It's a bit weird to think that when I started this blog I could do none of the things I did just last week, but it's also awesome. That is why I started this blog. To become awesome. And I did. But along the way, I have learned a lot through choreographing and training. Many new experiences were had. Many bruises occurred. Many lazy mornings of sleeping in were lost. All in the name of badassery and pole. I wish to share these with you now, partially in case you are curious or ever want to know what getting ready for a pole competition can be like and partially because I like to talk about things and stuff. (I don't have any friends, just this blog. I gotta chat somewhere.)
|These bruises were only the beginning|
When I entered I didn't know where to start. I have never been a dancer. Never taken a dance class outside of pole. Never competed in any kind of athletic competition of any sort. Haven't done any gymnastics, no ballet, none of that stuff that really helps people when they are starting out. I did tennis once in high school and was terrible at it. The only time I had taken the stage was in bit parts in middle school crafted musicals and plays during my preteen years. I was also terrible at that. I did competitions for Odyssey of the Mind when I was like, eight years old, when adults do all the hard work for you even though they are not supposed to. So yea. I cannot stress enough how unexperienced I am at dance, athletics, and competitions. I was diving head first into the deep end. But I did know one thing: I am pretty good at the whole DYI thing. I decided I would figure it all out myself. I bought two private lessons with a trusted instructor who had competed herself to help get get off the ground with choreography and a membership at a local studio that offered frequent open pole times so I could go in and work, work, work.
I was worried putting together choreography would be like composing music, a concept I have never been able to wrap my head around. Because seriously...how do people invent music? How is that even possible? I can't come up with an original 4 notes to save my life! In high school I sometimes used to try and turn my poetry into song lyrics, but they all ended up going to the same tune. It was depressing. More depressing than the actual poetry. Which says a lot. But putting together choreography wasn't actually so bad. Evidently, doing dozens of freestyles and watching hours and hours of pole videos instead of doing homework was very helpful. My instructor worked with me and we wrote down the moves I'd like to do, sectioned out different parts of the song and designated them between static pole, spin pole, and floor, and from there it just kind of happened.
After my first few times running through it all I could think about was how ridiculously hard it was. I made the amateur mistake of picking a high energy song, trying to pack a lot of tricks in, and putting my most difficult trick in at the very end. "It'll be a great grand finale!" I remember thinking in my head. This more or less translated into "It'll be a great way to kill myself!" not too long after running through it a few times. But I was determined to stick with it. I loved the song, I loved the message, and I loved my ridiculously hard "janeiro" (see below).
|Yes! This! Right after 3 minutes of swinging around two 12 foot poles and the floor. Perfect.|
I got super nerdy about dance after awhile. All the other disciplines I practice-- art, animation, and writing-- started to blend into what I was doing. Shape language, design, gesture, silhouette value, line of action, anticipation, timing, voice, character, show don't tell, slow in/out, arcs, staging, story structure...all of it related to my dance and how I attempted to create it. I could believe how weirdly connected it all was. I felt like a super serious legit artist and it really pumped me up.
In the time closer to the competition, a little of me was nervous, but most of me was excited. It didn't make sense. I guess I was just excited to share my capabilities and my creation with other people. I'm not going to lie to you guys, I am super proud of what I can do. Being a part of the pole world makes me feel like an elite superhero or space-fire-police-ultra-force-squad team member or something. Especially because it was not very long ago that I could not do any of it. It feels like just yesterday I could not for the life of me do a single climb or a carousel spin! I couldn't even do a standing crucifix! ...Well ok, standing crucifix is still kind of annoying, but still. I could do it if I really tried. The point is, I have overcome a lot of challenges and I was looking forward to having evidence of this.
The days started dwindling down to the big event and I was counting them as they went. It was all I could think about. Several things happened in preparation to the competition.
First, I went and took care of some physical things. I went to a chiropractor for the first time. I had bought a deal on LivingSoical awhile back, mostly for the promised massage involved. Ok, fine, I didn't really read that it was a chiropractic thing. I just read "massage...$32" and sprung on it. It was a good deal. But hey, I am sure it is good to proactive about my back anyway. Although, I did have to ask someone exactly what a chiropractor actually did and then thought, "Oh, yea, that'll probably be good for me." So I went.
