Mel Heins is co-owner of The Salt Mine, a Pole Fitness Co-Op in Salt Lake City, and leads the Instructor-In-Training Program for the studio. In 2008, at almost 40 years old, Mel walked through the doors of Studio Soiree and quickly became obsessed with the strength and beauty of pole dance. She made it a goal to become an instructor. A year later, she was certified and taught her first class. With no dance or fitness background, Mel has always had the heart of a teacher. She loves learning new movement, as well as teaching and helping others surprise themselves with what they can do. She is certified in Liquid Motion 1.0, 2.0, and Heels.
1. You’ve been in the Liquid Motion family for quite a while now, almost from the beginning! That gives you a unique perspective on how the company, and the industry as a whole, has changed over the years. Tell us how you got started with Liquid Motion and how it has evolved from your point of view.
Oh my! I have been in the pole industry for 11 years now. Teaching for 10. I met Jeni about five years into my pole career when I stumbled upon a free Liquid workshop at Pole Con LA (I think it was the 2nd Pole Con!). There were about 40 of us in that big ballroom. I remember Jeni having us all “go black” – empty our heads by screaming. I had NEVER experienced anything like that in my life. It was super freeing. Then she and Danielle Mayzes took us through the Wall Sequence and the Liquid Crawl. I saw my life change right there. During the freestyle at the end, I was so into what I was doing that I never even made it through the whole sequence. It felt GOOD. I was so FOCUSED, my judgmental thoughts about myself disappeared; it was revelatory, epiphanic. After the workshop I stopped by the booth, where the super-friendly Jeni was perched. I basically forced her to come to Salt Lake City because we needed her. My studio was the very first Liquid Motion Workshop outside of the east coast! I had the opportunity to work with Jeni and Danielle at Pole Expo, offering a helping hand during workshops. This was way before certifications and manuals. We spent downtime rolling around on the hotel room floor playing around with windows and threading, now a fundamental of what Liquid is today! It has been so satisfying watching the company grow and yet still retain the core values that Jeni started with. I actually got super emotional at my 1.0 cert when I opened the manual and saw all the hard work over all the years right there in front of me. I know how much blood, sweat, tears, and hours and hours are in those manuals!
2. What is your teaching philosophy? Do you have a motto or mantra?
I read a book a long time ago about how each of us is a circle. Some people feel like they need to make other people’s circles smaller to make theirs bigger, as if the size of their circle was directly related to the size of someone else’s circle. This book talked about how there is infinite space for us all to grow our circles as big as we want – that someone else’s circle does not determine the size of your own. I am confident that my circle is big, and my job as a teacher – and as a human – is to help others realize the bigness of their own circle. So, that’s my number one directive. When I teach, I make sure each student has a “win” – that moment of shining or getting something with an AH HA! Whether it’s finally activating your glutes or doing an exceptional Buttercup, I will find a way to celebrate that with you.
3. What has been your most rewarding teaching experience?
There have been so many for me; I REALLY love teaching!!! A recent one that sticks out is my starfish class. At the Salt Mine, my Liquid students call the studio “The Liquid Lagoon.” Our lights are blue and it’s dark and lagoon-like. So, a lot of my analogies have to do with sea creatures and the ocean. One day, I was teaching side crunch progressions – relatively simple movement from Liquid 1.0. However, everyone was getting confused and couldn’t figure out which limbs went where. So, I had us all start on our backs in what we call Starfish. I walked them slowly through the side crunch progression, then I said “OH MY GOSH! We are back in STARFISH!!!” We must have done this at least 10 times, just repeating, “Starfish, Crunch, Cobra, Thread, Side Crunch, OH MY GOSH I’M BACK IN STARFISH.” My students all started to yell, “OH MY GOSH, I AM A STARFISH AGAIN!” and various exclamations of Starfishiness. In those moments, I realized how much my students trust me. That I was NOT going to let them fail. They would have continued doing this simple movement for hours if I told them to. Having a room full of people trust you that much is a precious gift that not everyone gets to have. I am so lucky! My Venmo account was full of payments from students with star and fish emojis and “I’m a BEAUTIFUL Starfish” comments. I actually broke down while we were cooling down because I was so grateful. And now, every single student knows those side crunch movements soooooo well!
4. What has been your biggest hurdle or learning experience?
Myself! My fears. My head tries to tell me that I’m not good enough! I took my 1.0 cert in March, and I did not teach my first class until May. Why? Because I had myself convinced that I wasn’t fluid enough and that I didn’t know enough about the methodology to speak authoritatively about it. I wanted to make sure I honored Jeni’s baby! All these crushing thoughts had me delay. Mind you, this is movement I have been following for about 6 years! When I finally taught my first class, I realized what a waste of time that delay was. I had all the tools I needed; I just had to get out of my own doubting head! I still have moments of insecurity, but I acknowledge them, move through them and teach anyway. I prep and train much more since I took my Liquid 1.0 cert. Because we are such a community, I feel like I have a whole team behind me and I need to present my very best self.
