’re an instructor, you’re still human – and you have needs and feelings. So this is what I, as an instructor and human, have realised about my growth, my teaching and my creativity.
Being a pole dance instructor: my expectations vs reality
Having come to pole dancing and, later, to instructing from a non-technical background and from not being a trained dancer or gymnast, I was, and sometimes still am, a sloppy poler. So my focus in improving my pole dance style and in becoming a pole dance instructor has always been on “cleaning myself up” and fitting a specific mould.
I have been trained and cut my teeth as an instructor at a Russian pole studio, and if Russians / Eastern Europeans are known for their perfectionism and work ethic in gymnastics, that has translated into a very similar work ethic in pole. I had to and wanted to be the most perfect version of myself I could be. Until not so long ago, it was important to me that I showed no weakness and no vulnerability to my students and/or followers.
This approach works for so many people, because it gives them a direction in their teaching and training and a standard to aspire to. It worked for me when I started out, too, because it gave me the discipline to move from student to instructor. Now, however, this doesn’t work for me as a dancer anymore – if something doesn’t work for me as a dancer, I now think it doesn’t work for me as an instructor either.
Recognising my dancing needs
Lockdowns have always been incredibly busy instructing periods for me. As someone blessed with readers and followers from different countries, I could suddenly reach students who would not normally be able to attend my London classes. During lockdowns, I have been lucky enough to teach students from the United States, Canada, Australia and Europe through online privates, classes and workshops.
Because I was teaching so much and trying to limit any potential for injuries however, I stopped exploring and developing my own movement. By May 2020 (in the UK’s Lockdown 1) and April 2021 (in Lockdown 3), creating choreographies and pole combos for classes had become mechanic, a chore. I realised I wasn’t recognising my needs as a dancer, so being an instructor was becoming harder.
In our wanky, half-academic wine conversations about creative practice, my partner and I refer to this situation as ‘creative malnourishment’. I wasn’t learning anything new or from anybody new. I wasn’t dancing for pleasure anymore, but only to make things for other people – and as much as I love my students, there’s no point in “feeding” others if you’re not feeding yourself.
Last year, I “fixed” this feeling by taking a three-month break and heading over to Sardinia to wind down in my hometown. This “work ’til you drop and hibernate for three months” approach following the academic calendar is one I’ve always been fond of, and one I’ll be trying to repeat this summer. Still though, it’s a quick fix. It’s not a change of mindset. It’s a delay of the inevitable.
Pole for me is a form of creativity and release. Treating it only as a job and being incredibly strict in what I was allowed to post and experiment with did not work for my learning: it killed pole as my outlet to express myself and feel, and it limited me in my creativity.
On top of that, I felt I didn’t even have room to learn: my training and the pressures I’d put on myself as an instructor were affecting my learning as a student. I felt I couldn’t show my vulnerability, such as my fears of certain moves, or my doubts surrounding the validity of my own movement. I couldn’t show feelings, and when I felt them, they felt wrong, like something to be ashamed of.
As someone who believes that you should never stop learning, not having feelings and vulnerabilities as an instructor became a problem for my own practice. Now I realise that for me, exploring, conceptualising and sharing feelings is a form of learning.
How I dance mirrors how I teach
I realised that dancing for me is a form of self-expression rather than a static practice with a set of rules. I don’t even like following rules when I dance, because dancing for me means exploring – with styles, with music, with moves. This translates into my teaching. Often, you’ll hear me say: “If you don’t like this stylistic movement, you can switch it with something else that feels more like you.”
I don’t feel I have the right to correct someone’s movement, unless they move in a way that makes them unsafe, or in a completely different way from the assigned move for that class, which would impact their learning and progressing.
I am starting to find it quite amusing that I didn’t apply the same kindness, freedom and respect for creativity to my own practice for so long. And now I am changing tactics.
Leaving my studio
I am a massive introvert masking as an extrovert. As a result of this, I give a lot to my students both at university and in pole, because I want them to have a fun, nourishing experience… but that drains my creative and emotional energy for myself and my own learning. Teaching fires some people up, and it often does so for me as well. But I’ve come to realise which scenarios really boost my creativity and which scenarios make me feel under pressure. Plus, I’m very anxious, and returning to in-person teaching post lockdown was filling me with anxiety.
Since I’m in the privileged position of earning money from academic teaching and talks and from pole, I’ve decided to leave my studio to focus on privates, events and recurring but less frequent workshops instead of weekly classes. This way, I am hoping to teach in a way that isn’t just mechanic but that stems from my own nourishment as an instructor.
So in short: during this never-ending pandemic, I’ve started to appreciate the flexibility of being a free agent. Because of this, I’m trying to shift where I earn my money from (privates / workshops / academia / events) so that I can focus on pole more and become an even better instructor, balancing my dancing needs with my teaching needs.
Practicing instructor nourishment and pole play
As I’ve already written in a previous blog post, lockdowns massively changed how I dance. I’ve become a firm believer in developing my movement safely, but with the vulnerability and space to make mistakes.
Even if this might not work for everyone, I have now come to realise that showing feelings and vulnerability publicly, and making mistakes, is part of teaching effectively for me. So is a constant ‘updating’ of my knowledge, which is why I’ve signed up for Tiff Finney’s Essential Science of Heels Xpert Fitness certification: to explore new techniques and movement from different instructors.
This, to me, is what nourishment feels like: learning for your idols, making space for exploration and mistakes, and being myself even as an instructor.
How do you keep yourself inspired?
So now I’d love to hear from you. How do you nourish your passion, both as an instructor and as a student? What do you do when you’re down, and reignites your fire and love for pole? Feel free to comment here or hit me up on social media 🙂
Where to find me this summer
Even if I won’t be around for a few months from June 19, you can still learn from me online. My Buy Me A Coffee recordings will still be up, and I’ve launched discounted recording bundles if you want to purchase more than one. I’ll be filming more conditioning and pole tutorials too.
Meanwhile, some of my most popular tutorials on BMC are:
- Absolute beginners twerkshop
- FloorWERK technique workshop + choreo to Roxette’s “The Look”
- Pole dance warm-up
- Heavy metal pole choreo – Metallica, available as a single recording or as part of my Rock & Metal Pole bundle, together with a Black Metal pole choreo, a Glam Metal pole choreo and a floorwork rock choreo.
Find these and even more options at https://www.buymeacoffee.com/bloggeronpole.