The experience was weird. I mean, the massage was really nice, except for the fact that I was recovering from a cold and my face was still a snot factory, so the entire time I was face down it became increasingly difficult to breath. After slow and steady snot build up in my nose, I got all worried about dripping snot on my massage therapist's weird toe-shoes. But I didn't. And then I got to move on to the chiropractor who offered to adjust my back. Here is how that went down:
"Ok, now I can give you a back adjustment if you like. I can do it and make the popping sound or I can do it without the popping sound, whichever you prefer." He said.
I, having never been to a chiropractor, replied, "Well, what's the difference?"
He looked at me blankly, "One makes a popping sound and the other doesn't."
Well obviously. He must've thought I was really stupid. "Yea, but do they do anything different?" I asked.
"No, the sounds just freak some people out, but I think at your age you can handle it."
"Ok, then, that sounds fine."
Then he made me get on this weird torture chair that looked like a a massage table and a dentist chair had a love child, literally bent me over his knee and made my neck and back do all sorts of noisy things. There was a point where my face was buried into his doughy stomach that I wondered if this was actually how this was supposed to go... Was I going to end up in court and have to point at a doll about what he did to me? But then he stopped and sat me back up and lectured to me about my posture when sitting and sleeping. He was so old and stern and I felt like I was being scolded by my father that it felt a little more natural (except my father is almost never that stern). I guess this really was how it was supposed to go.
Despite my back feeling really sublime, that night I could not sleep, mostly because I was trying to sleep on my back like he told me to and could not for the life of me feel relaxed in that position. The only time I ever sleep on my back is when I am having fitful, restless, nightmare filled sleep. Apparently that is good for me. I like to sleep on my stomach. He told me to never sleep on my stomach. So far I have managed to fall asleep in a proper position maybe three times since seeing him. I always wake up on my stomach though. Hey, at least it's something.
The next day I walked by my pole and casually practiced a twisted grip matrix hold for fun. Immediately my back hurt exactly how it did before and all that work came undone. See the below photo for reference of what I did to screw it all back up.
|It's like this except with bent legs. Mine is almost this good except I don't have such a nice package. Oh yea and everything else about this photo|
The other physical thing I took care of was my nether regions and the hair that infests said area. I had limited funds and had to choose between getting a professional wax and a professional spray tan. I watched "Toddlers and Tiaras" a couple of weeks ago and the idea of spray tanning began to freak me out. Fortunately, there was no waxing to be seen on that show (thank the lord), so I went with a wax. I also could not imagine myself being anything but pale. Pale is my identity. I didn't want to end up all orange and weird looking. I was haunted my memories of freaky orange girls I knew in high school. Besides, being pale worked with my character. I was going for the disney villain look. So yea, pale was ok.
Waxing was weird, although for your sake I won't get into too many details. The lady was British. She had an accent.
"So, is this your first brazilian?" Was one of the first things she asked me in her fancy accent when I stepped behind the curtained area.
"Uh...no." I said, terror-struck and panicked. I tried to keep it cool. "I don't think I wanted a brazilian though."
"Oh, well, what do you want?"
"Uh, just something...uh...I'm in a dance competition and I just want to make sure, y'know, nothing, er, escapes?"
"So a bikini then?"
"Uh, yea, sure, whatever works."
We made conversation from there. I am not one big for conversation. I had said literally three things to the massage therapist I had just seen earlier that day. I had been too afraid to do anything but nod at the stern chiropractor and politely thank him. But I felt like since I wasn't wearing any pants and there was only a very scant towel to cover me up one side at a time, I should do something to ease the tension in the room, even if I was the only one who felt it.
When I asked her where she was from she replied "England."
"Oh yea, right." I said. Duh.
Fortunately she saved me from looking too stupid and balanced the obvious-question-asking back out by asking me if I had a boyfriend. "Is it not obvious?" my brain said. I told her no, I hadn't met many men out in California. (Make that none). Which should have been evident with the mess I came in with. I had never been waxed previously, although I was pleased to find it was not as painful as I thought it was going to be. The worst part was having a British lady fondle my genitals. Seriously, she just got right in there. For the second time that day I wondered if I was going to end up in court pointing at a doll. But at least it was some friendly British lady and not a 60 year old man. It felt a little less weird that way. She was making conversation, so it was normal, right? Oh wait, I was the one making most of the conversation. Hmm...
