Sunday, 9 February 2014

Choreographing for Criteria: Painting by Numbers, or a Formula for Success? Part 2: The Cleaning Up of Pole Competitions

The Cleaning Up of Pole Dance Competitions 

Part 2: Choreographing for Criteria: Painting by Numbers, or a Formula for Success?

I have been a competitor in many, many pole competitions, from dodgy pub competitions, to national championships, and all the way to the international stage. Some competitions are well-oiled machines that run without a hitch, and others are so terribly organised that in the end, I've regretted entering them. Some competition organisers treat their competitors with respect and consideration, and some treat competitors with such disregard that it becomes clear very quickly what the main motivation for running the competition is. I’ve been competing in pole comps for about six years now, and over the years, I've noticed that a lot has changed in that time.

This blog is the second part of a two-part series of blogs discussing how pole competitions have changed over the years. In Part 1 of this blog, "The Proliferation, Professionalisation and Sanitisation of Pole Competitions," I wrote about what I see as a trend towards the sanitisation of pole competitions, to eliminate the sexy side of pole and make pole more acceptable as a sport or an art form, and make it appear more legitimate to the mainstream.

In this blog, I want to discuss the development and use of judging criteria in competitions, and what this means for pole competitors and the pole dance industry.

Pole dance competition criteria: read the manual 

This much is obvious: a competitor who wishes to win a competition must understand the judging criteria, and prepare their routine based on those criteria. That kind of goes without saying. If you want to be in the running for a trophy or a sash, you need to at least tick all the boxes, and then hopefully have that extra special something to put you in the lead. 

I used to hate the idea of sitting down and reading a PDF of someone else's (often confusing) vision of what a winning routine should look like, and then prepare my entry based on that. For me, I used to think that it took all the fun, spontaneity and individuality out of a routine. 

Since having had the honour and responsibility of judging a couple of competitions myself, I've come to understand that it really is extremely difficult to judge pole dance competitions. Pole dancers are so creative, so passionate and so talented that the performances they come up with are as varied as the individuals themselves. How do you compare apples and oranges? How do you compare a naughty ballerina with an ass-shaking grandma, and how do you compare either of those with a dancer performing amongst white roses falling like snow, or a comical Day of the Dead Catarina risen from the dead to pole dance for her audience

Striking the right balance

Judges need criteria, otherwise judges feel uncertain of themselves and their decision-making process, and competitors feel let down by the competition. Without clear and publicly available criteria, competitors have no guidelines and no understanding of the methodology used to judge. 

But in the pursuit of objectivity in judging, some questions arise. How do we know if the competition organisers have struck the right balance in writing their criteria, so that in following the criteria, the judges will be sure to select the right winner? How do you weight the different elements? Is technical execution more important than level of difficulty? How do we know that those writing the criteria fully understand level of difficulty issues? How do you compare level of difficulty in executing a Rainbow Marchenko versus a series of fonjis? Do you have to have been a high-level competitor to be qualified to write criteria? These are just some of the questions that come to mind. 

I have no doubt that writing criteria is a difficult and largely thankless task. Not only is it often thankless, but those responsible for setting criteria and the judges themselves are often attacked in the aftermath of a competition. In my view, this is not fair. I have no problem with competitors making legitimate comments and criticisms about the way a competition is run, in fact, I think it’s healthy and constructive, and something we should encourage. But there are better ways to go about providing feedback for improvement than to attack the judges and competition-organisers.

Tick-the-box performance

The main question I want to address about criteria is this: at what point do we decide that a competition's criteria have become overly prescriptive? At what point do we say, well heck, we've got so many boxes to tick, we might as well just give them all exactly the same routine to perform, and just judge them on how well they do it?

Overly-prescriptive criteria has the effect of forcing all performers to become jacks-of-all-trades onstage, and often it is their own personal style of dance that is compromised as a result. There are some pole performers who are famous for their stunning flexibility and graceful movement. Watching those performers execute fonjis or shoulder mount flags doesn’t seem to sit comfortably with their usual dance style. Similarly, performers usually known for their dynamism and strength (but not necessarily their flexibility) are required to perform moves to demonstrate extreme flexibility. 

