My 2012 revolutions

I like to shake things up and be unconventional, so instead of telling you about my 2013 resolutions, here are my 2012 revolutions!

Tired of failing at countless diets (or of diets failing me), reaching a new low of self-esteem and body image but sky high level of frustration, I had to create changes that worked for me. Ten years ago, I remember very clearly when I went over the 60kg mark and it left quite a mark on me. As a young teenager, following a traumatic experience I put on around 5 or 6 kg over couple of months. I was calling myself fat, felt out of control and started to feel really guilty and ashamed of myself. This would become a long destructive and unstoppable spiral.

In December 2011, I had reached a new weight of 70kg (for 1.63m) and this was a wake-up call. At 24 years old, I was scared of what were going to be the following 10 years. I didn’t want to believe it but had to face it; I had failed to achieve what I had seemed to be trying for the past decade. I was emotionally exhausted. Accepting failure was the first step that led me back on my feet and to recovery. What happens when you hit rock bottom? You kick down and push yourself back to the surface. So that’s what I did. I decided this time to approach things differently. I had to find something that would work long term, that wouldn’t be too complicated or expensive and that I would enjoy. Demanding much? We all deserve the best! The only concession I agreed on with myself was the time frame. For once in my life, I agreed to be patient. I was desperate for something I would be able to call a lifestyle rather than a quick fix. And last but not least, something that I decided for myself, that would empower me, rather than forced on me.

The first shifting paradigm for me was the switch of focus from “diet” to “health”. I had to create new mental and emotional associations with food and everything surrounding it to stop the shame, guilt, uncontrollable cravings and other negative side-effects. Dieting was only increasing the stress and frustration I was already going through. This time, I went in with the aim of getting healthy, being in charge and taking care of my body. Instead of just feeding myself, I had to learn how to nurture myself, not only physically but also mentally and emotionally. I am absolutely convinced that all of those fields are linked and can develop to a vicious OR a virtuous circle. Too often we wait to be satisfied with the body we see in the mirror to start telling ourselves positive thoughts and compliments. But I believe than we can jump start the process and obtain better results from telling ourselves how good we look today to get our body to react  and mirror our imagination. This was the second realisation and major paradigm shift for me in 2012.

Going even further, not only did I focus on what I was looking at (biased picture and often leading to negative thoughts), I started to look through my body and to look forward, projecting a realistic but pleasant body image (in my case a picture of a strong, curvy but defined feminine body). So my mental body representation, and the emotions surrounding it, started to change before its physical expression. Some people call it visualisation, self-convincing, positive thinking. Whatever works and makes sense to you. Intellectual shifts not only influence feelings and emotions but can even precede them. This led to a great satisfaction and fullness feeling, eliminating the need to vainly search for this through food.

For me personally I had to trick my brain into finding situations, based on temporary moments and facts, where I could honestly and rationally not only accept myself but be proud of my appearance and find myself beautiful. This revolution came through movement. What I mean is that for so long I hated looking at myself on a still picture or in the mirror, changing this was too much of a leap of faith.  But watching videos of me dancing, I re-discovered my body and realised that my focus was too narrow and unfair. Sure I might dislike the extra fat here or the shapes there, matter of personal taste I guess, but what about the overall feminine body moving with grace and ease? If I could move beautifully, then maybe my body wasn’t as bad as I pictured it?

Starting from one timid but positive thought, I went on to try replacing the instinctive negatives feelings coming up to mind by positive thoughts one at a time. Even if it’s a simple thing, that might sound ridiculous, like saying to myself “I do like the natural shape of my eyebrows” or “I do like my nails today”, it was worth a try and eventually counter-acted the devastating effects of “Really looking crap, can’t been seen like this, how can people look at me without disgust” or “I really have no will power why am I even eating this”. These negative feelings still come back around and sometimes submerge me once in a while but unlike before I don’t let them settle in anymore. Those are small but efficient steps towards self and unconditional love.

