Pro Workshop Preview: Heidi Coker
This November, Professional Poler Heidi Coker is coming to Flirt Fitness! Heidi has 15 years of gymnastics experience and 10 years of pole experience, informing her unique dance style and movement techniques.
Heidi was first inspired to try pole dance while watching an episode of Oprah: Sheila Kelley was being interviewed about S-Factor (her pole dance studio) that she opened after researching an acting role wherein she had to be a stripper. Kelley went to clubs, talked to strippers, and learned to pole dance for this role. She realized that the people she was learning from embodied a sense femininity and sensuality that she realized she didn’t have in herself; she was also in the best shape of her life after practicing pole, so she was hooked and opened S-Factor. Kelley even danced during the interview with Oprah. As Heidi watched this interview, she was intrigued: “I thought ‘I want to do that! I want to feel sexually empowered and very comfortable with my body.’ As a gymnast, I really enjoyed using my body in different ways, so it seemed like a perfect opportunity to put my background into play…feeling sexually empowered and good about myself.” Her interest in pole led her to take a pole class with a friend, as well as some twerk and chair classes to encompass all the elements of pole dancing.
Since she first started poling in 2009, and teaching professionally in 2013, Heidi has honed in on her dance and movement style, describing it as acrobatic-artistic: “…a combination of acrobatic and artistic, because I like to use my acrobatic gymnastics background, but then I also dabble with breakdancing and Capoeira…I don’t have a dance background, so my dance is just my own freestyle informed by my previous experience.” It’s no surprise that this acrobatic pole dancer’s favorite move is the Fonji 360.
Heidi will be bringing four of her signature workshops to Flirt Fitness: Pole-tastic Gymnastics, Interesting Combos, Floor & Pole Transitions, and a new one called Drills. Out of these four workshops, Drills and Floor & Pole Transitions are open to all levels; Interesting Combos and Pole-tastic Gymnastics are geared toward intermediate-advanced level dancers. For Heidi, an intermediate-advanced student has a comfortable invert with inside and outside leg hangs, is working on or comfortable with shoulder mounts, and has a good attitude about being upside down in general. If you’re on the fence about your ability to participate in the workshops, Heidi advises the following:
“If someone is really excited and they want to push themselves and try something new, and step out of their comfort zone a little bit and they’re not quite advanced, but they feel pretty confident on the pole and have a positive attitude, then I suggest people come. Even if they are at the beginner end of intermediate. When people have a positive attitude and want to learn, I can take that attitude and their skills, and give them variations of things that we’re doing, give them the building blocks of what we’re doing, and give them the same benefits even though they might not be doing the exact same combo. The progression is still the same. I’ve had very-beginner beginners come to advanced workshops and they were so excited and they had such a good attitude that I could find prep work for them to work on, so they can participate, just at a different level.”
As far as some more details on the individual workshops, read below!
Drills is a new workshop that is open to all levels (even non-polers!) that includes drills and techniques from Heidi’s years as a gymnast. It will allow to you experience and try different ways to move and use your body, and bring more awareness to how you move. The skills in this workshop are easily applicable to pole and other sports. “This workshop involves a lot of whole body movement, which goes against everyone’s interpretation of pole: people think pole focuses so much on upper body and core, but really you use your whole body. This will give us an opportunity to explore things off the pole.”
Floor & Pole Transitions is the second workshop open to all levels, and is a mostly floor-based class. It consists of a mix of transitions on and off the pole and transitions around the lower third of the pole. The emphasis in this workshop is to keep things basic, and provide lots of options to growth and advancement in the basic moves.
The other two workshops (Pole-tastic Gymnastics and Interesting Combos) are exactly what they sound like. Heidi emphasized that it’s helpful for students to have attempted things like shoulder mounts and handsprings, but not a requirement. Don’t be intimidated if you don’t feel like an advanced dancer; if you have a good invert and you’re comfortable trying new things, these workshops are totally accessible for you. Heidi included that she often adjusts the workshop to the level of students who attend.
