The Chaos of Balance–Kenneth Kao

A man searching for a balanced life has many stories.

elevatED Pole Teacher Training with Marlo Fisken: Detailed Review



What is elevatED?:

elevatED is one of many recent pole teacher training courses that has risen up as demand for standardization and safe practices increases.  As an athlete-specialized doctor of chiropractic, already I can see patterns of injury even at professional levels of performance.

Pole fitness is still very young; there isn’t a lot known about the longevity of pole training, and it is hard to be sure which pole certification will provide the most complete and accurate information.

I took elevatED in hopes of filling in my knowledge as a pole instructor, as well as using the opportunity to examine the standards of practice of some of the most well respected instructors and athletes in the pole world today: Marlo Fisken, Michelle Stanek, and Kyra Johannesen.  You can check their credentials here:

I can’t speak for the other certifications available as I haven’t taken them and am ignorant of what they are offering, but I would not have bothered taking a certification from anyone who was not established in the community both as an athlete AND instructor.  Additionally, I would’ve wanted the certification’s creators to have significant background in other disciplines of movement as well.

Why other disciplines?

Because this is similar to how I view parkour certifications.  Parkour and pole are fairly parallel in progress.  Similarly young, finding their feet and booming into popularity, they are both coming to terms with the CRITICAL necessity of safe practices.  But to be safe, they must draw from older arts; the fact is that there is much unknown and untested by time.  The rapid growth of both pole and parkour has created an urgency in the entire community.  If significant injuries grow too rampant and serious, lassoing the public stigma, this could have a resounding effect on pole’s mass progress, insurance costs and liability, and most importantly–our students’ health and welfare.

Safe practices is the future of pole; it cannot be neglected.  And with the insane, expanding interest, we don’t have the time for trial and error.

I am a doctor, an Apex Movement certified parkour instructor, as well as one of the leading authorities in safe practices in the parkour community for…half a decade, now.  I’ve been a lifelong athlete with various backgrounds, particularly extensive in martial arts, and it is with these various mindsets that I took the elevatED training.


Fair disclaimer:

Marlo Fisken was our instructor for this elevatED training.  Several months prior to elevatED, Marlo came to my home studio, Vertical Fusion, to run workshops.  At the time, I had “given up” on visiting instructors for various reasons, but mostly due to the financial vs value balance.  I wasn’t planning on taking any more workshops or privates, particularly because I was saving for pole expo, and it wasn’t that I didn’t learn from prior instructors, but because most instructors showed me moves–which is exactly how I learn on my own and not much different from watching videos, but that wasn’t what I was looking for.  I got a lot out of those prior instructors, certainly, but value for limited money?  It was like buying desert instead of a meal.

At the time I didn’t know what the “meal” was I was looking for.

But then a friend last-minute convinced me to sign up for Marlo’s workshop, and I am so glad that I did.  I am certain that I didn’t impress Marlo because by the way she taught, and with the accurate and informed knowledge she expertly wielded, I was constantly struggling to achieve and understand the subtleties of every technique, in a good way.

And I understood what the “meal” was.  I wanted my mind and movement possibilities EXPANDED.  This was the true value of a skilled instructor.  And Marlo had expanded what I had originally conceived as possible.

As a side-note, I took a couple privates and a semiprivate with Marlo after elevatED, and all were 100% worth it.  I wanted to take every opportunity to grow, and each private stretched my movement reality.  Beyond pole-idol status, Marlo has become an instructor-idol as well; this is why my voice in the writing may come across as biased–which is why I’m putting this disclaimer in.


General Impressions:

I posted on my facebook wall my daily impressions.  I’ve copied and pasted them here for quick, disorganized reading:

Elevated Day 1 (reaction):

Marlo’s experience and skill as an instructor is quite clear. From the choice of music and even to the number of alcohol spray bottles in the studio, the variability of explanations and the flow of the class structure is all being covered; everything in her classes is clearly intentional, conscious of every student’s unique needs. I’m glad to see many techniques I’ve naturally acquired from experience being reinforced, but that intentional manipulation of the environment to maximize student learning, filling the holes I have as an instructor, will make me that much a better. Pretty amazing knowledge she’s handing out. Super excited for the next couple days of instructor training.


Elevated Day 2(reaction):

Okay, the first thing I gotta say is that I gotta see Marlo do a front split, and then by engaging her legs alone with legs straight–NO HANDS–she stood up. I’ve only heard about that in legend, and seen it a couple times on youtube. But OMG.

All right. Quick Summary. Today was all the interactive drills and hands on practice/mock instruction. Amazing amazing break downs. Thorough development with complete modifications for students of any background. Though Elevated Level 1 is beginner level material, by the way the techniques were broken down, I felt like I was in an extensively detailed class for myself!

