So, I thought I'd share with you the experience I had preparing for and performing in my first pole competition. I've been dabbling in pole on and off for a couple years, but when I started to see significant progress after really dedicating myself and getting to class more regularly this past winter, I was inspired to set some goals!
4 Months Before Competition
I'm in aerial hoop class, rocking it out, having a good time, when my friend Kat says, "Hey, you should sign up for the competition coming up in September in Boston!"
"HA! Me? No, no way."
"Why not? You're super strong! I'm signing up, you should do it! Level 2!"
I tell her I will think about it. I go home and check out the website for the SuperShag Pole Fitness Championships in Boston. I'm comforted when I read the rules about dividing the competition by levels.
Ok, so I can compete and perform on a pole in public without being the next Felix Cane? Honestly, I had no idea that was possible, I thought you had to be a pole superstar to compete or perform. I watch every youtube video I can find that says "pole dance competition level 2." Hmmm, I can do a lot of this stuff, why not. I sign up. Now I am excited! It's fun to have a goal. Part of why I love pole, is that when I'm not in rehearsals for an opera, it makes me feel like I'm part of something else so that I don't go into the depths of despair and lose my sense of self worth and dignity when I'm not working on a show. I'm both excited and scared at the thought of performing on pole in public.
14 Weeks Before Competition
In the interest of expanding my repertoire a little, I teach myself a few things on youtube. I had never taken a Level 3 class at this point and was a little scared to try, but really wanted to see if I could figure out a few tricks called Jade and Allegra, and see if I could get chopsticks back in my body since I hadn't tried in a while. Voila! I figure out allegra but it tweaks my left side a little, so I decide to save it for another time and place.
Once I finally figure out the logistics after watching a zillion videos, Jade fits like a glove and feels wonderful. I am excited when I see the video of myself getting it for the first time! Chopsticks looks terrible. I can't believe I was good at it at one time. After a week I realize I need to get my hand forward, stretch my legs up and out like crazy, and hold my body up between my side and my leg. I take a few more videos. It looks good! Between all that and butterfly and some of my favorite spin combos, I have some stuff to work with that should hopefully take up 3 minutes. OK!
13 Weeks Before Competition
I listen to Spotify on my iPhone constantly, trying to figure out what I'm going for and what song I want to dance to. I have always fantasized about dancing to George Michael's Kissing a Fool. I decide on that....but then...I don't know, I feel like I want to pick something stronger. I practice to Sondre Lerche a lot, but couldn't really find a song that was right....Scott wants to see me dance to The Kills, but even though their music is strong and sexy, I feel like there is no direction. It doesn't rise and fall or go anywhere. I'm a girl who needs a song with a climax!
Finally I decide on "Feeling Good" by Muse. I have loved this song since I first saw this androgynous male dancer tear the stage apart dancing to it during a burlesque show in Orlando back in 2006. He had a collar, black patent leather trench coat, dark eye makeup, the works. I had never heard of the band before (I'm just not with the times apparently) and the song and his performance has always stuck with me. I use this as inspiration and go with it.
12 Weeks Before Competition
I do a work shop with Sergia Louie Anderson at the studio and totally love all of her ideas about storytelling and movement. I have a private lesson with her the following day to help set the intro of my song. She doesn't know me or my body very well yet, but we come up with something simple and with lots of character. She encourages me to always go back to character so that my routine isn't just a bunch of tricks. It's a great session. Yay! I have the first 60 seconds of my 3 minutes done. I decide I want to wear some sexy black body binds (I see lots of dancers wearing them and they look pretty hot!) over a red top and bottom as my outfit, and I place the order. I also order some red body binds, just for fun.
11 Weeks Before Competition
At this point I am also in rehearsals for a show with Center for Contemporary Opera and have to go to Michigan to do a 90 minute Cabaret the day after the Opera, so I'm feeling overwhelmed and crazed and more focused on my voice and memorization, not to mention I've never done a cabaret, I'm going to have to banter between pieces, what will I say?
When I'm not in rehearsals, I stretch a lot and try to work like hell on my flexibility since I had no time for class. This might sound clinical, but since I didn't have too much time to get to the pole studio and only know a finite number of moves and combos, I sit down and make a list of things I know how to do. From here I try to figure out what I can link together from the repertoire I have into combinations that make sense. I listen to my song on the subway and wherever I'm walking and imagine what would look best where. Of course this is all in my mind because I am wrapped up in my other shows.
10 Weeks Before Competition
Ok, one opera down, one cabaret down, so happy with how everything went, I'm back and have another singing performance this week that is fully staged baroque Italian music with more text than I have ever memorized in my god forsaken life. I am off book at this point because I predicted how hectic this time would be and started working on memorization months ago. My favorite opera photographer offered to shoot me doing some pole and aerial hoop stuff as well this week. Like a fool, I do this the DAY OF the baroque Italian concert. I was much more sore from the shoot than I anticipated, but seeing the pictures boosts my confidence. I look like a real pole dancer! Yay! The show goes fantastically well. Now I can focus on this routine! Good times.
