In the beginning I was happy. I found something I loved to do, in a friendly small studio that was reasonably priced and something I could afford to do once or twice a week. My love for aerial grew, the studio grew and that’s where things got more complicated.
The bigger the place, the more classes could be offered, and with the owner being the only one who did admin, lots of mistakes happened. Cash transactions became messy, money misplaced/or services mismarked as unpaid still. Information got misconstrued. Products went missing often, and instead of taking the loss the business owner openly shamed their customers on social media for the missing supplies trying to get to the bottom of it. There is nothing wrong with putting a PSA out on a Facebook page but the wording used was not unlike a ‘name and shame’ tactic. Patrons would be publicly tagged on posts which shamed them into explain that they did pay, stating when and where, all because the admin wasn’t as solid as it could be.
For every little mistake that was made or every poorly worded Facebook post uploaded it still didn’t overpower my love of this place. I ignored the Faux Pas and carried on with life….. that is until the offenses stacked up like Counterbalancing Stones.
The first big stone to be placed in my path of discovery came before I fell pregnant. The studio had to be closed for a month due to maintenance and instead of cancelling/refunding memberships, the proprietor decided to hold workshops the following January and offer 4 workshops—the equivalent cost of a month’s membership-- free to those who were on memberships. Some workshops were held more than once due to popularity, so specific times of workshops were assigned to attendees to prevent overcrowding any one session.
It was a perfect way to arrange a work around for having the studio closed for a month, but still have people pay for their memberships. However, the times of workshops people were set to attend suddenly changed without much notice. Due to me living further away from the studio the time changes on the day made it difficult for me to attend half of them after I had signed up. I was surprised that the miscommunication in time was seen as my fault and that I would not be granted a refund because I was not the only one who had noticed the time changes. Many other students noticed the time change of workshops, it just happens that they were more flexible and could make the new time.
Not only that, but when I attended the 2 workshops I was able to make, I didn’t enjoy them because the instructor/owner had a very aggravated attitude, calling me out in front of the class-publicly shaming me-and it did not make me feel welcome at all. I could not wait to get out of there. I left feeling so belittled.
The encounter left me emotionally shaken enough that for the next 2 days, I avoided the studio because I did not feel comfortable. On the 3rd day, I returned to classes because I had private tuition booked and paid for before my classes that night. I was planning on entering a competition so I really needed to practice, but I still felt awkward and undervalued during this private lesson. At one point I discussed with the tutor my apprehension of putting a particular move in my routine, only to be met with hostility. Private lessons for competition pieces had always been about collaboration and making a routine best suited for the individual competing, but I felt like my concept was taken from me and they were trying to morph it into something THEY wanted, not something I was proud of. It was clear to me that at this point I wasn’t seen as a real person with thoughts and feelings, but I was made to feel like just another number, another potential breadwinner…..someone who was instructed to be the best to bring home another win or an improvement project to be shown as a before and after, and quite frankly, just another source of income.
My confidence really suffered at this point. I didn't feel valued, I felt very out of place by the comments that were made in that private lesson. So, I hit another low point and really didn't feel like I was doing my best because I wasn't able to do what the studio owner wanted for my routine. MY routine! Again I tried to shrug off these feelings of dejection, saying that it was just my social awkwardness/anxiety brain playing tricks on me. I was so blind to the shiny facade of this place that I could not fully put all my experiences together to see the bigger picture of what was going so wrong. I carried on for another month of harboring this slight unease, not knowing why because this was my ‘happy place’. Then I found out I was pregnant and I could no longer take part in classes—so my 1 year sabbatical from Aerial began….but somehow I wasn’t devoid of the drama.
During my Pregnancy: Absence makes the heart grow fonder….or does it?
A work colleague of mine signed up for a 6-week Chair Dancing Course with me that was due to start the week I found out I was pregnant . Regrettably, I couldn’t join her and not that it was my job to, but had I been around I might have been able to cool the situation before it got heated. As it was, I had not been gone from the studio for a month before I was forced to get involved by the owner of the studio. I was called and begged to ‘fight [their] corner’ since it was someone I referred to the studio. This situation put unnecessary stress and worries on me while I was already 3 months pregnant—which FYI is the worst time to be stressed when carrying a child—and it made it appear as if my wellbeing paled in comparison to this owners reputation.
