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By Alessandra Izzo aka Ally Cat

 

Back when I did my first pole course in 2004, it was still the Wild West era of pole dance. There were almost no pole studios in Melbourne, just Pole Divas and Polestars. Polestars wasn’t a studio as such, it employed instructors to go into multi-purpose venues (usually function rooms above bars), put poles up, teach, and take them down again. Instructors did a short “training course” on the syllabus, and pretty much learned on the job.

Fast forward a few years to 2008 and I was offered my first pole teaching job out in a now-defunct studio in Bayswater. The owners knew absolutely nothing about pole, or me, they just recognised that I could do quite advanced tricks for that time. They presented me with a Pole Princess beginners’ syllabus (which was hard to decipher, since I had come from a different learning stream and the names meant almost nothing to me). Basically, I just muddled my way through, and learned on the job.

pole fall

Fortunately during my time there we had no major incidents or injuries, except my own – a bicep tendon tear which I persisted in teaching on because I knew literally nothing about taking care of injuries. This became so bad that I was forced to take six months off pole to let it heal. Almost ten years later with the 20/20 vision of hindsight I can say two things with great certainty: I was thrown into that job with absolutely no understanding of how to keep my students (or myself) safe; and my teaching techniques left A LOT to be desired!

Over time our industry has progressed, and I have become far more educated around teaching techniques, and student safety. I have also (probably naively) assumed that our safety and teaching standards industry-wide have lifted uniformly. Don’t get me wrong, this assumption has in part come from direct experience of that. However, my bubble recently burst when I was told some troubling information, namely that an aerial hoop had fallen down in a pole studio somewhere with a student on it.

This opened a floodgate for discussions, and to my horror I’ve discovered that a troubling number of studios have aerial apparatus installed by people without proper qualifications. And that major incidents requiring an ambulance, injuries like concussion, and narrow escapes are not just faerie tales, but an ever-present reality in the pole community. And here is the really scary part – these incidents are often due to negligence on the part of the studio, or the instructors.

danger

This lead to a cascade of realisations, namely that, some pole studios must still be operating like its 2004. The most concerning part of that is, back in 2004 the hardest tricks we knew were leg hangs and butterflies (and a handful of other equivalent level moves). As pole dancing has progressed and gotten to extreme levels of difficulty, the potential danger for injury has exponentially increased. But has our regard for safety?

 

pole elite classUltimately I trust that most studios will be rigging their poles and apparatus correctly. Most studios will require students to use appropriate mats when learning something potentially dangerous. But from what I’ve heard, this does not extend to ALL studios. That’s where I believe having some kind of industry standards should come into play. At this point in time though, the onus comes down to the student to ask the right questions.

Aside from the safety of the equipment, we also need to examine safety in teaching techniques. Realistically we are learning the equivalent of a circus art. There are moves that, when done correctly, may still cause injury. Yet, injury seems to be a topic rarely discussed in the community. How many polers do you know have suffered injuries – either acute or chronic – from pole dancing? I can tell you the number of elite level polers I know who have NOT suffered some type of pole-related injury is microscopic.

Sooner or later the wear and tear of pole – like many sports – catches up with us. However, I strongly feel that by standardising and improving teaching practices we can vastly reduce our casualty numbers.

I know for certain that the study I have done (including a degree in health sciences, a certificate in fitness, and various types of dance/aerial teacher trainings) as well as almost ten years on the job has given me a solid foundation in recognising the physical limitations of a student and teaching a move safely. But I am sure there are teachers out there who may know lots of hard tricks, yet have no idea about keeping a student safe while teaching them (I used to be one of them!).

pole cat meme

We all want to believe our teachers know what’s best for us – but to be honest, maybe they don’t. I recently saw a performance by a girl who had put a move into her routine that she was clearly not strong enough to do. Ultimately she fell out of it, but she had obviously been “training” it many times over with absolutely no core control and appalling technique. I was shocked that her teacher would give her that move when she had no understanding of how to properly execute it safely – and it seemingly hadn’t been taught very well either if I’m to be brutally honest.

