*This blog post is the opinion of Sarah, who owns OtG. I do not speak for my instructors, students or friends, who are entitled to their own opinions and feelings. I welcome any constructive, respectful conversation on this topic*
I’m starting to think I’m the only person in the leisure industry in support of this lockdown. As a self employed person who teaches in gyms and owns a full time pole dance studio, believe me when I say Im probably more fucked over than most by this situation. In the first lockdown I took a job at Tesco where the total disregard by staff and customers for Covid ended in me having to quit because I didn’t feel safe there. This time I can’t even do that If I wanted to because I’m recovering from emergency surgery. I’m newly self employed so do not get any support. My only saviour is that my business gets support as it has premises.
I know more than anybody how important fitness is for mental health. 90% of the students at my studio would say they come to pole more for their mental health rather than physical. I know how much they struggle stuck at home.
But look how much death and infection rates fell after the lockdown in the summer, and look how they are creeping up again now. I was starting to see more and more people cancelling at the studio in the last two weeks because they, or their household members, had tested positive. They tried the tiered system, keeping everything they could open, and it just didn’t work, cases and deaths were still shooting up like they did in March. Clearly it wasn’t enough, so the next stage is lockdown, there’s no other option.
Maybe it’s my week stint in hospital that reminded me how horrible it is to be sick. But in those awkward few days when we weren’t sure if we could open when Sheffield went into tier 3, I found myself asking (from my hospital bed btw) should we be open, even if we legally could?
My issue is that *most* businesses CAN be covid safe. I feel comfortable going to work in my studio, as I have taken the necessary precautions to stay distanced, sanitised and do everything I am aware of to not transmit Covid. But again, just because it CAN be safe, doesn’t mean IT IS.
The problem is that there are too many people who out there who are just unable to follow the rules. On the extreme end, look at the complete disregard for any social distancing in city centres when they opened pubs and bars. On the less dramatic, I’ve heard of/seen on socials/been in gyms/studios where I’ve felt wholly uncomfortable. Sometimes it’s the business, sometimes it’s the customers. And if I’m truthfully honest, from my completely uneducated viewpoint, these are the people responsible for this lockdown. You were trusted to go out, and stay safe, and you’ve fucked that right up.
Photos on social media of people grouped together.
Being in an environment where I’ve been expected to do an activity that makes it very difficult to ensure distancing.
People not cleaning equipment.
Seeing people having a casual conversation, nowhere near distanced.
Hearing how many people have been in a space and feeling literally speechless that you can have that many people in there.
Apparently there is no proof that gyms do transmit Covid. But as far as I’m aware, and I’m not a virologist, politician or even scientist so please correct me if you are and I’m wrong, there’s not really any proof for anything. There’s still so much we don’t know, and very little we can confirm. We were told to quarantine fabric for 72 hours one month, and then the next, it turns out the virus can live on surfaces for 28 days.
Everyone can find justification for keeping anything open.
Gyms need to stay open, for people mental health!
But then if gyms can open, zoos should open, it is outdoors and zoos need the money to keep the business afloat!
But then is zoos open, pubs should be able to open if they have a garden, that’s outside and everyone can sit at their own table!
But if pubs open, shops should be able to open because people need to buy clothes to go to the zoo and the gym and the pub!
Next thing we know, bloody everything is open again, everyone is out and about, busy high streets and public transport, and here we go again.
A lot of people and citing gyms/studios as an ‘essential’ business. But the workout aspect of the gym/studio is possible to do at home. What people miss is the act of getting up and going somewhere, the social aspect of the gym, the escape of it. And the social bit, is the dangerous bit. This virus is targeting the one thing we NEED as humans, social contact with others.
The countries who handled Covid ‘best’ all went for lockdowns. Almost everybody is moaning that the UK wasn’t strict enough (can you see how hard I am trying to not make this about politics) on Covid, so why are we fighting the one thing that has worked?
It’s hard to cancel your classes, to close your doors, facing the uncertainty of a month with no income, not seeing familiar faces. But when faced with the possibility of one of my members/students catching Covid on their journey to/from/within my studio, and either themselves or someone they have contact with in a hospital bed on a ventilator, it’s difficult to think about. Even if I’m not directly to blame, if I stay open, keep working, then it’s only fair other people are allowed to as well. I don’t want to be part of the problem, because a percentage of those people in those hospital beds will be there because the leisure industry remained open.
