My first Pole Weekender

On the first week of November 2021 I attended my first Pole Weekender as a speaker, instructor and judge. I am still buzzing from the experience so, naturally, I wrote a whole blog post about it.

What is Pole Weekender?

The Pole Weekender is a celebration of all styles of pole dance. Organised by former Miss Pole Dance UK Lorna Walker and by Stacey Snedden, one of the UK’s top competition and event organisers, the weekender is a full weekend of fun and pole. This year the event, held in Peterborough, was at its biggest, hosting two competitions, countless seminars and guests from different styles and backgrounds.

A ticket to Pole Weekender included competition tickets to watch Exotic Generation UK, one of the world’s largest pole shows for those who love the heels side of pole dance, and Pole Art UK, focusing on the more contemporary aspect of pole. Tickets also included a workshop and a seminar.

My experience in the pole industry

When I say that the Pole Weekender has been the biggest opportunity of my pole dance career so far, I mean it. I have been pole dancing for just over five years (starting in 2016 in Australia), and teaching for two, having started precisely two years ago here in London. You could say I’m fairly new to the pole industry, and I’m definitely very new to the pole dance industry in the UK.

Pole dancing changed my life as I recovered from an abusive relationship on the other side of the world, and teaching pole changed my life during the last year of my PhD, giving me the opportunity to support myself doing the thing I love the most.

Despite this, I haven’t always felt super welcome in the pole industry. This might sound strange coming from a white, thin, cisgender woman, but as someone with no dancing background and not many means to train and improve outside of classes, I felt like an outsider because of my movement for years. My movement hasn’t always been the most polished, and while my music choices were probably popular in the 2000s, they aren’t now. The only competition I won was my first – Floorplay London 2018, as an amateur – and… well, that is it. Since then, for years I struggled to even make it into competitions, let alone to win them.

Strangely enough, the situation changed during the pandemic, both because of my activist work against social media censorship and because of my online classes and workshops. The fact we were all stuck at home allowed me to bring my passion for rock and metal pole to people all over the world, and that must have struck a chord even around here too. So I was thrilled when this year, after having become one of the faces of X-Pole, I was also asked to join the Pole Weekender line-up through both seminars and workshops.

After three teaching certifications, multiple online workshops and offline teaching, the Pole Weekender wasn’t just the biggest opportunity in my pole career – it was my first time teaching offline live workshops outside of my home studio. I was very excited and nervous about it.

Before the event

It’s no mystery that I wasn’t feeling too great in lead-up to Pole Weekender, both emotionally and as a dancer. It’s been an incredibly busy Autumn in between group classes, one-to-ones, lectures, social media partnerships and post-lockdown catch-ups. It didn’t help that, a while ago, my two-year relationship ended leaving me devastated. Even if the break-up happened earlier on, I only managed to suck it up and come clean about it last week. I didn’t think I was going to, but I was struggling with people asking me about it and with brands offering me products for couples. Plus, a few fairly traumatic events related to the relationship happened in the past few weeks and I felt I had to give it a clean break and stop keeping up appearances for my own sanity.

Unsurprisingly then, I wasn’t feeling very good before the event, and I hadn’t been good in a while. This affected my dancing, too. I felt very drained and uninspired, so much that I was struggling to create choreographies for work. So, to be completely honest, I was dreading Pole Weekender. I was afraid of being socially awkward and that my feelings would affect my teaching and speaking, ruining the biggest opportunity of my pole career. Knowing I would have arrived completely drained after five hours of teaching criminology made me worry even more about my ‘people skills’.

Luckily, I arrived and met my friend, my idol, the icon that is Beanie The Jet, whom I’ve interviewed for this blog multiple times and whom you should absolutely follow if you have been living under a rock and haven’t done so yet. Beanie and I got to hang out, chat, gossip and eat, and we met an online friend I had never met IRL, Gemma Rose (whom I also interviewed recently). The ice was broken, I felt less useless and, after a nice bath, I felt readier to teach the day after.

Teaching at Pole Weekender

At Pole Weekender, I taught a seminar about navigating your online pole persona and one of my Heavy Metal Pole workshops, which were really successful as online classes and tutorials on Buy Me A Coffee.

Teaching the seminar was very enlightening for me, because I had an intimate but varied and engaged crowd of attendees who brought a lot of insights to the group. From people wanting to know about sharing your pole journey with conservative parents, to others asking about teaching pole to teenagers without exposing them to the school bullies, we had a series of valuable conversations that will add depth to the online version of this seminar.

Picture by Ela Aur

If you couldn’t make it to Pole Weekender, I’ll be having the same seminar online via Zoom on November 24, at 5 PM GMT. Tickets available here.

Shortly after my seminar, I went to The Pole Room Peterborough, a stunning and welcoming studio owned by the lovely Ally, to teach my Heavy Metal Pole workshop – a choreo to Disturbed’s Down With The Sickness.

The workshop was almost sold out and busier than I thought it could be. Considering the line-up of international pole stars joining Pole Weekender, I struggled to imagine that people would want to come to my workshop to learn a choreo to my weird style, with a type of music that is sadly quite niche at the moment. Yet, people did come, and I loved split dropping, kipping, headbanging and shaking ass with them!

I teach regularly and I’m always hit by a sense of existential dread before I do it, because I’m a massive introvert. However, the response, the attitude, the badassery, the outfits and the lovely studio owner made me feel right at home, and I was blown away by the fact that even instructors and studio owners joined in to dance with me.

