Set realistic expectations. The range of pole tricks, combos, abilities, and capabilities has absolutely exploded in the last few years. When combined with the prevalence of instashopping (posting only the most perfect takes and angles to make it seem as though that’s how we always move), it is easy to see why so many polers have such high expectations of themselves. I remember first scrolling through instagram as a baby pole dancer and feeling intensely frustrated that I did not look like the dancers I saw. Then I realized how unrealistic I was being. I realized that I had been expecting myself to dance like people who have dancing as their full time job. I realized I was expecting myself to dance like people who had danced for years longer than I had. I realized how much goes on behind those videos that are not posted for us all to see. I realized that the stunts we all aspire to do are much harder than we often treat them. I realized that where I was in my pole journey, right in that moment, was completely valid and worthy of pride. I realized I could be reasonable in my expectations of myself.
Celebrate progress, not perfection. Very frequently in pole, success is judged by whether a move is achieved or not. Aspirations are named in terms of making it to the end of a trick or completing a split, as being all or nothing. Along the way, I have learned how much frustration that can lead to, and have found my own way to measure my progress. Very often, others will hear me say, “Closer than I was on the last try!” I learned that tricks are not just the end pose. They are the entire movement it takes to get to that pose, and every centimeter that I gained toward that pose counted as progress, even if I did not get to the pose at all. Inverting? Every inch you lift counts as progress, even if you don’t get upside down. Learning a chair spin? Every instant your feet lift up counts, even if you don’t get all the way around. Splitting? Every degree counts, even if only your feet touch the floor. Progress is worth celebrating, even if you haven’t yet reached the end of your goal.
Recognize that every poler is different. There are many ways of organizing pole moves, and many polers have tried to classify them by difficulty level. When we use the ranking that another has defined, however, we may find ourselves mislabeling our pole abilities. It has become clear to me, as to others I have spoken with, that everyone feels moves differently based on their experience and body type. For example, you cannot pay me enough money to make me superman in a routine, but I would gladly hang in a brass monkey for the rest of my life. One of the other dancers in my class, however, feels very insecure in a brass monkey while being able to do flips into and out of a superman. Neither of these tricks is objectively easier or harder, and neither of us is objectively better than the other. Our bodies just like different things, and yours will have preferences too. Rather than judging ourselves by whether we can do a move that others can, we can learn to nonjudgmentally examine our progress and goals by looking at the whole range of things that come naturally and less naturally to us.
Know that progress will not happen in a straight line. Wouldn’t it be great if every single class was marked by progress from class before it? Unfortunately, I have continuously learned that is not the reality we live in. Our progress will look more like a scattergram than a straight line, no matter how you train or take care of yourself outside of class. It will go up and down with the time of the year, the stress that life throws at us, and even your menstrual cycle! And sometimes, we won’t know why our progress has staggered. And that is okay. In pole and in life, it can help to find acceptance in knowing that nothing is capable of staying the same. We may know that when things are going well, in the future they will go less well. On the other side of that sword, when things are going poorly, we can know that we will have more fortune on another day, and we absolutely cannot control everything that influences those changes. You may have a “bad pole day” one day, and on another day have successes that are a complete surprise. On all of our pole days, we can recognize what we can and cannot control, and do our best with the cards we have drawn.
Look at yourself with kindness. In our community, we have a fantastic ability to support one another and always find something to cheer in another’s dance. To be honest, that might be my favorite thing about poling all together! When observing ourselves, however, it is still quite common to be our own worst critics. There was a time when I would look at my videos and only cringe. Pole sisters would cheer me on and I would say to myself, “What are they talking about?! Look at my toes!” This self-doubt and criticism was painful and demotivating. I wanted to give up. So one day as I looked at my video, I tried something new. I pretended I was watching a video of my pole sisters. It took practice to truly view myself in this way, but with time and effort I succeeded. Once I was able to view myself with the same eyes I used to view my pole sisters, I found so much to celebrate. I found that I had moves I liked seeing myself do. I found that I had a style all my own. I found that I could have fun and be confident, and that was not only a result of training more and harder. Having fun and being confident was even more influenced by how much kindness and support I was showing to myself.
There are many ways to have a smart poling attitude, and this may or may not be yours right now. However you choose to set your mindset for poling and for life, know that maintaining a mindset is always going to take conscious intention and kindness for yourself. We hope that you are able set yours and be your version of great!