Less than a year ago, I wrote this little blog about my very first pole competition. I entered the Supershag Pole Fitness Championships in Boston, Level 2, after being cajoled into it by a friend. My initial response was, “WHAT?!!! I could never!”

I’ve tried to pin point exactly where that lack of confidence that sometimes haunts me comes from. I love to dance, but I’m admittedly a perfectionist. I just don’t like to do things badly. Despite a lifelong dance background, I was put in my place very quickly when I moved to New York and went to a few Broadway dance calls. I felt like a total joke. I just couldn’t keep up or retain any of the combinations. I didn’t have the form, the flexibility, the style. I’ve danced in a zillion musicals. Why was I so awful and falling apart in these auditions? It was like everyone else should be on “So you think you can dance” and I was one of those awful people they highlight in the first few episodes. Compared to everyone around me, it was clear to me that I was strictly an opera singer who could move, maybe kind of, and that is it. I decided to accept that, and I stopped dancing and working out for the most part, with the exception of running and yoga on occasion.

Enter, pole!

I remember the huge high I got just by signing up for that competition, and the fear and excitement that followed over the next few months. I wanted to get up on stage and MOVE! I had never taken anything above a Level 2 pole class, and only had a handful of “tricks” under my belt. I trained all wrong, fractured a rib in the process, barely ran my piece for anyone, almost chickened out for the dress rehearsal at the studio. I remember how scared and excited I was before going on stage-I was so determined to make this goal I set for myself happen.  I really wanted to call myself a “real” pole dancer (what the hell does that even mean anyways?!), and I wanted an audience, pictures, video-PROOF that I could do it. When it was all over, I was so happy-in excruciating rib pain that I would not wish on my worst enemy, but happy! I felt a huge sense of accomplishment. Performing a pole routine in the middle of a hotel conference room was seriously just as thrilling for me as the day I made my Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center debuts as a soprano soloist -Can you believe that shit?! It sounds ridiculous, but it’s true!!! I did not win, but I just missed getting a medal. And I thought, that went ok considering the slightly disastrous lead up. AND it was fun. What could I accomplish if I worked harder and smarter?

I have given up a lot since then. I rarely make last minute social plans. I would absolutely never accept a last minute happy hour invitation when I have planned to take class. I plan anything non pole or music related far in advance so that I can plan to take class around it. When I am in rehearsals for an opera, I find myself annoyed when it doesn’t leave me time to take class, and anxiously look for any small windows when I can go. When I go out of town for a gig or family obligation, I search for studios where I can take class with other people, not wanting an opportunity to learn something new or get stronger to pass me by. Absolutely nothing pisses me off more than when I get stuck late at work at my day job, causing me to miss a class I wanted to take. When I’m having a slow day at work, I plot and scheme to sneak out and practice or take a class I normally can’t make. Every time I get paid, I calculate how much money I can throw towards class, workshops, pole clothes. When I am in the park or at the beach, I have a hard time sitting and relaxing, because I am too freaking jazzed about making progress in my back flexibility (or lack thereof, but I’m trying!) and new gymnastics skills. I started piling on conditioning classes on top of pole and aerial class, and started to see a difference. I record almost everything I learn, and constantly scroll through my video library so that I don’t forget and can refresh my memory.

Now that I’ve made myself sound a little psycho…..I guess that leads me to today, a couple days after competing in my third competition, Amateur Level 4 at the Pole Sport Organization’s US Nationals. Before I competed in my first pole competition last fall, I would not have believed in a million years that I would be competing at, much less winning, the most advanced amateur level by this time. Hell, I would not have believed it even a few months ago!

What did I learn this year? Going to class religiously makes all the difference. And I mean religiously. And even though it takes a hell of a lot of time, it is worth it. Every time I learn something new or hit a goal with one of my regular teachers or guest instructors, I feel like a kid in a candy shop. It’s like running downstairs on Christmas morning and ripping open all of your presents!  It makes me so happy and excited! I know when I walk into the studio, I’m going to be supported and encouraged in every class unconditionally by familiar faces, all of whom are working towards a common goal-to be better in some way. It’s addicting to see progress, and addicting to be around people that have healthy goals, that are healthy in body and mind. I’ve learned how to train better and more efficiently. I’ve learned that when your body says no, you have to respect that and give it a rest. I’ve learned that one run of your routine in a day is enough. I’ve learned that sometimes, your skill set is enough, even if you see people doing things you can’t do. I’ve learned that communicating with an audience is just as important as a strong technique. I’ve learned that it pays off to invest in private lessons, to have buddies to train with, to seek out, accept and welcome any morsel of help that comes your way. It’s not a path that you should walk down all by yourself. You need help! I don’t know what I was thinking before when I didn’t get more help!!!

I have found a lot of joy in training for competition this year, because it allows me to live out fantasies I have of pole dancing to music I absolutely love. I daydream about it on the subway, walking from place to place, while I’m eating breakfast. Little movies in my head.  I can bring them to life on stage, and I don’t have to audition for anyone or learn a crazy dance combination that doesn’t fit my body to do it. I can make it whatever I want to make it, and the competition organizers will give you lights, a stage (in this case, a gorgeous theater), an audience, a whole media crew, and you can just get up there and make it a reality. Pretty liberating for the frustrated dancer inside of me. It forces me to have a goal with a deadline, to polish what I learn, and makes me hungrier to see just what this body is capable of.

People sometimes ask, what is the point of spending all this time pole dancing? What do you want from all of this? While I’m not sure exactly, I once saw a meme of a pole dancer that said “I’m training for life!” That is an answer I like very much.