Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Why I love teaching pole dancing

For anyone who owns a professional pole dance school they will know that is not the most lucrative career choice but what you lose in income you make up for in happiness; the reward of seeing your students develop in both fitness and confidence is simply amazing.

I am extremely proud of all my students who work so hard in class and who achieve so much, to see students exceed their own personal expectations gives me such a buzz. I love seeing the inductees on their first lesson, thinking they will never go upside down and then finally after a few weeks of training they start to achieve more complex moves such as Headstands and Inverted Crucifixes.

Recently, at the art of dance, we have had some specific success stories which I would like to share with you. Hanna Silva (pictured above) came to us with a very unusual brief, she wanted to learn to pole dance so she could recite poetry at the London Word Festival. The piece entitled sushi was a spoken word recital accompanied by a confident pole dancing display with the words designed to challenge ideas on empowerment and perceptions of pole dancing. Rather than me try to explain it check out this link to Hanna's review of 'Sushi' and photos from the night. A big thank you to Hanna for the lovely flowers she bought for Rosanna and I and I can't wait to see the 'Sushi' piece which will be performed again at our October Social.

Another recent success came when our fabulous teaching assistant Emma Thorpe (pictured above) won the South West heats of the intermediate category of the United Kingdom Amateur Pole Performer (UKAPP). Emma joined the art of dance with the University of Plymouth Pole Dancing Club (UPPDC) and quickly caught the pole dancing bug. Emma has worked so hard to improve her pole dancing skills and this really showed at the UKAPP competition. I can't wait to see Emma perform at the UKAPP finals in St Alban's in September.

I want to say a huge thank you to all of my staff and students for making my life so special. I can't wait to get back into the studio to teach again tonight - Bring on the pain and bruising :)

Stay Healthy,

Sam x

Thursday, 16 June 2011

The problem with pole dancing?

I have been trying to get my head around the exact problem with pole dancing; what exactly is wrong with those 2 little words pole+dancing that drives the media into a frenzy and makes people come out with very strange and often inappropriate comments. I have been pole dancing since 2004 and the stereotypical comments I often receive are now starting to wear thin.

When I say I pole dance I don't need someone to ask me which club I work in and I don't need some guy to offer to 'grease my pole'. I consider myself to be a gymnast and a performing artist so why have I received hate mail and death threats from all over the globe when I have demonstrated my art to children?

How can my art exclude me from supposed multicultural events?

Why should I be banned from performing at my local Lord Mayor's Day when belly dancers and street dancers have been allowed to perform?

Why have I been excluded for the last 4 years from the 'inclusive Dance, Dance, Dance event run by the South Asian Society, an event that prides itself on improving community cohesion and tackling prejudice!

How can the Plymouth Soroptomists book me to perform at one of their meetings, call me out to do a risk assessment and then let me down at short notice because they have now decided my performance may not be suitable for them?

Why does local publication the Plymouth Shopper decide that I am an unable to advertise in their magazine as they only do family friendly adverts?

Why was I banned from performing at Marjon's Student Union after doing an extremely successful event there, the answer was apparently that pole dancing might incite violence! This answer came from a senior member of staff at the college.

The above are just a few of the many examples of prejudice and ignorance that I face on a daily basis.

Throughout my years of teaching and learning the wonderful art of pole dancing I have remained thick-skinned but over the last few months my patience has started to wear thin, especially after the most recent comments about my attempts to run pole dancing lessons for children between the ages of 12-15, Both MP Gary Streeter and a Mother's Union came out to attack my proposed activity without them having any real knowledge of what my classes were about. As my husband pointed out you have to question the intelligence of both parties if they feel they can pass comment on something they actually know very little about.

I feel the simple answer to my problems lies in educating the press and the government and getting them to use the correct terminology when referring to different activities, surely a dancer who works in a club is not actually a pole dancer as that is not where her revenue comes from, her revenue comes from lap dancing and stripping, therfore her correct title is a lap dancer or stripper, likewise a 'pole dancing club' is actually relying on income from bar takings and commission from the lap dancers therefore it is a lap dancing club not a pole dancing club. I have no issues with lap dancers or strippers and I respect their chosen career however we must differentiate between the 2 otherwise fitness pole dancer and fitness pole dancing schools will continue to be wrongly labelled.

This is not just about the personal feelings of fitness pole dancing instructors such as myself, if the correct terminology is not used in the correct places then I, and other pole dancers, could suddenly fall victim of the new laws on Sexual Encounter Licensing whereby if I carry out more than 12 public performances of pole dancing I would have to apply for a sexual encounter license. This is neither something I should be required to have nor is it something I can afford.