As a spectator at a competition, I love to watch Anastasia and Marion fly around the pole and slip in and out of insane contortion-esque poses, and if I want to see stunning dynamism and strength, I’ll watch Hanka or Oona work their magic. I’m not saying that these women should be shoe-boxed in to one category of dance, but I am saying that competition criteria makes performers include moves and tricks in their choreography that don’t always seem to fit their personal style as a performer. 

Of course, the counter-argument is that a champion should be good at everything, and that’s a fair point. But as a spectator at a competition, I find that tick-the-box performances are more likely to produce awkward, jarring transitions, and less likely to produce those moments of performance magic where the performer is in total synergy with their music, their dance, and their audience. Those rare moments of magic are what I find inspirational in watching pole competitions. But that’s just my opinion – I know not everyone will agree with me.

Personally, as a competitor, choreographing for criteria is something that I just can't bring myself to do. As a performer at a competition, for me, criteria can feel restrictive.  Choreographing for criteria takes all the joy and the excitement out of creating a performance for a competition. I don't want to be given a list of compulsory moves, and then have to try to differentiate myself from my competitors by the manner in which I join the dots between them. At the same time though, I'm very aware that I may never actually win a competition with this approach... 

Don't get me wrong - in preparing for a competition, I read the criteria. I try to incorporate them where possible. However, for me, when it comes to choosing between something I should put in for the sake of the criteria, and something I want to put in because I think it's cool, original or fun - you know which way I will go. 

In it to win it, or in it for the love of pole??

I should point out that I take this approach because my aims in entering a competition aren’t limited taking out first place. I'm not just in it to win it. Some people are. For some people, the idea of entering a competition without the intention of winning is just silly. And I accept that. 

But I know how hard it is to win a pole competition, and how disappointing it is to not place when you really felt you deserved to. After a lot of soul-searching in the aftermath of post-competition disappointment, I've reached the conclusion that for me, it can't be all about winning. And so these days when I enter a competition, it's for more than one reason. I enter because I love to perform, I love to be on stage, I love to showcase moves and combinations I've been creating, and I love the opportunity to bring my own particular style to an audience. 

When deciding for yourself how to create your routines, you just need to decide what your main hope/motivation for entering is. There is nothing wrong with wanting to win, working out what kind of a champion you think the competition wants, and setting out to construct your performance based on that goal. Just be prepared that if you don't win, you may feel like you created a routine based on someone else's ideas, and then all you'll have is a video of you performing someone else’s dance. Equally, there is nothing wrong with creating a performance based on how you want to dance – just be aware that you are unlikely to win! 

And of course, to be clear, I'm not saying you should ever try to disobey the rules of a competition in creating your performance. It's just disrespectful. There are so many competitions now that you can choose which ones to enter based on your own performance preferences. If you don't agree with the criteria or the rules, don't enter. Simple as that.

NB: the only exception to the above principle that I can think of is when a competition has tried to ban strippers/adult entertainers from the competition. Go ahead and enter, and cause a stir if you get disqualified. Competition organisers don’t have the right to judge you for how you earn a living. 

Dance your way

The industry has evolved an extraordinary amount over the past four years, and it’s still growing. We are lucky that these days there are so many competitions to choose from. If you want to focus on the athleticism and sport side of pole, you have World Pole Sports. If you love the artistry of pole, there’s Pole Art. If you love a combination of the two, take a look at IPC. If you love sexy pole, come join us in Sydney for the wild and unrestrained sexiness of Dance Filthy. And if you just love it all, check out Pole Theatre, which brings together Pole Drama, Pole Comedy, Pole Art and Pole Classique. 

