Competing in pole or any other aerial apparatus is an awesome challenge and an incredible opportunity for personal growth. However, is it for me? I am still trying to figure that out. I’d like to share my experiences with you as a way to reflect and perhaps to help me answer this question.
I have always loved to dance. I used to love to sing and act. In fact, as a child I begged my dad, a single parent, to drive me 30+ miles to audition for children’s theatre productions over and over again in hopes that someday I would be discovered as a prodigy and be the youngest Academy-award winning actress in history. Auditioning and being on stage has never made me very nervous—maybe excited nervous, but not terrified nervous. However, in very little time at all, I realized I was much too sensitive for the competitive world of child acting, even when I’d win the part. I never played sports competitively growing up and my only other experience in competition was auditioning for high school musicals, none of which I’d ever earned a lead role, and participating in regional solo and ensemble events. Again, I realized I was too sensitive for the constructive criticism that accompanied such events.
Fast forward to my life as an Aerial Dancer, I very quickly learned I still loved to dance, (not sing), and act. My experiences in Aerial Dance Christmas Shows brought me so much joy. I loved the lights and the makeup and the costumes and sharing my passion through movement with others. At this time, another brave Aerial Dance sister introduced pole competitions to the studio and I thought to myself, “What a perfect outlet for me!” I envisioned pouring my heart and soul into a routine and sharing it with others, and I couldn’t help but also create a fantasy in my head where someone in the theatre would discover me and make a movie about me as a pole dancer so I could be the most beloved Academy-award winning actress to star in a movie about pole dance (This was before Hustlers).
In May of 2018 after months of creating a routine incorporating all of my favorite tricks, I competed for the first time at the Pole Sport Organization’s Central Pole Championships. I performed at 8 in the morning on a Sunday to a theatre that didn’t even dim the lights filled to 10% capacity. It did not feel at all like the experiences in the Christmas Shows with a huge room of people cheering me on and flashing lights and blaring music. In Christmas show performances, I’ve tended to “black out” when on stage, losing myself and emerging post-performance in a state of euphoria. The same thing happened during my competition performance, so I have little recollection of my feelings in the moment, but I remember leaving the stage feeling proud. I ended up tying for second place, and on that day, I was happy for trying something new.
Unfortunately, my oversensitive self was not prepared for my feelings post-competition. I received the judges’ feedback a few weeks after the competition and was so confused. One judge would say something that they loved that another judge would say they didn’t like. The entire thing was one big contradiction. I became very harsh on myself and my feelings from my youth of not getting the part or not getting the star first (solo and ensemble) came flooding back. I was not prepared to be subjected and to make matters worse, when I received my photos and video from the competition routine, I myself watched it with very critical judging eyes over and over and over. I allowed myself to critique every aspect of the performance which demolished my self-esteem.
After that, I determined that like my dreams of being a child actress, my dreams of being a competitive or world-famous pole dancer just weren’t the right dreams for me. I focused on having fun in classes and making the most of the Aerial Dance Christmas Shows, which still brought and continue to bring me much joy. Then, in the fall of 2019, the same Aerial Dance sister who introduced us to pole competitions reached out to invite me to compete with her in doubles pole at the Minnesota Pole Competition. I was nervous to say yes since I had been so harsh on myself. This sister (Thank you, Sarah!) encouraged me to take a step forward and try again, to focus on the performance itself since I very much enjoyed that the first go-around, and to not allow myself to focus on the judges’ feedback or my place in the competition as a negative thing. Competing together was very similar to an Aerial Dance Christmas Show performance because we could collaborate and celebrate and encourage each other.
The Minnesota Pole Competition took place in January of 2020. Saint Paul experienced a blizzard making travel incredibly challenging and to top it off, on the morning of our competition piece, my car was towed due to a snow removal emergency. I wasn’t able to get the car back since my husband’s name was on the title and anything else that could have gone wrong in that experience went wrong. Honestly, dealing with that mess prevented me from being concerned about how we would perform or what the judges would think. We barely had time in between phone calls with the City of Saint Paul and the tow yard to even do our makeup and get ready, so when it was time to go on stage I had no energy left for self-doubt. We took our starting positions on the pole, and again I “blacked out”, coming to afterwards as we walked off stage panting and feeling quite accomplished. We ended up taking first place in our category and first place in costumes in our category. Also, the police officer at the tow yard felt bad for us in our stage makeup (dressed like snakes) and our luggage and our out-of-state plates that he forgave the citation I had received and returned my car to us. Yay!
I promised myself after this second competition experience that I would not do as I had done in the first. Even though we won first place, the judges still had plenty of feedback. I made certain to read the feedback only once, not over and over as I had done a few years prior. When we received the photos and video, I made sure to only watch a few times, not over and over. Having the support of my doubles partner was immensely helpful in this second experience and made it much easier for me not to let my sensitive and self-critical side take over.
Now, months later, I continue to reflect on my experience as a competitive pole dancer. After me externalizing my experiences, here are my final thoughts:
- Trying new things and challenging yourself is incredibly rewarding. This is the best part of competing in my opinion.
- Competing is very subjective. One judge might see a performance and think one thing and another judge sees the exact same performance and thinks something completely different.
- The Aerial Dance Christmas Show (Annual Show) and Student Showcase is an excellent atmosphere to take the stage and test the waters.
- Taking constructive feedback is helpful and helps you grow as a dancer. Beating yourself up and tearing yourself down is not helpful and does not help you grow as a dancer. I’m still working on this.
- When at first you don’t succeed, try try again. I am beyond thankful that I didn’t quit after one competition. Do I want to compete again? I think I do, if only to continue to grow in experience and in confidence and in skills as a choreographer and performer.
- While I still dream of being an Academy-award winning actress loved and admired by the entire world, I don’t believe that pole dance competitions will be a realistic or logical path to achieving that dream 😉