Wednesday, February 1, 2012

What Does it Mean to Teach?

Teach: To impart knowledge or skill
Instruct: To furnish with knowledge

It’s been a while since I’ve written something.  And quite a bit has happened.  Aside from being named Editor-in-Chief of Vertical Art and Fitness magazine (shameless plug to get your subscription HERE), I have also started teaching pole.  This has opened up a whole other side of pole dancing for me.  It is one thing to be a student, and to dedicate yourself to dance.  It is an entirely different thing to teach it.  Becoming a teacher, in my opinion, is an extension of your learning curve – in any subject.  You never stop being a student, even when you teach.  At the same time, when you take on the responsibility of guiding others in a practice, you must lead by example.  This doesn’t mean you need to be flawless, but it does mean that you need to walk the walk.   For example, I can tell my students how to get into their bodies and how to access their emotions in their dance, and I can tell them how to be more sensual, but if I can’t embody those qualities in my movement, then I can’t really guide them to do the same. 
There is a tremendous amount of energy that goes into teaching.  You are pouring your essence, your enthusiasm, your wisdom and your knowledge into others.  You are offering your students support, guidance, encouragement and inspiration.  And you are keeping the energy levels up and positive in the room, while making sure everyone is safe and everyone is learning something.  You really can’t show up to class with anything else on your plate, or your students will feel it. 
I love it.
For me, teaching is about being of service.  It’s about nurturing and cultivating my students and helping them to grow in places they did not think possible.  But it’s also about respect.  In order to teach your students, you have to respect them.  You don’t have to like them, and you don’t have to be friends with them, but you do have to show them respect.  I remember when I first started learning to pole dance I viewed my teachers not just as instructors, but as mentors.  I believed in them and in what they were teaching me, and I had the utmost respect for their insight and wisdom.  Partly this was because they inspired me and partly it was because they acknowledged that whatever journey I was on was my own, and they knew when to get out of the way.  Today, I try to inspire that same feeling in my students - not through flattery and empty cheering, or authority and credentials, but through sincere acknowledgement, careful observation, and kindness. 
As a student, one of the biggest mistakes I saw teachers make was letting their egos get in the way.  If you want to teach, you cannot have an ego about it.  Your students will eventually see through it, and they will tire of it.  It is obvious when your students’ successes mean nothing more to you than a reflection of your own genius, or even worse, dollars in your wallet.  Naturally, everyone is susceptible to this kind of a thing – we are human after all – and we like appreciation.  But teachers who impart knowledge and skill as a one-way flow of information are doing their students and the material a huge disservice. Learning is a co-creative process.  People learn differently and in order to teach properly, you have to be able to understand your students’ learning styles and adjust accordingly.  This is true for pole dance too.  Your students may have blocks or fears in completely different areas.  Being able to identify those areas and help your students move past them requires you to be as aware of what your student is doing as they are of what you are teaching.  In psychology we learn that what you see in someone else is always filtered through your own lens, which is shaped by your own experiences.  It is impossible to make an observation about another human without taking into account your own issues.  This is especially important to remember when you are a teacher because you are being asked to guide another person on their journey.  How you guide them will depend heavily on your own level of self-awareness and humility.
My Marine Wives Class at Camp Pendleton

Of course, all of this is easier said than done.  But the joy must come not just from your success at imparting a skill, but at your student’s happiness at mastering it.

In celebration of my new teaching position at Polistic Dance Studio in Los Angeles, Polistic is offering fans of The Pole Story and Bad Kitty Exoticwear a special discount:  Bring your friend for free to an Intro to Pole class.  Share the link to this blog on Facebook then message me for the Promo Code!


  1. I came upon your blog by sheer chance last year and have been enjoying reading ever since. It is one thing to be insightful about a subject but having the ability to articulate in writing is another story. I'm not a pole dancer but your writing addresses women's issues at so many levels and layers that your underlying philosophy resonates to those who nurture similar soft spots in our hearts. Keep writing and often, Claire!!!

  2. I happened upon your blog while searching for info on pole fitness certification. So glad I did as we have a lot in common! I was born and raised in Washington, DC and graduated from an all-girls prep school in 1989 (you didn't happen to attend NCS did you?). Played sports all my life and was NEVER sensual - definite tomboy. Post-college I started teaching group exercise and ended up getting my personal trainer certification just because. 3 years ago I started taking exoctic fitness classes after becoming bored with teaching the regular ole gym formats. Entered my 40s as a pole fitness enthusiast and finally discovered that my big booty and thick thighs are SEXY! I've been teaching pole and chair classes for 2 years and LOVE the challenge. Thank you for this blog - it's fabulous! keep up the GREAT work!