Here are some examples of the words pole dancing being used in correctly within the media; A recent press article in the Herald used the headline 'Banned from Pole Dancing' when the real headline was 'Lady banned from taking clients to her home'. A recent mail article accused primary school teachers of pole dancing in a club, these women were not pole dancing, they were drunk and gyrating against walls, tables and a column that resembled a pole, the headline and associated article should have been talking about their drunken behaviour and exotic dancing and not titled 'pole dancing'.

In an effort to help encourage people to use the words pole dancing correctly I set up a meeting where I invited local council reps, MP's and press contacts, the invites were sent on Monday 13th June yet 5 days later I have had no response from my local MP Oliver Colville, no response from my councillor Chaz Singh, no response from any of the BBC or ITV contacts and a decline from MP Gary Streeter and the Plymouth Lord Mayor. The only positive response I received was from Bill Martin, editor at the Herald and Jane Atwill from Radio Plymouth.

Of course there is another argument that pole dancing can be sexy which I would agree in some cases but then any form of dance can be sexy, you only have to look at the controversial history of dance to see how, historically, dance has faced many criticisms especially from religious sectors. Check out Barbara's Ehrenrich's book dancing in the streets
. The issue is that I don't teach sexy pole dancing to kids and most of my adult classes are gymnastic based so are far removed from their historical links to exotic and lap dancing.

Within the last 10 years Salsa has emerged from being the 'dance of the devil' to being a mainstream way to keep fit. Kids can watch Salsa and tango dancers writhe in skimpy outfits on prime time TV on the BBC's Strictly come dancing
but if I were to pole dance on TV at the same time there would probably be outrage.

It seems people's attitudes towards pole dancing schools spread beyond personal feeling or current legislation but also effect my business finances; my recent application to turn The Art of Dance into a social enterprise was laughed at by Companies House who sent me a very short letter stating that they could not possibly see how pole dancing could be used as an activity to benefit the community, this was despite my application being accompanied by a 20 page document filled with action plans, testimonials and examples of community projects.

Let's face it, if it's just sexualisation that everyone is worried about then there is plenty of overtly sexual material for kids to watch, just switch on MTV and check out the latest music videos or take a look at the latest kids fashions in high street stores. Let's not blame sexualisation of kids on pole dancing schools please. Take a closer look at female role models such as Jordan before you start to have a go at a fitness pole dancing class.

Perhaps I should change my career and take up something less controversial such as Maypole dancing where young virgins dance around a stick to celebrate their imminent loss of virginity (apologies for the sarcasm).

Well the debate continues and it seems that for most fitness pole dancers there is a long way to go before the ignorant and prejudiced are finally educated. Please feel free to comment and I will publish all intelligent comments - no nasty, malicious trolls please!

Stay Healthy,

Sam x

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Plymouth is going to the dogs!

On Thursday evening I came across another example of how Plymouth City Council is failing us; I was driving home from work when I spotted a dog standing outside a closed shop, there was no sign of an owner and so I decided to stop to see if the dog was OK. As I approached the dog it started to bare its teeth and growl so I backed off. A family were also approaching with a pushchair and 2 small children, the dog again become agitated so I waited for a while to warn others to cross the road and avoid antagonising the dog, to be honest I was worried it may attack someone. A young girl approached claiming that the dog had attacked before.

Firstly I phoned the police non emergency number (08452 777444) who informed me that this was a council issue and that I needed to call the dog warden. I called PCC only to be told that the dog warden now works from 9am till 5pm and that if I left a message someone would get back to me the next day. Bear in mind this was 8pm in the evening and the dog was getting increasingly agitated. By now a few other people had approached to offer to try to help, one other lady again tried to approach the dog nearly resulting in an attack.

The RSPCA were called but could not help as the dog was not injured, the local animal rescue centres were all shut so basically we were expected to leave the animal. No one could help and eventually I left the dog with another couple who took over my vigil.

To me this is another example of P.C.C cutting essential services whilst refusing to make cuts at higher level. As I have said before a pay freeze for senior officers is simply not enough, they should be taking cuts like the rest of us. I have asked the council if they would consider taking pay cuts at higher level but have been told that they would not consider doing so. Here is the response I received from Richard Longcroft:

"If local government is to attract and retain the right calibre of people to lead large and complex organisations at times of great change, it needs to pay appropriate salaries.

Plymouth City Council has seen very significant improvements in its performance over the last few years and the strength of its leadership and senior management has been recognised in inspection reports by independent local government watchdogs such as the Audit Commission.