I managed to make it out unscathed, more or less. My nether regions not so much. In retrospect it would have probably been better to have seen the massage therapist after the wax lady. In any case, I felt something oddly profound that day. I felt like a true woman, like a lady. I had the hair ripped off my vagina! Only real women do that. An odd moment to feel finally grown up, but hey, we all have to have it some time or another.
Then, just the next day, two days before the competition, something else happened. I finally got the balls to take an advanced tricks class with the one and only Nadia Sharif, who had been teaching at my studio on and off, yknow, when she wasn't touring the world as a famous aerial acrobat. You must understand I basically worship this woman's dance. If you don't know who she is, go look her up on youtube. She is incredible. Her routine at the California Pole Dance Championships last fall blew my mind. I watched the video half a dozen times in a row when I first saw it. Her style has so much character and life--it always sets her apart. She doesn't just do a dance, she tells a story. And being someone who is obsessed with story telling, I am all over that. So of course I was very intimidated to take her advanced class.
Lucky for me (or not), when it came time for the class, there were only three students and we were all competing in two days. Nadia decided we were going to do a mini-competition right then and there. We were going to run through our routines and she would watch and critique them as if she were a judge (which, incidentally, she was a judge for the level 4 event, so this felt really legit). I was already pretty terrified to be there, as last week I had been leaving her flexibility class and heard her announcing to the advanced class that they were going to condition with their shoulder mounts and elbow grip ayeshas (two of my biggest nemesis moves). Also yea, the whole glorifying her thing and being a total pansy about face to face communication and all that. It was not ideal. It's basically as if Glen Keane showed up and asked for your portfolio because he wanted to critique it. Or if Adele popped in to critique your singing skills (you know she totally would just show up out of the blue). Or if Chef Ramsay was going to assess your skills at being an asshole. This was basically the best and worst pop quiz of my entire life.
|You suck at being an asshole!|
After the run-throughs and critiques were done, we got ready to leave and chatted about the competition day looming ahead of us--just two days away. I had previously been excited, but after hearing discussions about how people will try to play mind games with you and how nervous I should *not* be because everyone else was freaking out, I started wondering if I should be nervous. And then I got nervous. I was fortunate, I suppose, to have performed for my pole idol at the last minute, because I don't think anything was more nerve wracking than that. Still, I started to have my doubts. People always talk about how full of love and support the pole community usually is, but this discussion had me wondering if all that was true. I hadn't met many other competitors. Were people going to be mean? Was this going to be like middle school all over again? I admittedly don't spend time around a lot of people, and those that I do are really weird and don't fit in with any expected social norm. I never hang with normal women anymore. Vague memories of being friends with large groups of social girls floated around in my head. Hell, that was what my whole competition piece was about. Bitches. Catty, nasty bitches. I remembered all the self-esteem destruction and anger that environment created for me. I had been trying to channel it every day before practice for weeks. Suddenly I was very afraid.
And then competition day hit.
I got up early. Showered. Had a huge breakfast of eggs, toast, and a massive, double-serving protein smoothie. I took the bag I had packed the night before, loaded with anything I could have possibly needed--grips of every kind, leg warmers, sweats, a billion snacks, water, make up, hair stuff, my costume---and headed out.
Some miracle delivered me in LA in just an hour and fifteen minutes. From South Orange County. On a weekday morning. At 8am. It was madness. Since when is traffic that agreeable? Ever?? I ended up being an hour earlier than I had planned. The convention center was a ghost town. I felt very awkward and hid in the bathroom for at least 20 or 30 minutes. You know, like a cool kid. LA traffic, even when it delivers you early, still finds a way to bite you in the butt.
Finally, I felt like enough time had passed and it was close enough to the designated warm up time for me to come out. I went to the competitor room. Chairs lined the room and a shiny, new x-stage lite sat in the center. There were only two other people in the room. They were both older women and were pretty friendly. One of them was Greta Pontarelli, who I totally knew from the youtube (internet stalking for the win!) The other was some lady I'd never met, but she was nice. We chatted a bit. I felt like I had to talk, once again. My tension was too high not to, even though this time I was wearing pants.
