About Freestyle and expressing yourself
How one can find her or his own style in dance, or his or her own lifestyle? Because there’s too much copying others among the ordinary pole dancers who look up to their idols, and they fail because their personality doesn’t match their wishes. What is your tip to find one’s own expression or lifestyle?
You have to spend time alone, moving. It doesn’t have to be just pole, but you have to spend time alone, moving. It can be something very basic that you start with, like cat/cow, ( when you are on all four’s, rounding your back and arching your back). Just do that movement, or something similar, for one whole song. Do it at varying speeds and focus on different parts of your spine. Eventually, the basic movement will start to become something else. This is the beginning of style.
If you see someone that really stands out as unique, I promise that they’ve spent a lot of time alone, moving.
Exploring themselves. And of course, maybe you have somebody that you do it with, but it’s important who you choose to move with.
When I started, I had a lot of experience moving, but not with pole. I would spend many, many hours alone, just working with the pole any way I could. I didn’t have anybody to train with, and as a result I made discoveries that I probably wouldn’t have made if I had started in class and I learned everything I know from class.
Style is the result of practice. I don’t really like the word “practice” because it sounds like something that you have to do. Style is the result of you, finding you.
It’s more spending time with your own self.
Yeah, spend time moving. Put on music and move; it can be something very simple.
Simple but effective…
Many pole dance colleagues of mine, they’re terrified of freestyle, but at the same time it attracts them. I know that freestyle somehow is important, but I don’t know how to put this in words. What would you say, and what tip would you give to someone who would like to freestyle more?
I agree that freestyle is a scary thing. Even for someone who’s a very experienced mover, it can still be very scary. Level of experience with pole and being terrified of free-styling are not necessarily related. It’s important to realize that much of fear is internal dialogue. There is no true, life-threatening danger with improvisation- the danger is not real. When you are fearful, there are words circulating in your mind that judge, doubt, stress, and deny yourself an opportunity that you probably want. You want to move freely, you want to be expressive; this is a very basic human desire. Yet, you block it.
Somebody who enjoys freestyle, has a different internal dialogue (let’s do this!) from someone who’s scared of it (I’m not good.). Many people, and I relate to this, become shut-down at the prospect of being seen and exposed. But then, once they find the courage to shut down the doubt and JUST DO IT, they feel incredible.
My number one suggestion is that you need to listen to music that brings you peace or joy first. Just listen. Don’t even try to move. And then breathe to the music. If you’re listening, and you’re paying attention to your breath, and relationship between the song and your breath, you’re going to calm yourself down. You should begin in a calm state.
But also, having games, similar to what we did in the warmup – can really help.
Just saying, “Okay, the song is on. I need to dance” – that’s a big challenge. Give yourself an assignment, like “I’m going to move to this song, and I’m never going to take my hands off the pole at any time” – it’s possible. It’s very possible. But because you have something to focus on, it will make the process easier, and you’ll probably create something interesting. You can make hundreds of these games. The new movement patterns you discover come together at some point, when you are ready to just let it all pour out.
Very creative! But if you decide to dance choreography, how long must one spend, how many hours, to make it their own or to feel it, not think about it? Weeks?
It could really depend on the person. In a way, if I said “You have to perform tomorrow,” you will make something. It just may not be very complex, and it won’t be full of “new” skills, but you will find a way.
The more time you have with a piece of music, then the more you can develop it. I believe if you want to truly choreography to a song, every single choice that you make about your movement has to be because of the music, not because it’s a trick that you like to do.
Something doesn’t have to be complicated to be incredible. There’s a quote I like; “Sometimes your ‘stop doing’ list needs to be bigger than your ‘to do’ list.” And for many people, when they make routines, their list of things that they want to put in is just way too big. You need to take it away, take it away, take it away until you are left with what is truly necessary.
Then from that minimal point, let it grow, and let it develop. Rather than realizing that you’ve put everything you’ve ever learned in the piece, become the song; become the story.
So how long? Different for different people. Of course, having months is nice because then you can take your time. But if you’re also doing difficult things, the longer you spend preparing for it, the more likely it is that you’ll have overuse injuries.
I read somewhere that you’ve never been injured before during training or performances. To me, this sounds like you know how to listen to your body, which is quite rare these days.
No, I have, just never anything that put me out for a long time. Pole is treacherous!
But my worst injuries all happened when I was teaching. I sometimes teach all day, and then have to demonstrate when I’m not warm enough. When teaching, you’re focused on the students— then you have to jump up and demonstrate something- and BAM- you realize that was a bad idea. I’ve learned that lesson though.
You’re not warmed enough…
Yeah, also dealing with poles of different sizes, and materials can be dangerous if you are not prepared.