As a pole student you are putting your physical health in the hands of your instructors. Have you questioned their qualifications? Are you confident they are not putting you in danger? Are you blindly trusting because they seem to be very capable, or worse still, are you not asking for fear of seeming impolite? If this is the case, I’m sure you aren’t alone.

I have done workshops with extremely high profile international artists who have seemingly no regard for safety, and do not offer commentary on how to avoid injury while learning a move. Don’t be hypnotised by celebrity status when looking for a good teacher or studio.  I know firsthand that some of the industry giants are also outstanding teachers. But ask the questions, don’t be shy! It’s your body, and pole injuries could change the course of your entire life. As for the industry as a whole, safety should be our primary concern. Is it time we called for a nation-wide safety review of our pole studios?

Studio owners, I ask you the following questions:

  • Are you hiring inexperienced teachers or training up students to teach because you can’t find anyone else to take your classes?
  • Do you provide comprehensive safety training at your studio?
  • How do you ensure that your teachers are not putting any of your students at risk?

And students, I give you these questions as a suggested means of vetting safety standards at any studio you might be considering joining:

  • Were your poles/aerial apparatus installed by a qualified rigger?
  • Do you have purpose built pole/aerial safety mats?
  • What teaching qualifications do your instructors hold?

Don’t be afraid of making people uncomfortable, or being the “difficult” student. Even if you’ve been going to your studio for years, it’s not too late to question the safety of the apparatus for your own peace of mind. Because until we are regulated by an industry body, these details could make or break your pole career, literally.

 

 

About the Author

ALESSANDRA IZZO

AKA

ALLY CAT

ally apcAlly is a restless entrepreneur and passionate creative with a Piscean idealism and an aversion to authority. Having practiced as a Naturopath and Massage Therapist for 6 years, she abandoned clinic work in 2014 to spend more time doing what she loved most: working with her pole family at Bottoms Up! and teaching 80’s dance fitness under her own creation RAD Fitness.

It didn’t take long before her creative juices led her to conjure up Pandemonium Events, and under this brand she produced and co-ordinated nine pole, aerial and variety performance nights in the space of 18 months.

Besides teaching and producing, Ally loves being on stage. She competed in the Victorian Pole Championships in 2013 and then again in 2015 where she won the VPC Amateur division and went on to compete in the national finals. She also joined APDM Editor Jane Blair and their Bottoms Up! family in a Rocky Horror group performance at Encore! 2016 (nominated as a finalist for Best Group Performance at the Victorian Aerial Awards 2016) and competed in the Pro Comedy division of Pole Theatre 2016. She was also honoured to be awarded the 2016 Trailblazer of the Year award at the Victorian Aerial Awards. 

Having toyed with the idea of starting a pole magazine herself in 2011, Ally watched the growth of Australian Pole Dancers Magazine with much interest, contributing articles to the publication before formally becoming a partner in November 2015. She loves being part of APDM as she feels it is something that the entire pole community can use as a means of connecting with one another, learning from one another and growing together.

11 COMMENTS

  1. Workplace Health and Safety regulations exist to protect, and as business owners it is our responsibility and obligation to ensure good work practices. The example you mentioned is well documented in 'Working at Heights' legislation where control measures are required "where there is a risk of a fall of at least three metres (in housing construction work) or two metres (in other construction work)". Although the Act is specific to construction, a safe work method statement (SWMS) would go far in any industry where the safety of staff and the general public may be at risk. I applaud your article Ally.

    • Thanks Nikki! But when already in an inverted position, falls from as little as 50cm can result in broken bones. We need an industry appointed watchdog, but failing that hopefully articles like this can raise awareness of students to ask the tough questions! xo

  2. Great article Ally! Safety should be the number one priority in any pole or aerial studio. That includes not only all instructors being trained in how to teach and how to spot students safely, but also knowing how to correctly handle a situation when a fall occurs. First aid certification should be essential for any instructor.
    Insurance companies require that installations for all suspended apparatus eg Lyra, silks or yoga slings have been certified by a professional rigger. All poles need to be checked and properly maintained on a regular schedule.
    Professionalism and safety compliance are essential for our industry as they are for any active sport. As we are a self-regulated industry there will always be potential for ubscrupulous operators. Buyer beware!!