The issue in short was, the description of the course being advertised was recycled verbiage from a specific showcase routine back in 2015 and was not changed to fit the current course description(for the 2019 class). My friend signed up for a class that was not as advertised and wanted a refund. Normally these classes are ‘Non-refundable’ 6-week courses, but seeing as how the course was falsely advertised and totally NOT something my colleague wanted to continue, one would expect a refund or exchange to be given freely, without challenge. That wasn't necessarily the case. Offers to swap courses, insulting a potential customer's mental health, and one mention of calling trading standards later, a refund was finally given. From an objective standpoint, knowing both individuals, I can understand why they said what they said to each other, albeit they didn't communicate that well enough to one another. This does not diminish the fact that there have been several occasions where information was either changed, misinformed, or not as advertised that could seriously get this business into trouble. While I was on the outside looking in, I started to realize that my discomfort wasn't all regarding poor admin mistakes either. The issue with my work colleague opened up a whole 'nother sector of feelings. I felt embarrassed by the studio owner's behaviour. I felt pressured into taking a side. I felt sorry to my colleague that they had to deal with this unfortunate occurrence. It made me feel glad that I didn't have to deal with the studio owner face to face because I probably would never hear the end of it. At this point I still championed the business (sharing links supporting the business online, liking/commenting on the latest IG or FB post, etc) but I was becoming more aware that it was better for my mental health NOT being there. It wasn't really until the drama surrounding the yearly showcase that I really started contemplating whether or not I wanted to go back to the studio post-pregnancy, or if I was better off not involving myself cause I'd only get more upset. But more on that a little later..... Over the months of my maternity, through following the studio online and hearing tales my friends who frequent the studio had told me...it jogged my memory to things that had either happened in the past, or similar such occurrences while I was a regular at the studio. I started thinking retrospectively and came to the conclusion that this business wasn't the happy place I had once claimed it to be.
Mistakes/Past Grievances now realized:
1. EXPLOITATION OF EMOTIONAL PAIN:
The last showcase I was a part of before I left had been a grand affair. Most of the acts were full up with people from each section of aerial discipline, but the studio owner had an idea for the finale act. They posted a facebook message on the group page looking for people who would be willing to take part in a very small (6-8 people) group project....but then they actually tagged a handful of specific people, including myself. The act was to be self-choreographed, with the thorough line of 'This is who I am and I am not ashamed'....to, you guessed it "This is Me" from The Greatest Showman.
At first, I was hesitant to say yes. I loved performing but I already signed up to be in 8 other acts in the show and I wasn't as into the song as other people were. Through speaking with the studio owner I finally relented and said I'd be happy to do it. Later on during the process we all had to write 1 sentence to sum up "This is Me" for the introduction speech for this act. Wordsmith that I am, I thought about it and came up with my 1 sentence, shooting it off to the studio owner via private facebook message. They came back to me and said "can you just tell me about why you wanted to be in this is me then I will write the sentence". Obviously, mine wasn't good enough. It doesn't matter my reason/answer because it was never used in the introduction anyway, but for the record, here's my reasoning: they made me feel so special for singling me out to do this exclusive act that I didn't want to let them down.
Initially, I thought the people tagged by the studio owner were people who liked the song/movie ALOT, or who were like me --people who loved any chance to perform. This may still be the case, but I fear we were singled out for a far bigger reason. This is MASSIVE speculation of course, but i feel it deep down in my bones..... all of us who took part in that act were having our pain exploited in front of an audience of 400 people.
Being backstage, I couldn't really hear the introduction to out act clearly and the adrenaline from the night probably didn't help me focus on exactly what was being said when we were introduced. It was only after the fact, when I was watching the recording of showcase that I actually heard the whole speech before we went on. I'm ashamed to say that the dots didn't connect until after I took my little pregnancy sabbatical from the studio.
I won't quote the whole thing, but it started off with the studio owner being bullied, and how this place is so important to them and so many people who have suffered. Eventually it segwayed into them asking a 'group of particular people to come on stage and share their stories.
