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Upping My Game: Cross-training for Pole Dancing

I do really want to pole dance all day long. Okay, maybe spend a little of the day with my dog. However, I also really want to be the best pole dancer I can be — the sexiest, most graceful, the strongest, the most flexible, fluid, and creative. I also want to become these things with greatest efficiency AND effectiveness as possible because let’s face it — sadly, I can’t pole dance all day long. I do have a life with responsibilities and other interests besides pole dancing. I like reading, music, craft projects, said dog, puns that make most of my friends groan or roll their eyes at me, and very sweaty- not hot, but generated by the body’s own work, yoga. Basically, I can’t just pole dance to be good at pole dance. It doesn’t work. So how does one do it? How do you go from standing next to the pole to being upside in an invert with lovely straight legs and beautifully pointed toes (I will chop the toes off if you don’t point them!)? Where does arm strength come from? The endurance to run an entire competition piece without collapsing into a heap midway through? I’m really grateful to have some (genius) knowledgeable teachers, students, and friends who teach, show, and play around with this stuff and me regularly. I wouldn’t know any of it without them. I’m always trying and open to learning new ways to do cross-train better. Here are some things I currently do, enjoy, and find work well for me. Please tell me if you have recommendations of other activities!

1.) Any other type of dance: It is true that I took ballet lessons between the ages of 2-8 and was in modern dance classes in high school. It is also true that I was not mmm… very skilled at either to put it politely. However, let’s leave the past in the past. So, for example, the studio I go to offers a hip-hop class every Tuesday night at 6:30 and I go every Tuesday night. The class is hard for me, and I really get by on mostly enthusiasm. The point is that moving in a different way does help me think about my pole dancing differently. How can I change levels of height? Can I make my moves sharper? Ooooo, I can use that move as part of a floor work combo. Constantly learning new choreography does improve my ability to create fluidity in my movements on and off the pole. Also, it is great cardio and helps to build endurance to run a routine from start to finish. Finally, it is just plain old fun!

2.) Cardio: Build endurance. Burn calories. Get your heart rate up. Don’t spend your day on the stairmaster please. I have a jump rope that I like for 5 or so minutes as my warm-up, a little jog outside or around the studio. Hula hooping? Jumping jacks? Zumba class? Yes. All of it. Whatever makes sense given the circumstances.

3.) Aerials: Besides making you feel like you may be able to run away and join the circus, aerials, such as lyra, silks, and pendulum pole build your strength and muscle memory for pole dance in a way that is really unique. Because they aren’t bolted to the ground and are instead free suspended, your strength and control is in charge of doing a lot more of the work, which means a few things. First, you have to lift with control and can’t fake anything. No jumping or else the apparatus will shake and look funny. This is illustrative to see what you might need to work on in your pole practice. Also, a lot of the shapes of the moves are fairly similar (but the names are not!). For me, there are times where I just haven’t been able to get a move on the pole, but once someone showed it to me on the lyra, it made sense on the pole.

4.) Resistance training: Lifting weights is just great. I find it meditative. Light weights. High reps. One of my good friends/trainer/fitness mentors has taught me most of what I know. Short, high-intensity workouts where I pay close attention to my form work the best for me. I use weight lifting as a way to fill in the gaps of my pole strength. For example, when I was learning how to invert, I focused on exercises that worked my serratus anterior (that little tiny muscle near your armpit) to engage it. It was like magic! From little dips, to handstand pushups, learning how to activate that muscle off the pole got me upside down on it!

5.) Yoga: I love yoga. I really do. I could probably write an entire post about about yoga and pole (Stay tuned). The reality is it makes you strong, flexible, and teaches you to breathe all at the same time, which keeps you centered. Translating that- breathing and being centered while hanging, say in an elbow-grip Ayesha can be the difference between nailing the move and, well, just, uh not.

Molly Weingart
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