What you see in the mirror…

When I was in Wellington, New Zealand, I had a rehearsal session at a studio called well, The Studio. Like any dance studio, The Studio has massive floor-to-ceiling mirrors in which students can check and correct their form, make sure their toes are pointed and lines perfect.

Scribbled on one side of The Studio’s mirrored wall were choreography notes for The Studio’s students who were competing in the New Zealand Pole Championships 2011, Andre Wotton and Mei.

But scribbled on the other side was a list of corporal punishments for pole ‘misdeeds’ — flexed feet gets you 5 push-ups or a 10-second plank, while the more severe ‘I quit’ gets you 10 push-ups and a 20-second plank. But the real punishment is incurred when a student makes an anti or negative body statement. This gets you 100 press ups or a 5 minute plank!

The Studio's list of corporal punishments for pole misdeeds

The Studio's list of corporal punishments for pole misdeeds

I’ve noticed a startling amount of self-criticism and body dysmorphia amongst polers, a result no doubt, of spending hours on end in front of a full-length mirror, half-naked. Despite our toned and muscled bodies, we still find flaws to pick at which we fault for their aesthetic qualities but also for their functional ones. I know I’ve complained on end about my scrawny legs, which I blame for not giving me power in my spins or security in my leg holds. But those scrawny legs also give me less weight to lift, which is probably why I go into dead lifts with relative ease.

And while we are athletes and thus, are always on a quest for physical self-improvement, this can’t come at the cost of equating our physical appearance with our own self-worth, or doubting or discounting our abilities because of what we “see” in the mirror.

Shirley Jones, the owner of The Studio, graciously shared with me her punishment manifesto. Feel free to adopt, or create your own version!


Toes not pointed (unless there’s a good reason, like the flexed foot is being used for safety etc)
5 press ups or a 10 second plank.

Jumping into a move (flying mounts have control, jumping doesn’t)
5 press ups or a 10 second plank.

Quitters (full on sulks, not doing that move etc.  Never confused with frustration at not quite being ready for the move or needing more explanation)
10 press ups or a 20 second plank.

“I can’t”  or words to that effect.  Acceptable phrase is “I’m having an issue with that right now.  Perhaps I’ll try again later”.
5 press ups or a 10 second plank.

Monkey Feet.  sheesh, ugly, ugly, ugly especially when climbing or spinning.  (unless there’s a good reason, like split leans foot on pole, cupid pose etc)
5 press ups or a 10 second plank.

Using the Bracket / open grip when not taught yet.  (not doing this until ready can result in carpal tunnel, shoulder injuries and the like.)
20 press ups or a 45 second plank

finally, the biggie:
an anti or negative body statement
100 press ups or a 5 minute plank. (double if aimed at someone else!)

Thank you to Shirley Jones of The Studio for graciously sharing your list with me!  http://poledanceaotearoalimited.dnserver.net.nz/

13 Responses to “What you see in the mirror…”

  • JCR

    I’ve been debating on whether or not to comment on this post ever since it went up.
    So, punishment for the sake of attaining perfection/ridding oneself of pole-related imperfections/boosting self esteem… and this punishment of planks and push-ups ideally leads to a stronger physique and more muscle, yes? For athletes, I can certainly see the appeal in this. However, the pole world is not wholly dominated by athletes. A lot of us are doing this for the fun of it, for the beauty of moving our bodies in ways that we certainly cannot do in the gym, for the liberation of seizing our sensuality with both hands. Striving for perfection might not necessarily be in the lines of the body, it may be in the acceptance of the body — that’s certainly why I started doing it. Can we draw lines between the two, or does it really have to be entirely about the presentation of the dance, instead of what might lie beneath the surface of it? And before you ask, I do come from the studio with no mirrors. However, I am a consistent student at multiple other mirrored studios. I am trying to see both sides to this argument, and I am still coming up with the same thought.
    I disagree with the list, except perhaps #2. Jumping is a habit that should quickly be broken, but perhaps with something a bit more gentle than “Get down there and plank!”. If this misdeed list only applied to the women competing in the championship, then fine. We’re at the athlete line, and points will be docked from one’s scorecard for flexes, etc. But if it applies to all students, competitors and fun-seekers alike, I just don’t see where it is all that helpful.

    I’ll accept the list for purposes of creating a competitive, pole athlete. With one emendation — when I go into another studio and I am openly singled out for doing the “S Factor” climb, I think that the instructor who does that should owe me push-ups.

    • nata9841

      Hi Lisa – great blog post! Very thought-provoking. As someone who spent a long time at S Factor as well as at studios that emphasize the more fitness or dance aspect of pole, I see two different kinds of pole studios – those that teach no right or wrong way of dancing, but movement that makes the student feel good — and studios that operate more like formal dance studios, emphasizing proper form, technique and lines. I spent my first 4 1/2 years of pole learning in an environment that was shrouded in darkness, with no mirrors. While it could be a terrifically liberating experience, I also felt like dancing in these environments prevented me from facing my true self in the mirror as a performer and artist…it was when I started practicing in front of a mirror that I truly blossomed as an artist, and when I personally felt liberated!