The best word I can describe this workshop is through the word ‘reckoning’: a reckoning that I’ve come far enough in my pole journey to appeal to polers beyond the beginner level. Having started teaching after a pretty extensive training, and in a studio that pushed me so hard that I often felt inadequate and bad at my job, I struggled to believe anyone would care about learning from me. After Pole Weekender, this changed. The feedback both instructors and students gave me afterwards will hopefully kill my imposter syndrome for a while.

What matters the most to me is that I had so much fun. For a whole day I forgot about the break-up, about my anxiety, about bad things, and I just danced and lived in the moment. I loved watching people nail my choreo and feel badass while headbanging together. I lived for watching everybody interpret my choreo in their own way. Throughout the workshop, I kept thinking: I can’t believe this is my life. You just don’t get this type of vibe, this adrenaline, in online workshops!

Judging at Pole Weekender

Literally 30 minutes after my workshop, I showed up all sweaty – didn’t have time to shower! – to judge the very competition that was my last comp as an amateur poler: Exotic Generation, New Face.

I have judged other competitions before, but they were online ones. Seeing EG live and offline again was incredible, but judging was both fun and a hard job. The level of competitors was so high, and the styles so different, that judging became challenging, especially when we had to compile the scoring sheet and hand them over very quickly after each performance. With nearly 20 competitors from different styles and backgrounds, giving only two awards – winner and runner-up – and thorough feedback seems impossible. But that’s the nature of the job and we did it, and judging with my friend Beanie, Alicia Dominica and Vanessa Bagge was as fun as it was an honour.

As someone who both competed in and judged pole competitions this season, and as someone who teaches both at university and in pole, providing feedback, peer reviewing articles, and marking, I firmly believe there are two types of judging creative work. The first type is direct, encouraging, harsh where it needs to be, giving the person tangible pointers to work on improving their craft after a performance / after creation of material. The second type is the one that makes you want to stop dancing, or creating, altogether. I made sure (and I hope) my feedback fell into the first category, because I have received disheartening feedback publicly and I know how crushing it is, particularly when you don’t win.

I try to judge as I would like to be judged as a competitor: being harsh when I need to, recognising what the performer was trying to do, but always pointing out the bits that can help somebody grow. If my feedback ever sounds too much about my personal taste, or if it doesn’t give you specific pointers on what to work on after my critiques, please hold me accountable for it. 

We can dislike someone’s style, but the feedback we give and the critiques we make need to have a “so what can you do about it” moment. Our words matter and where and how we say them matters, particularly when we critique creative work that makes others vulnerable. I’m so grateful to the incredible Jazzy K for chatting about judging criteria and grading feedback in the judges room ahead of EG. Jazzy is a professional through and through, and I have learnt so much just from that chat!

A word on judging *that* competition

This is where I talk about accepting to judge EG New Face. As you know, I don’t use the term “exotic” to describe my style and I’ve been posting about how we need to move on from using this term, thanks to much-needed insight from strippers like Nova Caine and polers of colour like Nadia Sharif, who rightly find it ‘others’ them because of its history. 

I was very afraid of coming on board with the judging of a competition named after a problematic term, because I didn’t want to upset my community or be branded as a believer in a word I don’t use. So before accepting, I asked for confirmation about what was being done with the name. This year, I was told the branding was going to be changed to EG UK, and there are talks about the term being be phased out in the UK version of this comp in the future. Ahead of accepting, I also asked who else was on the judging panel, and I found that polers I really admire and who spoke against the word had accepted. So I accepted too. 

Some people still referred to the comp as “Exotic Generation” on the night, but I decided to come on board after hearing about the branding change. I accepted because the comp itself holds a special place in my heart, since it was the last one I did as a student and being asked to judge it moved me. 

After the event, I and many polers I admire had a conversation about the name and agreed that franchises and names won’t change overnight. The organisers at Pole Weekender already took some considerable steps this year to be more inclusive of different experiences in the pole dance industry, and their openness to having difficult conversations make me feel like the industry is on the right track.

These conversations are essential for us to improve as an industry. This is why I will *still* take part in an Italian comp that uses the term. Moving on from the word “exotic” hasn’t had much traction back home, and I want to be able to talk about this in Italian in the hope that more people will consider shifting towards better descriptions of our dancing. 

I am pleased to see efforts to move on from the term here in the UK. Either way, if you wanna know why I think we should be reforming our industry and the words we use, you can read about it here.

Can we do it all again?

Leaving Pole Weekender was an odd, deflating experience. I wanted to do it all again, and definitely caught the offline workshop bug. I am so grateful to the organisers Stacey Snedden (on her last year in the job, but hopefully ready to return), Lorna Walker and Jade Bensilum for including me and for making my experience so special. I felt so welcome, and had so much fun!

While I’m going through a hard time, I still can’t believe this is my life: sharing my movement with people and watching amazing performers take the stage. I have so much more work to do on my dancing/teaching, but this weekend felt like coming full circle, and I’m so happy with my pole journey.

I feel so galvanised after watching both the New Face and Professional competitors that I feel ready to create choreographies again and who knows… maybe to compete too at some point?

P.S. Watch out for the next blog post, a summary of Ela Aur’s Pole Weekender seminar on improving fat dancers’ experiences in the pole industry.

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