Thursday, March 24, 2016

Polerina aka Vertical Ballerina meets KELLY MAGLIA!

An extremely multifaceted and talented woman I know wrote this piece. READ IT:

Even if you’re not a dancer be it pole, ballet, hip-hop, or otherwise, she brings up a number of interesting and issues pertinent  to all people, but women especially, including (B,C):

A. Semiotics, or the study of symbols.
B. The male gaze
C. The taboo of Sexuality

A. Semiotics-
Symbols are important. You can’t escape it. My simplified understanding from my undergraduate studies in neuroscience  is that the human brain is structured to think of things  in a schematic way. Simply put we get overwhelmed and speed of processing gets much slower if we constantly try to understand the nuances of every single situation and we as a species would probably not have survived had we tried to do so. If our brains had decided to take the time to determine if every thing that was four-legged and striped black and orange was really dangerous instead of automatically assuming it was a tiger that would eat us, the earth would look a lot different. Full of super cute and vicious animals but probably not terrorists and crazy extremists.

 Ask any marketer or PR person, their job is to take something meaningless and imbue it with meaning that speaks to our limbic system, or Freud’s infamous id. They use our innate ability to schematize things and utilize symbols in the following way (more or less):
“Here is an aesthetically pleasing symbol. Let's bombard them with other images  that associate it with other things our limbic systems enjoy- pleasure, sex, money, control, until they can’t distinguish the two.”

Not to belabor the point, but you see said symbol- an Apple logo, a Nike sign (to reference the brilliant Kelly Maglia’s piece above!) and instead of seeing a random schematized apple with a bite taken out of it or a weird looking checkmark, you see an innovative tech company that can help you go above and beyond your competitors in a “fight the man” kind of way or an all star athlete.

Now on to the sociologically complicated issue of the male gaze.  Why do women wear makeup? Why do we spend money on tight clothes, breast implants, etc? To boost our self confidence? Sure! I know I feel awesome when I look great even when I’m going to place where I know no man will see me, e.g my pole studio, or even staying at home. Growing up I went to an all-girls school and we dressed up for each other on our non uniform days as much or more than some of our co-ed counterparts. BUT its much more complicated than that. When a girl tells another girl “oh my GAWD you look amazing!” is it a simple compliment? Usually yes. But it can also be confirmation to the recipient of the compliment that other people, hopefully men, will come to the same conclusion . [Side note- Rachel Bloom addressed this in a hilarious way in her amazing show on the CW Crazy Ex- Girlfriend in the musical number “Put yourself First” in which some of the lyrics read “ put yourself first in a sexy way” and Bloom’s character wonders what the point of getting a back tattoo “for herself” is if she can’t even see it.

So back to the original point. What is the difference between pointe shoes and “stripper heels”? Is it as simple as the difference between ballerinas and pole dancers? I argue that it is because of semiotics. The pointe shoe equals a ballerina. The platform shoe equals a pole dancer. Once we’ve settled that point, is there a difference between pole and ballet? Both require amazing amounts of strength, coordination, flexibility, and to get there, dedication. One had its origins in the courts of 15 and 16 century Italian and French royalty. The other had its origins in strip clubs where men pay women ostensibly for sexual excitement. Interestingly enough, even ballet dancers were viewed as “showgirls” i.e.”less than”- only for entertainment and nothing more when the art form first gained popularity! I do both. I grew up doing ballet from a very young age, never once imagining myself as a “sylph”, a “swan or dying innocent” but rather feeling more like an actress who could also dance (so kind of like a double threat?) playing these parts.  To me the key word here is something most would skip over. The "ostensibly". Meaning "presumably". Like most things when it comes to discussions about feminisms and the male gaze, etc, it's about who has the power in any given situation. 

Ultimately I transitioned to the pole world because I felt ballet was less female empowerment than I originally thought.I felt that ballet was like being a fashion model. A few powerful men tell you how to look and what to do, and you force yourself into that mold.  I was tempted by the individuality of pole, and , being always the rebel, the taboo of pole. For the first year I told my parents I was continuing to go to “dance” class and when pressed I straight out lied and said it was the same ballet classes I had always attended. What does all of this mean? I believe it mean that sex is taboo. Anything that is even suggestive of sex, which a lot of things in pole can be (but don’t have to be) makes people UNCOMFORTABLE. It just does. And like the four legged orange and black stripped thing, our brains won’t necessarily take the time to disentangle platform shoes worn by women who are paying to pole for exercise, to explore their bodies, or for any other number of other reasons,  from platform shoes worn by women who are paid to pole to make a living, or because they love it, or for any other number of reasons.

