My athletic interests have gone from training for karate and volleyball competitions, skiing and weight training as a kid, to finding a nice balance between sporty and sexy in the pole dancing studio as an adult. I still view myself as more of an athlete than a performer on stage, so I’m always looking for training tips to improve my performance. My first encounter with Caterina Gennaro (“Cat”) was over the phone when I interviewed her before the 2010 American Pole Fitness Championships in New York. As an athlete and a pole student, I was immediately impressed by how she trains her students and how she runs her studio. I knew she had something special to offer. I was finally able to make a trip out to Westlake Village, California, and train with Cat in her studio, Poleates.
We began with an assessment of very basic movements such as a basic turn and fireman. What she was looking for were strengths and weaknesses that would be revealed in my movement. As an intermediate pole student it was enlightening to go back to basics and start all over. It was easier for me to understand my strengths and weaknesses, but at times might have posed a bit of a problem for Cat as we were training, because my habits were created from decades of muscle memory.
Every person has their natural tendencies in the way they move. She immediately noticed that my hips and lower back are extremely tight. 20+ years of weight training have created the tight hips and previous skiing injuries have created a tight lower back. We started doing some stretches on foam rollers and yoga mats to increase my flexibility in my hips. These simple exercises were excruciatingly painful. It took every ounce of pride in my body to not scream at the top of my lungs. I can’t tell you how many times I did a goddess rise to start stretching out my lower back. My goddess rise definitely looks better than it did when I started but it still looks ridiculous because I’m so tight in my lower back.
The other thing she said was I always lead with my head. It didn’t dawn on me that I was always moving my head first; being a trained martial artist it’s instinctive to look before I move. So it goes without being said that leading with my body first and following with my head is a struggle for me. She said, “Everything has a purpose in Pole Dancing. The smallest movement can make all the difference.” The suggestion was that the smallest movement can change your performance and make the difference between being mediocre and being spectacular. The smallest movement can also add more stress on your body or move with your natural body alignment and cause less stress.
What impressed me the most is how Cat could explain everything down to the smallest detail including changing my grip and body positioning to put less stress on my body. I was a biology minor in college and was very impressed that she explained that women are more likely to suffer from knee injuries because there is a larger angle in the femur from the hip socket to the knee in comparison to men. Not very many instructors have that sort of biological knowledge and can also relate it back to practical functions on the pole, how you need to move differently to accommodate for these biological differences and how it can stress your body.
She was able to relate everything we did to practical use on the pole. I don’t do well with the “just do it” advice. I asked her about tips on doing the jade and the allegra. She said that I need to continue working on my goddess rise and stretch out my lower back. She pulled out mats and placed them below the pole. I climbed the pole and got into position to try to do the jade and feel the lower back stretch. When I felt how tight my lower back is it made sense and will always give me a mental reference on why I need to stretch out these areas in order to progress.
In addition to flexibility training and fine tuning a lot of my basic movement, she created a routine which she added on to every day. By the end of the week I had a new routine and I got to pick my own music to perform the routine. I picked “Glycerine” by Bush and performed the entire routine at the end of the week. Not only did I take private classes every day but I participated in a beginner class and an intermediate class while I was there. I was welcomed with open arms by all of her students. She has a warm-up that is Pilates inspired including stretches, lat pull-ups, abdominal exercises, push-ups etc. that reinforces the importance of strength training and conditioning.
There was one last special treat to complete my week in training. Friday evening, Sam Green, owner of Los Angeles based company Sam Green photography, arrived at Poleates studio to do a small photo shoot that included myself, Cat and her hoop instructor Leigh. I admit there was a small part of me that felt a little bit of intimidation being in front of the camera because I’m not the competitor with picture perfect form that is used to being in photo shoots. I’m just your average pole student and my form is far from perfect. It wasn’t the typical photo shoot where you do your hair and makeup beforehand and make sure you’re picture perfect. I was completely au naturelle, no hair or makeup and no touch ups were done on the photos. I was still getting trained by Cat while Sam was shooting, which I’ve never done before. The photo shoot was definitely worth it. I highly recommend doing a photo shoot, if for no other reason than being able to view yourself and find out where you can improve. Pictures say a thousand words.
Cat claims that she has been accused of being too hard on her students. I think the reference to being “too hard” on her students is mistaken for what is really an emphasis on safety and technique and a sincere interest in her students. She has very high expectations of herself and her students. She demands perfection and takes her training sessions seriously; she cares about the growth and progress of all of her students. I found her to be quite pleasant. Her teaching style is a bit strict and definitely not for those who are more concerned with their egos. If you want to hear that you’re doing everything right Cat is not the right instructor for you. On the other hand, if you have a sincere interest in improving and are willing to accept her honesty she will help you grow.
Training with Cat at her studio was definitely a pleasure, and a privilege. Cat is an athlete, an entertainer, a competitor and an instructor. She is starting an instructor training academy and I can say with full confidence that she is the right person to oversee a training academy. Cat now has a travelling student who will be returning to her studio for more training, me. Not everyone has the special gift of being an instructor. It takes more than being a competitor with a worldwide reputation to successfully train others. My week in California didn’t feel like a training session. It never dawned on me that I was paying for her time; it felt more like two friends just catching up with each other.
Cat is also organizing, hosting and sponsoring the 1st annual Pole2Pole Cup USA competition in the USA, which will be held in Westlake Village, CA in April 2012. For anyone who is interested in competing, sponsoring, buying tickets and participating in any in the workshops at Poleates studio or even volunteering your time to help coordinate, all the event websites are listed below.
For more information on the Pole2Pole Cup USA 2012 Competition, please contact Caterina Gennaro from the following websites.