So I was just reading this fabulous blog about the importance of clean lines in pole dancing (even for those of us who aren’t “serious,” ie. are probably not ever going to try a machine gun, etc) and I just want to jump up on the nearest table in lucite heels and scream YES, THANK YOU.
If you’ve ever taken my classes, you know I believe in doing things well–especially while performing the “easy” things, because, if you know a move inside and out, there’s no reason you shouldn’t have amazing posture/positioning/lines/hands/feet. Like, come on. There is no excuse for being that person knocking out strength moves with ease, but having flexed feet and claws for hands. That’s not a lack of strength or control, its just plain… not giving a fuck about posture/positioning/lines/hands/feet. #petpeeve.
I know it sounds elitist, but I swear it’s not–because anybody can clean up their lines with a little time and attention. It’s just about having the patience for honing an aspect of dance that’s not as instantly-gratifying as hitting a trick. (BUT, actually–gamechanger–it IS instantly gratifying!!! Once you see how beautiful small changes can be, you’ll be hooked, promise).
I get that some people are trick people, and that’s fine. But to me, the art of DANCE (of any kind) is in the flow and transitions and lines. Felix Cane backs me up on this (a former ballerina, PS).
Popping into a hard trick is great, but presentation is everything. If your posture sucks, wrenching your body into tricks with a weak foundation is kind of like rolling a turd in glitter. A shitty Fonji will be less moving to the average viewer than an artful, controlled, expressive fireman spin. That’s real.
So anyway, as I continue my casual ballet obsession, I wanted to quickly share a couple of exercises that I’ve picked up along to way to improve lines.
1. Straddle quad-lift (for straighter extensions)
This one’s simple. Sit in a straddle, toes pointed, and squeeze your quads (your kneecaps should pull up) so that your knee caps retract and your heels lift off the floor. Hold for a second, and repeat. This works all the muscles that keep your knees straight when you’re off the ground, and it’s easy to work into your warm up (I usually do it right after straddle stretches, dur! 😀 )
Speaking of instant gratification, if you want to *see* more movement while working extensions, try sitting on the floor with legs extended and palms flat on the ground and slowly lift your leg for 8-10 counts, as high as you can without kicking (ie. cheating via using momentum) or compromising your posture. If you REALLY want to be ballet-authentic, do a second set on both legs with a turn out. Awwww yeah, feel that ballet burn. Bonus for both of these exercises: it’s really gratifying to see your quads flexing while doing this.
2. Shoulder blade squeeze (for cleaner, injury-free spins, climbs, and poses)
We do this one in belly dance a lot, but for pole, it trains your shoulders to engage and retract while spinning or sitting in holds, protecting them and preventing that “just hanging there” look. It’s simple, but surprisingly difficult: extend both arms out in a T-shape, then pinch your shoulder blades together. In the mirror, you should see your shoulders get very slightly closer together and draw behind you as your chest opens. Try 10 reps slow, then 10 double time. You can also try slowly raising your arms into a V overhead for an added challenge, but throughout either variation, focus on keep your shoulders down and your elbows up.
3. Ankle stretch (for straighter ankle points)
I’ve been trying in vain to get my right ankle to flatten out into a straight line with my shin, and this simple move sure feels effective: kneel with your butt resting on your heels and the tops of your feet flat to the ground. With one hand touching the floor for support, gently lift your knee with the other hand (same hand for same knee) until you feel a stretch at the front of your ankle and top of your foot. Try shifting your weight around to see where you get the deepest stretch. Hold for several seconds and switch.
If you don’t know why straight ankles are important btw, I urge you to look at this picture of US gymnast Aly Raisman, who caught all kinds of crap for having “claw feet” in the 2012 summer olympics. (Yes, even when you are doing cray-cray flips and balances, people will still notice this stuff).
On another note, I swear to god, just being up being on your toes smooths out your feet and ankle lines more than anything–if you’ve got good form. The next time you’re on releve, make sure to check that you are 1. truly on the balls of your feet (not your insteps or literal toes), 2. that if you were to roll forward, your weight would be on your first three toes, not the 4th and pinkie, and 3. your ankles are straight (not winging or sickling).
4. Standing splits walking drill (to train leg extensions, flexibility, posture, and balance–whew)
So you need a little room for this one, but it’s worth it for extension training, warming up, and flexibility-building all in one: starting with both arms extended in front of you, lift a leg as close to waist-level as you can, then in one smooth motion, bring it straight down and through behind you (into an arabesque) as you tip forward from the waist and touch your fingertips to the group (with your torso close to your standing leg).
Kick through your raised foot, bringing it high as you can. Hold a beat, and return to standing. Tak a step forward and repeat on the other side, alternating to cross the room. Tip: try not to pause or use your travelling foot to steady you as you transition into your standing split: you’re trying for one smooth, controlled motion. Use your core to keep your balance, and try to keep a flat back!
5. Anti-dinosaur arm stretch (for poor range of motion in arms and lower back)
This one is basic, but essential, and there’s two ways to do it. The first way, which we used to do on the swim team, is the “against the wall stretch.” Standing in front of a wall, raise your arms overhead and press your palms flat, gradually pulling your chest closer to the wall as your legs stay straight and your back arches. Try to pull your head through your arms, feeling the stretch in your shoulders. You can also try leaning from side to side for a deeper reach.
Alternately: stand with your back to the pole, grab with both hands overhead in cup grip (you can keep a little bend in your elbows), and pull your chest out and away from the pole. Be sure to keep your feet planted and close to the base.
Am I snob? Do you know better tricks for ironing out bent legs or limbering up dinosaur arms? Please share!
Also, in writing this I discovered that I have WAY more stuff I want to tell you about proper alignment (learned in my ballet adventures yet again), so I think I’m going to do a follow up about line/posture corrections you should be making as you dance. Yay for being a know-it-all 😀