Happy new year everyone! Since this year I’ve decided I would be focusing on pole dancing, I came up with 12 pole tricks that I’ve always wanted to learn. A lot of these pretty tricks focuses on flexibility in the back and also in front and center splits. Now, I’m no where near as flexible to attempt these moves yet – but indirectly, my goals would be to stretch everyday to eventually reach these goals!
As the name implies, it’s a program where you volunteer your time and energy to help out at a studio in exchange for free classes. These types of programs have been popularized, or may have even originated from yoga studios. It’s a great program for financially-strapped students to participate in activities that they would otherwise not have the opportunity to.
Where are they offered?
Many yoga, pole, and dance studios offer Energy Exchange Programs for their students. However, I found very popular studios usually don’t offer this program while less popular studios are more likely to offer it. Newer studios that are just starting up are also more likely to offer them since they have less capital to hire someone. It might be worthwhile to check their websites and see if the studio you’re interested in have one.
What are the hours and time commitment?
The terms and conditions vary. Again, if the studio is more popular, the terms may be less favourable where they offer you a 10-class pass for the month in exchange for 2-3 hours of work every week. Other studios may be more generous and offer an unlimited monthly membership for the same amount of time commitment. Usually studios require a minimum of 4 or 6 months commitment.
How do I help out?
Some studios may already have an Energy Exchange Program in place and outline the details of the exchange. The type of volunteer work are typically: help clean the studio, the mats, the poles (for pole studios), mirrors, or help register students and reply emails. Most of the work usually requires little to no training. On the other hand, if a studio doesn’t have an Energy Exchange Program, feel free to email them and ask! Let them know what skills you have, how you can help out, what times you can commit to, and what you want in exchange. It really doesn’t hurt to ask! Perhaps you are a pro at social media and creative design – let them know what you can offer!
Picking the right studio
If you happen to hear back from a studio that’s interested in having you, offer to go visit the studio and meet the owner/manager if you haven’t already! This is especially important if you’ve never been to the studio before. Ensure that the studio is close enough to commute to at least a few times a week, is relatively clean and well-maintained, and most importantly if you feel you can get along with the people there (students AND the employees)! This is almost as important as picking the right job since you’ll be there for the next few months.
Legal papers, contracts?
Energy Exchange Programs are relatively informal volunteer programs based on trust between the studio and the student volunteer. The studio I’ve volunteered at did not have any contracts or papers for me to sign and was completely based off of trust. This may be uncomfortable for some that do require those paper work; if that’s the case, keeping an email exchange of the agreed terms and conditions would be a good idea. With that being said, even if you nor the studio are legally obligated to commit to the agreed terms, it would still be in your best interest to be professional, show up on time and complete the agreed volunteer hours!
Aside from being able to get free lessons in exchange for volunteering a bit of your time, the Energy Exchange Program is a really good opportunity to get to know the studio, instructors and owners. Because you will be there quite often and be required to stay longer than class hours, you will likely see the behind the scenes of running a studio and business. I personally love the idea of Energy Exchange Programs and wish I heard about them earlier!
Went to open gym today to practice more silks. The low bay (22ft) was occupied so I was told to practice in the high bay (40ft). Holy. Crap. 40ft is extremely high up… and looks so overwhelming.
My first tackle was trying to climb all the way to the top. It definitely was not easy. My friends encouraged me to keep climbing and not give up. Right climb wrap, down, left climb wrap. I swear… if it weren’t for them I would’ve came down half way. Well, guess that was enough conditioning for the day!
Anyway, I wanted to practice my cross back to straddle back balance, as well as the uneven split roll through. The video looks pretty bad… definitely need work on my climb, getting into the single silk foot locks and generally smoothing everything out. But hey, the screenshots look alright.
In fact, the pictures taken from the high bay look so grandeur and epic… I’m in love <3
I can’t deny I love telling people ‘Hey! Guess what? I joined the circus!’ and then pull up my phone to show them all the cool stuff that I’ve learned. But there’s also no denying circus is very expensive and the cost adds up if you are dedicated to get better.
I’ve been taking classes almost everyday, so much that I should probably just set up a tent and camp there. But this session finishes at the end of December, in 5 weeks or so. The thought of it actually depresses me. Simply because I’m not sure if I can continue funding this cool, yet ridiculously expensive passion of mine.
I’m considering breaking up with circus and going back to pole instead. My reasoning is… circus is and will always be an ongoing cost. There’s no way I can set up a rig at home and continue practicing on my own; even if I did, I don’t think I’ll be able to take this to a performance level. It seems those that reach performance level are usually the ones that started gymnastics or dance when they’re really young – in which I have neither.
