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  • The How To's of Joining a Pole Dance Competition

    June 11, 2021 9 min read

    If you’ve been pole dancing for a while then you probably have been asked to join a pole competition at some point in your pole journey or if not, you’ve at least have been thinking of joining a pole dance competition. But what does one do if they want to join a competition?

    We’ve enlisted the help of Kimberlina, who has won several PSO competitions in the past years, to help explain how to prepare for a pole dance competition.

    The Euphoric Feeling of Joining a Competition

    Hi friends! So I’ve been pole dancing for just 2 years only, but I’ve already performed both in person and online seven times from PSO competitions to Pole for Justice as well as a studio showcase.

    Ironically, my seventh time is recently with Pole Presentational’s Virtual Spring Show Seven. 😉 I’m excited to share these experiences with you and hope you’ll give performing a try if it’s exciting to you too.

    female pole dancer doing a layback pole move with an edited heart background

    I remember when I was in Pole 101 class and people were talking about “PSO Emerald.” I had no idea what it was, but there was a definite cloud of excitement all over.

    There was obviously something really special and that got me thinking, “what was it that got everyone nearly giddy every time the term came up?” I later found out it was a local pole competition from Pole Sport Org.

    From that point on, I knew I had to try it because I wanted to experience the camaraderie that my classmates felt about participating.

    I ended up competing later that year. I mulled over a decision tree (the level quiz) to choose my category, and read everything I could about competing. I didn’t know how to create choreography or how to cut music, or even how long I should take to prepare. 

    Sounds familiar? I bet you’re at that stage too. But! It didn’t matter then. I had so much fun preparing, competing, and learning from all of it.

    Maybe now that I’ve had more “practice” at preparing for competitions, I can inspire you to join in the fun and answer some common questions while I’m at it.

    What options are there to perform?

    When it comes to performances, in person competitions such as  Pole Sport Organization competitions and  International Pole Sports Federation competitions have been around for years. But with the unexpectedness of COVID happening since last year around the world, such in-person events were put on hold.

    And that’s why there’s been a huge influx of online aka virtual competitions in the last year, so while in-person events are generally on hold, online options are abundant and tend to be open to a global audience.

    Some options in such performances are: studio showcases, fundraisers, presentationals like  Pole Presentational’s recent virtual show  Seven, and competitions.

    These options may or may not include entry fees, judges, scores, feedback, medals and/or prizes. Showcases tend to be more relaxed, whereas competitions tend to have more rules (governing music, costumes, moves and more) and potentially categories (artistic, sport, floorwork, etc.), levels based on age and/or skills, and sometimes even qualifiers to larger competitions. The other options usually fall in the middle.

    There’s no right or wrong place to start, and it all depends on two things: what you’re comfortable with and what your goals are. As mentioned before, a showcase tends to be more relaxed, usually with your studio.

    Which means it's generally the lowest pressure - it’s smaller and with people you already know; whereas a competition may have the highest pressure, but that can be the most motivating to join.

    How to Prepare for A Competition

    So what does one need? I prefer to start with a goal, and that can be as simple as, “I want to compete for the first time,” or, “I want to play a character.” Once you have a goal, it’s easier to choose the rest: level, category, song, costume, props and so on.

    Not required by any means but maybe helpful for you too: I keep a binder for competitions. I use it to organize everything when I’m first starting to plan - like notes, ideas, and resources from the competition organizers.

    Female pole dancer doing a layback move with text about how to prepare for a pole dance competition.

    1. Conceptualization 

    Everyone probably does this a bit differently, but the main goal is to start off somewhere. As I mentioned earlier, I love keeping a binder. It’s most useful in the beginning for conceptualizing and keeping myself organized.I did a highlight of stories on Instagram as I was preparing so you could  see some snippets of my prep - you can check them out under “Seven” in my highlights.

    top view of handwritten notes.

    In this image: Costume ideas, first draft of choreography, moves and tricks to include, and dates/rules overview.

    Consider exploring a central concept to plan around and then have supporting concepts. As a cosplayer, I find it easiest to have a character in mind that I want to play. So in your case a central concept could be a character.

    I’ve been Harleen Quinzel/Harley Quinn, Ariel, LeFou from Beauty and the Beast, a Witcher - and now - Han Solo.

    collage of various costumes for pole competitions. From left or right: Han Solo, Harley Quinn, Lefou, Ariel, and Witcher.

    If character role playing isn’t your thing then maybe music is more of your jam. You can start off conceptualizing your piece with a song you like or is related to the competition’s theme.

    Speaking of themes, in some cases that’s what you’ll start off with and will be your central concept. In my recent competition, Seven, the theme was the seven deadly sins and heavenly virtues. Dancers could pick anything from those and so I chose “pride” because I thought it would be a fun stretch for me to do.

    Once you’ve gotten a central concept jotted down, in comes the supporting concepts. In my recent performance, since my central concept was the show’s theme, my supporting concepts were the character and song.

    I’ll usually have a character and want to portray them in a way the audience will know who they are, but not necessarily in a very traditional way.You don’t need to be a known character - you can be a character you make up or even embody something more abstract like a feeling or emotion.

    For me, it’s most natural to tell a story with a character I know, but that makes it harder in a way because I have to really *be* that character and not be me playing that character.

