Here at London Dance Academy, we think learning to spot properly is just as important as learning the cool aerial tricks. In this week’s blog, London Dance Academy founder Melissa explains why this has always been an important element of teaching for her.
What is spotting for pole dance tricks in layman’s terms?
In the most basic terms, a spotter is there to catch you so you don’t fall! Many people first hear of the term at the gym, when you might get a spot for safe and stable lifting with challenging weights. In pole dancing or aerial fitness classes, your spotter is also your friend for the next hour; there to support their training partner – to offer assistance but not get in their way. To motivate & make their partner feel safe. To help with correct positioning, and to always keep their eyes & ears open. The best spotters identify & anticipate a potential problem before it happens and are already there for their partners.
What kind of problems can occur when practicing pole dance without a spot?
As you progress through the levels at London Dance Academy, our pole dance classes become more about the complexity of the tricks. They may look dangerous to the untrained eye, but taught properly and with experience these acrobatic moves are perfectly safe. Needless to say falls can happen in those first stages of learning or on a hot and slippery day. We never let our fear define us, but from day one our students are made aware of the multitude of major and minor injuries that could occur from falling out of a move. However, there are also some less obvious psychological consequences of practicing pole dance without ever using a spot.
It’s perfectly human to avoid any potentially dangerous situation, so it’s a big ask to get students to try new moves without a spot. You can develop confidence issues and not progress as quickly. Lots of us know the feeling of a mental block with certain moves. This is especially true if there’s been a bad experience with it in the past. It takes the reassurance of practicing with a spot to break through this. Lots of people feel like this with their bad side. So if they are not forced to face it head on with a spot some real strength imbalances can start to occur.
Pole is meant to be fun as well as challenging
I don’t want to see my students developing a distrust of moves and feeling inadequate, saying things like “oh I suck at elbow grip”, “I’m too weak to do that” “no that’s not my move”. I find it incredibly rewarding to help my students through confidence issues. And help them nail moves they never thought they’d be able to do. None of that would happen without spotting.
What led you to place such an emphasis on spotting at London Dance Academy? Has it always been the case?
Yes always – back in the really early days in London we helped each other to learn pole dancing in clubs. Then when we started London Dance Academy we started to teach more pole fitness in gyms. I did a lot of training in Australia back in the early 2000’s – I loved what I learned there, they had lovely studios but there was very little spotting & one person to a pole. In the beginning you think it’s great to have a pole to yourself, but I soon realised I was learning a lot more when sharing & spotting. You are able to see where you & your partner are going wrong & more importantly when the progress starts to happen. We focus so much of our attention on what we can’t do – when you’re working with a partner, it’s easier to be positive & positivity is infectious. That’s what I love most about pole at London Dance Academy: no matter what has been happening earlier that day, we always walk out of the studio laughing together.
Ok, sounds great – so how can I effectively spot for my pole buddy?
Usually we spot from the hips or shoulders depending on the move. A handspring would usually be spotted from the hips. But a nervous partner might want to be spotted from the back and shoulder in a layback. It can vary, so make sure you follow your partner’s anatomy, style and preference and always watch your teacher demo. The most important rule of spotting is to commit; use your body to support them, and don’t be afraid of contact. Make sure you get right underneath, bend your knees and spot from a strong squatting position. The same as if you were lifting weights. Our legs and glutes are usually the strongest muscles in the body, and good squat technique will help to protect your back if there is a fall. Pole is like a lot of acro and aerial related activities; a strong base makes a confident & successful flyer.
So what are the most common spotting mistakes to avoid for pole dancers?
The most important mistake to avoid is lack of concentration. If you’re spotting, the only person you should be communicating with is your partner. If your spotter seems distracted, not on the ball or anxious to get close please let your teacher know! It can be helpful to have a regular spotting partner who knows your strengths and perceived weaknesses. But there should be plenty of people you feel a natural synergy with. A pole dance or aerial fitness studio should be full of motivation, positive energy, encouragement & a beautiful variety of personalities – a studio full of cliques & ego is the last place I’d ever want to train myself, so if your pole buddy is new, make sure they feel comfortable, positive and encouraged.