I only got a chance to think about this and train myself this way once different areas of my life that were creating a huge amount of stress and anxiety came to ease, not completely of course, but once I was able to let them go and put them at rest (this took me a good couple of years too, I’m the slow processing type of person!). This left me ready, emotionally and mentally available, to spend my energy and time working on ME. It is strategic to pick the best time to engage on this path as I felt like I was taking on a new intense training course and this  required the vast majority of my attention. (Notice how I said best and not perfect time). I don’t think I could have asked myself to deal with everything at once while still expecting great results!

From an intellectual side of things, I spent a considerable amount of time reading articles, thinking/meditating internally, “digesting” things and finding how they could relate to me, how I could implement them into my life/ routine/thoughts. I also discussed about all of this with many different people (I apologise for the very mono-topic chats I inflicted on my friends and family members!! ) A year down the road, I have learned how to differentiate things that suit me and things that don’t.

This brings me to the physical and exterior aspect of things, surely the most visible but not necessarily the most important. Along the way, I have also re-discovered sports! Not as a calorie burner or a punishment but as a fun and recreational activity to build up confidence and achieve kick-ass goals. Not just through dancing but as I started strength training, I discovered how much inner strength and mental power I can find in myself when needed. This was such a great confidence recovery and I definitely have this integrated into my life now. It also helps my brain to let some steam out and not over think for a while. It is all a matter of balance between physical, mental and emotional strength and peace (can’t help but think of Kung Fu Panda’s master Shifu repeating “Inner peace…” and losing it)

Of course I did not do this alone. After struggling on my own for the first half of the year (using mainly Internet for ideas and tips and although getting some results), I decided on an impulse – I only thought it through once or twice rather than weeks on! -, to hire a trainer at the beginning of the summer. I realised that even though I am motivated and knowledgeable, the road is hard enough not to be taking it alone. Not only could I count on my trainer to provide professional coaching through different circuits and exercises matching my physical ability, I was also lucky to find somebody that suited my personality. Because of my nurturing and soothing process (like after recovery, I was healing from many years of “sickness” as opposed to my current state of health), I needed somebody who could adapt his coaching style to match me. I did need to be motivated of course but by seeing that somebody would believe and trust in me, using a soft approach. This safe training environment alongside my mental work proved to be successful over the last year and again today. Some people get best results with a much harder and pushy approach. The important thing is to find a professional that brings the best out of your potential. Good trainers know how to adapt to their clients.

And because I’m extra lucky or blessed, (bring out the tissues), I can say that I would have never been able to achieve all of this without the unconditional love and support of my husband. As I was changing, he embraced the new me and adapted (sometimes slowly but surely… me, impatient?) so we could stay aligned with each other. From moral support and encouragement to prepping the food before I cook it, he is by my side an invaluable help. I am forever grateful that he endorsed my choices (to an extent that suits him), and that this experience overall brought us together, through mutual compromises, understanding and love.

This is a long path, I am just somewhere along the way and constantly finding ways to adjust better and improve but I am deeply happy, moved and proud of the results achieved inside and out this year. Bring on 2013!

My next article will go through concrete tips that worked out for me but as I hope I made clear above, changes happen in your approach and mind-set first, before resulting in everyday adjustments! So don’t wait for it, be creative and see how you can find things to shift and improve this week (and every single week of 2013!) Over 50 positive habits that will happen by the end of next year!

Warning: Those kinds of changes are not only visible but also contagious and will inspire others!

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My reasons for not supporting pole dancing in becoming an Olympic sport

After watching the few videos of the first ever World Pole Championships created to follow strictly Olympic Games rules, I am now even more convinced that I cannot support this idea.

First of all, I would like to say that I have an immense respect for the athletes competing and who displayed mind blowing tricks.

There is no criticism on the level or the difficulty of the sport which I definitely think from a strictly athletic point of view would totally own its place among other Olympic disciplines. Here are my personal reasons listed below.