Something that I’ve heard again and again from students is that they feel intimidated by a pro workshop or feel the workshops are too advanced for them. Before I went to my first pro workshop, I was nervous and super shy the entire time; not to mention, a little star struck that I was getting to dance with and learn from a pro. Ironically, my first pro workshop was with Heidi Coker herself. Luckily, she has some reassuring words to share with us about those feelings:
“That is a problem at many studios. People look at what they see professionals do in competitions or performances or on Instagram, and they assume that is what they’re going to teach in the workshop, (and sometimes it is-but that’s for a group of highly trained dancers, and that’s not the majority of us). I’ve been doing this for 10 years, and I have a gymnastics background of 15 years, so I come from extensive history of body awareness, and I understand that not everyone has had an opportunity to train like I did; I realize that. When I go into my workshops, I try to make everything I can as accessible as possible, because it’s not fun for me if I look out and students are frustrated; it’s not fun for them and it’s not fun for me. I would encourage people to message the pro teaching the workshop and ask them about what they teach and how they teach. The other thing I would say, if you’re really eager to learn, is to go with an open mind: ask for variations, ask for drills, for more steps into the combos that you’re doing. That way, even if you’re not able to achieve the move that day, you have the building blocks that you need to be able to work on it after the workshop is over. Take ownership of your own learning process. You can’t learn everything in 90 minutes. The other thing that I would do is talk to someone who has been to a workshop and ask them what it is like, or ask the studio owner a little bit more about the individual.”
One of the best things you can do to reduce intimidation and nervousness going into a pro workshop is to prepare well ahead of time. Sleeping well and eating a light, protein rich meal will help you be physically ready. Mentally preparing yourself to come with an open mind and a good attitude goes a long way in making sure you’re comfortable and leave feeling successful. That can look like eliminating your expectations for the day and just going with the flow, listening to your body, and trying new things. That might look like fully trusting your instructor and not being fearful of your abilities holding you back. It could also look like emptying yourself of judgement, and not comparing yourself to others. Pro workshops are supposed to be difficult and challenge you – if it all came easy for 90 minutes, you wouldn’t be getting your money’s worth or growing as a dancer; be ready to feel challenged.
During the workshop, it always helps to bring a notebook and pencil, as well as lots of storage space on your phone to record videos and take photos. These all serve as guides for you to reference later, because as we’ve mentioned a few times already: you aren’t going to get every skill in 90 minutes, and the work you put in after you leave a workshop is just as important as the work you put in during the workshop. Heidi puts a lot of emphasis on making good records of the things taught during the workshop: “Often, when we do a movement just a handful of times, it’s not enough for the body and the brain to connect and make a new pattern; that takes repetition. Coming to the workshop with an open mind, being an active learner, taking notes, but then actually practicing what you learned afterward are all keys to a successful workshop. Some people come to a workshop and they never work on those moves again…learning happens in the workshop but continues afterward as well.”
I was also informed during our interview that Heidi likes it when her students come to a workshop with requests – take advantage of this! If you’ve seen her do a cool combo or transition and you want to learn it, bring that with you and ask for it. If it’s a more technical and difficult move, the instructor can provide drills and building blocks for you to get there on your own. Another option is to book a private lesson with the instructor while they’re in town. “If you are a person who needs more time, and you went to the workshop and had a really good time, then book a private lesson. A lot of times, having one-on-one time helps to get more focused attention, and you can take the time that you need to work on something longer and get more of a spot. That’s another step in taking responsibility for your own learning.”
“I do my best to give what I can to each and every individual, but if I don’t know their needs, then I can’t fulfill them. It’s very much a partnership when we’re in a workshop together. I want to offer you as much as I can, but it’s up to you to ask for what you need.”
I remember going to my first workshop with Heidi last year, and feeling totally confused the entire time; I even had to step out of the studio and take a break because I felt like I just wasn’t getting anything. I remember approaching her and quietly asking for help halfway through, because I was super embarrassed: “I’ve never tried to invert like that before…can you show me how you’re doing that?” She gladly broke it all the way down to hand positioning, muscle engagement, and a drill to help me strengthen the move. All because I managed to ask that single question, I had notes and videos to refer back to when I left. A year later, I still can’t quite get into the inverted position she taught at that workshop; however, I’ve used the transitions into and out of that trick in choreography, I played with the new grip to create variations in my moves, and I learned a cool new way to mount the pole. I didn’t need to get the actual trick to walk away knowing I had learned something and had a successful day; and that was a huge realization for me.
At Flirt, we’re lucky to have some pretty amazing instructors in-house; the pros are an amazing added bonus, and Heidi is one of the many unique dancers that we have the privilege to learn from. I would encourage anyone to give her workshops a try, shoot her a message to get more information, or mark your calendar for the next time we have a pro in town.
“I love coming to Flirt; as I’ve gotten to know you guys more and more I’ve really enjoyed the studio. I think that I offer a lot of fun in my workshops. I would encourage people, even if they’re nervous, to sign up and give it a try. Try something different, be a little vulnerable, and come on out.”
After all, none of us pole dance because it’s easy – it’s all about growth.
See you at the studio!