Let’s take this one step further. There really should not be any distinction between these two (see this amazing article

That’s a topic for another discussion but it’s extremely relevant to this one. Are pole dancers who pole primarily without platform shoes “more athletic” and “respectable” ? There’s been a lot of back and forth  in the pole community about “bringing sexy back”, # notastripper #yesastripper etc, etc. I say do what you want. That’s why I started poling in the first place. If you want to be sexy be sexy. If you want to be more like a gymnast do that. Don’t let any man or any woman tell you what’s right or wrong.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Push Past Part Deux

It's been over a year since I've posted and to anyone who reads my blog I apologize for the long absence. As it happens I have a little room to breathe, literally and figuratively these days, and with this time I am once again embarking on that never-ending quest to further myself along the path of self-discovery and physical and mental health.

In case you all have been wondering what I've been doing in the past year, I'd been fashioned into the semblance of an internal medicine doctor only to have that mold broken to be re-made into that of a neurologist. Finally my true calling! But the process of being broken down and remade is no easier for my mind than it is for my soul or my poor muscle fibers ( which even now are sending little flashes of resentment aka lactic acid into my blood stream). I have relocated to the City of Angels, where I had once envisioned myself in perfect domestic and intellectual bliss.  My arrival was marked by a lot of chaos and to-do which quickly settled into a terrifying blank slate once all was said and done. Sitting in my apartment surrounded by boxes and suitcases, I looked out onto the beach in Santa Monica, the very same beach I had strolled hand in hand with an erstwhile lover. Scenes from the past rushed to the surface of my mind, the past alternating with the present until I could hardly tell which was which.  I eventually took hold of my errant mind and set myself to the task of fashioning my new life. My days were full of patients with problems I could solve, unlike my own, and I loved it. I soon gave up trying to find any balance for myself, however, only striving to keep both myself and my patients alive.

Now to the present- where the time I have out of the hospital has allowed all of the tumultuous emotions formerly kept at bay by sleep deprivation and sheer terror to come rushing back to the surface. Initially it felt like a welcome wave of color coming back to my grey-scaled existence, however after not too long a time the colors began to take on a garish hue- too real, too strong, too overwhelming. I floated around on this frighteningly bright landscape for a while before realizing in church one day that I'd been down this road before. One good thing about getting older is that we realize the same sequence of events has occurred before, and we realize that if we got through it once we can get through it again.  And so it was that I turned back to my old love, yoga.

Entering the yoga studio felt like coming home almost as much as entering the dance studio did. In los angeles the classes are as full as they were in new york, and filled with mostly the same kinds of people. Did I experience the same angst that always filled me when going to a new class? I certainly did. This time I felt properly armored in the lululemon pants I couldnt quite afford but bought anyway, and a low cut tank top and sports bra. But all of that anxiety over wearing the right clothes and wanting to fit in melted away as soon as I walked into the studio, partially because of the heated room and partially because of the stillness that filled it, almost as tangible as the heat itself. The class that ensued was one I could have done in my sleep, and the familiarity of it helped me to separate my mind from my body and to get a more objective look at my life. All of a sudden the yoga instructors silvery voice broke through my thoughts- in a particularly challenging pose she instructed us to "push past" whatever was holding back from achieving it- our  internal mental chatter, fears about not being able to achieve the pose and fears about falling out of it and being ridiculed by others in the class. Indeed I did almost fall out of the pose, as this mantra was that of one of my role model's, Alethea Austin's. It hit me and resonated to my core. That was it exactly! Push past. Her motto that I had apprised as my own during difficult times past came back to me as familiar as the arms of any lover. The words flowed over me and settled onto me, fitting better than the $100 dollar pants I had insisted upon wearing. I felt myself lightening and pushing into the pose deeper, at the same time as I felt myself push past all of my insecurities, fears, doubts, and disappointments.

More from Alethea (dancing to one of my favorite APC songs): Alethea Austin the Chrome Bar

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Expanding Horizons...

Greetings after such a long hiatus! I have finally graduated medical school and started on the treacherous though exhilarating path towards becoming a doctor. The lessons I have learned and continue to learn from pole remain timeless, however.