The salaries of all Council staff, including senior managers, have been frozen this year. The proposed terms and conditions changes affect senior management more in some areas than other members of staff, including reductions in holiday allowance. The Council's budget plans for the next two years also include substantial savings in its senior management structure. We cannot say any more about this at this stage."

As far as I am aware, no public sector organisations have capped pay in the way you are suggesting. The City Council has no plans to do so at present, though I cannot speak on behalf of elected members or say what they may decide in the future..

This is something we are seeing right across the country; fat cat culture with the rich getting richer and the divide between rich and poor increasing. In the week when we are talking about more NHS cuts I see RBS bosses receiving further bonuses. In Plymouth we have seen lavish dinners provided for senior council officers after events such as Lord Mayor's Day whilst we see Whitleigh Nursery shut resulting in 15 redundancies and the loss of child care provision for many families, the knock on for some mothers means they will also lose their jobs as they can't find or afford alternative childcare.

We have seen another example in Plymouth of fat cat culture with the recent Argyle administration where those at the bottom end of the pay scale have finally quit after months without full pay whilst higher management have continued to receive full pay.

In this week premiership footballers have been given pay increases yet child poverty has continued to rise - where exactly are our priorities? If you didn't see it check out the BBC documentary 'Poor kids'.

How much more can we be squeezed? How much is left to squeeze and what can we do? Answers please.....

Stay Healthy (if you can afford to),

Sam x

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Art of dance Rock Chick Social.

After what seems like an eternity off the pole after my knee injury I finally got the chance to perform again last Friday night; The art of dance had been given the Loft (formerly the Quay club) on the Barbican to put on a showcase of pole dancing and burlesque. I was unsure how the night was going to go as we have had mixed success with socials in the past and have experienced the usual horror stories of being told that a venue ceiling is solid and then finding out it isn't!

The rock chick night was planned to run from 7.30pm till 11pm when the club would then open to the public for Andy Howard's cheesey rock night, all the performers went for a rock theme and most of the audience dressed accordingly, everyone looked amazing.

Here is the line-up with links to the relevant videos, the vids are a little dark and I am not the most amazing camera-woman. I won't critique each performance apart from saying that everyone was amazing so check out each link:

First up was the gorgeous Georgina Gale with a stunning burlesque routine to Dean Martin's 'Sway'. After the burlesque act was our student showcase with students Noni Hunter and Laura Boyden performing like professionals. Next up was Rosanna Durban with a fabulous rock medley which was a real crowd pleaser and then it was my turn (see video below). After my injury I have found it hard to get back into full pole fitness and I am still very limited with the pole tricks that I can do, so many pole moves involve pressure to the knees! Despite my limitations and a complete lack of time to choreograph I was actually pleased with my freestyle act although, like everyone, I found the heat very hard to deal with and my palms were so sweaty that I was surprised I could grip at all.

The Student Pole Jam was a chance for some of our students to showcase their skills without having the pressure of a full routine, despite the mixed ability of the students they all managed to pull out some brilliant tricks and combinations.

After me it was time for Tamar Preston to do her thing and she did not disappoint. Tamar was followed by our teaching assistants Emma Thorpe (who is training for UKAPP) and Megan Hookins, both ladies wowed the crowd with their very different styles.

Unfortunately Jana was unable to perform as she was on call and had to dash off to deal with a cat with cystitis and a dog with spinal trauma. I am looking forward to seeing her dance at the next night.

The finale for the night involved Guest instructor Vicky Terri from Vix's Pole Fitness pulling of a high energy routine to Chop Suey by 'System of a Damned' followed by Sue aka Georgina Gale with a steamy yet beautiful routine to Supermassive Black Hole by 'Muse'.

I am so proud of my staff team and my students, they did me proud. After a rocky couple of years at the art of dance involving financial difficulty and staff issues it is so nice to be back on track again with an amazing staff team and a business that is starting to work.

One of the things that really impressed me about Friday night's performances is the variety of styles on offer, each dancer excelled in a different way with creativity, individual flair and precise execution of tricks. I really should have invited MP Gary Streeter to come along and take a peek so he could be educated.

So the next social will take place in 2 months time (date to be confirmed) and I will be delegating a few tasks so I don't run around like a headless chicken again. Big thanks to Andy Howard for sorting the venue and DJing and a huge thanks to everyone who has been so supportive of the art of dance, you have no idea how much it means to me.

Stay Healthy,

Sam x

p.s. Apologies to Brian and Gordon for leaving them in the DJ box last night, I promise you guys can come out next time.