8 Weeks Before Competition
I figure out the order in which I want my combinations to go, and I try running them at the studio during an open practice time. I'm really surprised how winded I am after doing a bunch of combos and tricks in a row, but to my relief, I video myself doing it all at once and it looks ok. Granted I needed some choreography and needed to put it all together with my song, but I am feeling better about having the stamina.
6 Weeks Before Competition
Ugh. My intro isn't fitting in with my vision now that I have my costume and ideas for the rest of the routine. I think it will work for something else, but for this, it's not feeling right, and I decide to start over. Now I don't have the first 60 seconds of my song anymore, ugh! I have a private session with one of my fave teachers EVER, Dalijah Franklin. I love her style and feel like a lot of what she teaches fits and flatters my body really well. After an hour, the intro is done and I just love it. It is EXACTLY what I want. We talk about keeping the style consistent through my combinations, i.e. it's a strong song so maybe I want strong hands and not ballerina hands, etc. I'm on the right track. Joy!
Weeks 5-2 Before Competition
I decide the best plan of action is to practice in the private room 2x per week for an hour, and go to open practice on Saturdays. Slowly my piece starts to come together. I constantly take video and fix things. I have friends watch the video and critique, and this is all extremely helpful. Scott starts asking me what I'm thinking about when I get quiet, and then he stops asking because he knows the answer is going to be "pole dancing."
During these weeks I notice some discomfort in my right side. I've had intercostal pulls before, and I was pretty sure it was something like that. I'm feeling some pain after every time that I practice, but I figure it will be all good as long as I take days off in between. I make an appointment with a chinese acupuncture/body work guru that all pole dancers swear by just to make sure I take care of my right side during this time.
12 Days Before Competition
My right side is bothering me, sort of under my ribs, but I figure I just need to work on getting stronger. In the course of an hour, I get through my routine about 4 times. I don't know why I did it a fourth time, but at this point in my training I'm realizing less at a time is more. I'm hurting.
11 Days Before Competition
Uh oh. I'm hurting, like really hurting. If I sneeze or move the wrong way, it feels like my right rib cage is being stabbed. I'm very worried. Tomorrow I go see Mr. Pole Acupuncture Guru and maybe he can fix me.
10 Days Before Competition
I literally can't wait to see this acupuncture guy. I show up and he asks me a million questions about everything from my poop to my emotional state. Finally we get to work. I pass what he calls his "rib fracture" test. Meaning, the way my muscles are tightening around my 8th rib, he believes it is fractured. GREAT. He does some pretty painful tui-na and body adjustment on me. I am cracking all over the place and am just trying to stay calm and take deep breaths because I want to get fixed. He needles me and then prescribes some herbs for me to make into tea called "rib fracture formula." I leave feeling happy that I went and head to china town to pick up 5 bags of herbs which look like pine cones and dirt and tree bark. By the time I get there, I'm very uncomfortable. My right side is in stabbing pain and I feel like my abs were also getting weird, like I could no longer hold them in and had no control of that muscle group.
I get the herbs and shuffle home. I'm disoriented, I can't find the nearest subway, I can't get a cab, I'm in pain, I can't take big steps. I start humming and singing to myself and counting and trying to just get home in one piece. I make it! I start making the tea right away. I take a hydrocodone from when I got my wisdom teeth out. The tea is done and tastes like dirt. I do not care. I drink it. Also, I drink a vodka martini. Goodnight.
9 Days Before Competition
Holy Balls, i can barely get out of bed. This cannot be. I'm scared but I don't want to pull out. I have to prove to myself that I can do this. I am very worried. And upset. I drink the stupid tea. I drench my right side in Tiger Balm and take as many epsom salt baths as possible. Scott likes the smell of the tiger balm at least. This blows. I hate everything.
4 Days Before Competition
Have not been on the pole in a week. I have a room reserved to practice tonight, I do not want to go but my side is feeling a little better. I decide that at the very least, if I am truly planning on performing on Saturday, I have to at least walk through my routine. I get to the studio and it comforts me to help my friend I'm sharing the room with on her routine.
Also, to my horror, I find out I've been practicing the WRONG WAY!!!!!!! I've been practicing with spin pole on the right and static on the left, and it is the opposite. JESUS CHRIST, REALLY?! Ugh. Thank god I decided to come. I do a walk/run of my piece, leaving out chopsticks, Jade, anything that would allow the pole to touch or strain my right side. It actually feels ok, and I improvise the few changes I need to make regarding switching the poles around. I go home and take an epsom salt bath and apply tiger balm.
2 Days Before Competition
Ribs and right side improving. There's a dress rehearsal at the studio and I'm nervous all day. You would think I was making my met debut or something. Ridiculous.
I go home and bleach my roots and re-tone my hair which always takes a ton of time, so that keeps me from going crazy. I get in costume and makeup and start to warm up. My right side is hurting. Ugh maybe I should not go. I start to talk myself out of it, thinking maybe I just need to conserve for Saturday. But I know damn well that not doing a dress rehearsal that is free for the taking is totally freaking dumb. So I suck it up and go.