These days, there’s a competition to cater for every taste. And as we continue to grow as an industry, my hope is that the new competitions will force the more established ones to become fairer. We all know of rumours of competition-rigging and favouritism surrounding certain competitions. In my view, it’s up to the competitors and the ticket-buying audience members to become more discerning about the types of competitions they will support. There should be no place for rigging, bullying, influencing and interfering with the results of the judges. But that’s the subject of another blog…


Tick the boxes, or dance your way? Whichever way you go, there can only be one winner on the night. And after you have poured your heart out onstage, make sure that you managed to get something out of the process of preparing for the competition that makes you feel like you won something anyway. Compete for a reason – it’s up to you to decide what the reason is. But make sure you have one. Otherwise you’ll be left with nothing but the post-competition blues.
So: to answer the question posed by this blog - is choreographing for criteria painting by numbers, or a formula for success? My answer is... You decide. You're the performer, the competitor, the artist. You decide what the competition means to you. Decide what motivates you, and dance your way.

Shimmy xxx

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Friday, 26 July 2013

The Proliferation, Professionalisation and Sanitisation of Pole Competitions: Part 1 The Cleaning Up of Pole Competitions

The Cleaning Up of Pole Dance Competitions – Professionalism or Sterilisation??

I’ve been competing in pole competitions for about six years now. I have been a competitor in all kinds of pole competitions, from dodgy pub competitions, to national championships, and all the way to the international stage. Some competitions are well-oiled machines that run without a hitch, and others are so terribly organised that in the end, I've regretted entering them. Some competition organisers treat their competitors with respect and consideration, and some... well, some don’t. 

The Proliferation of Competitions

During the 6 years that I’ve been competing, a lot has happened in the pole industry. The competition circuit has exploded, with dozens of new competitions appearing every year. As the pole industry grows larger, competition amongst competitions also increases. New competitions make big promises, and try to differentiate themselves from the others on the scene. Dissatisfaction with the way some competitions are run is often the reason why new comps appear, as the organisers try to do a better job than their predecessors. 

These days, competitions are becoming more professional and streamlined. Gone are the days when it was a common occurrence that the pole would fall down, a competitor would arrive drunk, that the judging panel would be the comp organiser's boyfriend/hairdresser/spraytanner, or that an audience member would try to climb on stage and gyrate against the competitor. These days, many competitions are so professional and efficiently run that they are almost corporate-like.

I've noticed two changes in the competition scene over the past couple of years. The first is that the judging criteria are becoming more refined, and demanding. Competitors are expected to be all-rounders, and to satisfy all elements of the criteria in their routines. Generally speaking, competitors must demonstrate strength, flexibility, dynamism, athleticism, grace, dance skill, acrobatic skill, and of course, pole skill. This topic will be the subject of a future blog post.

The second change I've noticed (and the topic of today’s blog post) is that in an effort to make pole dance competitions seem more serious, and more legitimate, the rules and regulations governing participation in the various competitions have multiplied to the point where a competitor really needs to sit down with a glass of wine and dinner to be able to make it through reading everything they need to know about the competition. (**Unless of course it's one of those competitions that bans wine-drinking and food-eating during the perusal of the rules and regulations.) 

The sanitisation of pole competitions

I’ve noticed a common theme as I’ve been travelling around Europe visiting studios and teaching workshops. At the end of my Signature Tricks & Combos workshop, I usually finish by teaching a small piece of choreography, using one of the combos taught in the workshop, and in my style of dance. On this tour, the choreography I taught was slow, sensual and sexy.

Often, after having finished the choreography and the workshops, students chat to me about pole dance in their country, and how it differs from what they've just learnt with me.  On numerous occasions, I heard the same complaints and frustrations voiced. Students complained about the strictness (even puritanism) of their national championships, particularly with respect to costuming, and the outright banning of any sensual or sexual style of performance. 

The rules I most often hear pole dancers complain about are:

  • Being disqualified for an accidental costume malfunction;
  • Being required to cover the “gluteal crease” (?);
  • Being required to cover cleavage; 
  • Being strictly forbidden from touching their own bodies in any way that hints at sensuality;
  • Banning of shoes; and
  • Banning of music containing swear words.

To me, the above rules seem to go beyond what is necessary for a respectable competition. I would just like to point out that the following video of a small child dancing is exactly the kind of performance that would not be permitted in many national/international pole dance championships. Note the boots, the costume, the hair flicks, the booty popping...  Banned by many pole competitions. Yet there is nothing offensive about this child's awesomeness. If she is a child, and we are adults, why are we forbidden to dance this way in so many competitions, if we should decide we want to?

