Back to School
Sometimes, there is something that you hope for, deep down, and you’re scared it won’t happen. Maybe you don’t tell people about your dreams, maybe you refuse to put weight into them or make plans around them, because you’re scared that things won’t work out.
Not too long ago, I applied to grad school. I didn’t tell many people about it– the only people who knew were literally a handful of my closest friends, my boyfriend, and my parents. I talked about it as though I didn’t really care if I got in or not, and I sort of shook off the questions about “What if you get in?” because to be honest– I didn’t even want to start to get my hopes up about being accepted.
Well, the best Christmas gift I’ve maybe ever received, was news that I was officially admitted into the program.
In a couple weeks, I’ll be a masters student in Columbia University’s BioBehavioral sciences program, focusing on motor learning. And literally the only reason I applied, was because of how my life has changed because of pole dancing: without it, I would never have discovered my passion for instruction, learning, or the human body, and how it works.
The motor learning program is focused on understanding how we learn to move, and how to most effectively teach movement to others. Does this not sound right up my alley??? This program sits at the intersection of anatomy, kinesthesiology, neuroscience, sociology, and psychology– all things I love! Well, I don’t love neuroscience. Yet.
To learn more about the program before I was admitted, I sat in on one of the PhD thesis presentations (PhD candidate students were presenting their theses and getting feedback prior to their final thesis defense and award of their degree). I think it’s a pretty accurate representation of what it’s all about, so I’ll describe it a little here. The student described herself as coming from a ballet background and everything about her reminded me of Amber Richard (seriously! A doppelgänger!!). Her study examined turn out (essentially, how much you are able to rotate your knees outward) in professional ballerinas, and different methods of creating increased turnout over time: if they performed a saute jump over and over again, would practice on it’s own create a better turn out by jump #50? Or, would it be better to tell them to picture themselves in the mirror, doing it over again over again? Or what if they imagined the sensation in their hips, legs, feet, and core as they jumped, focusing on what it felt like instead of what it looked like? Was actual, literal, blood-and-sweat practice the most effective way to find improvement?
The results of her study were absolutely fascinating, and I found myself copying down the studies she referenced to look them up myself. One of her findings was that visualization was essentially as effective as actual practice when the skill being worked on was one that was traditionally performed facing a mirror. For a pirouette, however, where you spend a portion of the movement looking away, imagining the sensation in your body is a more effective tool.
Think about that for a second, and its implications on learning pole: when you do something upside down, how hard is it to understand what is happening? When an instructor tells you to “bring your leg back” you find yourself thinking “WHAT??? WHICH LEG? WHERE?” Because you don’t have a clear mental image of where you are in space! Obvious, but yet– to hear this concept explicitly talked about was a real light-bulb moment for me. I knew instinctively that different types of prompts and corrections work better in different situations, but here it was spelled out clear as day. Imagine how much more information on effective instruction is already known to other types of more established movement, and how much we can enrich our sport by bringing this to pole.
A discussion popped up among the other students and instructors in the class, where people talked about varying levels of physical and spatial awareness, and how that effects a test subject’s ability to apply these learning techniques. The best part, was that all of the information, theories, and ideas flowing through the room was directly applicable to my teaching! I was completely inspired after the end of that class, and I couldn’t stop talking about it to friends.
I am so excited to start the program. I’m going to attempt to juggle work full time, a boyfriend, teaching, blogging, poling, and taking classes all at the same time… but I’m going to have to be honest with myself and really do a lot of evaluation as I go to make sure that I’m not (pardon my french) half-assing anything, or letting anything slip. And if I have to make a tough call about what activity to cut, it’s going to be awful, and sucky, but I’m going to need to be realistic about how much time exists in a day and what my capabilities are.
Pole has literally changed, and enriched my life, in so many ways. My mother always told me that she thought I would be a teacher, and a writer, and while I was going to business school undergrad, or in the years following, I always thought she was crazy. And here I am, having to admit– you know what, mom? You were right. Here I am, now, blogging for an audience that I am honored to have (and really, still in disbelief about how big this little blog has gotten!). And I’m so passionate about teaching, and using the privilege of teaching as a means of trying to pass along to my students what pole has done for me.
I never thought that pole would take me so far, and I have learned so much along this trip. I am so grateful for the amazing support that I’ve gotten along the way, and the reminder that sometimes– you need to just reach for your dreams.
Tomorrow’s post: Thursday Tunes…