Seeing businesses go under this year is so awful. But staying open is not the answer in my opinion. It is better and probably still cheaper to fight for the correct financial support. I had to do it for my business earlier this year, and now I may need to do it for my personal income. Don’t get me wrong, the leisure industry has to fight right now, but for the right reasons.
Pole photoshoots are a sort of right of passage for us all. Theres nothing better than some high quality, clean background, fully looking your very best images of all the cool things you can do. And its becoming increasingly clear to all, much like performing, you do not need to be at an advanced level to get some fantastic looking photos. Sometimes, the simple ones are the best. So what do you need to know, and how do you get the best out of the shoot?
So where do I even start?
Start nice and simple....
Check out this photo of Caitlin. Doesn't it look great? (So great its on the wall at the studio!) She's just having a casual lean against the pole, hair down, wearing a checked t-shirt, and that BEAUTIFUL pointed toe on the pole.
- What are your favourite moves, that you can nail every time?
This is one of the most important questions. Cast your mind back to your latest classes (or just take a look at your insta feed) and have a looksee. Can you do them cleanly, every time, with good lines (arms, hands, legs, feet). If you're really struggling to just hold your Jade, its not likely its going to look good! Its ALWAYS better to have a fantastic, simple shot, than to get that shot, but it just looks dreadful, or even worse, you can't even hold it long enough for the photographer to get a good shot.
- Do you want a theme/costume/certain vibe to the shoot?
This can be as simple as a good outfit (and as always, simple works!) You dont need the fanciest new pole set, i would suggest as a minimum, plain top and bottoms that match, and dont get in the way of any grip points you might need. The good thing about not having a theme is that the photos will work for every occasion,. and don't need an explanation! If this isn't your first shoot, or if you're getting into a seasonal vibe, maybe you'll want to expand and do something a little extra.
Is there anybody about to help me?
I can't speak for all shoots, but at OtG I always try to have somebody to hand. Be that an instructor, or just someone with some shoot experience, we'll be there to help with ideas, and all the niggly things, like that pesky label that keeps sticking out or if your hair is over your face after that particularly tricky transition to the elusive superman. I'm in the background of too many shots to count!
How do I plan my time?
Things to do before the day
Scour instagram for ideas, search hashtags like 'polephotoshoot' or 'polephotography', find accounts or website for well know photographers like Late Night Tales, Denyer Pro, Katherine Elizabeth, the Image Cella etc. Scour the insta of all your fave pole dancers, they will have posted shoot photos for sure! When you like something, save it, screenshot it, write it down, draw little stick men....just make yourself a list.
Then, PRACTICE THEM. The one thing I struggle with, and see others struggling with, is ANGLES. Make sure you can work out how to get into a move, if you land at the right angle. Its so frustrating, and so tiring, to get into things again and again for it to face the wrong angle. More on this later.
Think about the order you're going to shoot in. Do you want to put the trickiest moves first, before you get tired? Put the more flexy moves at the end when you're nice and warm and maybe can get those splits an inch flatter? Do the close up shots first, before you sweat the make up off? If you have more than one outfit, or are using more than one background, think about how each of those fit in with your different moves, and when you can use your costume change to grab a breather!
So lets talk angles.
Its easy to take every photo from the sideways on angle, that makes sense right? If that makes you feel good, then great! But I'm always one for a unique angle, and sometimes its just about owning it when you end up facing the wrong way! Especially if you have some very 'basic' moves that you want to jazz up a bit. It also mean you can get multiple shots out of one move, win win.
Take a chance in classes to practice angling your moves so you know where you need to start, to end up in the right place! This photo of me below in the grey outfit, while okay, would have been much better had I been facing to the side rather than slightly backwards, thats that pesky superman swivel for you! Other moves where this is a regular problem are layback, ayeshas and side squidgy moves (hip hold, jade, dragon tail etc.)
Don't forget some non-tricky shots.