What made me decide to start pole dancing in the first place was that for the first time I found a dance class I felt I could start at an adult age and without it representing a strong disadvantage while still mixing dance, gymnastic and circus elements. Of course any competitive dancer starting pole would get results a lot faster than the average newbie. It seems like the population of pole dancers is such that you can feel comfortable enough to start at your own pace and at whatever stage of your life. In fact, quite a few champions of pole dancing competitions (not in the Olympic sense) discovered this art form quite late and are accomplished dancers. I believe this allows dancers to display a certain form of maturity in dancing: people dance for themselves and for their audience when they decide to “go public”, with sole real goals at first often being a way out of their daily activities, where they can express themselves.  Many polers will say that they entered their first competitions more for the personal challenge or out of an act of randomness than for the actual goal of making a career or even a name for themselves out of it.

What I love about pole is the freedom and authenticity of it. I love that most people don’t take themselves too seriously. If you have a look at youtube, you will see people of all ages, all styles and all countries daring posting videos of them being sexy, messing and laughing, training and failing – sometimes the best part-, showcasing, performing, competing. In fact they are thousands of videos but displaying so many different styles. You wonder sometimes if it is even the same art. I love watching dancers in 6 or 8 inches heels, or barefoot, or in hip hop runners or whatever footwear they prefer. It takes a good sense of humour and also a wise mix of humility and confidence to expose one’s self in such a minimal appearance. The dancer is definitely exposed, but his/her body parts are not the only things revealed, the soul is poured.

What I love about pole is its edgy, eccentric, borderline side. Even though it is becoming more and more main street, there is still a “dangerous” side of it: dangerous because of the laws of physics (gravity being a big one), but also because of social “laws”. It is still hard to predict how people will react when they first hear you do pole dancing. Colleagues, family members, friends, partners will all have to position themselves and embrace a new “world”. Until people pass the gates of the pole world, they might be intimated and won’t know what to expect. There is a guilty pleasure in either keeping the mystery around polers and their activities or if in contrary this outsider has gained our trust, there is a great joy in sharing our passion and enthusiasm. I guess every community works on the same model. You need a while to know enough to understand it and become part of it. The pole community has to deal with a very heavy load of stereotypes making it quite frustrating sometimes to “come out” and be recognized for what we really are. I don’t necessarily want the pole community to stay closed to a small number of people or stay hidden. I am the first one to say and show people what pole dance is nowadays as a sport and an art form, in all its various ways. I am not convinced that lobbying for pole dancing to be formatted to fit the Olympic Games criteria will bring benefits to the pole community. I do not feel this will push pole in a direction I feel comfortable with.

Even on small details, like the fact that songs need to be royalty free and without any lyrics.  Again, I completely understand the purpose of it for the Olympic Games. I just think that personally it is like muting artists and dancers. It is definitely restricting choices a lot. Maybe it is because I am naturally very talkative but I pay so much attention to lyrics in songs and use them in my story telling and choreography. I also love instrumental pieces but what I prefer above all is the choice, diversity and surprise element.

Another point which is so important to pole and will be lost in Olympic competitions is the major role played by the crowd. You can recognise straight away any pole event or pole videos by the amount of loud screaming and cheering coming from the audience. People go wild. You would expect an audience assisting to Olympic Games to be reserved and quiet. When you watch them on television, what always astonishes me is the very severe and strict audio background. You can only hear couple of judges or an odd neutral voice. Taking away the high pitch noises, the “ go girl”, the “yeah” of satisfaction, and all those familiar encouragements would be like taking all the oxygen out of my lunges when I am on stage. I personally need those super loud, nearly tribal, surrounding sounds to feel the energy, the confidence, the power. (And I’m very generous at giving them back!) I am sure people could align with this. Polers need to be pumped up!