There was a lot to be focused on, and tons of progressions covered that could come from each technique…and my hands and feet are blistered. This has never happened before from pole because of my parkour background. But today was intense, and exciting, and constantly engaging; this is no walk in the park. By the end, lots of people were crashing from mental and potentially physical exhaustion, and Marlo was still outputting energy to keep us going. I don’t know how she does it.

I’m affirmed in that this certification is worth it. 1 more day.


Elevated Day 3 (reaction):

Today included floor work, transitions on and off a pole, bails, drills for verbal cueing, and a complete “beginner’s” class run by Marlo. I think it says a lot when an instructor training course’s “beginner class” can challenge everyone. What I’m saying is that the class was difficult physically and technically, even though we all were familiar with the skills (or the variants of the skills), and yet it was clearly designed for a beginner’s class.

Additionally, we had a practical exam and a written exam. Marlo had each of us teach a group of students, and she would coach and provide input based on what she saw. There is so much to pay attention to when running a class that everyone had room for improvement. Given, she did come down hard on some of us, even though many of us were clearly nervous, and the expectation of knowledge was held to a high enough standard that I’m sure some people may have felt intimidated by the eagle-eyes critique session–but the improvement to the student’s instruction was clear immediately.

The written exam was very accessible, and it’s certainly not something to stress too much about IMHO.

All in all, I kinda want to take Elevated again. Besides the material itself, the details and the little golden nuggets dropped into the entire training were enough to make me feel like I would need a couple months at least just to digest the techniques I was ready for, and then I’d have to do it again to master the rest.



Detailed Breakdown:

I struggled to organize this blog for a bit, and I decided to just organize it by aspects of the training rather than events as above.


The materials:

The manual is GOLD.  Just the very first part of the manual which goes over business practices–everything from choosing poles and flooring and lighting and dimensions, to the music systems and pole maintenance and policies and conduct agreements, your insurance, liability, and emergency protocols…I could go on forever.  Basically, this part alone should absolutely be the pole studio BIBLE.  Any of the included details could save you years of headache and tens of thousands for your business, easy.  While they discourage buying the manual alone because they want you to take the course as a unit, I would disagree in the special case of starting a studio.

If you want to start a pole studio, buy this manual first.

Beyond this make-or-break information on business practices, the rest of the manual covers everything listed in the next section.  The writing in general is solid and clear, and the diagrams are easy to follow.  The anatomical model could use a little work, and most people wouldn’t notice a thing, but it’s detailed enough for the purposes of the manual.

There is interactive material for you to fill out yourself.  Most things are easy to understand.  Everything is broken down, and quite in-depth.  That being said, I would agree that it is by no means a replacement to taking the course.  The manual is a resource, but the certification is a dynamic and hands-on learning experience that can’t be replaced.


The principles statement:

This might be my biggest quibble with elevatED.  I feel guilty calling this one out, but as a principles statement, this is important stuff.  Their website version is better, but still has some problems.  Forgive my nit-picky personality. It’s almost funny because the rest of the manual is so well written.  I don’t know what happened here.  Check it:


7 elevatED principles of…

1. Explain: The art of cueing

2. Leadership: Instructor conduct

3. Exercise science: Body knowledge

4. Varied curriculum: The art of balancing

5. Alignment: The art of body placement

6. Training progression: A methodical process for improvement

7. Encouragement and Enablement through spotting


So, I’ll accept the capitalization scheme of elevatED which somewhat annoys me as a writer (especially at the beginning of sentences), but as written, the first of the list basically says: “7 elevatED principles of explain” (rather than explaining).  A lot could be fixed by adding the -ing.  Such as the verb vs noun inconsistency of “Explain” when the rest are nouns.  The capitalization of the first letter after each colon isn’t technically correct, but whatever, we’ll call it style–but the break of pattern in the last principle of NOT having a colon throws me for a huge loop.  And then there’s no “d” used in the acronym.  Though the shared E of elevate can be implied, and thus the ED is for education and you might accept that the “d” is invisible?…ugh I’m confused.

Anyway, it’s quite possible no one cares but me.  So I’m moving on.  I’m just being anal because it’s similar to an opening sentence, and because elevatED is such a good program, there’s no reason for this to make them look bad.


The Instructor:

If you’ve read my disclaimer, you’ll know that I’ve quickly become a fanboy of Marlo.  I’ll try to be objective in this section, but I honestly can’t.  She’s pretty much perfect.  Haha.  Okay, seriously now (not that I wasn’t serious), Marlo was a professional through and through.  There were long days, and she was able to balance the information load as well as the student’s energies.  She came down hard on us at times, which made us strive for excellence, and she had planned redundancy in her information load.  If you were listening, you were learning–there was almost no way not to.  I almost can’t imagine a better instructor, and I’ve been through a lot of education.  There were points of humor, plenty of patience, sensitivity, and understanding, as well as a clear demand for more.  I was motivated to learn as much as possible merely because of the desire to understand, and I could see that it was the same for most the other students as we got up again and again to integrate the information with practical experience.