But yes, I do listen, and this is part of why I don’t really perform very much, because pole creates a lot more physical issues than my off-the-pole movement does. It’s important to me that I can move without pain for a very long time, so that means that it’s less pole, more functional movement and floorwork.
What is your favorite cross-training? Because you have an amazing body, muscles, flexibility… I’m sure you’re not only pole dancing or only doing stretching or only dancing.
My body is the result of a lifetime of movement and really caring about the food I eat. I move every day, but it’s actually pretty gentle mobility & body-weight conditioning most of the time. If I’m home, nourished and rested I push myself more and do explosive training like sprints as well.
Is this your favorite cross-training?
I think it’s essential, so I value it tremendously. Also, hiking and climbing are really important. I love them because they’re very primal, restorative movements. Being able to walk on uneven surfaces and pull yourself in irregular patterns is really important to your body-balance. When you start to do those things, muscles that have become asleep, wake-up and begin to work for you.
It’s very natural movement…
Yes, it is. I also love some things that are more acrobatic, like taking classes that use capoeira or breakdancing skills. I really love it, it challenges me. Makes me think. Luckily, where I live, there’s a big community of people that do this kind of movement, so I’m not alone in that quest. [laughs]
You’ve practiced also yoga, right? … What can you say about the body-mind connection regarding pole dance? Or is there anything to say?
Yes, I think certain types of movement get put in the mind-body exercise category, like yoga or Pilates, tai chi, Gyrotonic. But to me, there’s a problem if any of your movement is not a mind-body activity.
Which is also pole dance?
Well, yeah. Like yoga, movement is only one little part of pole; breath and psychology are important components. If, after pole, your mental state is improved, and you make loving, grounded choices, this is good. If your pole practice (or the people you practice with) makes you judgmental and negative—notice that.
This goes for any movement activity. If you’re having to watch TV, scroll Facebook, eat snacks and train at the same time–- you’re really missing the point of training.
Now with pole there are some limiting factors that make finding a meditative flow difficult. Being able to do a movement for an extended period of time is a big part of being able to get lost in it. So unfortunately with pole, we’re kind of limited to a song or two songs of real “output” – but still, a lot of benefit can happen from being completely immersed in something for even 4 minutes or 5 minutes, because that’s more than most people ever do.
Also, having to clean it, can break your flow and engagement but it doesn’t have to. It’s not an aggravation, it’s part of the process. Sometimes you sweat, and this limits you from doing somethings, but there is still so much that you CAN do. I see many beginners frustrated by sweat, but I suggest you think of it as a gift to explore what IS possible.
Do you meditate?
Not in the traditional, upright sense except for on airplanes. The rest of the time I do “floor sessions” in the morning or when I realize I’m stressed. I lay on the floor and breathe for several minutes, this often leads me into some myo-fascial release (like with the foam roller or balls), which is meditative. But I often start my movement sessions with quiet and stillness.
You really impressed me as a teacher. You’re a great performer, but you really impressed me as a teacher. You’re very good at it. As you said, nowadays many pole dancers are becoming teachers, and the question is, do you necessarily have to be a good performer to be also a good teacher? Or simply you can also be a good teacher and bad performer? Is this correlated?
No, I don’t think they’re the same thing. Of course, a good performer will have more to teach about performance. But, there’s many different types of teaching. There’s the teacher who has a good eye for detail and they can fix something, but they’re not an artist. Then there’s maybe somebody who’s a very artistic teacher that doesn’t know much about the technical aspects of the body. These people can be very good teachers, but very different teachers. And then there’s the motivator, the teacher who just makes everybody feel good. They’re not even a very good mover, but they create a really uplifting, valuable energy in the room.
Ideally, the same person can do all of that, but that’s asking a lot. That’s asking for somebody to dedicate their life to the art of teaching, and possibly be someone they are not. My teaching philosophy is: it’s most important to only share what you are passionate about; this will attract people to you.
That’s why it’s important to go to different workshops and different teachers?
Yes, learn from different people in different modalities, not just pole. You learn to teach by being a student. If you want to be a good teacher learn from someone who is crazy passionate and whose teaching inspires you.
I think that if you find a pole teacher who’s really good at teaching, most of them have experienced being a student in something else for a long period of time. It would be very hard to be a good teacher if you haven’t spent much time as a student.
You also learn what not to do by having bad teachers. That’s important, too. When you take a class and realize what didn’t work, you learn about how to behave as a teacher.
– End of Part 2 –
You want to know how to be better at pole dance? Then read on to the last third >> Marlo Fisken Interview – Part 3
Photos by Pole Ninja