Just recently a community member spoke up on an issue that I have long kept as a thought to myself but unable to articulate. Why is there an increase in instructors and students continuing to train for pole through injuries and pain? This just seems to supersede the efforts of receiving treatment for injury when you proceed to engage in activity that caused said injury. I think a good point that was raised with this issue is what kind of injuries are we referring to? Injuries can happen and it's unrealistic to say that pole dancing being a full on contact sport with an apparatus is going to be injury free. The types of injuries like bruising and minor aches are common. These are not the injuries I'm referring to in this debate. The type of injuries being seen more frequently involve sprains, strains, and breaks throughout the body. What are the red flags we should be seeing in the community where we've come to accept that these more serious injuries are becoming common place in pole? The origin of this issue was directed towards the increased use of pain medication among pole instructors/athletes. Pain medication has a direct warning to not operate heavy machinery or a motor vehicle. The reasoning is, pain medication impairs motor skills. So why would anyone continue to teach classes or train in a sport involving movement and high risk activities when they are taking medication that impairs the necessary skill needed to safely function? Another interesting debate on this issue involves the use of Non-steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs). These medications can be purchased in the United States over the counter. They include medications that target pain due to inflammation such as Ibuprofen. The debate with NSAIDs was highlighted in Bethany Freel's Vertical Athlete, where Freel (2013) discusses the dangers of these drugs masking pain and enabling injuries. I've seen many pole athletes rely heavily on the use of NSAIDs to either get them through teaching classes or training for an upcoming competition. Is this a current practice that needs to be looked more into? What kind of interventions can be implemented to make changes in how we're affecting our bodies?
If you're wanting to get serious about your pole workouts, you really need to have a plan to remedy the lifestyle. Fitness is a lifestyle. Pole dancing is fitness. So what can you do to improve the quality and relationship of your body and the pole?
One thing I have found and many pole athletes preach about is body maintenance. This is similar to regular health check ups you would initiate when going to the doctor for a physical, the gynecologist for a pap smear, or the dentist for a cleaning. When it comes to body maintenance, what is it about the American culture that we don't put simple acts such as getting a monthly or biweekly massage on our list of priorities? This past year, my husband and I made it a priority to indulge and allow ourselves to receive monthly massages via a local spa's monthly membership option. I often find myself thinking- how did I maintain a state of balance with my body all these years prior? I can't fathom how I ever functioned without this monthly necessity.
Several months in to owning my own studio, I began to feel an increased tension in my shoulders immediately preceding my classes. I teach an upwards of 7-9 classes a week, depending on the schedule. I am the sole operator- as in owner and instructor of pole and aerial classes at my studio. Right now, this is what needs to be done in order for my dreams of Pole Harmony to exist. The monthly massages would target the shoulder tension, but as soon as I'd teach again, it would soon return. At the same time, I decided it was time to also start working on a long sought goal of being able to over the head hold one of my feet in order to perform a closed inner leg hang, cocoon, or an even more daunting and impressive goal move- the eagle. All of these moves have an increase in shoulder flexibility in common. I wrote a routine to implement into my weekly deep flexibility classes and after just two weeks of my new routine, the shoulder tension has subsided and I've had a major break through in my over the head foot grab goal. It was at this point, I had an epiphany. By changing up my routine, I've not only been able to obtain a goal I've set for myself, I've also relieved a minor ache and pain I'd been experiencing due to my fitness routine. I wholeheartedly view my weekly flexibility class as a necessity in regards to being part of my ongoing body maintenance.
I wanted to share my experience and insight with others who may be deeply involved in the day to day chaotic existence of their busy lives and for those who are also in the same position as me in owning a fitness studio on their own. Through the forum's original thread where the issue was discussed, I posed the question to others as follows:
"It would be helpful for those who have injured themselves (not talking if you have a condition that predisposes you to pain) would elaborate on what they learned from their experience of obtaining an injury and what - if anything- they've changed in their approach to teaching as a result. i.e. do you now incorporate a monthly massage? Have you integrated a weekly deep flexibility class? Do you do anything different in your classes like longer warmups or cool downs?"
The responses were varied and not many directly answered my post. One commenter posted that one thing that has been learned is humility. This person explained that they have come to realize there will never be a time where they can do every move out there or the move of the moment. It's about knowing your body and it's limitations. To me, this goes back to the roots of the whole purpose of our coming together to collaboratively set forth an effort for safety within the industry. Others commented that if experiencing an injury and being in the situation where teaching must go on (for whatever reason as everyone has a different circumstance and a generalized judgment isn't a fair assessment), they make their injury known to their students and progress based on the limitations of their injury. I don't remember where I read this as I've searched for it to no avail, but someone had written somewhere online that an older dance teacher no longer capable to teach her classes by personally performing every movement was still successful in teaching students at times from a chair.
In closing, I'd like to still pose my original question- whether you're an instructor, studio owner, or a student of dance and movement arts. What have you found to help your body find balance in your art form? If you feel a potential for injury through increased tension or experienced an injury, what changes did you or do you plan to implement?