Personally, I find these work best either in the middle or at the end of your shoot, when you're more comfortable in front of the camera, or when you need a breather! Not all shots have to be tricksy, take a couple of nice close ups, These may be a portrait, or perhaps a close up of your outfit, or a prop. If the idea of having to think about what your face looks like terrifies you (me very much included), ask the photographer if he can take some candid shots throughout the shoot, or take a few minutes to just chat to someone else in the room so you're not necessarily looking at the camera.
What about props?
Props, or a particularly fancy costume can be a great way of jazzing up simple shots. Again, have a play beforehand, maybe do a little test shoot by having a look with some poses in the studio or your bedroom with your phones front camera, make sure it behaves the way you want it to if its costume, or something big, and doesn't end up covering up, or being covered up, making a messy shot. If you're wanting to do something super fancy, for example this smoke shoot below that we did a few years back, that is absolutely something you need to talk to the photographer about first! We got some smashing shots, but there was also a lot of trial and error involved, as you can see. Not really suitable for shorter shoots, when you have someone else following you and the clean up may take a while. If its something that can be swept up, like confetti, great! Best to ask if its something small like glitter that might hang around and end up in the next persons shoot.
What about dynamic stuff?
Things where you are moving can produce great shots. However, they're not the easiest shots for you or the photographer, and may take a few (or a lot of) attempts to get right. Make sure whatever you are doing, that you can do it slowly and controlled, and that its consistent so if you have to do it again, it will look exactly the same. I got super lucky and got this shot of my full moon within the first three goes! It wasn't the angle I was picturing, but its one of my favourite shots. I would strongly suggest just trying a super simple one to begin with, and then if you want to do more in future shoots, maybe chat to the photographer before the shoot and they can tell you if it will be something they think they can capture.
What happens on the day?
In this photo you can see some of the lighting set up, and sort of work out the size of the backdrop. Theres not usually this many people! This was a huge group shoot we did with everybody at once. Whatever time your shoot starts, you want to be warm and ready to go straight away! Make sure you arrive in plenty of time to sort out any clothes, hair and make up. When we do shoots at OtG theres always space for you to get ready, and its not difficult to find a mirror! The person before you may be in the middle of their shoot, so just stay out of the way of the photographer and all the sets and sort yourself out. There is usually a spare pole for you to use to warm yourself up and check your grip etc. Make sure you've cut out any labels if possible, that you dont have hairbands around your wrists, and that you have clean feet! Dirty feet are a photographers nightmare, see below!
When its your turn, bring any extra outfits and props to keep close to hand so you don't waste time rummaging through your bags. Your photographer might want to move lighting, do some test shots etc, so take a minute or two to put any extra grip on your or the pole, and just do a couple moves to warm it up.
Another thing to do is take note on how far away the backdrop is, the last thing you want to do is put a foot through the backdrop! Its been done, and will happen again. The photographer may just start snapping, to test the lighting etc. and then you're away! Just keep moving along, feel free to ask any questions (is that the right angle, was my leg straight in that?), just sort working through your list, The photographer may or may not offer some direction, some ideas, or maybe you'll have had such good ideas you will fly through!
The most important thing....
..is to just enjoy the experience. Its not just about the photos that come out of it, its about the experience of the shoot itself too. The best shots come from the shoots where you have fun, laugh and enjoy yourself. Let the smiles happen, don't take it too seriously and I promise you, those photos will be the best ones. If a certain shot isn't working, just move on and do another. Theres no tick list of which shots you need to have a successful photoshoot, and ten good shots of different moves is always better than that one shot that you feel is most important!
This January I left my full time, degree level, not-far-off minimal wage office job in a small high end design company to run my own pole dance studio. Now it appears dance isn’t worth it, what would you suggest?
Should I be a doctor? I spend my spare time reading, researching and learning about the human body and it’s workings, in an effort to be a better teacher, dancer and athlete.
Or how about a teacher? Teaching dance has given me the skills to communicate knowledge with anybody and everybody.
An accountant? I’ve been doing my own tax returns and I do all the books for the studio.
How about a job in Communications, or PR? I do all the advertising for the studio (and none of my posts have made the news for being called crass by my own culture secretary)
A project manager? Handling my timetable between my own teaching, across multiple sites, along with the studio timetable with four instructors, takes a fair bit of organisation!