I recently was lucky enough to have a little break in my work, enough for me to explore pole studios in my new home in Connecticut. I happened upon The Girl Spot, a little treasure tucked away in Trumbull, CT. I had been eying this studio for a while, alas my 80-100 hour work-weeks prevented me from doing much else aside from sleeping outside of work. The minute I had a break, however, I decided it was time to break my 3-month hiatus from pole and try a class. I started with the intro class, being nothing if risk-averse, and had an amazing time. The method taught at the Girl Spot was completely different than the Climb and Spin method I’d been taught in NYC. They opted for teaching grips required for the more gravity defying- spins and inversions earlier rather than later. I had some difficulty switching my brain over to these more complicated grips but as soon as I tried them I could instantly feel the potential for more impressive pole tricks stemming from those grips! I left that class pleasantly surprised about pole classes outside of NYC and LA, with the firm resolve to return next week to the suggested intermediate class.

A week passed, and I had procrastinated going back to class due to sheer terror. What if I was horrible? What if I couldn’t execute the maneuvers these other girls had learned in beginner classes and could now do with their eyes closed? My procrastination was aided by an illness likely picked up at the hospital where I now work, and at home I watched videos of Alethea at her new studio in Nashville while feeling sorry for myself.
Eventually I decided going to dance class is always the right decision, so I picked up my phone and scheduled a class for later that same day. Immediately I had panic-filled visions of me completely messing up choreography, not understanding the push-pull grip integral to so many parts of pole, and other such disasters. The most important part of pole, as I have learned time and time again is that you have to overcome your fears. As Bonnie at NYPD would say to us in every class, “pole is no place for pussies!” So I faced my fears head on and went to a class full of people I didn’t know and techniques I didn’t know. And it was incredible. So many of the tricks were new to me, but I took to them like a fish to water! With some re-configuring of my pre-existing pole knowledge I managed to get my hands and legs around the pole in a satisfactory manner, and felt quite wonderful at the end of it! My only regret is that my work schedule prohibits me following the rigorous course of 5 dance classes per week such as I was used to before college in order to make me proficient in the art form that I am so enamored with! 

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Crystal Meditation

I've always been captured by beautiful crystals and stones, since I was a little girl. I used to collect rocks, gems, and crystals, and name them and talk to them. (I was an only child until I was eleven, no judgements!) Recently I rediscovered this latent passion of mine, but with a metaphysical twist. Putzing around on the internet one day, I came across an amazing website ( which listed all of the stones, with gorgeous pictures and ample descriptions of which chakras they are purported to help and what properties they inherently have. Most of you probably know rose quartz as the "love stone", but did you know it dissolves anger, fear and jealousy as well? And the love is not just limited to attracting romantic love, but it promotes self-love as well as compassion for oneself and others. Knowing the properties of the stones makes them excellent media for meditation. Gazing upon the surface of the stone, imagining oneself inside of it, travelling through its planes and exploring it, all the while repeating whatever mantra or affirmation fits with its intrinsic properties, can be a very powerful thing.

For example, I recently acquired a lovely sample of sodalite: ( With it I used the affirmation "I have meaningful and uplifting communication with those I love." Gazing upon the crystal surface, noticing all its intricacies and idiosyncrasies  I felt the affirmation to be true, and felt extremely peaceful. Whether or not there is any science to this, I doubt, but as a future neurologist I will say never underestimate the power of the human mind.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Community. No, not the television show.

Life is beautiful. I truly believe this. Over the past few weeks, friends, some of whom I didn't even know I had have been making themselves available en masse to help me out when I was in a rough spot. One thing the Church teaches us is that God Himself is a community- the Trinity. Being a part of so many amazing communities- Redeemer Presbyterian, my medical school, and New York Pole Dance, has shown me just how good people can be, at a time when I most needed it. Remember that movie you all cried your eyes out to, Les Misérables? Yes, I mean you. The part that got me the most was when the cast sung "To love someone else is to look upon the face of God." Truer words were never spoken.Or sung, I suppose. I really think God makes Himself and His love known through other people He places in our lives to remind us that we are not alone. I've had friends call me, text me, come visit me, email me, and answer my 3 AM "I can't sleep" calls, and their love has truly touched my heart. It has given me the strength to move forward with my life, taking up crystal meditation (see my next entry!!) and to redouble my efforts to advance to fancy pole tricks and getting to know more about this Being who made us. For all of my dear, wonderful friends reading this, grazie mille. Je vous aime.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Push Past

