Marlo Fisken is a well known pole dancer with 25 years of dance experience and 15 years of teaching experience. She is known for her detailed eye for alignment, fun classes, and movement flow. She’s credited with popularizing many common pole moves, Bird of paradise and Pegasus being the most famous. She’s also an experienced model; she’s unbelievably photogenic in photos, especially the ones taken by Pole Ninja photography.
There’s so much to tell about Marlo, and much was already said. So this interview is meant for ordinary pole dance enthusiasts in hope that Marlo’s wisdom will inspire us to be a better person and a pole dancer.
I came to know Marlo at one of her workshops she had in Ljubljana in Extra Pole Fitness, as a part of Fall Tour 2016 with Kenneth Kao. She is a great teacher and without a doubt one of the wisest one I came across. Her attention is in the ”now” and her thoughts are deep. She doesn’t follow the crowd. Marlo knows how to listen to herself and that’s why I suppose she managed to find her unique dance flow we all admire so much.
First of all, dear Marlo, I would like to thank you for accepting my invitation and honoring us with your interview, hosted here on Boomkats.
There are three common categories in pole dance. Fitness/athletic, and then exotic and artistic. Isn’t it limiting to have just three categories in the pole dance world?
Well, yes. We can generalize movement and give it a category, but this is self-limiting. I suppose exotic usually means “heels” or posturing the body in a way that is meant to captivate, entice and allure. But heels does not equal exotic- exotic is an energy that has to be released or cultivated.
Fitness/Athletic, as it is usually seen, tends to lack honest, emotive movement quality; It’s mostly about doing the hardest possible versions of things. This is the “sport” side. I think this is pretty easy to categorize.
And then artistic is technically anything— since you can’t decide what art is. Of course, refined, technically and conceptually strong artistry is usually prized. But you can combine any other movement form with pole (breakdance, Butoh, tap dance) and call it artistic. You can dress up as lettuce and call it artistic. (By the way, I’m a fan of dedicatedly weird. If you are fully committed to being abstract, I will pay attention.)
But, regardless of style, there is a message in movement. That message is most often some range of human emotion. See, in a single day, a person will experience a wide range of emotions. One moment they feel powerful, then the next maybe angry, sad, conflicted or sexy.
This may mean you are sexy one moment, then athletic and then expressive and dancey in a single song. Music tells us this too. If you listen close enough, many songs take you on a voyage of qualities and emotions. This may well defy or cross the three categories you mentioned.
Personally, I like pieces (or freestyles) that I can’t describe. This means it challenged my mind. If I see it and can easily describe it…then, it wasn’t truly captivating.
So you think there’s enough room for other styles in between to develop?
Well sure. But beyond style, there is certainly room for people to learn to listen to what they need. Being funny or ridiculous is important too. Being able to use the pole as a tool for restorative movement is important.
I think in general people try to be too serious about this pole thing. Pole attracts people who want to take achievement (or lack of it) very seriously. I believe movement is supposed to benefit us emotionally, not emotionally tax us or make us feel sad and defeated.
Some days maybe you may need to be sensual, some days you may need to have a party, and then other days you need to be a character or an animal. So rather than saying more “styles” should to develop, I think that learning to honestly assess and express is what would represent true growth in the pole world.
It’s much more of expressing yourself and your feelings than anything else.
Yeah. For me, playing with music gives me life. If a song comes on that calls for being spastic, I’ll be spastic. If it sounds like a voyage in outer space, that’s how I move. If a tango song comes on, I channel tango energy.
The song shapes my movement, not the feeling I had when I began. I never start moving with the idea that I need to express something particular, I just know I need to move. Then, once I match my movement to sound, I feel complete.
I read once that you’ve said that what attracted you with pole was the sexiness.
Yes. I grew up dancing and worked as a professional dancer for a long time, and I didn’t really have the opportunity to move sensually in a non-commercialized way. This is part of why I was always very attracted to caribbean and african dance forms- many of these dances are very sensual.
See, the professional dance world really looks down on what’s considered “adult entertainment”, but I find it captivating. Sensual and erotic expression is equally important, potentially more-so than technical and commercialized dance.
But— when I started, I quickly realized that you can make pole whatever you want it to be. It’s just an apparatus. There’s the dance floor axis, and then there’s this other, vertical axis.
But you never dance in heels.
I do occasionally. I’ve performed in heels a number of times.
But you prefer them off.
I prefer them off for mechanical reasons. Heels are not good for your body. That’s not something that can be argued; it’s been proven again and again. In short, when your foot cannot move, the bones of your feet suffer and become mal-aligned. Then, your ankle and knee have to move differently; often they move more and become unstable. Over time, this pattern causes deterioration, bunions, etc.. I notice, after I dance in heels, that my knees don’t feel good.
But, I do appreciate, and enjoy two aspects of wearing heels while pole dancing; the psychological component and the adaptation to the limitation.
Heels send a message to the wearer (and the viewer). Usually a message of of power, or submission. Simply by putting them on, you can become a different character. This can inspire movement. Also, because your legs are now longer, you move in ways that amplify this added length.
Like I explained before, heels changes the way you move. Because your feet are immobilized, the hips and knees may begin to do more. This is fun to play with. Heels are a tool to move differently, and I appreciate that.
Like exotic pole dance.
Right, lots of knee circles, spinal undulations, kicks and splits. It would be the same if I decided to tie my hands together. My movement will change because of the limitation. If i cant move my arms, my desire to move will go to whatever is left available.
Also, heels are heavy and huge, and I travel for months at a time.
You said that dance would be different if your hands were tied up. I like your creative thinking, and also last night at your workshop, you used some very creative games for the warmup. What do you think is the importance of such games?
I believe creative games are essential to developing style and awareness. If you learn how to move your body only by imitation, in a sense, you don’t own the movement. I like to teach people to imitate, then apply creativity right away.
Creative games provide an opportunity for problem-solving. Like I said last night, “Move across the room without taking your hands off the floor” – this is not a difficult thing to do, but it does challenge you to focus on the task.
If I was to say, “Okay, just free move or free dance,” it may terrify some people. Because there are so many options, it can paralyze you into a state of non-decision and self-judgement. Games require focus, and focus encourages creativity.
I really like integrating creative exercises into a warmup because the reality is that I don’t know what anybody really needs as they transition from regular life to being a student. I can make informed decisions, based on my experience, but I can’t truly know. Of course, there are certain guidelines for a warm-up like: create heat, activate the musculature according to what will happen later, mobilize the joints etc.. But exactly what’s needed is specific to the individual.
So, my approach is to create games that encourage people to do functional, warming movements (put weight in the arms, challenge their core, mobilize the spine), appropriate to their level. If somebody knows how to do handstands, they’ll do handstands. If somebody doesn’t, they don’t. This way, I’m not asking anyone to do something that could injure them.
Also, this works because of the type of movement that I teach. I don’t begin with anything very intense. In my class, we’re focusing on dance, transitions, and the mind’s role in creativity. As a result, I make my class creative from the beginning rather than asking you to copy me for 15 minutes. I think that movement dependency ( feeling like you don’t know what to do with your body unless someone tells you) is a big problem. We all have body intelligence; you just need to learn to listen.
This is what I liked most, because it has released my inner tension.
Good. That’s perfect. It could create tension if you’re watching me, trying to understand what I’m doing , trying to hear me, and self-questioning if you’re doing it right. With that exercise, you know you’re doing it right if your hands are on the floor. [laughs]
– End of Part 1 –
You want to know how to find your own style in dance? Then read on to the second part. >> Marlo Fisken Interview – Part 2
Photos by Pole Ninja