Or a data manager? Before I could afford a booking system, I handled up to a hundred bookings a week, including payment, by myself, sometimes on paper, sometimes by computer.
A customer services manager? As well as the instructor, I handle all the enquiries and questions any customer have. I don’t have many complaints.
A team leader? I have three other instructors who i delegate classes and jobs too when they’re not best suited to me, or if I don’t have time.
A skills trainer? As well as teaching my students, all my instructors have started to teach and grown with me, and I would consider myself a good mentor to them.
A lecturer? I’ve got pretty comfortable speaking to people, being microphoned up in front of a room full of nervous people who have their full attention on me for an hour.
A builder? I couldn’t find a builder so I refurbished the studio myself as much as possible. I replaced the floor, installed the under floor heating, and I’ve built that studio from an empty shell to a good looking room if I do say so myself. There’s constant DIY to do, keeping on top of that studio.
A councillor? I’ve formed a close bond with my instructors and students alike, and my studio provides a safe space they often feel comfortable and free to talk about issues they may be struggling with.
Or even a psychologist? Seeing the positive effect dance and movement can have on people’s mental health, I’ve recently been spending my spare time reading books and doing research into psychology.
An auditor? There’s lots of procedures and steps to be taking in owning your own business, from registering with the council, doing the change of use , handling GDPR regulations, financial records, all up to date training records etc.
A politician, or campaign manager? My studio had some strong opinions on certain matters and it’s important for me to communicate that with my students, so we’ve ran many ‘campaigns’ which involve coming up with ideas, planning them out, and seeing them through.
An events organiser? Maybe I could plan business conferences. I have planned, ran and hosted showcases, events, photoshoots, courses, including choosing the right people to be involved, deciding who is in charge of what and when, getting people to be in the right place at the right time, selling tickets to audience members, finding venues, and making sure we have photographers and videographers so we can promote the event afterwards.
Or something in advertising? All that choreography has given me lots of experience in knowing what looks good, how to go through a design process. I’ve done lots of photoshoots, for myself and my students, so I know how to create a visually pleasing image.
Honestly, I could go on forever. I have GCSE’s, A levels, A BA Hons degree, and I’ve worked in two different jobs related to my degree. One was minimum wage, the other I was essentially a receptionist and I was treated with no respect. I have learned more about myself and gained more transferable skills building and running my creative business than my office jobs ever did. I should have known when I wore sequin shorts under my graduation gown.
More importantly, my job in the creative industry brings people joy every day. I have full confidence that my job teaching pole dance has saved somebodies life, in one way or another. A doctor somewhere (that you stood outside and clapped for) has worked on a Covid ward for two weeks straight, 12, 14, 16 hour shifts, dealing with unimaginable stress and unthinkable memories they will live with for the rest of their life. When they finally get a chance to rest, they do so with the arts. Some may read a book, watch some TV. Watch a theatre show (not right now obviously), or dance their troubles away in my dance studio. I know because they have told me.
I do my work, I pay my taxes. I do so fairly, or at least I did. I need you to tell me why I should keep supporting you if you’re not going to support me.
With all the hatred in the world from every creative in the UK right now
This photo means so much to me for so many different reasons.
My pole life began at A Pole New Adventure with Gemma, and over the two (?) years I was there, I went from complete newbie doing one uni society class a week, to a close friend of Gemma’s, an instructor, and I feel confident in saying, a large part of the studio. APNA fostered all my close relationships, all the good things that happened, all the fantastic people I met. We laughed, cried, danced, stretched, competed and performed, just lived our lives together.
As a group, a handful of us battled the closure of APNA for longer than we probably want to admit. The final closure announcement was part relief, part unbearable grief.
In March 2017, I was armed with three poles, very little teaching experience, and absolutely no confidence. My pole family rallied around and came to my classes, we had a laugh and a good time, but in what world could I stand up to what we used to have? We were hiring a studio for a couple hours a week. I couldn’t afford to pay the rent to train myself, teaching around my full time job was exhausting, the overuse injuries started to appear and I had no idea how to teach more advanced stuff.