I am always touched to see the unity and genuine support pole dancers will show each other. No matter what tricks you do, what level you are out, no matter if you have just failed one of your hardest tricks or mastered a new creation, you can always count on fellow polers to cheer you up until you step off the stage. They will always find a way to make themselves heard, even if their vocal cords had to break, they would still clap or find some ways to show their support. And very often the audience is made of fellow competitors. It is heart-warming to see the boundaries falling and everybody coming closer together at a pole event: hugging, comforting, sharing (make up, deodorant, grip aids, yoga mats, you name it!), crying, stretching, rehearsing, dancing, poling. I haven’t seen people really feeling threatened by other polers and I hope I will never see this day! I don’t think pole need rules as strict as the ones required by the Olympic Games and their organisation.

Another aspect of my reasons not to support pole into the Olympic race would be the very neutral visual surroundings required. I particularly enjoy pole routines (competitive or not) that use tailored lighting and visual effects to create a complete choreography, aligned with the dance routine. I really believe it is much more enjoyable when it is presented and organised a show or a gala than the very plain required Olympic setting.

Maybe this comes from the strong history of pole dancing as an exotic dance but I do think that this art form is all about generosity and connection with an audience. I believe that a pole dancer should dance for an entire crowd, every single one of them. I mean genuinely, not displaying eye contact with the entire space but really dancing to get marked by a couple of judges. I think that pole performances that are more likely to create an impression are the ones that connected and touched everybody watching (either live or through media). Even in competitions, I think that the main aspects of it are the performing and showcasing parts rather than the point totals and other intricacies. I hope people don’t forget that they participate to have fun, enjoy themselves – so that others will do too- and meet their personal goals (it could be a challenge with a particular trick set by ourselves, or a confidence boost, or totally focused on meeting a particular audience etc). I am afraid a gap would be created with the audience if pole becomes an Olympic discipline. To be honest, if pole enters the Olympic, it does not necessarily means that people will stop organising more “opened” competitions but I fear that this will push a strong call for standardisation across the board and this will affect people’s creativity and originality. I am afraid that little by little, there will be not enough space left for amateurs and professional who enjoy pole for its artistry and more “circus like awkwardness”.

This can be linked to the judges as well. I can’t really align with a group of judges in uniform. I just don’t think this fits my idea of pole dancing. I love seeing judges that are themselves, sending a message that makes sense to competitors: be yourself, by your costume, the way you display yourself, the way you move, the way you think, the way you feel. I love seeing feathers, beautiful dresses and other clothes and accessories in a judge panel. It tells me that they will appreciate my effort to be myself and original. A small note on judges, I do see a very valid benefit in inviting judges from other dance or gymnastic disciplines at pole competitions. It is necessary to have a frame and some rigorous criteria to be able to judge, but to a certain extent. I think criteria can, if too studious, quickly take away the real essence of a performance.  I have seen great improvements and lessons learnt by pole dancers, who are still establishing a very “young” discipline, when they take in consideration some valuable aspects of such and such other art form.

My last point would be a remark on professional pole dancers. I can see how from a business point of view participating and even more winning or placing at an Olympic event would be beneficial. But I have seen some extremely successful studios investing their time, energy and money in many other different ways that don’t seem to rely or need the Olympic machinery.

This leads me to believe that it is not worth it. The investment and risk to sacrifice what pole dancing are too high and unneeded to match very strict and perfectly standardised, sterilised, requirements of an institution. I hope that pole dancing will always be loyal to its first big “burst out” as a way to empower women and bring them joy, pride and freedom.

(Don’t forget to check my links to access the awesome Pole Dancing adventures comics where you will find many other pieces from the author of the image displayed in this article)

From martial arts mats to a pole studio

If you had told me 3 years ago that I would be dancing on a pole and loving it, I would have definitely laughed at you.

Funnily enough, I really never planned on starting dancing again and it had never occurred to me that people were doing pole dance as an activity (versus a job in clubs). I believe it happened by a stroke of luck, helped by my open mindset.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I stopped any kind of dance classes when I started boarding school, during my high school years (I was 14). My timetable and budget after this time never allowed me to reconsider training.