    I listened to a ton of playlists and songs, and nothing really stuck out to me. So I went the character route for my Seven performance. I started off with Catra from She-ra, who I really wanted to be, but I didn’t have enough time to make my costume.
    Then I thought “Jolene” by Dolly Parton - with a twist. I wanted to be Jolene! But I thought it would be hard to get that point across with only me due to the narrator of the song not being Jolene.

    Then I thought, “Who else is a really prideful character?” instead of “Which songs are about pride?” And in came Han Solo from Star Wars. Once I got to Han, I was hooked.
    Then the song search started anew, with Han as my anchor. I freestyled to “Jolene” and to a few songs for Han and ultimately decided on “I’m Han Solo” by MC Chris - but a version that was used in a video game because I liked dancing to it the most.

    2. Music

    You probably already have a song by now because you either used that as your primary or secondary concept for your performance. So it’s more on the technicalities.

    Usually, songs need to be within a certain time range. You may need to cut the song to be shorter. Audacity is great for that, and free. It’s also great for mixing songs if you want to pole to a mashup. In this case, I also needed to be sure the song wouldn’t get blocked on YouTube, so I uploaded it as a test - thankfully it passed!

    3. Costume, Makeup, & Props

    I consider these nearly simultaneously with the character, but I don’t start really planning until I make sure the character and song work.

    Since my Seven performance was a sponsored one by Super Fly Honey, I was heavily in favor of characters who wore pants. Han’s pants are not quite an exact match for any of my leggings but it’s close enough, so I chose to wear my Sticky Fishnet Leggings in Blue Sea.

    A female caucasian posing in front of a home pole. She is wearing a black blazer, white bra top, and Super Fly Honey sticky fishnet leggings.

    He was pretty simple costume-wise since I already owned everything I used - including my holster - which is from a Mara Sov (Destiny) cosplay I created for PlayStation Experience 2015.

    Close-up of a female face showing off simple eye make-up with blue lipstick.

    For my make-up I opted for a simple look with an eye-catching lipstick color. As you can see I went for a bright blue shade that complimented well with my Super Fly Honey sticky leggings. For my hair I kept it a high ponytail.

    If possible, plan ahead with the costume - you want to be able to practice in it and have backup plans in case you ruin some part of it. Choose makeup and hair styles that are “easy” for you to do because you’ll want to practice in that too and also not spend hours getting ready the morning of the competition. You’ll already be nervous, tired and stressed if it’s live (in the best way possible) so go easy on yourself, especially the first time.

    4. Choreography

    I usually start planning my choreography by recording myself freestyling to the song I chose while in character (but not necessarily in costume). I also have a few key moves or combos I will want to incorporate - usually some that I already know but want to improve, some really solid ones and maybe 1-2 that I don’t feel great about and want to use the comp as a way to practice them.

    Record everything! My vest came off mid crescent moon while I was practicing, and it was amazing, and I knew I had to put it in my choreo. Fun surprises like that bring me a lot of joy while preparing a routine. 

    5. Practice, Practice, and Practice!

    This is probably the most given in the preparation process. You got to practice. Practice as much as you can! Record your practices, ask pole friends to watch, or even ask a pole instructor or more for a private feedback and lesson to improve or add to your performance.

    For my first competition, I had a basic idea of what I was doing choreography wise, but I needed some help to fill in some gaps. I decided to do three private lessons with one of my favorite choreography teachers, Izzy and she helped me immensely!

    I was still pretty new to pole, so thanks to her I had more than just one kind of standup in my routine, had a sad girl drop (which would have scared me too much to try on my own) and focused on some things I wouldn’t have otherwise - like looking at the audience (yep this still applies even in an online performance 😉) and not having so many tricks that I felt like dying (very important!). My studio also hosted “competition feedback” sessions, which were really fun and helpful. 

    Pole Dance Performance

    Now that you’ve prepared well with all the components mentioned, you’re ready to perform!

    Here’s my most recent performance for Pole Presentational’s Virtual Spring Show Seven to give you inspiration.

    Top 3 Advice

      1. Choreography

        The most engaging routines tell a clear story. You don’t need to do a dance in elaborate costumes, tons of props or even the most difficult tricks to have an amazing pole routine. Be yourself and do yourself a favor by keeping it simple. 

      2. Use all of the space

        Don’t feel shy to move around. This may be a pole dance performance and that means dancing on the pole, but that doesn’t mean you can’t move around and get close to the audience or camera. If you have two poles on stage, use both. Go high and low on the poles. Be dynamic with your stage positioning.
        With that said, be mindful of the category you are performing in and what is permitted. Low flow or floor work are specifically for movement on the floor

      3. Train BOTH sides.

        This is said a lot as a pole dancer and even applies to when you perform. When you create a routine, you’re going to be repeating your tricks a ton of times. With that, you’re at risk for injury, when you keep repeating the same tricks on the same side over and over again, AND you’re going to end up way stronger on one side than the other.

        Do whatever you need to do to train both sides - break down combos to smaller pieces and working that weaker side, run your routine on the opposite side every other time, choreograph for your weak side to be included from the start in some tricks, or even take a dedicated day of training for conditioning and focusing on your weak side.

        Please, just do it!  One of my arms is way stronger than the other, and even one side of my abs is flatter. Don’t be me! 😉

    Wooh! And I think that's it, on how to join a pole dance competition. I do hope you learned a lot from my tips, tricks, and experience. 💜 Kimber