If you follow me and other UK and international pole dance performers, you probably know we’ve spent the past few months working hard to prepare for Exotic Generation UK. The first UK installment of the established Russian-born, international franchise, Exotic Generation UK promised to be “thought through to the tiniest detail” according to the organisers’ interview with me from a few months ago. With hindsight, the “We are ready to surprise you!” line in their interview seems quite ominous: it is fair to say almost nothing went according to plan, with over half of the competitors pulling out because of that. They did surprise us – and it wasn’t good! So without further ado, here’s my experience – backed up with quotes from other competitors – of what increasingly looks like the UK pole industry’s own Fyre Festival.
What Is Exotic Generation?
If you are not a pole dancer or new to the whole competition space, Exotic Generation is pretty much like the Olympics of sexy pole dancing. Created in Russia by pole star Tatyana Marsheva, it’s become so popular it turned into a franchise, with editions in the USA, Germany, Italy and, now, the UK. Hence the excitement all of us felt when this was going to be brought here to the UK. It was all meant to happen at The Tabernacle theatre in Notting Hill, a venue (apparently) secured in March.
Performing as a pole dancer isn’t easy. There are not many performance opportunities for elaborate routines for amateur and semi-professional pole dancers. Competitions are getting increasingly elite, and paying an entry fee and not making it in is not uncommon. Which is why many people in the pole community welcomed a new face in the UK competition landscape: it was a new occasion to showcase our talents, and compete under a household name.
This is why many of us – just over 50 people, from different countries, with different abilities – decided to put up with a very high entry fee: £50. The promises were many. The organisers said Yuri Bote, a celebrity pole dance photographer, was going to shoot us while we performed.
View this post on Instagram
#HOT #EXOT #polebote #фотосессия #botefoto #фотонапилоне #пилон #pilon #polegirl #polemania #пилономания #красотка #poledancer #polephotoshoot #photographer @botefucka #model @allie.kamikaze Allie Kamikaze 🇯🇵 . —————- . My photoshootings work list.. 🔽 25 May – Latvia 🇱🇻 . 🔽 7-12 June – Switzerland 🇨🇭 🔽 13 June – Torino 🇮🇹 🔽 18.07-04.08 – California, USA 🇺🇸 . 🔽 September – Mexico 🇲🇽 . 🔽 27-29.09 – Roma 🇮🇹 . 🔽 January 2020 – Düsseldorf 🇩🇪. Invite me in
We were told we were going to perform in a gorgeous Notting Hill theatre with a floor-to-ceiling, rigged pole. We were told the event was going to run from 10 AM to 9 PM, to accommodate all performers. Spoiler alert: that didn’t happen.
Exotic Generation UK: Rehearsal Day (Friday)
Imagine paying £50 to enter a competition. Then paying £15 or more on a medical certificate to confirm you’re fit to compete. Then paying for costumes, shoes, and, for many competitors, travel – many flew in from Italy and France, someone from Norway, some even from bloody Japan.
When you create a pole routine, you create something you love – it’s your baby, and you’re ready to bring it to the stage with power moves, awesome costumes, lights. You want to perform it safely, on a pole ready to take your weight, in front of a roaring audience. So imagine all of the above… and then imagine getting to rehearsals, a day before, to find this as the pole you’re meant to use.
Generally, competitions use floor-to-ceiling poles. These are safe, more resistant, and allow for harder moves including drops to the floor, handstand presses etc. For those of you unaware of what pole set-ups should look like, the meme below should clarify it.
First of all, if the set-up includes a stage pole (a pole with a base like the one in the picture above) you need to be informed. Because of the different levels these types of poles create, many smooth transitions typical of exotic dancing cannot be done; precisely because you know you’ve got a stage pole, you choreograph accordingly. Exotic Generation choreography vs stage pole choreography examples to show you below.
Secondly, if you use a stage pole, that pole needs to be secured by weights so that it wobbles as little as possible, and so that the base remains FUCKING. ANCHORED. TO. THAT. FLOOR.