5. You’re a well-established studio owner and instructor. What tips do you have for running a dance-based business, as an owner or as an instructor?
Half of my career has been as an owner; The Salt Mine is celebrating its 5-year anniversary this year!!! As an instructor, my biggest piece of advice is to educate yourself. Take certification programs, watch anatomy lessons and lectures, learn other disciplines (I am TRX and Stott Pilates trained as well as pole and Liquid certified). Take classes from your fellow instructors. Sign up for specialty workshops. This all costs money, so my second piece of advice is KNOW YOUR WORTH! When we opened The Salt Mine, I had been an instructor getting paid $16 per class – with a little extra if I had more than 4 students. Our first decision was that instructors could decide what they were worth. They set their pricing and they make sure their students pay them; they run their own business. This makes me hustle! Students will go to a cheaper studio if I don’t keep in touch! But, this has allowed our instructors to thrive and to make a more livable wage.
As an owner, SAFETY comes first – for your instructors and students. You need to create a place where every person feels ok to be who they are and become who they want to be – and, ya know – fire extinguishers and crash mats and equipment checks and insurance and all that too….
I don’t think anyone just decides to open a pole studio because it is a good business to be in. We open them because we LOVE DANCING! DON’T FORGET WHY YOU OWN A DANCE STUDIO! I take two classes a week from my instructors because I NEED to feel like a student and because I still need to learn how to move. I know we think there is never enough time – so, make time. Remember – YOU LOVE THIS!
6. What are your goals in your own personal movement journey? Has Liquid Motion had any impact in the way you approach these goals?
I love to perform but have gotten away from that and hope to get back to it. Performing gives me a goal, a focus, and a timeline If I don’t have that structure, I tend to get a little lazy. As an instructor and studio owner, I don’t make time for myself and my progression. Liquid has given me so much to learn, and the support and community to help me learn it! With my Liquid classes, I get to the studio at least an hour ahead of time so I can move through sequences, play around with what moves can flow into the next, work out what conditioning exercises my students need, set the lighting, and get my songs ready. Liquid Motion has given me the desire to better myself.
7. What’s your all-time favorite song that makes you want to get Liquid?
Just one?? OH Lord. I have never been super into music; my pole playlist was the same for years! When I started teaching Liquid Motion at our studio, it turned me into a music junkie! I am always looking for melty songs that move me in some way. I also rely on my students for what moves them! They are all younger than me and have such gems for us. But, the song that I could play on repeat and move to forever to is “Killing Strangers” by Marilyn Manson – something about a heavy drum beat is just so sexy to me. I usually freestyle to that song.
8. Do you have any hidden talents?
I am a finder of lost things. My adult kids still call me to help them find lost items. I walk them through their memories and help them see exactly where the item most likely will be. This supernatural ability has my husband thinking I am a witch. I will neither confirm nor deny….
9. You appear to have a positive, empowering approach to life. It’s refreshing and infectious. How do you keep yourself motivated, even when things aren’t going your way?
I am just one big ball of happiness all the time! I love life so much! ALL of it – ups and downs, ins and outs. How do I keep this positive disposition? I remind myself that everything is temporary. The winter? Temporary; spring will come soon. Sadness or grief? It will eventually turn into something else. Even this life – all the good and all the bad – is temporary. So I just go through things knowing they will eventually change. I have always had a spark of joy at my core and I have chosen to fan that spark. I do understand that not everyone has the same verve that I have, but I feel that my job is to share some of my light with those around me – as annoying as that can be sometimes! Some people may think this attitude makes me shallow or a “Pollyanna.” I do still feel deeply and get angry and sad; however, at my core that spark of joy burns super bright.
10. What advice would you give someone who is thinking about trying out the Liquid Motion class for the first time or thinking about taking a Liquid Motion certification?
In certification welcome emails we get from Liquid Motion, there is a list of items to bring – water, knee pads, pen and notebook, etc. The very last item is always the same thing – an Open Mind. This is something I always make sure to tell a first timer. Have an open mind and listen to your body. Just move and don’t judge your movement.
As for the certs, my students have all heard me rave about the Liquid Motion certifications – about how much you get at the actual cert, the beautiful manuals, the community, the videos, the marketing material. I LOVE it all! I have been through several certification programs in the fitness industry, and nothing comes close to all the perks that Liquid gives us. It really is like a family; we encourage each other, share and lift up….it is much more than just a 16 or 24-hour certification. I could literally go on and on.
I took all three Liquid Motion certs offered (1.0, 2.0, and Heels) within months of each other – March, June, and October. It is a lot! I noticed (and so did my students) that my teaching style changed for the better after I took 2.0! It gave me a lot of confidence in the movement and helped me create my own really great classes. Even though 2.0 was a mental struggle for me, I would not change the way I took the certs.