I then attended college in Ireland, for my 3rd year. I was 18. This was quite an experience for me. It was the first time abroad for so long, with a different language, different network, and different infrastructure. I decided that to meet people there the best way would be to join one of the many clubs and societies in this university. Price was so cheap and I needed social interaction. After trying a few places, I chose one where I felt the most welcomed and interested. I joined a self defence club. To be honest, my choice was more motivated by the atmosphere than by the sudden discovery of the inner martial artist in me! Anyway, I trained there two or three times a week, as a dedicated student. The whole experience was so new and different but I could relate it somehow to my dance experience. I realised that I had already started to develop my coordination, strength and muscle memory. Things that seemed “easy” for me were not always that simple for others, but as well things that were completely stranger to me seemed so natural for others thanks to training.

It definitely brought my body back to life, after only using my brain for couple of years. I rediscovered the pleasure of exercising, and mostly the enjoyment and reward of having a goal and working towards it. Even if it was only the next belt, or the next set of techniques, it motivated me. We need to know how we get motivation and what will always be associated with boredom. Some people love running or different endurance sports. I am not one of them. I need the right mix between mind and body activity. I cannot clear my head; I integrate my brain in my training. I found in martial arts a great way to focus my body and my mind, having to use my full attention and my physical capabilities. This balance feels right to me and I kept this in mind as I went on.

It also made me reflect on how I was sometimes not present to the moment I was in. What I mean is I often escaped in my mind and all of a sudden was waking up as if I was coming back to reality after day dreaming for several seconds or minutes. I was not truly connected with my senses through my body. The truth is if you do not pay attention to what is going on around you in a martial art class, if your awareness is too low, you will either get injured or hurt somebody else. This was a great incentive to develop a better awareness!

Though this martial art experience was very beneficial to me (as a training experience and on a more personal level, as I met there my future husband!), I did not feel completely aligned with it. This was due to the final aim itself which is fighting (even as a defence). It would be too long to develop here but it is hard to train against 20 years of education where fighting is to be banned, especially as a girl.

So, having all these different things in mind, I heard in my circle of friends of somebody doing pole dancing. I had never even imagined that pole dance was opened to the general public and that “normal women” could find classes so easily. I discovered that a dance studio was offering classes only down the road from where I lived and decided to sign up for a 6 weeks course. I even dragged a friend with me as I was completely unsure to what was going to happen to me! As you can imagine, I stayed longer that the initial 6 weeks course…To be continued!

First start

I have finally decided to do one big step on my learning path. This blog will help me commit to my goal and help me to hopefully see achievements. A bit of background: from 4 until roughly 6, I trained in rhythmic gymnastic (once a week, little amateur club but good teacher). Then I had a contemporary dance teacher coming to our house once a week as we were doing home school from 7 until 8 (I loved those classes, just me and my brother. She taught us great basics of relaxation and attitude). Between 9 and 10, did a year of modern jazz, didn’t like it at all and couldn’t finish the year as I badly sprained my ankle and tore my ligaments. I then joined again a new rhythmic gymnastic school in the countryside.

The teacher was excellent as she was in her mid twenties, retired from one of the biggest French training centres. I still remember some acrobatic figures learnt there and really enjoyed my training there. I was so upset to leave. After we moved away, I could only find a tiny countryside rhythmic gymnastic school (taught by 2 volunteering mums but really did not learn anything and I was only trying to remember past stuff to at least keep up with the level I had). So bored, I decided to go back to modern jazz for a year but again did not like either the dance or the atmosphere. I then started board school (at 14) and thought I would never do any physical activity or dance after this.

Writing this now, I realise how discontinued and eclectic my little bit of training was! I do think it is a bit of a shame I had to move so many times, never gave me a chance to settle and find a good training place and get a decent level, especially when living far from any major cities. In my next post, I will explain how I take my revenge on this! What I take away from these multiple experiences is definitely my unchanged passion for the acrobatic and dance mix. I always loved fluidity and flexibility as well as the adrenaline rush of acrobatic figures. To be continued for a more up to date picture of my “back to training time”…