However, at Exotic Generation UK none of the above happened. We were not informed about stage poles until we actually arrived to the venue on rehearsal day and saw them. A friend of mine told me she’d have been in tears if I hadn’t warned her – and after all, imagine paying to execute a routine, working extra hard on it, only to know you won’t be able to perform it. Worse still, apparently the base wasn’t fixed properly.
After many competitors complained on Friday, suddenly there were rumours of a venue change. Then there were rumours of new poles – other competition organisers in the UK were emailed at 5.30 requesting new poles/ trusses to set up the stage once again. Then at 7 PM on Friday – with the competition meant to start at 10 the morning after – we received an email saying the pole had been “made stable”. One has to wonder about safety: did the organisers care about our safety before? Were they waiting for one of us to fall off and injure ourselves before anchoring the pole properly?
And now we come to day two – the day of.
Exotic Generation UK – The Day Of
By Friday evening, a bunch of performers I know had decided to pull out. Someone counted, and it turned out only 16 out of 50-something people were going to perform.
This was heart-breaking for those who chose to pull out, for the work they’d put in, the money they’d spent. Some people were performing in heels for the first time, others had travelled, others simply didn’t want to perform their routine without doing it justice.
Loads of questions were asked. I sent a complaint email – in Italian – that was never answered. We all begun wondering how happy Tatyana Marsheva must have been for her brand to be used that way. Then, on Saturday morning, the day of the competition, the organisers posted this on the event’s Facebook page. So we guess she’s pissed.
As the first performer in the New Face category, meant to go up at 10 AM, I was told to show up at least an hour before. When I got there at 9, the room where I was meant to dance wasn’t open. The organisers weren’t there. The light technicians, or music people, weren’t there. The organisers only came at around 9.30, with no communications whatsoever with us (they have my number, and I heard nothing).
My camera ‘entourage’ – working with me on an exciting project that I hope to share with you sometime this year – had to find the light technicians themselves and get them to work on lights. I had to set up my own stage and props because no one else was there.
When it came to 10.40 and nothing had happened, I was told to go backstage and start warming up. I don’t have the exact time of when I went on stage, but it was after 11, over an hour later than I was meant to. The backstage space was tiny, and even with just four performers there it was impossible to warm up properly, but we were sweating profusely due to the lack of windows, air conditioning and, frankly, just information. Things were so bad the lovely Mel Lee, who delivered a killer performance in her category, decided to step up as show runner to inform other dancers of what was happening. She was a competitor, wasn’t paid for this, didn’t have to. She did this out of the kindness of her heart.
Meanwhile, on the audience side, people just walked in without anybody checking whether they’d bought a ticket or not. Some people paid £27 to see athletes and professionals in their field compete, but they walked in together with people who might have not paid.
Even though many people had pulled out, the running order and timetable were not updated. The last performer in the New Face category, who was meant to be up an hour after me, had to go on way earlier, with no one she knew cheering her on because she told her to come later according to her original slot.
People who just walked in were thrown backstage, told to warm up and go on stage when they weren’t ready, while awkward, long breaks mishandled by an increasingly awkward compere were left to drag on. A few people who were meant to be performing late in the evening showed up to the Tabernacle only to be told that the competition had finished.
To make it all worse, some health and safety hazards really scared the shit out of us. My gorgeous friend Luca, who won first place in the male category with a fantastic routine that delivered in every second, made the base of the pole jump off the stage for a split second. Many of us died inside a little. Some show groups had to pull out because that wobbly pole was scary for a single performer, imagine for two!
And then, the disrespectful organisation of the event hit rock bottom during the prize ceremony. Considering so many people had pulled out, the male category and the show category didn’t have many competitors. The male category had three to start with, but the show group had five, and only two competed. Well, even though competitors could win first, second and third place, only first and second place got a trophy in the male category, and only the first place got one in the show group category.
This is incredibly disrespectful because the performers who didn’t get a trophy were fantastic, and they deserved their acknowledgement of third or second place even if there were no more contestants. This gave off a vibe of worthlessness that was mean and unnecessary.
