Strong Foundations: Why ‘The Basics’ Matter in Pole and Aerial by Lottie Sanders

In a world where it can seem as though there’s a different trending trick every time we open up our social media feed, as pole dancers and aerialists we can sometimes feel as though that we are constantly striving to achieve the next ‘new thing’. And unfortunately, as someone who spends more time than I’d like to admit scrolling on my phone, I too have found it all-too-easy to fall into the ‘everything new all the time’ hype.

Why do we do it? Well, for starters, trying something brand new is generally more interesting than hammering away at tricks and flow we’ve done before. Also, if we’ve been struggling with what we’ve been training up until now, the prospect of trying that different trick, and maybe having success with that instead is also a pretty tempting prospect. And, it’s always quite satisfying to say that we can put a tick box to that trending trick going around by posting a perfectly-angled photo to our feed. But, and it’s a pretty big ‘but’ at that – often these tricks we see doing the rounds are actually kind of deceptively difficult. And on top of that, they may not even be achievable without strong foundations in fundamental pole and aerial moves (you know, the ones you might just be trying to avoid training).

From a teacher’s perspective, I understand the general fascination of the pole and aerial student-base with new tricks and transitions all the time. When you start out as a beginner, the world truly is your oyster – literally everything you do is brand new, and usually your self awareness of the vast pole and aerial world out there on the internet is pretty low to non-existent (ahh, those were the days). There are so many different poses and flow segments to learn, and as a newbie, your teacher usually isn’t hassling you quite so much about technique – floppy ankles are okay as long as you’re safe, a micro-bent leg is alright as long as you’re up in that seat – and odds are you’re only attending one or two classes a week and then forgetting all about your pole and aerial life in between. And then you level up, and everything starts to change a little bit.

Gone are the days of a brand new move every session, and so comes along the more daunting task of the more advanced tricks. This is a real balancing act as a pole dancer and aerialist – it is so, so gratifying when you get an advanced trick, but the journey to get there can be immensely frustrating and long-winded. And then on top of that, you’ll have friends around you progressing at totally different rates. When the person you’ve been coming to classes with is perfectly flat in their Jade split, whilst you’re struggling to hold your outside leg hang, let alone even think about moving your legs and arms around into a Jade, things can become pretty demoralising.

So, why try something totally random and new? Well, it takes us out of that struggle-bus cycle, even if it just means we’re jumping onto a different struggle-vehicle (out of the frying pan, into the fire and all that). There are definitely pros and cons to this. Pros? Well, sometimes shaking up our routine is just what we need to rekindle our love for pole and aerial. A brand new trick or transition can be a great way to break the daily grind and give us something shiny and different to focus on. Cons? Annoyingly, if we don’t have the right fundamentals on our apparatus for that trending trick, our efforts may still not end up in success and wind up getting us even more frustrated.

The point of this isn’t to say, ‘don’t bother trying different moves’. In fact, I’d say my overall opinion from a pole and aerial teaching perspective is that it’s actually super important to keep on trying different things, as you may well find a cue from one thing that may give you a lovely ‘eureka’ moment for something else you’re working on. However, taking a ‘always looking forward, never looking back’ approach to pole and aerial will ultimately wind up with some gaps in your knowledge which will negatively impact your training as you continue.

For example, I have a pole and aerial pal who got pretty advanced, pretty quickly. They go to the studio a lot, they’re strong, and they did a lot of upper body strength training prior to even starting pole. They were rushed through beginners swiftly by their teacher at the time, and found that going upside down was relatively easy for them so they continued to progress through the ranks at their studio. However, one day they found themselves struggling with a Reverse Grab, (which is a one-armed spin in pole) a move generally considered intermediate plus in level. They were frustrated and couldn’t work out why they were unable to get this particular move. We chatted it through, seeing if there was a particular teaching point they were missing, and ultimately we fathomed it out – they were really, really lacking in their static spin ability. Because they had been rushed through all the beginner fundamentals, they had spent a week or two in their whole pole career working on their spins and that was it. Needless to say, once my lovely friend spent some time perfecting their Chair Spins, their struggles with a Reverse Grab were a thing of the past.

What can we learn from my pole and aerial bestie? Well, I’d say a pretty key point in their story is that they were actually pretty strong already and executing some advanced tricks up the pole. Their issue was not lack of ability. The issue on their journey was simply not learning their basics. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to work on more advanced spins without being able to execute a Chair Spin. A Layback will be more tricky if you don’t have any understanding of that leg adduction we need to execute that you might learn in a move such as a Pole Seat first. The list really could go on forever, but the overall point is this. Every time your pole and aerial instructor is talking about ‘the fundamentals’, listen to them. The foundation moves that we learn as a beginner do not just exist because we’re giving you something ‘simple’ to do (as actually, a well-executed foundation move is not a simple feat at all), but exist to help you to create a strong basis for your training moving forward.

So, the next time you find yourself mulling over what to train next – when was the last time you did some of those foundation moves? If you can’t remember when that was – now is the time. You might just surprise yourself with how much perfecting those movements will help you in the future with your training.