On the other hand, I can always pole:
I have a pole at home and I can always practice whenever I want
There’s no other costs to pole anymore – maybe new outfits and grip
I’m not too late since most polers started as adults (hopefully?)
You may have noticed over the years, my blog and videos show my hair between stages of shoulder length to waist length. And for those speculating, I’ve been donating my hair! Pantene’s Beautiful Length program is a wonderful initiative that collects hair donations and makes wigs for cancer patients. What sets this organization apart is that they provide the wigs free of charge to these patients.
I started donating my hair in January 2012. Shortly after my aunt passed away from cancer, I felt the need to try and make a difference in someone else’s life. At the time, Pantene partnered with several salons in the city that offered free hair cuts to those that were eligible to donate their hair. I’ve never had short hair since I was in grade 4 and was terrified. But the stylist did an amazing job. I felt wonderful inside out and vowed to keep donating my hair.
It’s not without some minor sacrifices though. Hair donations only accept virgin hair meaning no perms, dyes or any processing. It’s tempting sometimes to want to try new hair styles but I feel growing out healthy hair to help someone will bring me more joy.
For my second time donating, Pantene didn’t have any campaigns with partnered salons. I contacted a few salons and asked if they would be able to provide discounts for their services and a few responded. I decided to go with Evoke on Bloor, they had a junior stylist that would offer the cut for free. It was funny that the stylist seemed more nervous about chopping off my hair than I was. I sat mostly in silence as he meticulously shaped my hair into a short bob. He seemed very focused and I didn’t want to break his concentration. I left feeling happy knowing I was donating my hair and helped a student perfect their skills even more!
In Silks 101, we learned how to do a knee hook, and how to do scissors. As we advanced, we were challenged to make the transition between each: knee hook to scissors, then back to a knee hook.
This was more of a mental challenge than a physical challenge. First, let’s review:
Right knee hook
Knee hook: Starting with silk on one side, straddle inversion and hook knee on the SAME side. The tail flags the body and the OPPOSITE arm is flagged.
Scissors: There are several ways to get into scissors, but ultimately, the silk wraps around one thigh, and your body is piked and tilting towards the silk. The tail should be at the hips to maintain friction.
So why is this a challenge? Because there is a significant ‘drop’ in the transition and you need to know how to get into your final flagged positions; which leg should be hooked, which arm should be flagged.
We spent a few classes tackling this, starting off the floor with lots of tail. But I found this really hard to work out since the body can’t be in an actual knee hook or scissors on the floor – there are arches and pikes! The other problem is, even starting with a straddle inversion from the ground, you lose a lot of height in the transition that you will hit the floor in your final knee hook. (I almost landed on my head once!)
As counter intuitive as it sounds, I found it easier to start here ghee off the ground. I climb 2-3 mechanics off the floor to get sufficient height to ‘drop’ in this transition.
This transition took so much practice before it’s become second nature. In the video, I recorded my struggles in getting this so hopefully it’ll help you out!
I’m going to work on the cirque knee hook to scissors, then back to cirque knee hook next week. This transition is much easier and should be easy peasy after this one!
There’s no denying aerial arts is such a beautiful and graceful art form. Aerialists have a way to make their movements seemingly effortlessly smooth. Pain and struggle was never amongst the dictionary of terms.
Having done pole previously, I know any type of exercise that defies gravity is hard work. Signing up for circus classes was no different, if not, much much worse. Worse in a sense that the instructors force/motivate you to do a series of conditioning before you learn new moves.
I remember the first week was terrible and embarrassing since I couldn’t keep up! Here is a sample of what we have to do every class:
Static trapeze: 2 sets of knee hangs for 30s, 2 sets of 10 shoulder shrugs, 1 min arm hangs (switch leg positions every 15s), 5 straddle inversions on 3 different grips (left, middle, right), 5 skin the cats (with spotter), 5 toe touches, 3 beat backs to rock and roll (x5), 5 pull overs, 5 pull ups
Aerial silks: climb to the top, come down and climb up (-2 mechanics each time), repeat 4 times with different climbs (right climb wrap, left climb wrap, switch climb, hitch climb, bicycle climb), as many straddle inversions possible in 1 min (break and repeat on other side)
Straps: 4 sets of 10 shoulder shrugs (from hanging, lifted, inverted, backward), 60s straddle inversions on 3 different grips (left, middle, right), 5 skin the cats (with spotter), 5 toe touches
Hoop: 2 sets of knee hangs for 30s, 2 sets of 10 shoulder shrugs, 1 min arm hangs (switch leg positions every 15s), 5 straddle inversions on 3 different grips (left, middle, right), 5 skin the cats (with spotter)
I personally find static trapeze and hoop to be my favourite apparatus. Perhaps the conditioning portion of the class seems much less intense and you can really see the progress you make with each class. I also suspect static and hoop to be more intuitive because they’re ‘solid’ apparatuses and don’t require too much thinking regarding how to wrap your body/limbs around it.