Slowly other people started to trickle in. A group of young to middle aged women came in wearing bright, flattering dresses with fancy hair and make up (AKA any hair and make up). They were flamboyant. They were groomed. They were nothing like the art students I usually hang out with. Fear of catty women started to rise up in me. But they didn't bother me too much and none of them were in my category anyway. No mind games there.
Amy Guion, the organizer of the event and co-founder of the Pole Sport Organization, came to show us around the registration and the backstage area, where I picked up my super cool wrist band and goodie bag. She gave us the low-down on how important it was to not touch the rigging or curtains, and told us we could start using the stage for warm-up/test time. I took my time, stretched a bit, and went to feel out the poles. I was very concerned about this aspect, as the poles were 45mm is diameter. I had been practicing almost entirely on 50mm and was relatively inexperienced with the 45s. Everyone told me they were easier, but I had practiced so many times I was afraid my body was so finely tuned to the 50mm thickness that the smaller size would throw everything off. I worked all of my big tricks on the stage. They all went fine. I could rest easy. I went back to the competitor room. Now the waiting game was to start.
|Super ultra legit wrist band|
I was scheduled to perform at 2:45 in the afternoon, more or less. At this point, it was about 10:30 in the morning. I had some time to kill. I put on my make-up--very badly, I may add. I didn't have the funds to pay for professional make up. I had practiced doing it a couple times, but my skills at successfully applying liquid eyeliner at this point were about 50/50. That morning was not one of my good mornings. I shrugged it off. No one would be closer than 10 feet away. It didn't look that bad from 10 feet away. I kept the wise words of one of my instructors in mind. "It's not about the make-up, it's about the movement."
I watched some of the Level 1 performances. They were fun. I was impressed by the abilities of what is considered the "beginner" division. You can actually put together a pretty killer performance without inverting at all.
I floated back and forth between the stage and the competitor room. I snacked a lot. Even though I should have been very full from my gigantic breakfast I still felt starved. I stretched here and there. I was so antsy. The waiting was killing me. I talked to some other people, even though Nadia had advised us to keep to ourselves. I played on the 45mm x-stage they had in the competitor room. It was super fun, made all sorts of creaking noises, and wobbled around a lot. A girl I knew vaguely from classes told me to save my energy, but I felt like I was going to burst at the seams if I didn't keep moving. Also it was a pole and my addict brain forces me to touch it every time I see one. Another girl I had chatted to found out we were competing against each other. Things got awkward quickly as I felt like I was suddenly being sized up. I got off the pole and just kept stretching for what seemed like hours. A news crew came in and filmed me and some other people getting ready. I was super unimpressive stretching my bad leg with the torn hamstring, but at least they weren't interviewing me. Probably because my eyeliner looked like a dying dog had applied it. That goes with the disney villain look too, right?
After forever, it was finally time for my division. I stood by the entrance to the backstage, stretching like my life depended on it. I had the irrational fear that if I didn't keep stretching my muscles would go cold in an instant and I would be incapable of doing anything. I listened to my song on my iPod and kept breathing deeply. That helped a lot. I tried to channel the anger and disgust I feel towards most people I went to high school with. This is something I had been practicing for weeks before my routine in order to get in character, with mild success. Thankfully I was only second to perform, so I didn't have to wait very long. When the first girl was done, I stood attentively by the door, part jogging, part stretching, and part doing gogo moves in place as I waited for them to tabulate her scores and be ready for me.
They called my name and I walked on stage, squinting in the bright lights and waving awkwardly. I immediately regretted that. Waving was stupid. Oh well. Move on. I got in position. The music began. My brain turned off for the next three and a half minutes and I only remember a few things:
1. The music projected really weirdly. It felt very low quality.
2. I managed to not slide out of my elbow holds on the 45s!
3. The poles were perfect condition. Grippy, dry. It was not too hot on stage.
4. I screwed up my first side climb.
5. I didn't hold my inside leg hang like Nadia told me to, but I did hold my split for a brief pause to look at the audience while traveling on the floor.
6. My janeiro was no doubt awkward with a bent leg transition, but coming out of it went reeeeally well. Super slow. Did not slam to the ground.