There are 17 or 18 dancers competing, and everyone is amazing and so fun to watch. I start to relax, because everyone is just cheering and screaming, and they will cheer as much for crazy tricks as they will for a look at the audience. I decide to substitute a figure four layback for my chopsticks (probably the culprit of the injury) to save my ribs in the dress. As Kat told me, "dance with the boy you brought."
Boy am I glad I did it. Not only was everyone so supportive, but with the adrenaline I learned that you have to watch spinning too fast on the pole. At the end I was spinning so fast I did not feel safe and had to jump off and not finish the combination how I wanted. Also my boob popped out so I learned I had to fix that. Yep. All I can say is, thank god I went-I would not have wanted to figure out I have those issues in live performance! I go home and take an epsom salt bath, tiger balm, bla bla bla.
1 Day Before Competition
I'm hurting but not feeling broken. Scott and I fly standby on an earlier flight since originally we weren't going to get into Boston until very late, and I wanted to see the space and the poles that evening. We arrive and can't find anywhere to eat since Scott is gluten free and will get sick. We finally settle on California Pizza Kitchen. He orders a salad. I order a BBQ chicken pizza. At 7 PM, I register and check out the space--totally not what I was expecting, much smaller, and not on any kind of stage, more of a dance floor in the middle of a large room. I test the poles a bit but decide any more than that will make me psych myself out. I meet up with a long time friend who also sings opera and does pole, have an awesome dinner date with Scott, order some scotch as a night cap, take a bath in epsom salts, tiger balm, and go to bed.
Day Of The Show!
I'm feeling pretty good today actually! My ribs have felt the best they have in 10 days. Scott and I go out for breakfast at an adorable place, I eat 2 eggs, some potatoes, and a little toast. After breakfast we head back to the competition so we can watch and support people in my studio since my group wasn't set to go on until 2 PM. There were MANY varying degrees of skill and style from person to person within each level, which also set my mind at ease aside from the casual feel of the space. One thing I noticed with a lot of dancers who obviously had nice skill sets was that so many people looked at the floor the whole time! I headed back to my hotel room to do hair and makeup and warm up.
I put on my costume and sew the red triangle top I'm wearing together from the bottom to the middle to avoid any more wardrobe malfunctions and also used lots of double sided tape, just in case.
FINALLY! It's 2 PM and my event is starting. Of course I'm no. 21 to go out of 25. The waiting seemed like a lifetime. I paced around, stretched, watched lots of the other competitors. The back stage area felt claustrophobic and cramped, so I figured it was just best to be out and about, moving and watching people. I was beyond antsy at this point and just wanted to go and get it out of my system.
Closer to my performance, I went to the back stage area and tried to focus, which was hard with all the craziness around. I did some jumping jacks with my friend Pauline who was going shortly after me. I didn't want to put in headphones because sometimes I feel like that transports me out of the present space I'm in, and I wanted to be really really aware. Like, which side are the judges on, which side to the stage am I heading when I walk out, etc. I wanted to stay as oriented as possible.
FINALLY they call my name. Good god, I can't remember the last time I was so nervous, but seriously I just need to do this, like right now. I kneel and feel my hand shaking as I extend it out when the music started. Oh well, it's dramatic, right? My headstand goes well, I hit everything I want to hit in the intro. From there, I crossed the stage and went into one of my favorite spin combos. At this point, I'm amped up, but feeling calm. I begin my second spin combo and decide to go for chopsticks, and pray to the Lord above that they don't look horrible and that I don't die of pain. I go for it, people are cheering, I can feel my legs shaking as I'm pushing them up and out with all my might. I was excited to discover they looked half decent when I saw cell phone video afterwards! I get out of chopsticks and have a couple seconds to evaluate the pain factor before going to the the next sequence, and they felt ok. I crawl across the floor, I climb, I butterfly, I kartwheel, I take a breath just like Kyra said before I went into my last spin so as not to lose control. The last invert was a little sloppy, but I don't spin too fast, I get into my jade without too much drama, and then, it was all over.
I DID IT!
I was out of breath and my mouth felt like a barren desert, but I did it!
Needless to say, I was thrilled and giddy with happiness. They announce the awards, I cheer for the beautiful dancer from my studio who got third place, and I sigh with relief that it is all over and that I was happy with my performance.
To my surprise, when they put up the score sheets at the end (I had NO idea they did that) I got 4th out of 25 in my division! I was totally shocked. But I thought that was pretty cool and motivating-if I can give a good performance with a cracked rib and only a handful of tricks and flows under my belt, what might I be able to do if I learn more? I watched dancers for the rest of the day, and everyone from my studio was just glorious. I also saw some really inspiring performances by people I don't know. There was this girl who danced to "Like a Boy" with a baseball cap. I wish I remembered her name because it was awesome and I loved it.
Scott was a great sport through it all, making dinner when I came home late, picking up epsom salts, understanding when I drifted off to space, and being at the competition to support me.
Now I am resting so that my body can heal.
Do I want to do this all over again? HELL YES!!!!!!!!
I already made a list of things I want to learn that I can't do yet:)