A word on “cheating”

July 13, 2011 at 12:00 am 2 comments

It seems like everything is being called “cheating” lately – certain hand positions, grip aids, even whether a pole is spinning or not.  While it is not uncommon to form a bad habit, let’s refrain from making accusations and over-using the word.  Often, the thing that is being called “cheating” isn’t really cheating at all.

Spinning pole v. static pole

Claim: Using a spinning pole is cheating because the dancer doesn’t have to worry about how to best showcase a move; the pole allows a move to be viewed from all sides.  Additionally, the dancer doesn’t have to work as hard or move around as much, because the spinning pole makes a move look good even when it’s held for a long time.

Usually this claim comes from either people who know very little about pole dancing or dancers who have never tried using a spinning pole.  Using a spinning pole is not cheating, and it frustrates me to no end when people say it is.  Anyone who has tried dancing with a spinning pole knows that it can be extremely difficult to work with and that any moves attempted while on spin mode need to be treated differently.  More care must be taken with spins, more strength must be employed with climbs, and more artistry is required to keep the pole spinning.  I’m not trying to say that static pole is necessarily easier; it depends on what you learn on first and where your skills lie, because static and spinning poles take totally different approaches.  I know for me, having learned on static, spin mode is definitely challenging and I find it much more difficult to control.  Bottom line: a spinning pole might make a performance look prettier, but mastering it also requires a great deal of skill.  Neither spinning nor static is inherently better than the other, and most importantly, neither one is cheating.

Grip aids

Claim: Using grip aids is cheating because the dancer doesn’t need to work to build a strong enough grip required for most moves on his/her own.  Therefore, the dancer will not be able to do the same moves without the help of grip aids and will come to rely on them.  It isn’t fair to other dancers who have worked to build up the strength to do a move when someone else is able to use grip aid to do the same move with less effort. 

First of all, grip aids are not a magic cure-all.  If you’re struggling to stay on the pole because you don’t have the strength, that’s one thing – and you can probably tell whether you’re strong enough or not.  And if your grip isn’t strong enough, it’s likely that’s not your only deficiency.  Being able to stick to the pole does not make you world-class material.

Noting this, it also might be tempting to say that using grip aids is, in fact, okay – as long as you don’t use them all the time, because you don’t want to start relying on them.  However, since everyone’s skin is different and not all dancers practice in the same environment under the same conditions, it is unfair to apply this sweeping generalization to everyone.  If your hands tend to get very sweaty (like mine), then you’re making the pole wet.  If the pole is wet, it doesn’t matter if you have the strongest grip in the world…You will not stick to the pole, and generally you will have to rely on grip aids.  And if you can’t stick, you can’t even use the pole to build your strength.  Having extremely dry hands creates a similar problem – there just isn’t enough friction.  Grip aids merely level the playing field for dancers whose skin would otherwise create a problem.

Using grip aids is also a very smart thing to do when learning new moves, because you will never learn the correct body positioning if you can’t grip the pole in the first place.  And by the time you’ve mastered those new moves, you will have built up your strength practicing, even if you have been using a grip aid to help you stick.  Similarly, applying grip aid, at least to the pole, is not uncommon in professional competitions – but why?  Aren’t those competitors cheating?  No – grip aids are applied to the pole so that no one slips, and no one gets hurt…so why, then, would it be called cheating to use grip aids at home?  Slipping is a major safety concern whether you are a beginner or a professional.

I’ll admit, not everyone who chooses to use grip aids has extremely sweaty or extremely dry hands.  There are those who use them for a while and then are able to stop, having discovered that their grip strength has improved to the point where aids are not needed.  Other dancers who don’t use grip aids observe this and assume that if someone is having trouble sticking to the pole, then grip strength is to blame.  The frustrating part about this whole issue is when those of us who have a friction problem are lumped in with those who have a strength problem.  And if you’re on one end of the spectrum (and have sweaty or dry hands), all of the “cheating” accusations get really annoying really fast.  If you still don’t believe in using grip aids, that’s fine – you’re lucky you don’t need them.  However, there are still those of us who do.  I don’t want to feel ashamed just because I use grip aids – especially when professional dancers also use them, and no one seems to blink an eye at that.

Hand positions and grips

Claim: Using certain hand positions and grips is cheating because they put the wrists in an unnatural position and allow dancers to accomplish moves that other dancers who are using the “correct” grip are struggling with.

This one is tricky.  First of all, I will say that certain grips are less favorable than others because they do put more strain on the wrists, and from a safety standpoint, using them is a bad idea.  I also think it is unfortunate for those students who are only taught the “wrong” grips because their joints are put at risk.  However, I think it would be more productive and helpful to other dancers for teachers to teach a variety of grips that can be used to accomplish the same move, and to spread information about the danger of putting your body in compromising positions.  Calling certain grips “cheating” only spreads negativity.

I will say, though, that certain “wrong” grips might actually be safer for some people than others.  It all depends on your own physiology.  If, for instance, you have great forearm strength but lack the strength in your biceps to do a cupped grip shoulder mount, then the cupped grip – which many claim is the safest and most neutral grip for your wrists – may not be the best grip for you.  Do your research.  Listen to your body.  If a grip feels awkward or is causing you pain, don’t use it.  It’s not safe to push your body beyond its limits.

Kicking up into a move

Claim: Kicking up into a move is cheating because dancers that don’t have the strength to do certain moves can get into them by kicking.  This is an incorrect entry into a move because it is dangerous; it is less controlled and can result in injury.

This is one claim I actually have to agree with.  Kicking into a move IS dangerous.  If you have to kick in order to get into a move, then you don’t have the strength to do that move and should be working on the proper conditioning instead.  Flinging your body through the air always creates variability, and that variability can cause you to lose control and seriously injure yourself.  The only way to increase your control is to increase your strength.


Entry filed under: Controversial, Thoughts. Tags: , , , , , , , .

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Michelle  |  July 15, 2011 at 5:05 am

    I love your thoughts here, very carefully considered and not imflammatory. I agree with the comment about kicking up, but again think this is not the full picture. Typically in a dance, the focus is on flowing from one move into the next. By coming to a complete halt, fixing your positioning, and then pulling up into a move like an invert, the flow is broken even if the dancer has impressive strength to slowly pull up into the move. On the other end of the spectrum, a dancer who can only just hook her foot if she flings herself at the pole is creating an unstable, variable environment and this is unsafe.

    I think the key here is what you have been saying all along. Let’s not call it cheating. If someone is only just starting to learn how to invert, they may need some momentum to get up. If they are desperately kicking up using a hit or miss approach, maybe we as teachers need to be using physical spotting and providing strengthening positions for that dancer to remain safe in her learning phase.

    • 2. Holly  |  July 15, 2011 at 9:51 am

      You’re absolutely right. I probably should have made that point a little clearer – what I meant was that I think kicking into a move is a bad idea if that’s the only way you are able to get the momentum to get into the move; I do think it’s perfectly acceptable if it’s a stylistic choice because if you can do the move without kicking then you already have the strength to better control a less stable entry. Of course a beginner is going to need more of a boost, but the end goal should be to get to a point where kicking up can be avoided. I also think that the cheating accusations are directed more towards the advanced dancers who swing a leg way back before the kick – is this what you mean? It’s a powerful way of getting momentum, but with the huge back-swing, it takes almost as much time as setting up for a strength move. But I guess when you start to get into which forms of kicking are okay and which are “unacceptable” it sort of becomes a gray area. The point is not to call anyone out for being “wrong”; the point is to avoid habits that could one day cause an injury.


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