When my birthday came around in October, all my UoS students had come back, things started to feel a little more at home, I was kinda getting into my flow with teaching, and I wanted something to celebrate that. The first thing we did as Off the Ground together, something very us. We pulled a photographer who was available on such short notice out the air, and he seemed well up for what was a very extraordinary idea. We had a huge group candid shoot (about 30 of us), and then I invited 9 of my students who had supported me the most through those 6 months to stay for something extra special. We got hella undressed, threw cake at each other and took some fantastic photos which the internet will never see 😅
This photo means so much on so many levels. The carnage that is the remains of the cake, all over the floor and ourselves. The collection of heels, all different and fantastic in their own way, not organised or sorted, just being with each other. The wand in the middle because we’re freaking princesses.
But the one thing that keeps this photo consistently in my mind (it is still my background on my iPad, three years later), is the anonymity of it. That could be any 9 pairs of legs. Whose they are is irrelevant. Especially with teaching the university society, students come and go, they move away every year. But I remember every single one of you. You never leave the OtG fam. So the friendship, the unity, and the sparkle, glitter and carnage of this photo, I see all my students in it. Past, present and future.
Just like this photoshoot, specific events can do so much.
A throwback to great times (like us being at APNA)
The start of a new chapter (This photoshoot being the first time we felt like family again)
A chance to be truly present in the moment (like the joyful candid magic that was this photoshoot)
Things to share and tell the world (like this photo here)
Things that, well, you had to be there (like the photos that will never leave our computers 😅)
And a glimpse of fantastic things to come.
Like the day I had this photo beautiful recreated as a piece of art, to be hung in our own studio, three years later.
None of this would have been possible, and I owe all OtG’s initial successes to the following people.
True credit for all these fantastic photos go to Rich Sayles, who has become a firm part of the OtG fam since we met at this shoot, a sole provider of fantastic photos, lots of laughs, and part of the best quarantine lockdown household there ever was.
Gemma Hopkins for kickstarting this incredible life I now have.
Rosie for being by my side through every little bit.
Hype Dance, for giving us that base we needed.
Eve from Butterfly, for allowing us into your studio when we didn’t have one.
All the APNA students who supported me.
Everyone who came to this photoshoot, and helped make it happen.
And Donna, for finally making me realise why I cherish this photo so much.
My Instagram feed is a constant trickle of new accounts, for many it’s their second Instagram. ‘susandoespole’, ‘jospolegress’, ‘staceyonapole’. The bio is along the same lines, ‘a place to document my progress’.
Every year, New Year’s resolutions flood social media, chatter in classes, and new notebooks are bought. By far the most popular milestone is the splits (if being able to do the splits brings you unbridled joy and never-ending happiness, that’s a totally different subject).
🌟Why set goals? 🌟
Goals are fantastic. They allow instructors to plan classes to suit your progress (yes, we do that!), it gives you a boost to keep moving, and guilts you into doing that stretch class you can’t REALLY be bothered with.
Let’s say you smash those goals. Fantastic, proper amazing! What have you gained? Where do we go from here? Butterfly, Ayesha, Handspring, Deadlift, Shoulder Injury! Wait....what? That wasn’t what I wanted. The PolePT phrases this all too smoothly, to a point where everyone feels called out.
‘We learn to Ayesha, then we start to work on handspring technique, at which point we repeat that movement pattern over and over again, flinging our bodies into the air like we are one of those squeezy wooden acrobat toys that have been possessed, until we eventually nail it. Then we continue to repeat that movement in ever more demanding ways by starting to work on more advanced moves like IronX and deadlifts? Sound familiar? The problem is that we get so busy trying to see if we CAN that we never stop to consider whether we SHOULD.’
Ask any seasoned pole dancer who has recovered from an injury and they will undoubtably know why it happened, and what they will never do again. Their goals will have changed. At least for me personally, I now know my goal is to understand my backbends, rather than just make them look more impressive to the unobservant eye.
Now we are getting to the good stuff.
