How long does it take to progress in pole?
So, full confession, this isn’t an easy answer! In our latest blog, Team Athena Member and Instructor Shay does a deep dive into why pole progression is such a complex subject.
The History of Pole
Let's start at the beginning.
It's easy to forget just how young recreational pole is. For comparison sake, gymnastics began to really take form into something we would recognise in the 1800s.
It was just 28 years ago, in 1995 that a stripper named Fawnia opened a studio to teach the general public how to pole dance for a hobby.
So the first thing to remember when it comes to pole is that the sport itself is young. With that, it cannot be overstated just how much the landscape of pole has evolved over those 28 years, with the popularity of recreational pole increasing yearly.
The explosion in the popularity of recreational pole has meant that there are more classes, which means more opportunities to train more frequently, which results in an quicker acquisition of skills and people progressing faster than those who started right at the beginning.
Pole has become a space that has attracted more people with different bodies and different backgrounds. This is so exciting for instructors! It gives us more data on how moves work for different bodies, which has been incorporated into teaching so more moves are far more accessible than they ever were before.
Pole dancing has also attracted people from different fitness backgrounds. I’ve encountered physiotherapists, gymnasts, and weightlifters on my pole journey and their knowledge from their discipline has seeped into pole. As a result we know far more now than we ever did about biomechanics, how to train, and the importance of cross training.
You see it in all forms of pole - from those who train in heels doing the same kind of ankle strengthening and stretching exercises that are commonly performed by ballet dancers training en pointe to those who are practicing exercises from contortionists to get that extreme back bend to execute a Rainbow Marchenko safely.
This did not exist 10 years ago! The resources just weren't there in the same way that they are today. If you started 5, 10, 15 years ago you do yourself a disservice to compare your progress to someone who started a couple of years ago because you did the best with the information that was available to you at the time.
This is to say that pole hasn't become easier, but the path to progressing in pole has become a lot smoother. The beauty of pole will always lie in the community, the willingness to share what has worked for them, what they learned through their progress in pole, the time put in to make things more accessible to those who are just starting out - to help people avoid the pitfalls that they fell in.
All of this has also meant that the goal post of what is considered as "advanced pole" is being pushed ever further forward in such a way that it can be incredibly hard to keep up! 10 years ago the Pole Dancing Community (PCD) considered an Aerial Climb (Gemini Climbovers) as a level 5 move, an elite level move that belonged in the same category as Iron-X. It’s now more commonly found as a conditioning exercise for Intermediate students; the latest Spin City Pole Bible that came out last year has moved a Shouldermount from an Advanced move to an Intermediate move; it's not uncommon for me to see beginners climbing within twelve weeks, something that I was told that would take six months to achieve when I first started.
We have to remember that pole is still growing, we are still learning new ways to make things more acessible to everyone, but people will always progess at different rates even with the best information at hand.
As a teacher I get the privedledge of seeing this with the people that attend class each week, each of my students progress at different rates - some start strong and then life happens or they get injured and the progress slows down a little, others start a little slower but they show up week in and week out and that progress picks up a little. There is no set time frame to get any particular goal and there should not be any pressure to get it in a certain time frame.
Top tips for progressing in pole:
Consistency Based Goals
I read this recently and it was honestly a game changer, but set yourself a long term process goal - e.g. in the next six months I will attend 75 classes. This is a game changer because it is prioritising consistency and without consistency there is no progress!
As a teacher I have yet to see anyone with less skill than they started with by the time six months rolls around. It also breaks the "I've got to get this move" cycle where you put enermous pressure on yourself to get this one move, then after getting the move, it starts again with the next big move (which, frankly, can get quite exhausting).
Off Pole Conditioning
Conditioning commonly is something people may prefer to dodge but any kind of conditioning will work! Whether that is weight lifting, calesthenics, yoga - anything that helps build strength and flexibility. Even taking up another aerial discipline works really well. Don’t feel like you need to limit yourself to pole based conditioning, find a way that you enjoy!
Train Both Sides
I know, I know you’re glaring at the screen right not but for the love of all that is holy, train both sides! As a teacher, I know there are combos that will take you to your bad side and it's better to train it now than be caught on the hop in the middle of the combo.
Train With Different Instructors
I am a huge advocate of taking classes from as many different teachers as you can! I do it in my personal practice and I hope that as a teacher my students do as well. I know I gain different perspectives, different tips, even sometimes the same cue worded slightly differently makes a huge world of difference to my progress.
Celebrate Your Journey
Shifting the focus of my joy to include the attempts made at a move in class as well as successes means that I don't beat myself up if something goes badly! When I don't beat myself up at my supposed ‘faiures’ of a move, I'm happy to give it another go, and with each attempt made I get closer and closer to success. Reframe your mind to celebrate all aspects of your journey.
Follow The Joy
Do yourself a kindness by choosing to pursue moves that bring you joy and that challenge you in a positive way. This will help you be motivated to keep training! Keeping the joy of movement is an essential building block of pole progression.
Thank you Shay for the history lesson and sharing the wisdom with your top tips! Pole dancing is space where the sport is evolving with the students. Keep dancing and enjoy the journey.