Is sexy pole dance a legitimate and artistic style of dance?

Those of you that know me, and my style of dance, will probably assume they know what my stance on this issue is. However, I want to make it clear that I see both sides of the debate. 

I understand that there are some very active individuals in the pole community who are trying to promote pole dance as a fitness activity or as an art form – one that has no links whatsoever to the sex industry or to strip clubs. They seek public and mainstream acceptance of the legitimacy of pole dance, which they believe will come from severing all ties with its origins. I understand that a lot of pole dancers want to see their favourite activity recognised for what it is: a complex and challenging form of physical exertion, which more often than not has absolutely zero to do with strip clubs and stripping.

On the other hand… We are all adults, and we have all chosen to participate in pole dance for different reasons. Many pole dancers took their first class because they were attracted to the “sexy” side. I know I did. As a fully grown (if not 100% mature at all times) consenting adult, I resent being told how to dress and how to perform. Especially when the unspoken message is that there is something wrong or dirty with the way I like to dance.

Sexy means different things to different people, but whether it be slow and sensual, fast and aggressive, badass and full of swagger, or however you choose to interpret "sexy" - it's almost always banned by the big, important competitions

In my opinion, the crux of the issue is this: the problem with the “sanitisation” of pole competitions is that it creates a tiered level of what world-class or elite pole dancing should look like, and excludes performers who prefer the “sexy” style of pole dance (for want of a better term). 

I’m not saying that this is done intentionally by competition organisers. I believe that pole competition organisers are genuinely doing their best to have pole taken more "seriously". However, by implication at least, the rules of many international and national competitions seem to suggest that if you are not the kind of pole performer that shuns sensual dancing, high heels, bikinis and black eyeliner, then you are not an artistic/serious/legitimate performer, and therefore you can’t compete for the chance to call yourself a world class, champion pole dancer. 

I love to watch pretty much all styles of pole dance. I have been an Alethea Austin fan since the first time I saw her freestyle YouTube videos years ago, but at the same time I love watching Natalia Tatarintseva’s rhythmic gymnast flexibility and grace. I think Alessandra Marchetti is a stunning performer and athlete, and her wining performance at the World Pole Sports this year thrilled me. Anne-Marie Davies is a dynamite and electrifying performer, and Lolo Hilsum is mesmorising to watch on the ground and in the air. Michelle Stanek is fierce and commanding on stage, and Natasha Wang is pure elegance and poetry on the pole. As for Felix Cane – well, I love Felix Cane bare foot, in high heels, heck – I even love her in ugg boots!

Similarly, when performing, sometimes I dance in heels, and sometimes I dance barefoot. Last year, I competed in Miss Pole Dance Australia with a booty-shaking, shoe-banging, body-rolling, drop-splitting routine, telling the story of a prima ballerina turned wild. MPDA is one of the few national competitions that permit booty-shaking, shoe-banging, body-rolling and drop-splitting. In fact, at MPDA, it is compulsory to wear heels, which is unusual these days.

Ironically, coming second in MPDA earned me an invitation to compete at the 2013 World Pole Sports, a competition that bans booty-shaking, shoe-banging, body-rolling and drop-splitting (unfortunately, I wasn’t able to take part in the World Pole Sports this year, as it conflicted with my tour schedule, but I loved watching the live stream online). 

Recently, I also competed in the Australian Pole Fitness Championships earlier this year (which bans shoes, sensuality, swear words, skimpy costumes, etc).  I abided by the competition rules, and danced barefoot and demure. I was happy and honoured to place third. 

I’ve competed at the Australian Pole Championships, where you can choose to dance barefoot or in heels, and in that competition, I chose to dance barefoot. 

When I free dance, alone, in my own studio, it's usually in heels, in the semi-darkness, to a slow and sensual song - just me, my music and my dance. That's when I really feel like I'm dancing for myself - true to my own style, without having to please anyone. And sometimes late at night, I'll lock the studio, make sure no one's around, crank up some crazy music and run wild in the studio dancing barefoot like a crazy monkey on too much sugar (but I do not record these sessions!). 