  • Dannah Dowling

    Thanks for sharing this fantastic idea Natasha! I have taken up Shirley’s cause and made similar rules for my own pole studio, which are now proudly displayed on the mirror 🙂 As someone who has lost a significant amount of weight and changed my entire body shape over five years of pole, I totally understand where people are coming from with negative body images, as its sometimes hard to let go of your hang-ups. Since starting pole my perception of bodies has changed completely, and I remind myself every time I look in the mirror and see something I wish I could change (eg stretch-marks from pregnancy etc) that any body changes are simply a by-product of doing a sport that I love. I am not doing pole to have a perfect body, but to be able to do amazing things with that body. We are all different for a reason, its what makes us unique! XXXXX

  • Mindi

    As a male poler, only kinda new, I also find looking in the mirror with barely anything on bar shorts, quite confronting too! And taking videos or pics of yourself is also challenging!

    Takes time to get used to all this – so nice to read all these words and know it’s not just me who feels this way!

    Happy poling everyone!

    • nata9841

      Ah, I had forgotten how uncomfortable it was to film my practice sessions the first few times. I barely think about it now (and now let myself be ugly, make mistakes and fall) but I remember feeling so physically restricted the first few times i turned the camera on myself. I am still — after all these years! — uncomfortable in front of a still photo camera, although now completely at ease with being interviewed or filmed on camera. It’s like I’ve numbed myself with my Flip camera over the years 🙂

  • Danielle

    It’s so true about being critical of myself in class. I never take the time to remind myself of how far I’ve come in the last year – that I wasn’t able to do certain moves, but over time, my body has learned, strengthened, adjusted – sometimes, all I see is fat, instead of seeing a body that can take me into something I could once never imagine I’d be able to do. Something to think about, for sure.

    • nata9841

      I think pole does psychological wonders because it does change your perspective of the human body, in that (much like what I hear from women after they experience childbirth) one really starts to see it for its functional qualities. I even use mechanical terms when I teach (i.e., think of your abs as a fulcrum, use your support hand as a kick stand, etc.). But with that, there also comes the frustration when you realize the physical limitations too, and that how you’re built and structured really does affect what moves you can and cannot do. When I was in Europe I read “Machine Man” by Max Berry and had to stop myself a few times because I realized that if given the opportunity to say, undergo extensive and painful surgery in order to make my back more flexible, or my legs more powerful, that I would probably agree to do it. Even if it meant months off the pole and possible complications…it’s a frightening thought.

  • Anna Chaplin

    These comments are great but for me pole has helped me see my less than perfect body in a different way…I’m late thirties had three children and less than perfect(!!) but now I feel like my body is useful again and the more I do the better it gets at it’s new job! So looks have become secondary and function foremost! Although if I’m totally honest I have a terrible bunion on my left foot that makes toe pointing hard and I blooming HATE it! My ugly ugly left foot!

    • nata9841

      I have a HUGE bunion on my left foot also. I spoke with a physical therapist who said my difficulties with balance (hence why pirouetting is NOT my favorite dance transition) could be caused by the huge protruding bone. It also prevents me from wearing some of my cute strappy heels! 🙁

  • Sarah Thompson

    As a studio owner, I still firmly believe that that psychological benefits of pole dancing far outweigh any negative comments that we may utter. Just imagine if none of us had ever pole danced would we be as self-confident, empowered and connected as we are now?
    Maybe because we exercise in rooms lined with mirrors it encourages us all to be more sensible about what we eat?
    Yes we all get frustrated with what we regard as out personal short-comings (things that other people wouldn’t even notice), but that’s just part of being an athlete and striving for self-improvement all the time.
    BTW I love the punishments!! (-:

  • DocK

    We, in general, pick on ourselves so much that, yes, add into the equation mirrors and tiny clothes and it can escalate.

    I have worked very diligently these 51 years to get better at not picking at my physical self – improvements have been made. However, being 51, with a room full of much younger bodies, it is something where I have to just center myself and embrace myself and let it go. If I were not able to do this, I would not have been able to enter a competition or perform.

    Also, because I have worked out for 31 years, it can be frustrating to not be “perfect” (with the thought, ‘how much more can I possibly do to try to improve?’) and also feel that others have an expectation of perfection because of the years of dedication.

    We love others in spite of imperfections yet we have such a hard time loving ourselves – our whole selves – including our bodies.

    Thank you, Natasha, for writing this and putting it into our consciousness to be aware and, hopefully, put up that big red STOP sign when we go down that path of self criticism.

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