Besides that, nothing. I can't remember how anything else went. It was a blur. I am dying to see the video. I did an awkward little bow (dammit, I should have practiced that!) and got off stage. I basically squealed with delight, did a little victory dance, and high-fived some people. I did it! And I didn't mess up horribly! I was very proud. Nothing to be ashamed of or disappointed with. Technically, I was not perfectly on form, probably my biggest weakness, but whatever score I got would be the one I most deserved. That is what made me happy.
I watched the rest of my competitors after that. They were all of course very skilled. I had no idea how well I did. I felt happy, a rare experience in my life. I was on an adrenaline high. I was eating homemade sweet potato fries. Life was good. I waited eagerly for the scores. My performance felt solid. Maybe I'd win?? But no, everyone else was good too. I didn't care about winning. I was just happy to do it. Although it'd be super cool if I did win...
The results went up not too long later. I got third! There were only 5 people in my division, but I was still happy about it. I could not have done much better than I did, and was glad to have received some recognition for my hard work. Both the 1st and 2nd place girls were very talented, as was everyone I was competing with. Seriously, pole is tough to do no matter what, and anyone who does it should be commended for that.
I spent the rest of the day just chilling out, watching other performances, playing on Pole Sleeves. I watched Level 3 performances. They were also awesome. Greta Pontarelli performed and stole my heart. I watched in jealousy at the Choreography House. Let me discuss the Choreography House for a moment, because they really stuck out in my mind through the whole day.
They rolled in like every Russian/Chinese team in every gymnastics movie ever. They all walked in step and were total grim faced and fierce. Ok, no, just kidding. They were very smiley people. But they did have matching sports jackets. They dominated the first three rows and cheered super loud for each other and took lots of pictures during the breaks. They had 16 people competing from their studio and 10 of them walked away with medals. Seriously. They were the Chinese Olympic gymnastic team. Except they weren't chinese, they were from LA and their secret weapon was the brilliance that is Kelly Yvonne. All of their performers were amazing. I was crossed with feelings of both awe and jealousy. What I would do to be able to take classes there....to be as good as any of them...to be on the GnD cast...Perhaps one day. They weren't the only group like that there. There were lots of bigs groups from studios cheering each other on loudly. It really did feel like some big olympic event or something.
I must admit something. No one could make my performance. No one. None of my friends from school, none of my instructors, none of the other girls I pole with. The only people that were there were the few other people I knew who were competing on the same day. I understood, of course, that friday afternoon is a very inconvenient time to make it all the way to downtown LA, especially for a low-level event that doesn't last very long. I had a lot of support from people who wished me luck and told me they were thinking of me, cheering for me from home, etc. But that did not change the fact that I was there completely alone for the while day.
Out of everything, all the training, hard work, and finicky eye liner application, this was the toughest part of competing. I do not mind training on my own, but come competition day, it would have been nice to have had a little support, someone to wait with during all that anxious time. There were so many people there with their friends, loved ones, and pole families. I felt very lost and alone. I didn't have anyone to help me put on liquid eyeliner or false eyelashes (an endeavor I quickly decided to abandon), no one to film the performance from the audience, no one to take a picture of me in my costume. I am not very good at the whole "relationships" thing with people, and most of the times I enjoy my solitary lifestyle, but that day it was very, very difficult. There were no giant cheers during my big moves, only a few obligatory claps. When I was awarded my medal, I almost missed it, because I had to walk from the back of the room where I was sitting alone, and there was no one cheering for me for the announcers to know I was actually there. After all that excitement about being able to share my creation with other people, there weren't very many people actually there to experience it. That was by far the biggest disappointment.
I am eagerly awaiting getting the professional video and photos of the performance so I can at least share it digitally with others. But next time I perform or compete (and you can bet there will be a next time), I will wring people's necks to come out and see me.
|I don't think I've won an award in my whole life, so this was pretty exciting|
-Work hard. Harder than you think you need to. Practice enough to be able to do your routine in your sleep, because when you check your brain backstage before you go on, you will need this capability.
-Watch a lot of videos, including your own. Compare them. Learn from them.
-Pick a few of your most solid moves. Keep it simple. People don't need to see a lot of tricks or anything super impressive to see a good dance. They need to see a good dance.
-Bring sandals or other slip on shoes to the competition, because putting shoes on all the time is super annoying.
-Do it for love. And nothing else.