After signing up for three competitions, getting into two of them, performing at both in the space of less than a month and going through the most shambolic competition experience one could ever imagine, this year I’ve become way too familiar with the various stages of happiness, denial and pure hatred you go through when you sign up for a pole dance competition. This post is about seven of those stages, and although it’s pole-focused, I’m sure everyone who does something performative (e.g. public speaking) or some sort of sport that requires competing/fighting can relate. Let’s ourselves a big ghost hug, ’cause we bloody need it.
Stage 1: OMG SO EXCITED
So you’ve heard of a new pole dance competition, or have decided to try your luck at an established one. Kudos to you! It takes guts to decide you want to perform and make yourself vulnerable in front of other people, on a stage, to be judged.
The excitement stage is the nicest because that’s when your creativity is popping. If you are me, it’s popping so much that you come up with ridiculous shit that you will soon hate yourself for. You will probably sound like this:
“OMG I heard of this pole dance competition and I am legit SO excited! I’m gonna spit fire from my tits! Then I’m gonna turn into a dragon! Then I will give birth on stage, and I will have loads of hot men as my props and maybe I will kill them, IDK, might delete later.”Dumbass Carolina pre-competition
Why have I put in a bloody Spongebob gif? I hate Spongebob because I am a cold-hearted bitch and he is fucking dumb. BUT he conveys this idea of excitement. Which is dumb. DUMB, I AM TELLING YOU! You won’t be this excited by the end of it all. Abandon all hope ye who enter (a pole dance competition).
Stage 2: MY ROUTINE SUCKS!
You were excited, weren’t you. Turns out spitting fire from your tits isn’t that easy, is it? And where does one find dragons for a bargain, these days?
Personally, I always oversell my own performance idea to myself and then it all comes crashing down when I realise I can’t cram 186748424638462836183618638163813681368 moves into three minutes of choreography without dying, or that I don’t have enough money/time to pull off my idea with the right props and costume.
But I. Am. Not. A. Quitter! So I come up with a routine. I like it for a while. I believe in it. Then I start looking at other perfect pole dancers and realise: I AM NOT WORTHY. MY ROUTINE SUCKS. WHYYYYYYY DO I SUCK. WHYYYY.
This tends to happen about three or four weeks before the video submission deadline. Which is when I then ask teachers/friends for advice and realise my routine doesn’t totally suck, but that I’m most likely being 1) too hard on myself 2) speeding through my moves so much you can’t see them in all their glory (they don’t call me ‘polenado’ for nothing). So I vow to slow down, and submit the video. And maybe pray to a variety of Christian and Pagan gods I never pray to when I don’t need to get into a pole competition.
Stage 3: The Moment of Truth
This is one of the hardest stages of doing a pole competition: finding out whether you got in or not.
If you get in, great: you might get quite the rush of adrenaline, realising you can bring your vision to a stage with people watching, judging and, hopefully, cheering. Some fear, too, but the adrenaline tends to win for me: I MADE IT! I am good enough!
Not getting in sucks balls. Personally, it’s happened to me three times, with competitions I really cared about – for one of them, I’d prepared for months. When you care that much about one routine, when you’ve worked for it and are dying to perform it for someone, that stings real bad.
The money loss is also annoying, because most competitions require a fee to let you in, but it’s the emotional impact of rejection that hurts me the most. When I didn’t get into Dance Filthy this year, I wondered what I was even doing and why I was dancing. The day I found out I didn’t get in was followed by a couple really dark days.
Pole dancing has been so beneficial for my mental health, aiding me in managing my anxiety and depression, that it’s quite hard to see it become something to be upset about, rather than something to distract me from things that upset me. But hopefully, with rejection comes feedback, and you can use that to drive you and do better next time.
Stage 4: WHY HAVE I DONE THIS TO MYSELF!??!?!?!?!?!
Forget all the sad shit I said above: let’s say you actually got into your competition. GREAT! The powers that be said you’re worthy and now you can bring your jiggly ass on stage!
Except that there will be a point where you will hate your song, your routine and your life, because you’ve danced to it too fucking much. You’ve heard that song way too often. And, if you’re me, you go back into that second-guessing phase where you wonder whether the tiniest detail, the stupidest head roll or booty shake even make sense anymore.