There’s always more than individual goals. Especially in pole, not only is it so varied that no one has the same journey, but there is also no end game. There’s no rush to ‘become’ a ‘good pole dancer’, then once you’ve got that milestone you just sit back and enjoy. It’s not like passing a driving test. Set a goal, work hard, hopefully achieve, repeat. Doesn’t sound too fun does it?
This constant, endless, ceaseless grinding isn’t why you started pole. You’ve just never realised you put yourself in that game. Maybe you haven’t! Maybe you’ve got this far and you’re probably about to close the window, because you don’t understand how I’ve made this so complicated. In my opinion, if you just enjoy what you do, think it’s just a hobby/sport that you go, do, enjoy, go home, honestly that’s the best. But Pole defines so many of us, that we’ve lurched into this perpetual striving mode, where our ability to be better, do this and that, determines our success. And when our self carerituals (going to pole) become a source of stress (questioning your worth or success when you can’t do something), they ain’t self care anymore. So that’s when you need to take action to counter that change.
🌟 Looking back 🌟
In the last few years, I’ve fallen gleefully into the world of planning and journaling. I was always a paper basedgirl, my A6 yellow Filofax nestled into my bag at uni, when everyone else probably just used google calendar. I’ve never thrown any of those away, all the inserts still sit in my loft. Instagram introduced me to the world of journaling, which led me to my passion planner.
I ventured gingerly into the world of reflection, first it was just to set my goals. They’re easy, I know what I want to do! Then came the tricky questions. Who or what are you thankful for? What didn’t you achieve last year, and why? What are you going to do differently? Over time, these questions seemed to link seamlessly to my goals. The more I did these reflections, the easier it became to see what I actually wanted, rather than just the simplest version of them. Going full time with your business is pointless and even damaging if it destroys your body and you no longer enjoy what you do.
This is where we draw parallel with those who have recovered from injury. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and if we actually take the time to listen to ourselves, we can create these meaningful, consciously careful goals without hundreds of pounds worth of physio first.
So when I came across a Project Love podcast which focused on a very long term reflection, I jotted down the questions that I thought might apply to my pole journey. And when I got a chance (which was actually on a beach in a very sunny Cornwall), I set to work.
I chose not to browse through photos or videos to remind and prompt me, as I wanted to focus more on feelings and emotions. It felt refreshing and clarifying for sure. I surprised myself a few times, but on the whole I think I already knew most of the things that ended up in that notebook. I ended with summarising the things I need to remind myself, and when I need to stop and say ‘does this thing I’m doing today move me closer to what I want?’
🌟Enough about me, here’s your call to action. 🌟
So settle yourself somewhere you won’t be disturbed, preferably without a time limit. You can go places with this I promise, it might take longer than you think. Have some pretty paper and pens to hand, maybe photos/videos/social media/music to remind you of your pole journey. You can also choose a particular timeslot, e.g. when you first started, or this year, or when you started a monthly membership rather than weekly classes. I didn’t do this as I didn’t think it applied to me. Pick and choose from these questions, or do them all. There can sometimes be crossover, so maybe you’vecovered it in another piece of writing already.
For these questions I have used the word ‘dance’, but feel free to change for whatever suits you best, for example train, go to class, move, etc.
• Can you do things you didn’t think you were able to, or wanted to, before?
• Have your goals changed?
• What is your motivation to dance? What is this motivation fuelled by?
• What do you want more of?
• What do you want less of?
• What promises do you want to make to yourself? Your Body, Heart, spirit, soul
• Do you have to constantly strive? What for?
• How can I be present in the story I’m creating?
• Who is there to support you, and what interests do they have in your journey?
• What is one change you can make after this writing?
• Have your goals changed? (Yes, since the last time you answered this question!)
• What would you like to write next time you do this? Feel free to include timescales.
See how it feels, I dare you! My next step with this is to chat this through with people who understand this process, or have tried to themselves. Maybe it will make things clearer for me, maybe it will help me to understand other people, build stronger relationships.
I’ve not included any of my own writings in this post, as I want it to be a two way conversation. If you do wanna chat about it, hit me up. Hop into DM’s, or pop a comment down below and let chat about it. 🥰
*passion planner has all their materials available to download FOR FREE on their website *
Project Love Podcast
Episode 87, Stepping into a new decade.
My current planner