So you see, I’m not a die-hard stripper heel addict, and I genuinely love pretty much all styles of pole dance. However, I freely admit that the main reason I started pole dance is because I loved the freedom and the sensuality of it, and that’s what keeps me coming back for more. To me, the sexy style of pole dance is as much an art form as any other, and a legitimate form of expression. 

But sometimes I wonder if those of us who remain faithful to the origins of pole dance, and want see them celebrated onstage, are a dying breed…


I think that the fact that pole dancers now have dozens of competitions to choose from is a good thing. Pole dance means many things to many people. As the industry grows, no doubt particular dance styles will develop and move in different directions. In the same way that hip-hop as a genre encompasses the sub-categories of breaking, popping, locking, turfing, jerkin’ and krumping (at least, that’s what Wikipedia tells me – I have no idea about hip hop!), pole dance may well be on its way to becoming the banner term for a variety of sub-categories. 

Pole dancers who wish to dance barefoot against other barefoot competitors can do so. Pole dancers who wish to go full glitz and compete in heels and sequins can. Pole dancers who consider it a sport can compete against other like-minded individuals. In my eyes, all these styles are valid and legitimate. 

The only issue that concerns me is that with the way most competitions are headed, pole dancers who wish to be taken seriously in the industry, and have their achievements recognised at an international competition level, may end up feeling pressured to dance a particular way. One of the most beautiful characteristics of the pole community is that it is so diverse, and so accepting. I’ve shared poles with mums, uni students, strippers, men (gay and straight), transgender pole dancers, dancers with disabilities, big dancers, tiny dancers – in short – all walks of humanity. I would hate to see our industry lose its acceptance and appreciation of the artistry and beauty of sensual, sexy pole dance. 

To put it plainly, I want to see more sexy pole dance at an elite level. I want to see more elite level competitions support the sexy side of pole dance. I want the particular brand of artistic expression that is sexy/sensual pole dance to be recognised as such, at an elite level. 

So what can we do about it, when the overwhelming trend seems to be the removal of any and all elements of sensuality or sexuality from international/national pole dance competitions?

Take your sexy dancing to the stage!

At the Pole Dance Academy, we are doing our bit to support and provide opportunities for sexy pole dancers to compete. This year we launched Dance Filthy, which is an Amateur and Professional competition that celebrates the sexy side of pole dance. 

On 15 September 2013, we will hold the first ever Pole Theatre, a competition requiring competitors to enter one of four categories: Pole Art, Pole Drama, Pole Comedy, and Pole Classique. In contrast to many other competitions, Pole Theatre seeks to impose a bare minimum of rules and restrictions on competitors. Competitors are encouraged to express themselves and their creativity onstage, with a focus on performance. 

However, we do insist on two slightly unusual rules in one of the categories. In the category of Pole Classique, competitors are required to wear heels for part of their performance, and they also are required to remove at least one item of clothing (and they are permitted to strip all the way down to a g-string and pasties, if they wish). In Pole Classique, we want to showcase sexy pole dance as an art form, and we want to create a platform for dancers who prefer this style of dance to perform and compete, at an elite level. 

United Pole Artists just finished another successful Bringing Sexy Back, for the second year. This is a two-week celebration of sexy pole dance, UPA encourages pole dancers to post and tag their sexy pole videos. This event is sponsored and massively promoted by Bad Kitty. As a Bad Kitty Brand Ambassador, I absolutely love that Bad Kitty embraces both the fitness AND the sexy side of pole. In addition to all the fun and sexy pole related gear on their website, they are the makers of PoleFit, a brand of pole wear that is sporty, fun, with a touch of sexy. After all, as Jack Gaffney himself says (one of the Head Cats at Bad Kitty), "We are Bad Kitty, not good kitty, after all =^.^=".

I love the time of year that is Bringing Sexy Back - it's amazing to see all the sexy pole dancers emerging from the shadows to proudly post their sexy style pole videos! But at the same time, I don’t want to see sexy pole dance relegated to studio freestyles and nightclub performances. It deserves a place on the big stage. 