The event was meant to finish at 9 PM. It finished at 4 due to the lack of performers, and it would have finished earlier if it wasn’t for the delays.
Why This Sucks
I had to sit down and write the reasons why this is all a mess, and I could go on, but I am going to try and live my life and just be quick.
- Performers have been lied to and mislead, and they paid for something that wasn’t delivered.
- People spent a lot of money not just on the competition, but on travel and costumes etc.
- It’s incredibly disrespectful towards people’s art, time, professionalism and money to behave this way. In my case, I’m a PhD student. I don’t earn a lot. £50 counts as two weeks of food shopping, but I was ready to pay it for what I was promised – because I care, because I love pole. I’m going to be asking for a refund, because this wasn’t a competition worth this money. I’ve performed at better showcases were people could get in for free or pay £10 entry.
- The treatment received by performers on the day was appalling.
- The household name that is Exotic Generation has now been tarnished by this sorry affair. Judges, performers and photographers, too, have lent their name to this unawares.
- People who have performed haven’t done so at their best, and people who have pulled out are clearly very upset.
So What Went Wrong?
Honestly, I don’t know. I spoke to the organisers on Friday, and they looked overwhelmed, they said everything had been difficult. Part of it must have been the language barrier: although lovely to me, the organisers mentioned more often than not that their English wasn’t the best, and the competition information was often Google-translated from Italian. It’s quite worrying to think of how many things might have been omitted or got lost in translation due to this.
Some people have argued that things started going downhill even before the competition. For example, some competitors claimed the fact Yuri Bote couldn’t make it wasn’t communicated properly, and I agree. We only learnt very late, and after we’d paid in full.
Some others also complained about rudeness in emails at the hands of the organisers, and I cannot speak for that, because I didn’t receive any insult from them. Once again, this might be due to a blend of miscommunication, difficulty in speaking English and Italian directness.
Personally, I must say I did not see this coming. While some people argued their videos weren’t even watched, I know for a fact mine was – I’ve met the organiser, she was always very nice to me and very responsive, too, and so were the other people on the team.
Here, I might be at a slight advantage: I’m Italian, I understood the organisers very well and we always communicated in Italian – for instance, they told me in person the pole was going to be floor to ceiling when we met.
I should have probably started smelling something fishy when the compere messaged me: “Feel free to pole clean” on Instagram a few days before. Don’t get me wrong, I worked as a pole cleaner at Pole Theatre pro last year, and it’s an important job that needs to be done for performers. But I did not pay £50 to perform and then clean up after others.
Why I Decided To Perform
I absolutely respect people’s decision to pull out. It was fair: you want to do your routine justice, and if you can’t, you might not want to do it. As for me, I needed closure. I didn’t want all the tension I built to perform this routine in the past few months to amount to nothing.
I loved my routine to bits and will post it when I have the video. It got rejected from Dance Filthy and I was dying to perform it somewhere. I wanted to meet some of my pole idols who were either judging and performing. Mainly, I felt like there was nothing I could have done: I couldn’t have performed in a better setting at this stage, and if I’d given up I’d have felt sad. So I performed, and did what I could, and I’m happy.
I didn’t win and I think the winners deserved to win 100%. I had fun on stage and for once wasn’t crippled by fear. Some of my pole idols asked me if I had a boob job and told me I have great tits. It’s a win for me.
Plus, the memes just kept on giving…
Jokes aside, this awfully organised and disrespectful event did a couple of nice things (apart from reminding me that I, apparently, have great tits): it really brought our community together. People I followed on Instagram but that I hadn’t talked to or met properly started giving me information and support. I met some of my pole idols like Andy Candy, Mario Turco and many more. We made new friends and bonded even harder with old ones, showing how powerful the pole community can be when we fight for each other.
I’d like to personally thank everyone that bought a ticket to come watch us, everybody that didn’t compete but still showed up to support us, and the judges who made this an enjoyable experience by sitting amongst us and chatting during breaks, giving us tips, kind words and hugs. Watch out for my video and my pictures – I love them, and I’m not going to let this shambolic event ruin them for me.