    • Sarah, I couldn't agree with you more! From what I have heard just in Victoria there are multiple studios not complying with safety standards for their aerial apparatus. I'm sure it happens in other states too. Quite frankly I find it sickening that any studio would be so negligent regarding their students' safety. Students should never be afraid to question their studio on these issues, or they may become the victim of a major incident. Studios not complying need to be called out!

  3. Great article, Ally! I've been a student at one particular studio for a long time and I'm very happy with their level of professionalism and commitment to safety. However, I have been to a couple of other studios around Sydney which have had no crash mats, and I wonder how they can be insured. At one studio, I was trying to train an extended butterfly (on a timber floor with no mats), and one of the new instructors came to assist/spot me… but even she admitted to me that she couldn't do the trick herself! I was quite surprised that she was an instructor who was meant to assist me with my training, yet how was she supposed to properly spot me if she can't do the trick herself and therefore not know where to catch me if I fall? I say trust your gut; if you feel unsafe or if something seems "off", I'd leave and go elsewhere.

    • Thank you! Though, on your last point if a teacher has been properly taught how to spot it shouldn't matter if they can't do the move themselves. There are many moves I cannot do but could spot effectively for. On the other hand I consider an extended butterfly an intermediate move (low level advanced at a stretch) so I would question her level of experience if she cannot do one. I'd be curious on her qualifications (though still possible she is adequately qualified for the level she's teaching – I don't know the circumstance of course). However, a place that doesn't have crash mats while spouting some line of "it makes you do it safer" or "it makes you reliable" – the cynic in me just questions if it's a money saving exercise? Crash mats are expensive, but no excuses of why they shouldn't be used make any sense to me. I definitely think we should encourage more people to question safety issues and qualifications of their teachers.

  4. Safety is so important! I've had numerous injuries from pole (and just training for pole) but when I fell and gave myself a concussion it really made me think about how accidents and injuries can be prevented, or lessened. In many circus and other aerial arts instructors also train their students how to fall, but I was sadly never offered any advice beyond tuck your chin to your chest, which is not always the best way out.
    I wrote about my fall and subsequent learning here – https://melnutter.com/2016/04/04/what-happens-if-you-fall/
    My article really seemed to strike a chord with many pole dances in my community. There is still so much to iron out, so to speak, in the pole world. Thank fully your advice reaches so many and may be the catalyst needed for change.

    • Thanks Mel, I hope so! Actually I'm thrilled to hear that IPDFA are working on an industry led set of guidelines around safety, and hopefully this will turn into a standardised accreditation process. My fingers are crossed! I'll check out your article xo

  5. So two years after this was written, I had the following experience at a studio. I was told that since the aerial silks I was going to be training on were less than 4m off the ground, crash mats were unnecessary unless I was training a new trick and did not feel comfortable. There was one crash mat for six silks and the floor was timber over concrete.

    I'm not new to aerial silks, having trained it before at recreational circus schools and it has been drilled into me that you don't get on an apparatus without a crash mat. I've also had severe injuries from falls of less than 2m, so to be told the above was quite upsetting. When I mentioned about the circus school regulations, I was told 'well, that's circus and this is a pole studio'.

    During the class, one of my classmates commented that it 'was a good job she had a fat bum' when she fell on it, hard. Another classmate came out of a trick hard and hurt her knee. I made the decision to use the crash mat for a number of reasons and made it clear I was happy to share it, but none of my classmates were interested.

    I've also heard from a friend, training silks at a different studio, that if they choose to use a crash mat for their check-in class to try and move up to a new level, they are deducted points from their overall score due to their 'lack of safety'.

    • Oh my god this is terrifying. Thank you for sharing, this kind of approach is flat out negligence! I'm absolutely shocked by it. I think this issue requires further public discussion.

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