For those of you who know me, you probably know that my favorite dancer is Alethea Austin. Her style and music choices are to die for, but recently what I've begun appreciating about her is her motto- "push past". Push past the pain to the other side, where you will find strength and amazing things.
Since this is a blog about physical, emotional, and mental health, I feel like this story belongs here. I have recently had my heart broken. The person I thought would never leave me did, and left me alone to try and pick up the pieces of my bleeding, shattered heart. It's been beyond hard, but one day as I was dancing in class, Alethea's motto came to mind- push past. A little voice in the back of my head told me to breathe through the pain, to feel it, own it, and not fight it. I was reminded of a stretch class I took with my favorite instructor at NYPD, Bonnie. She pushed us to our limits, telling us stretch as far as we could on our own then working with us to push us past what I had even thought possible. My initial reaction when she came to push me deeper into the stretch was to resist, to fight back and push her off of me. But she's not going anywhere. Eventually you learn to breathe into where it hurts- your hips, your hamstrings, your quads, and the pain goes away or becomes something tolerable. I decided to try this in my everyday life. Whenever I feel the waves of anguish coming over me, rather than avoiding them like the plague, I try to accept that they will happen, and breathe into and through them. Now this is much easier said than done. My tolerance for physical pain is through the roof, however my tolerance for emotional pain is slight, if any. But I am finding ( and this is only day 3 of trying this technique) that I have hidden emotional reserves that carry me through the times where I feel like the pain is so much I can't bear it any longer. I imagine the pain of stretching for increased flexibility, and just try to breathe through it. Accept it. That which you resist persists, as a famous Buddhist saying goes.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

My return to the horizontal pole! Or, it is totally normal for your legs and arms to shake like that. I promise.

First of all, thank you all for coming back to read about my (mis)adventures in trying to keep fit! I have a certain lovely, amazing friend who has recently become obsessed with the barre method (yes you!). I’d heard of it before, but had never seriously considered going, especially after I picked up my new favorite form of exercise, the subject to which this blog is dedicated, pole dancing. But I’m stranded up here in Palo Alto without a car for the month, which seriously limits the places I can go to for exercise. Needless to say the minute I got here and got adjusted to my horrendous work schedule, I looked up pole dancing studios in the palo alto/ SF area. All the ones that looked decent were not within walking distance, so I resigned myself to working out at home. One fortuitous day, as I was exploring sleepy little palo alto, I stumbled across this place: Ah! Yes! I committed the class schedule which was so elegantly etched onto the front door to memory, and made a pact with myself to return to the Saturday class. Saturday morning arrived (and none too hastily, might I add!), and I get up and start to get ready for class. I love and hate getting ready for new dance classes, because I have no idea what to expect! What do I wear? Will I look totally different than the other girls in the class? As most dancers can tell you, a lot of dance classes have unspoken “uniforms”, partially dictated by the nature of the exercise, and partially dictated by our inherent need to fit in.  

         A short bike ride later, and I arrive at  the studio. It is meticulously appointed, complete with candles and a very nice receptionist dressed in, you guessed it, a fancy lululemon tank top and leggings. Alright, fine. I do the whole registration things, signing forms saying that I won't sue them if I die, etc,  all the while talking nonstop about how my friend loooves the barre method and how this is my first class but it seems like fun! Do I need anything special? Is this ok to do the class in (gesture to ensemble) Did I mention this was my first class?
      The class itself was great! I have never taken an “exercise” class before, only dance classes, so the instructor walking around with a headset microphone and all the people doing synchronous crunches were a foreign thing for me. But the workout was fun, fast, paced, and most of all EFFECTIVE. I would have bet all my worldly possessions that the warm up was the whole class, because I was exhausted and shaking already, but the instructor’s cheerful “Alright! I hope you are all warmed up and ready to work by now!” combined with an incredulous glance at the clock which confirmed that indeed, only 20 minutes had gone by, dashed all those hopes. A mix of Pilates and ballet- barre inspired moves, all kicked up a thousand notches by the holding and pulsing we did constantly throughout class caused all the muscle fibers in my arms, abs, butt and thighs to revolt one after the other. My legs were literally shaking as we did a seemingly endless succession of squats and leg lifts, all with very small, isometric movements very unlike the fluid, large movements I was used to in ballet class. I gripped the barre for dear life while silently apologizing to the vertical poles I’d so fallen in love with, convinced this torture was their retribution for my infidelity. The class was only 55 minutes, but seemed to last 3 hours . At the end of it, that welcome rush of endorphins was coursing through my body, which made me feel great, even though I'm pretty positive I was the worst one in the class, except for maybe the devoted boyfriend who came with his girlfriend ! This class is definitely something I would recommend to all those former dancers out there looking for a way to stay in shape that doesn’t entail destroying your joints, as well as those brave of heart who like a workout that employs pulses and isometrics.

P.S. I never knew what isometrics were until I looked it up:
Isometric exercise or isometrics are a type of strength training in which the joint angle and muscle length do not change during contraction. Isometrics are done in static positions, rather than being dynamic through a range of motion.