I’m sure this is not the end of #stagepolegate or #PoleFyreFestival, so please keep the news coming and share this post if you’ve been affected.
Update (Sunday, 10 PM)
As predicted above, #stagepolegate did not end there. Today, more competitors (me included) asked for refunds and escalated complaints to PayPal for having paid for a service way different from what we were promised. In the meantime, the show’s compere, thinking this post (and many people’s Instagram stories) were directed at her, decided to slag us all off on Instagram.
She insulted competitors who pulled out and mentioned a particular performer – most likely yours truly – who “got her tits out” and “can’t even dance”. She later took this down as she enraged some of the judges.
While these remarks don’t touch me – I’ve only been pole dancing for just over two years, so everything I manage to pull off still surprises me! – I don’t think slut shaming should have any space in our community. Pole should be a safe space, where dancers who decide to get their tits out (in line with the origins of stripping, exotic and burlesque) can do that without being slut-shamed for doing so. This is pole, not fucking ballet!
Plus, especially when I’ve often been approached by the compere with compliments on my routines/dancing, this feels a bit two-faced – and scary, considering she seriously threatened @emydawn, who posted really informative stories on the day (still available on her profile as a highlight).
This unfortunately only made the atmosphere and the feeling around EG UK worse, bitter, and angry. So I’d like to use this update to reiterate that this post doesn’t wish the compere or the organisers any harm. This was only an account of what happened yesterday, putting together the disappointment we all felt. I empathise with how hurt performers must feel from this whole experience, because that’s how I feel even though I performed. This mess, in my opinion, needed to be shared as truthfully and objectively as possible. If truth hurts whoever reads this, I hope they realise it hurts us performers too. And this where, hopefully, we can all sign off.
…if you wanna see my routine, you can find it right here on IG TV.
View this post on Instagram
Here’s my routine from the doomed Exotic Generation UK. I’m heartbroken bc I worked so hard to clean up my lines, my imperfections, my floorwork, but you can’t see it from this vid bc, as you see in the 2nd half, I was thrown by the unexpected stage. That bit included round-the-pole flow and low flow, and with a slippery stage & giant heels this was hard to deliver. My split drop at the end had become so smooth & that too was tarnished by the fact the pole didn’t spin fast enough. Some of my @pdfilthyfriday friends call me “polenado” bc they know how much I love spinning fast on a spinning pole, but my super fast spins didn’t happen the way I wanted. When you switch a floor-to-ceiling pole w/ a stage pole (and a wobbly one at that) the effect is completely different. I didn’t get into this comp to win & didn’t win – I wasn’t interested in that. Eating on stage has always been a dream of mine because 1) carbs are life 2) pole has actually helped me find my love for food again, w/o worrying about binge eating. So when @lebonwski, my town’s most famous export & Italy’s best rapper, wrote a song about #Italian stereotypes, coming out right at a time where my country is becoming scarier, I knew that was the time to perform this routine. Growing up, I had a love-hate relationship w/ my country. I’ve wanted to leave since I can remember, and did not appreciate the beauty of growing up in the warm, picturesque, historically rich country that Italy was. Only when I moved to Australia did I begin appreciating and valuing my roots. For so many reasons I don’t fit the Italian stereotype, and for so many others I do; this routine was both a homage to my country, and a reminder of the darkness behind Italy’s stereotypes. Especially for women, the housewife/whore binomial is often still valid. So at EG I wanted to be both. Despite everything, I did what I could. I‘m incredibly proud to have received face-to-face feedback, love & kind words by pole idols like @mario.turco and @tanya_skaya, & to hear my teacher/pole guru/most badass performer ever @laurenelisepole say I shouldn’t be ashamed to post this video bc I executed it well made my heart melt. [Continued in 1st comment]
Update (8 June 2019)
Amidst the silence by the EG UK organiser, a UK competition organiser has been in touch about sorting out the situation. More to come next week!