I have a love-hate relationship with straps. This apparatus is challenging, requires more strength and a lot less feminine than other apparatuses. Hence, this is the only class where there are actually guys taking it. After 8 weeks or so, I feel I haven’t learned that many tricks and skills because it is a steeper learning curve. It’s also a mental challenge because the straps rub your wrists raw – yes, you usually will have no skin on your wrists after class.
Aside from straps, I find aerial silks to be the most challenging apparatus so far. The conditioning REALLY tires me out early in the class especially with the climbs. The stretch in the silk also doesn’t help! Sometimes I feel my climbs don’t go anywhere and after a while, my forearms don’t belong to me anymore. I’m also not very coordinated – my orientation is completely skewed when I am inverted and hanging such that I don’t know where the silk or the tail is supposed to go. It definitely takes a lot of practice! This week though, I was able to do 10 consecutive straddle inversions on each side for my conditioning! In contrast to not being able to do a proper one on the first day, this is a drastic improvement!
It’s been a while since I posted. “A while” is more like 2 years.
When I first started this blog and YouTube series, I had so much energy and motivation to keep practicing pole. I was ambitious in trying to learn a new pose every week and really wanted to be good at something. But after only 4-5 weeks, I suffered an injury from attempting a pose and never blogged again. For some reason, I never posted the video – it was painful for me to watch and I was probably more embarrassed it’ll end up in a mash up of ‘Epic Pole Fails’ on YouTube.
I haven’t touched the pole since, maybe I was still traumatized from it. The pose I tried was called ‘Brass Monkey’. The pose is an inversion from a reverse knee hang and had to do more with sticking on the pole than strength. For those that followed – I suffered from really dry skin, contrary to many who are too oily/sweaty. That day, I just didn’t stick… and I fell. I didn’t break any thing, just bruised badly and completely gave up.
During this time, I was also completing my Masters program. I made up excuses saying how I was too busy to pole, too tired from school, etc. But honestly, I was still just really scared. Half a year ago, I finished my Masters program and moved to a different part of the city to start my new job. I set up my beloved pole in the new condo, but I’ve never touched it.
Wanting to start doing physical activity again, I looked up the community around my new home and found the Toronto School of Circus Arts. With a comprehensive aerial training program, I couldn’t resist. In the summer session, I opted for beginners aerial silks classes once a week. Once that was over, I signed up for a package class and I’m going almost everyday.
First attempt at flying trapeze
I was completely obsessed with it: aerial silks, static trapeze, straps and hoop (lyra), it was my heaven! I would come home covered in calluses, raw skin, bruises, sore muscles but would feel so accomplished because I learned something new or was able to do something I couldn’t last week. I was motivated to start filming again to mark my progress in circus classes.
“Skin the Cat” and “Skin the Kitten” after 4 weeks!
But just last week, I ‘almost’ suffered another injury. We were learning a new move in straps class called ‘Hung C’ which requires tremendous balance on the arms while inverting with an arch back. I wasn’t sure how to dismount for the pose and basically fell out into a ‘skin the cat’ pose. Luckily, we’ve warmed up with skin the cats before and my shoulders are relatively flexible. This time, I listened to my body, and took the week off to recover.
In the past two years, I’ve cycled through phases of being completely obsessed with pushing myself to the limits, whether it be pole or circus to ending up with an injury. This time, I’m determined to rest well and heal quickly and get back to it. I promise myself I won’t make excuses to not keep trying!
A common question I get asked is, “How did you get into pole dancing?”
A coupon deal from Aradia Fitness was what drawn me into my pole journey. For $25, I got unlimited drop-in intro classes for a month! Being the Asian I was, I went to every class they offered and immediately fell in love with it. The atmosphere was really friendly and definitely no girls in 7 inch heels were there to intimidate me! With intentions to sign up after my trial, I researched a bit and my heart sunk realizing most studios charge $100-$150 for four-1 hour classes. That was way over my budget… so I decided to get my own pole and learn on my own.
Here’s the pole installed at home and just me fooling around with it!