"the people in this group have been through alot in their lives, we have someone who lives with a life-shortening debilitating disease, that's Laura who you just met, someone who has dealt with 30 years of addiction of alcohol and drug abuse....someone who has dealt with a traumatic childhood experience and who is dealing with the death of someone extremely close to them. Someone who has had years of domestic abuse and is finally free, someone who has had years of being surrounded by emotional and physical abuse by people close to them, someone who is suffering from years of depression, taking them to the brink of suicide with anxiety and depression along the way.....At [the business] we build each other up....we build their confidence so much that they get themselves onstage to perform in front of 400 strangers."
When I watched the recording of the show back, it clicked in my head...."okay, that's this person they're talking about, that bit is about this person"...and went down the list of the 7 of us. At that time I thought maybe I was the 'one dealing with the death of someone close to them' because my dad was losing his battle with Cancer at the time. In hindsight, I don't think I was noted at all in the little speech because I didn't give the business owner a 'reason' to exploit. I however feel for every person who shared that stage with me because I know some of their stories and it was a clear show of exploitation from the business owner...hey...you have a shit life, but I still turned you into a performer to deal with your pain. And on so many levels that is wrong.
That was the most hurtful, because I empathized with everyone who bore their heart on that stage, not knowing it was just another in the long list of ways of the business showing off their 'cash cows'.
2. NARCISSISTIC TENDENCIES
Another thing that clicked during my time off was seeing the business owner for what they really were. Someone who talks a lot of talk, but it's all for show. The sad thing is I honestly can say that this person is a narcissist who doesn't want to be helped. I surmise that's the reason why they disengaged in conversation with me instead of going through with meeting and discussing grievances. It's because they know I will be blunt and point out all their flaws and they're too scared to face them. They would rather fill their space with 'yes men', people who will give them constant praise and attention rather than see it as an opportunity to learn and grow. To me, that's sad but in the end it was their choice and I respect that. So, they didn't want to hear it from me? I guess anyone who reads this blog and rumours going back to the studio will make them hear it from someone else...which is something they abhor anyway. Oh well, you reap what you sow.
All the classic signs of narcissism are there and one of the biggest things that drive them is self preservation. That's clear in the way they make so much money and keep begging for more because they don't want their (presumably) successful business to go under. It's evident in the fact that every trophy that comes back to the studio from a student who places in a competition is actually a win for the business owner. Myself and others who have choreographed routines and collaborated with this instructor to perfect a competition piece have been robbed of our victories and our creativity when they claim the routine as 'theirs'. They will forever be focused on how much they have done for other people like they are god's gift to the world, when in reality they have done as much harm as good in falsely claiming other's victories as their own, among other wrong-doings.
This very small purview of 'me, me, me' doesn't allow much room for other people, and usually the people that are cared about and nurtured are the ones feeding the business(with money and praise) or stroking the owners ego. I've definitely noticed a pattern over the years of people who are deemed 'favorites':
➤People who constantly praise the studio (free advertising, appreciation posts, etc) to a nauseating degree
➤People who spend the most money at the studio (signed up for multiple classes/courses or have a monthly membership, but also hardly miss an opportunity for a photoshoot, workshop, weekend event, private lessons, merch, etc)
➤People who own their own business (because they can 'relate' like no one else can)
➤People who have a special skill the studio owner can utilize (Photography, Graphics/Advertising, business contacts, qualifications, apprentices, etc)
➤People who can act as an example/trophy for the studio owner (improvement projects-aka someone who is low confidence, or weak/overweight, or they have a preexisting medical condition where it appears like they couldn't do things others can. Basically anything that the owner can work on and say 'look, I helped them. this is all my hark work', etc)
➤People who are in the 'Inner Circle', aka personal friends or other loyal instructors
At one time or another (it was off and on but I think the height of it was in 2016 when I was doing ALLOFTHECLASSES & extras) I think I would have been considered a favourite. I spent loads of money, did private lessons, achieved some great things, constantly praised the studio and it's owner. And my benefit was that I was getting paid attention to more, and I was treated with more respect and admiration. I was praised for my achievements...I was encouraged to do more...I felt like more of a friend than a patron of the business. However, all this light suddenly dimmed or was extinguished whenever personal circumstances in my life came into play (when I got into a car accident and couldn't come back to the studio until I healed, when I had to take time off to go visit family, or just when life got to busy that I couldn't devote 3-4 nights a week at the studio anymore).
Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of times where I felt very valued as a human being by this person...but I can't help but think there was a catch every time. I was at the studio when I got a text from my mom saying that dad had passed away...and the business owner tried to comfort me, and drove me home since I was in such a state of shock. (at that point I think I had fallen back into favor spending copious amounts at the studio, but it was still very appreciated that someone was there for me. Although I question now whether it was genuine, or if it was in self preservation--'look at me, I care ' or 'i don't want someone to die cause they crashed leaving my studio'). I was specifically asked by them to perform my 1st competition piece at the yearly showcase the week after when NO OTHER STUDENT was performing a solo act (only instructors). But again, in hindsight, was I only seen as a cash cow because they could tell from private lessons that I was a winner and they wanted to showcase that achievement (for them..not necessarily for me).
Maybe I'm just being cynical (although that is definitely not my personality type so for me to go down this negative path there must be some validity in it). It begs the question that if there's not something in it for them....do they actually care? Most of the time, they just have a blatant disregard for other people who don't have anything to offer.
The date changing for the 2019 showcase is a good example of this. At the 2018 Showcase, a whole year in advance, the date for the 2019 Showcase at the courtyard was announced to the audience of the show—to the general public. Even though it had been advertised in the public sector, the date was changed and notice was only given on the studio’s Private Facebook Group page only 3 months ahead of the 2019 showcase date. Additionally, it was only posted on the private group, after only spreading by word of mouth at the studio. Someone mentioned that it probably needed to be known to everyone...not just those most in the studio.(I've noticed as well that communication issues happen mostly because information is spread in the studio, and only put online as a PSA afterwards; so, if you don't come into the studio frequently enough you could miss major news).
It was then posted on social media by the business owner that ‘one of the main reasons’ the date for the 2019 showcase changed was in order to fit certain students’ schedules, which is highly unfair seeing as how not only was the date announced to the public, but other ‘less favoured’ students had planned holidays around the date so they wouldn’t get shouted at for missing rehearsals leading up to the show, as this happened in previous years.
While being off on Maternity, this showcase moved dates and I was privy to the goings on of showcase rehearsals due to some of my friends being in the show. Having been in a few showcases prior, I was shocked to see how the rehearsals were operating. To put on a show of this grandeur, it is expected that people pay for rehearsals—to help pay for the instructors time for teaching the routine, the cost of upkeep of the equipment, cost of electricity used during rehearsals, etc. This is all reasonable, however, the one thing that pained me as a performer to hear about, was that some of the routines were pre-recorded.
I’m still confused as to why this was even considered a good idea: those in a routine had to learn choreography from a video, by themselves, at home, then be ready to perfect beats, etc at ‘actual’ rehearsal but somehow they were still expected to pay for instructors time in ‘teaching’ the routine. I’ve never been a part of a show where this type of method is used. And it confused me because one of the ethos of the studio on any normal basis is ‘don’t teach other people’ and ‘don’t try anything you’ve seen on a video without getting proper direction from an instructor first’. Does this key point only apply to when it is convenient for the studio owner to make a point about safety regulations? It also disturbed me that there was a showcase membership price depending on how many routines you wanted to be a part of—the more routines, the higher the showcase membership price…on top of a normal class studio membership people pay. It drew me to the conclusion that this was less about showcasing the talents and efforts of the students of the studio and seemed more like a money making commodity.
Since I wasn’t directly involved in the showcase (besides someone messaging to see if I had my old costume from last year’s showcase), I will never know what it was like to the full extent. I do however know that people who love and live for the showcase said it was one of the most stressful, mentally jarring experiences they’d faced. Many people I knew either quit or were very close to quitting the showcase because of how stressful it become. I heard from my friends who participated in rehearsals that the studio owner/instructor was aggressive, demeaning, and threatened to cancel the whole thing if people couldn't get it right. I was starting to see in other people that my once love for their studio was actually a toxic bubble, one that I was glad to escape under the pretense of pregnancy.
The lead up to the final straw:
When I announced my pregnancy, I was hopeful that I could still continue to do some light stuff at the studio(dancing, choreography, stretch) and taper off the less strenuous aspects of aerial (crazy tricks and going upside down) . However, my involvement in the studio was a liability as long as I was pregnant. It was a fair point. I accepted that and moved on. For the first few months I didn’t feel like exercising anyway because of the nausea, but once that passed I missed aerial classes terribly.
