This has been a long time coming. It seemed it should have been easy, connecting two passions together but somehow it just was not happening. To be fair or precise I should say in fact it was happening, in myself, my movement, my body. A transformation and an incarnation of this exploration but I just could not find words. Neither verbal nor written. Pole dancing and Feldenkrais. How could they merge ? How were they related ? How did they connect ? Could they be complementary ? At first glance they seemed so far apart. Such difference. I wondered. Could practicing Feldenkrais help with the practice of pole ?
I started doing Feldenkrais about 3 and half years ago. I did not start because I had an injury, wanting to heal or because I wanted to prevent them. I did not start because I wanted to improve my performances, flexibility or creativity. I don’t really know why I started. I explained it in a previous post, it made sense. Bits of information on the method suddenly appeared everywhere around me. Subtle but there or maybe it had always been there (after all I come from a dance background so seems weird I’d never heard about it) so maybe it was me now just being ready to receive and learn. I don’t know. But it was there. And I just wanted to follow the thread and dive into it.
I’ve been involved in pole dancing for 9 years, teaching it for 8. Pole was this edgy new and different way of moving. I became passionate about it from the start. But after a few years, my passion declined. I still enjoyed it but not with the same intensity. Maybe it was doing competition, maybe it was just the passing of time. I felt that decrease to be normal but it changed back when I started doing Feldenkrais (1). It was subtle at first. Could not quite fathom how it helped, what it changed but there was no doubt. Pole dancing became exciting again. Slowly Feldenkrais had become one way for me of « cross training », of keeping my movement practice healthy, my interest for pole fresh. But how did it changed my pole practice ? How does it inform it ?
Let’s back up a bit. Maybe you’re thinking but why, why « cross train » with the Feldenkrais method ? The primary question probably being why cross train at all ? These are some reasons we hear about, just to name a few : to have movement variability, to increase strength and flexibility, to keep things fresh and acquire new perspectives. All things you can gain, learn or re-learn by taking an Awareness Through Movement® (ATM) class (2).
For me, the first thing it did was reconnect me to the pleasure of processes and explorations. During a group class you’re verbally guided through a series of movements. By not knowing what the end results is, you’re invited to stay in the present moment. By not visually seeing the movement, you’re invited to sense inward and figure it out for yourself. You may feel confused, emotionally or cognitively destabilized but these moments are opportunities to learn and develop more awareness, find solutions and become better organized. Finding joy through it, steered me away from the trick oriented, goal oriented vision I had started to feel while competing in pole.
Secondly, it opened up my creativity. Being creative is a process oriented task. And another way the method caters to creativity, is with the use of constraints during certain lessons. In Feldenkrais unless something is explicitly forbidden, anything goes. We are encouraged to use our whole self but, by restricting certain options, it forces us to look elsewhere, to move in non habitual ways. Here are a few examples of restrictions possible: keeping your head on the floor at all points, grabbing both hands together, interlacing fingers, placing an arm over head, all this while exploring specific sequencing of movements. Some are simple, some more complex, this encourages us to find new paths, new strategies to get around and accomplish tasks. For example in one lesson, the ending sequence consists of rolling from a supine position to a side sitting all the while keeping your hands on one of your foot. It promotes thinking outside the box. Reorients efforts for efficient execution. Similar strategies can be used with the pole. Move around, freestyle but keep both hands on the pole at all time. I saw new possibilities to discover and became more interested in teachers that were offering those kind of explorations or of similar philosophy. It renewed my sense of exploration, challenged me to be more playful with my use of the apparatus.
Pole is also pretty athletic, it’s an aerial discipline that requires of us to climb and deal with gravitational forces. Moshe Feldenkrais, the founder of Feldenkrais, had a judo background, it’s no surprise then that learning rolls are part of the method. Rolls are essential in learning to recuperate from falls, to learn to fall without suffering injuries. You just have to watch some parkour people to viscerally understand it, to observe them roll out of incredible jumps. Feeling more at ease on the floor transferred itself into feeling more at ease in the air. I felt more confident of my athletic capacities and also that I could recover from a fall or mishap. Flips and dynamic movements I were afraid of doing were now interesting and with this new confidence I felt the desire to challenge myself and try them.
