4 Ways Ballet Training Makes Learning Pole Easier
I love meeting other pole dancers. It’s refreshing to find those who share a my love for the art and who understand what the study of pole dancing actually entails. I am used to having to explain to my mainstream acquaintances about pole, “No, I’m not a stripper … no I don’t do it just for exercise, either … yes, I think it’s an art … yes, seriously … yes, it actually can be quite difficult.”
But I don’t expect to have to explain anything to my pole sisters, so when some of them tried to tell me that my background in dance gave me an edge in learning pole, I questioned whether or not this was really true.
Actually, it seemed that some of them were flat out dismissive, suggesting that the classical dance training background I had was such a huge advantage that I ought to be spatchcocking in my first month. I found this both surprising and slightly annoying. I worked as hard as any of them, my progress could not be written off just because I had danced previously.
So, I decided to sit down and compare and contrast the skills of a classical ballet dancer versus the skills we learn on pole. In this post are the skills from ballet that help with pole. Next week will be the skills that work against pole!
1. Familiarity with Learning Movement
This is something we all gain to an extent, starting when we are small and play Simon Says or any other kind of “monkey see, monkey do” activity. Kids are the masters of this kind of learning. The fact that I spent hours every week in a dance studio during my younger years means that I have spent more time than the average person watching someone perform a movement and trying to apply that same concept to my body.
It is actually difficult for me to appreciate this until I take a class with someone who has zero dance training and I see how much more slowly they typically process a direction I find simple.
I humor myself that I am naturally fairly flexible, but I definitely developed it in ballet (how many hours we must have spent sitting in our various splits!). I also know how to stretch myself safely – basics like not to bounce, how to relax a muscle to get the maximum stretch, and how to distinguish between the discomfort that comes with progress, as opposed to the pain of pushing a muscle too far.
3. Being Present in the Body
This is a very difficult thing that I am very far from mastering, but I am aware of it and I can tell when I am and when I’m not present.
By being “present” in the body, I mean an awareness in the muscles. We learn in classical dance the difference between arranging your skeleton into a position and just sort of holding the body there as dead weight, versus moving with energy that comes from within. It is almost like a tension, but I hate to call it that because we must not be tense.
I think a good simple exercise to illustrate the feeling is to try this: lift your leg. Most people will lift their leg as if it is dead weight, doing only the minimum to perform the action. Now do it again, lift your leg, but think this time, think of moving from your core, foot pointed like you want to draw a line in space with your toes. This is to move deliberately, aware of our movements. The difference between a muscle being used incidentally compared to muscle that is consciously activated is huge.
4. Lines of the Body
Thanks to my ballet background, I pay attention to lines that the body creates. Or, I try to. I did not appreciate this very much until my pole teacher mentioned to me that she never has to tell me to point my feet. That’s something that’s fairly second nature after being in ballet.
“Fourth position” is a placement of the feet, but there is also a corresponding head and arm placement that comes with completing the pose and, of course, your torso needs to always be “lifted” and “square” so that it isn’t left out, either. When we dance, the whole body strives to be in harmony. If one part is not in sync with the others, a smooth line is fractured.
This post was all about how ballet makes pole dancing easier – but check back next week to see the ways ballet training can actually make learning pole dance HARDER! And, for more of Pony’s writing, visit her blog, Life of Pony.