And it wasn’t all of the crazy tricks I missed. It was Pole Flow—just dancing to music using the pole and the simple moves I knew to make my body move. I was more than willing to ONLY perform moves that I felt 100% confident on, taking it really easy, and even sign a waiver absolving the studio of any liability if I injured myself – I simple just needed use of the studio/apparatus to move around just to dance.
The list of restrictions that came back from me asking if I could come back safely (No aerial; Only pole. No going upside down. No climbing/moves up the pole. No static tricks where both feet are off the floor. Only spins & Floor work permitted. An instructor would have to check the pole, sign a waiver, have me sign the waiver and have another person witness the equipment being checked and sign the waiver every time I came in.) was a bit outlandish and I felt like I was being fobbed off. I could deal with some of the requirements – like not going upside down; that makes sense—but to inconvenience an instructor and another witness every time I wanted to 'play' on the pole was too much for my anxiety. I hate to keep people waiting or hold people up and it didn’t seem worth it for me to go back to pole, pay full price, inconvenience people and not even be able to do much more than roll around on the floor so I left it well enough alone. However, I was feeling like I wasn’t welcome because the restrictions made it feel like I was going through hoops (not the literal kind). I chalked it up to my anxiety and abandonment issues that I felt this way and ignored the feelings.
However, coming back to an open Practice Time at the studio after I had the baby and was cleared by my midwife-- suitably healthy and no pregnancy complications to speak of-- I still felt like I was being fobbed off when I was told I still couldn’t do anything except spins and floor work without a doctors note. I was only told this upon arrival at the studio, not at the time I booked online(which was 2 days prior). I’m sorry, but if that’s the case I should have been notified as soon as I booked online to attend the class and not waited until I was already there. I felt like my time and money was being wasted.
Most midwives clear women for exercise at 6 weeks post-partum so it’s not normally something that needs a written note. I know that Pole and Aerial is more strenuous exercise than your average fitness regime and it takes a lot of strength and a lot of core power, which is why I waited until I felt alright in myself (10 weeks post-partum) to even attempt a light pole practice session. I know my body. I know what it could do pre-pregnancy but I wasn’t about to start whipping out the big tricks on my first day back. I planned on taking it real easy and going back to basics. Climbing the pole—one of the first things a beginner learns when attending their first or second pole class is how to correctly climb the pole. I wasn’t even allowed to attempt that without a note clearing me to exercise. This also could be sited for misconduct as nowhere on the business’ website/booking system/waivers does it say that before taking part in a class post-partum does one need to have a note from a doctor or midwife, or what the acceptable time frame for returning post-partum is (which I was told on the day, 12 weeks is standard in the pole industry), so once again I felt like rules were being made up on the spot to deter me from coming back there (probably because I was a 'troublemaker' who referred people to the studio *see above* who weren't complacent and kicked up a fuss).
It needs to be made clear on the health waiver at least that if a student is coming back after time off due to pregnancy (or any other serious issue regarding health) that a doctors note is needed otherwise it is unfair to claim this as a rule of engagement. I felt dejected when I was told on arrival that I wouldn’t be able to do the things I had set out to do in that session. And yes, I could have said that I didn’t want to participate in that session and asked for a refund, but I couldn’t have cared less about the money at that point. It was more the principle that I was not told in advance of this supposed rule and felt excluded/discriminated against.
Honestly as soon as I walked through the doors and got that ‘fake customer service greeting’ I knew I wasn’t truly welcome. It was almost as if I could hear the inner monologue screaming out “Oh greeeat” in a sarcastic tone, “She’s back. Well. Better be nice so she spends more money”. It’s the same shocking two-faced approach like that scene in Mean girls when Regina says ‘Oh I love that Skirt!’ to the girls face, then privately, without missing a beat says ‘That is the ugliest effing skirt I’ve ever seen.’