One of my teachers, the amazing Ayesha Agogo, once told me in a run-through: let’s just remember we are pole dancing, we are not curing cancer. And that’s true: it’s not that deep. We are doing something we like, and even if we are so over our routine, we’ve got to do it justice.
This is when I like to show it to someone – maybe an outsider – so that I can find the joy of performing it for people again, to remember why I do it in the first place: because I love being on stage, I love sharing my fun with people and making them have fun.
Funny story about routine songs though: straight after performing at Exotic Generation UK (#markedsafe), I went back to my hometown only to hear my song – by a local rapper – over and over again, because here it’s super popular. UGH. It follows me.
Stage 5: Stage Panic
Ah, those night-before-the-competition feels. We’ve got a song in Italy, called Notte Prima Degli Esami (“Night Before The Exams”), about the night before your final year of high school exams. At the time, those feel like life or death, your gateway into adulthood, and because of THE FEAR all your problems – love, family, uncertainty – come together to give you more anxiety. This is how I feel the night before every competition. So I try to have a self-care ritual. And I always fail.
Expectations: I’ll do a restorative yoga class to feel extra zen, then watch a couple of episodes of a fun show I like and go to bed early, reading a book and having a great night’s sleep to prepare myself for the day ahead.
Reality: I’ll go to the yoga class. Then I’ll spend the night half watching something, half on my phone as my anxiety builds up, texting people something along the lines of: ARGHHHHHHHHHH. I don’t sleep, and have nightmares about failing. I have to avoid lactose, fibre, ANYTHING that will give me the nervous shits. In short, if you thought this post was going to give you advice towards the best pre-competition ritual… YOU WERE WRONG.
Stage 6: DON’T EVER SHOW ME THAT ROUTINE AGAIN
You’ve performed! You did it! You did it mate! Well done! You got up there, did your thing, and hopefully didn’t totally humiliate yourself. Maybe you’ve even won!
Winning happened to me once, at my first competition, and I did feel comfortable with my routine then (this was last year, at Floorplay London 2018). I haven’t won anything since, but I performed a lot and my confidence has increased.
Even so, I HATE WATCHING MY ROUTINE after I perform and in the month after. I can’t. I hate it. But I do it anyway, just to check I didn’t make a complete ass of myself. So I watch it, I post it (cause I feel I have to, for closure) and then try to forget at least for a while.
This thing is now happening to me where I actually feel totally shite when I go off-stage and feel I’ve fucked up the whole thing. Videos are great like that: they prove otherwise. Because when I’m on stage, I don’t hear the crowd cheering, I don’t see anyone. My brain just goes FUCKFUCKFUCK and my body does the job because it has trained so hard for this. So yeah. Thank God for videos, now go away and don’t show that to me ever again.
Stage 7: Zen Master of Pole Competitions
It’s been a while since you’ve performed. Your routine is DONE. The fear has left you. You don’t need to talk about the comp anymore. You can go live your life. You have come to terms with what you’ve done, with the feedback, with what needs to be improved. You are OVER IT! Zen AF. You are the Zen Master of pole competitions and nobody’s messing with your vibe. Congrats to you!
You can now go back to training without hating yourself and your life, and most importantly: YOU CAN DANCE TO OTHER SONGS! YOU CAN FREESTYLE! You can have FUN!
I can happily say I’m now at that stage because my next competition is in November and I’m not doing my brain the hideous disservice of even THINKING about that.
However, sorry to break it to you: this cycle will start all over again for your next competition. Sorry. It just will. You will probably grow a bit more confident, but I’ve spoken to pro polers who still feel like this so… the cycle is back to square one.
Epilogue: Do I Even Want To Compete?
Jokes aside, I know many amazing pole dancers who’ve decided to focus on teaching and performing instead of competing. As an anxiety sufferer, competitions are super hard for me and sometimes the WHY DO I DO THIS TO MYSELF????? stage takes over from the fun of it all. I am, personally, hoping to find more performance/ showcase type gigs so I can have the fun aspect of performing without too much crippling anxiety.
However, competitions are an amazing opportunity for growth, to push yourself, create unique concepts and get feedback from pole stars. They’re great to meet new people in the community and to network with other pole dancers. You will hopefully get great pictures and videos from professional photographers… and if you win it’s pretty cool 😛
I’d love to hear your opinion and experiences about competing – and if you’ve got any gigs for a creepy, headbanging ass-shaker with a penchant for fast routines, HMU.