Elizabeth Blanchard (known on Instagram as @elizabeth_bfit) is a woman who needs no introduction. She is an athlete with a background in marathon running and competitive fighting. She is also a pole and aerial performer, artist and traveling polebrity.
San Francisco Pole and Dance is so lucky to have Elizabeth as our honored Guest Residency Instructor for the month of May. We sat down with Liz to chat about her background, how she started aerial and what she’s up to while she’s moved into coaching and performing full time. Please enjoy this interview with the one and only Elizabeth (Liz) Blanchard.
SFP&D: Liz, where are you from?
EB: I’m actually a Nor Cal native and I grew up close to Tahoe. I’ve lived in the Orange County area for the last 20 years and my home studio is Urban Aerial.
SFP&D: How did you get your start in pole and aerial?
EB: I started poling in January 2012. I had bought a Groupon for a three month membership and just got totally into it. I was just coming off of a knee injury and four months of bed rest. I had had an ACL graft that was failing (more on that later). I had zero upper body strength. I was walking with crutches. In my first class, I couldn’t even get my feet off the ground in a chair spin. I assumed that pole would be a temporary thing that I could do for fun until I went back to fighting. But then I really loved it and have been doing pole ever since.
SFP&D: How did you get your start teaching?
EB: After six months, I was kind of thrown into teaching. I doubted myself as a pole dancer and remember thinking that I wasn’t ready to teach but now I realize that no one ever really feels ready to teach.
No one’s like ‘I got this’. It’s more like “I got this?”
Now that I’ve been teaching for over 5 years, I love the craft of the work. I love the puzzle of having to create modifications. For instance, I once had a client – an older woman in her 60s. She needed to modify movement to accommodate a knee injury. I have a background and formal education in kinesiology, which is essentially understanding biomechanics and how the body moves efficiently, so I was able to customize a training plan for her that worked around her limitations. That is what I do for all my students now.
SFP&D: So your background is in biomechanics?
EB: Well, I was a pre-med student and had planned to be a doctor. Long story short, I got married, had kids – two beautiful boys who I love to death. When they were young, I put my education on hold – actually I graduated seven months pregnant from my undergrad program at Cal State Long Beach.
I started doing martial arts when my youngest was four months old. I would take my two year old and four month old with me to play on the side while I took classes. I worked my way up pretty fast and began fighting competitively in the National Black Belt League.
I trained mostly with men but it turns out guys don’t like it when little girls kick their asses.
Fighting is very much a male-dominated culture. I was cold cocked by a guy who took a cheap shot and kicked across a room. The doctors told me that it was the equivalent of being hit by a car and and required a major knee reconstruction surgery
SFP&D: Omg, so that’s when you started pole?
EB: Exactly. After I started pole, it occurred to me how different the cultures between fighting and pole dancing were. Fighting seems to be more of a fear based sport. Part of being a good fighter is learning how to suppress and hide emotions so that your attacker can’t exploit them. Pole studios are more collaborative. In fact, in pole dance there is an emphasis on expressing emotions. I’ve found as I’ve travelled around the world teaching pole at dozens of students that pole studios are one of the few places where you can have very little drama and also find a new home and support circle.
SFP&D: So, how did you get started with training beyond going to the studio?
EB: I started taking classes just 1-2 days a week at first. Many don’t believe this but I am a slow learner! About six months in, my husband got me a pole at my house and then I was able to practice conditioning at home. This was pre-Instagram so I’d make little lists on paper and practice the basics while my kids took a nap. It was only when I started conditioning regularly (all that boring, repetitive stuff!) that I was able to take my technique to the next level.
SFP&D: So naturally, you signed up for a competition?
EB: Surprisingly, no! I’ve actually never competed.
EB: Ok, well I did train for one once, but….I ruptured an implant and dropped out. I had to email the event organizer with a message that was like ‘Um, I have one boob’.
SFPD: LOLOL! Ok, so how did you become Elizabeth BFit?
EB: Well, honestly, when I started using Instagram, it was 2014 and I didn’t even know what a hashtag was.
I was like “that pound sign thing”.
Then, my friend, Jason Lam, invited me to jam on straps at Pole Expo in 2015. I volunteered so that I could afford to go. Then, when I posted on Instagram that I was attending, three people messaged me asking to take privates. That’s when I realized that maybe I could make this my job. It was Pole Expo 2015 that kind of jump started things for me. I started doing workshops in 2016 here and there and now I travel all over the world teaching and training everything from straps to pole to aerials and flexibility.
SFP&D: What is some advice that you would give to pole and aerialists who are trying to take their training to the next level?
This all comes back to basics – if your basics are strong on both sides, your tricks will be better.
EB: Two things:
- Quality over quantity. When I go to train a combo or a trick, I focus on the lines and getting into it correctly instead of just doing it and taking a picture. Then I do it on both sides. This all comes back to basics – if your basics are strong on both sides, your tricks will be better.
- I would say this second piece of advice is for both students and instructors. Sometimes students push to do moves that they aren’t ready for and instructors let students sway them into teaching things that they know their students aren’t ready for. You see this often with handsprings in pole, and reverse meathooks in straps.
- Instructors should have a progression for everything. If a student can’t do their handspring without jumping, I show them the turn out of the chest and the push with the bottom arm, and use Rubberbanditz to train students correct form before they try the handspring movement.
SFP&D: What is something that people assume about you that is not true?
EB: I think people assume that because I’m strong, I’ve always been strong. But I started at the beginning like everyone else. I couldn’t do all the things that everyone could do. I struggle with hard things still and other people’s movement still even now.
Remember that Instagram is just a highlight reel.
The videos that I post don’t show the hard work and basics conditioning that I do before I do the combos I post.
If you’re want more from Elizabeth, check out her online e-books, instructor trainings, and social media links at http://elizabethbfit.com/.