All that said, the best part (for me) was that she not only knew her stuff, but she knows her anatomy.  She knows her physiology and structure and alignment.  She freaking knows what she’s talking about so well that the insight she provides often shocked me as I realize that I’d never have put two and two together without her telling me.  And, of course, she can do what she preaches, and that builds confidence.



Most the lectures-alone were presented on the first day.  The rest of the elevatED training had lectures, sure, but were integrated in ways that almost didn’t seem like we were in lecture.  As a result, we were more fatigued physically, but mentally we were more engaged.  There were certainly places where the desire to tune out existed, but broken up with activity, it didn’t last long.


Movement Labs:

Movement Labs were not only to reinforce our knowledge of moves, but to make sure that we could perform them as well.  We were given detailed modifications of moves so that any student could be given a starting point, and to my surprise, there were progressions on basic techniques that truly challenged me.  I was sweating, worked, and my hands and feet were raw by the end of the last two days, and even as a training experience alone, it was a blast.  Other aspects of the movement labs were full examples of a class, spotting technique and safety points, and teaching technique reinforcement.  I’m amazed by how well integrated and planned and structured this whole course was, and the movement labs multitasked information in an incredibly efficient manner.


Mock Classes:

Throughout the training, we were asked to teach our classmates as if they were students.  This is a common certification technique because it works, and I don’t need to go over this too much except that the classes were not, “go run a class”, but they narrowed down specific instructor skill sets to help us be aware of that skill and also give us immediate application of the knowledge with Marlo’s available critique.  This possibly could’ve been the most effective part of the course, though it’s hard to say.


Practical Exam:

This was a bit stressful for many people.  With the newly obtained instructor focus skills, we were asked to integrate them all into a practical exam.  If you forgot something, it became quite clear as Marlo provided detailed feedback after each individual.  And there was always something to improve on.  In a couple cases, she did drill the information into people, fairly, but under the pressure I’m sure some people were overcome by their nerves rather than just not knowing the information as it sometimes seemed.  That being said, you are expected to pay attention, and this brings me to an important side note.  The elevatED program expects you to have basic anatomical knowledge.  In my humble opinion, if you’re an instructor in any physical discipline, you should have the desire to learn basic anatomical knowledge anyway.  If you do not have this AT THE LEAST, you should not be an instructor.  Again, my two cents, but I sincerely believe this.


Written Exam:

Easy.  This would perhaps be my second critique of the certification.  It was too easy.  Maybe it’s my background, but I wanted a more challenging written exam in order for them to put their name behind me.  It isn’t alienating students if they fail to accrue the knowledge provided and EMPHASIZED in the certification, and the fear of the written exam should be justified.  I think it would be hard to fail this exam as it is, honestly.



The science is accurate, or at the very least, not wrong.  I’m still going over all the material provided in the manual, so I can’t speak for everything in it yet, but I do want to read it all and I will as I mine the huge amount of information within.  Everything I heard in class was correct, minus maybe one or two minor details that again, wouldn’t matter to the general audience, but I know from this experience that I could put my confidence and name behind Marlo’s spoken information.




All in all, I highly highly highly recommend elevatED.  It’s hard for me to imagine a better certification.  I’m happy to put my professional name behind this series, and I am almost afraid to have any other certification come into dominance–which is why I am writing this blog.  It’s not that I know anything about the other certifications, but I would hate to see something with less accuracy, skill, and information become the standard for certifications.  All I know is that this certification deserves to be the gold standard, and that it is by far worth the money and time.  If it could happen, I would like to see “elevatED Affiliated” (dat capitalization) attached and earned by studios which model their business and teaching protocols after elevatED.  It could create an immediate trust of high standards when I walk into a studio.

I hope this helped, and please share and leave feedback.  This was a LONG blog post, and it took a seriously long time to write, but I believe that it was worth reviewing this for the sake of all pole dancers.


Doctor Ken, D.C., “Pole Ninja”


3 comments on “elevatED Pole Teacher Training with Marlo Fisken: Detailed Review

  1. privatespotstudio
    August 8, 2014

    Reblogged this on the "Private Spot" Studio and commented:
    Love this!!! Feeling a little bit more prepared for what is to come. Thank you.

  2. cathyvandewater
    August 8, 2014

    I’ve been curious about this for a while, thanks for such a comprehensive and thorough review!!

  3. Karl
    February 15, 2015

    Where can I buy the manual? you say “If you want to start a pole studio, buy this manual first” I have been training on pole but would like to purchase the manual. I can’t do teacher training classes as I am in a small country that just doesn’t have them, and it’s too expensive to go overseas to get it.

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