Another point I focused on, (no pun intended here) is connecting the eyes to movement: vision is an important sense for humans. Maintaining an horizontal gaze essential. Where you look is everything. In other ATM lessons, we explore how the movement of our eyes impacts all our musculatures, connects directly to our spine, increases or decreases range of motion. We learn how our eyes influence movement, the effect of where we look or don’t look. This become important in pole too, to find momentum and directions. In one particular move that resembles a backflip, where you look changes everything. It’s the difference between fail or success. By exploring on the floor, in a safe space, you understand connections and you can transfer this new knowledge to your work on the pole.
Finally, by better connecting all parts of your body and yourself, you increase flexibility. For example, there is a pole move called the Janeiro, it is not necessarily a difficult one but because of my body proportions and the places where I’m flexible or not so much flexible, I never felt comfortable with this one. It requires a certain twist and back flexibility I lack. In some Feldenkrais lesson, we focus on breathe and mobility of the ribcage, but always integrating this information in a whole body approach. These new explorations make it now possible for me to get into the pole trick in a much easier way. Don’t get me wrong it is still a challenge, after all I can’t change body proportions but at least I can breathe while in it, hold the position longer and teach it better now that I have a better comprehension of the required steps to attain the figure.
In a paper studying the use of the method for karate students, the researcher found increase flexibility in the students after the practice of ATMs. He attributes this improvement to the style that has been used in this study and considers that the systematic training of Feldenkrais Method helps to improve intelligent flexibility. This being consistent with what was noted in two other papers [Ruth 1992, Brown 1991 (3)(4)] that the purpose of Awareness Through Movement® is to ultimately increase the ease and range of our movement, improve flexibility and coordination (5).
I agree with that and it’s also my experience. By understanding how you move, being aware, refining your neuromuscular patterns and by developing better body awareness, and integrating more parts of yourself in your self image, you become more flexible and better organized.
In the end, and only later did I realized that, if yes they could be complementary, they also have things in common : I had come to pole to find empowerment, body positivity, seeking a sense of community with a desire to discover hidden potential. Those are basically the same reasons I came to Feldenkrais. And if the method can really concretely help with your sport or athletic performances, ultimately and gracefully what it did, is remind me of the pleasure of learning, learning for myself, for the pleasure of it, without agenda, by being in the moment. Everyday this new way of approaching life and movement enrich my pole dancing life.
We are often told that new passions can be discovered by developing a Feldenkrais practice, for me, with pole it reignited a lost one and I’m happier for it.
1. The Feldenkrais Method® of somatic education is a practice, a process, and a system for self-improvement. It is a form of “somatic education,” which means it uses movement and real-time awareness of your own body sensations to guide you toward the positive changes you seek. The Feldenkrais Method is not a treatment, adjustment, or exercise program. Instead, it is based on decades of research in physics, neuroscience, biomechanics, learning theory, and human development to give you the means to help yourself. Exerpt from https://www.feldenkrais.com/feldenkrais-method-faqs/ consulted on July 24th 2018
2. Awareness through movement® (ATM), is the group modality for the Feldenkrais Method. The individual work is called Functional Integration®
3. Brown, E. K. (1991). Electromyography activity of trunk musculature during Feldenkrais Awareness through Movement Lesson. Is kinetics and exercise Science Vol 1 No 4.
4. Ruth, S., K. (1992). Facilitating Cervical Flexion Using Feldenkrais Method: Awareness through movement. JOSPT Vol 16 No 1: July.
5. Safaa Saleh Hussen, Hoda Hasen Sabr. The impact of using Feldenkrais Method on improving flexibility, coordination and some psychological skills for karate player. Faculty of physical Education, Zagazeg University, Egypt http://www.academia.edu/25678263/The_impact_of_using_Feldenkrais_Method_on_improving_Flexibility_coordination_and_some_psychological_Skills_for_karate_player