Now it’s all circumstantial in my case, but as an empath, I have fairly accurate insight into people’s vibes. There are many many times I have picked up these certain vibes and have been correct in my assumptions. I was correct when once the studio owner said some degrading things about one of their other customers, behind their back, to me in a private lesson. It was true to me when one time on a road trip to a pole event, one of the instructors discussed openly with me(while I was ‘in favor’, aka during a time where I spent loads of time and money at the studio) who their favourite and least favourite students were and why. And my assumptions were evident when the amount of friendship, kindness and attention I was paid equated to how much time I spent at the studio, how loudly I pronounced my love for it on social media, how much praise I gave the owner, how many workshops/classes/events I attended and of course all that added up to how much money I was shelling out of the studio.
"You can check out anytime you want, but you can never leave"
I've been a part of the studio's private group on Facebook since I joined in 2013; I've followed it's instructors and several of my friends who frequent the place on both Facebook and Instagram over the years, delighting in seeing everyone's aerial progress.
While I was off on maternity leave it kept me informed of how everyone was doing, but it also made me mad/upset/worried/annoyed at some of the stuff I kept seeing on social media. Since I wasn't "in the thick of it" and I was able to see things for how they really are I noticed a lot of things I didn't agree with. Some of which were the poor business practices that I detailed in my last blog and this one, but some things were just annoying little pet peeves that I could do with deleting from my life
One of the most annoying bloody things I can't stand personally (although, when I was blinded by the light of my 'happy place' I used to do this a lot and I regret how much of a mindless mug I was), is the constant admiration and praise people give the studio owner.
- "Thank you for arranging this Workshop/photoshoot/event".... it's their job.
- "Thank you for teaching me this move"...it's their job, and also, thank yourself--your body did the hard work!
- "Vote for ____"...never mind if you're not involved in the aerial industry, or you've never met the person up for nomination, or even find that their worth winning. Just do it because I, your FB friend, posted about it.
- "Thank you for the opportunity...." given, some things are not possible without a studio to facilitate it, but let's be honest. You create your own opportunities in life. If you want something-you will find a way.
I regret every trigger phrase I've ever utter about this business "My happy place", "Thank you for XYZ", "Vote for so n so", "It's not a business, it's a family". Some of it was true at the time....I voted for instructors up for an award because they were the best candidate. I expressed my love for my happy place because at the time it was, and it's only in recent years that I've found the underlaying grief it gives me. And I realize that with everything I know now, the studio is NOT "all that and a bag of chips".
Eventually I made the decision to just cut ties all together. At first I only muted the people and pages I was sick of seeing for the time being, but then I realized that I was far better off without seeing any of their dribble so I got rid of them all together and just unfollowed them, or remained friends but kept their posts on mute. There are still those who frequent/support the studio whom I follow on facebook and instagram--these people I consider friends or I just enjoy the content they post, but every once and a while I see the business name and just have to roll my eyes and ignore it or put their content on snooze for a period of time.
I have eliminated I'd say about 95% of the posts that have triggered me in the past regarding this business and I have to say that removing myself from the studio, and disengaging in that content was probably the best thing I could do for a happier life. Do I miss aerial? Yes. Do I miss the people/patrons? Some...not all of them. Do I regret taking such a public stance? Absolutely not.
I've already had people 'come for me', but I don't care. My blog is for me to share my thoughts and opinions. If someone doesn't like the content I put out, they don't have to read it! Just like I don't have to follow everyone I've ever known from the studio and be flooded with the things that cause me upset. We have to do what's right for us. I eliminated seeing posts online because it made me unhappy. I blog about these events because it's therapeutic for my mental health. I have not shared any names of people involved or the business' name because I don't want to 'cancel' anyone. What I do hope, alongside using writing as therapy, is that people who read this and still frequent the business will not suffer in silence like I did for years. Be brave...speak out....dare to enact change. I tried my best to bring this to light with the business owner so that conditions would improve, but to no avail.
Had we had our discussion, I could have inadvertently improved the business by pointing out its shortcomings in a constructive way. On the other scale, I could have made things worse by offended the owner to a point where they took it out on existing students. I'd like to think that some of what I've said in this series will trickle down to the business owner and things may still improve. I know of people who have stopped frequenting the business because they also don't like the owners attitude or policies and if things were to improve then they might return. The only thing I can say with absolute certainty is that I did what I did because it was best for me. And I hope my actions will help encourage others to do what's best from them (whatever that may be).