As a member of the pole community, I do my bit to support good competitions and their competitors – no matter what the style. I support clear judging criteria and professionally-run competitions, but I feel like some competitions are imposing unnecessary restrictions on competitors’ creativity, and are letting down some would-be competitors by failing to create space for their style of dance. 

Why do we care so much about stripping the sexuality away from pole (if you’ll pardon the pun)? Is acceptance of pole dance by the general public really so important? 

I don’t know. I kind of think that it’s time that we stopped trying to seek acceptance by the mainstream, and started making more room for pole dancers to dance how they want to dance. 

Dance your way! Shimmy xxx

PS "X-Pole My Way" is part of X-Pole Australia's campaign - and one of the many reasons I'm so proud to be an X-Pole Ambassador. I love the words on the poster below - "Create your own pole style. X-Pole. Your pole, your way." Words to live by :-)

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Set Your Freestyle Free...

Today I want to write about freestyling, or free dancing, as some call it. I love to freestyle, and I try to do it as often as I can. It's something that comes really naturally to me now, and it gives me such a wonderful feeling of freedom. There's nothing quite like being alone in the studio with your music, your pole and your body, expressing yourself, dancing out your emotions, and creating your art.

It sounds easy - right? Freestyling - seems like something you just do automatically. Just press play and off you go. Wheeeee! Right? Um, no. I will happily admit that there was a time when I really struggled to just let go, and dance. I felt embarrassed, and silly, even when no one was in the room.

I got to thinking about the art of freestyling a few weeks ago, because I was about to teach a workshop on Freestyle Techniques. This is because at the Pole Dance Academy, we recently ran an Intensive Summer School Program. It was a crazy 7 days worth of intensive workshops and classes catering to a range of really specific pole-related skills (handstands, sexy basics, lyrical pole dance, contemporary pole dance, how to flick your hair properly, how to dance in heels, basic acrobatics, striptease, boot camp, dirty sexy floor work, acro-lap dance - just to name a few!). The idea was that we wanted to create time to really hone the skills that you need to be a well-rounded pole dancer - and focus on all the stuff you don't always get time to work on in class. It was an awesome week of fun in the studio, and on the beach, with plenty of free time. I know I'm spruiking a little bit now, but it was so much fun and we're running it again next year too so keep an eye out for more info ;-)

Beach Acro at Pole Dance Academy's Summer School

So I was planning out my workshop, figuring out ways I could help my students improve their freestyles with some skills and techniques to make them feel more comfortable and at ease with their dancing. Halfway through, it struck me that it seemed a little bit of a paradox to talk about preparing for a freestyle. Isn't "freestyle preparation" an oxymoron? Can you really prepare for something that is supposed to be spontaneous and improvised?

The answer is yes, you can. And you should. Preparing to freestyle will make you feel more comfortable in your own skin (and stilettos). And that will improve the quality of the freestyle you do.

So here are some of my tips from my workshop. I hope they help you to feel at ease with yourself, and eventually, to set your freestyle free.

Take yourself seriously

This is the first and most important point. By taking yourself seriously I do not mean that you have to stare intensely into the camera, furrow your brow and pound the floor passionately with your fist (although if that's your thing, by all means go ahead and do it - it's your freestyle!).

What I mean is that you need to take yourself seriously enough that you are able to give yourself permission to dance. A lot of pole students seem to think that they are only entitled to freestyle once they've reached a certain level. This is just plain crazy talk - you don't need approval or permission from anyone to dance.

Just yesterday, we were lucky enough to have the fabulous choreographer and pole dancer Kelly Yvonne teach a workshop at the Pole Dance Academy. During the class, one of the girls was asked to perform her choreography for the rest of the students. Reluctantly, the student agreed. Before Kelly could play the music, the student began to apologise in advance for the mistakes she felt she was bound to make. Outraged, Kelly stopped her, crying "No! Never apologise for your movement! Never apologise for your dancing!"

Sneakily, I got out my notebook and wrote that down for my blog. It fit so perfectly with what I wanted to say. So if I can take Kelly's words and mix them with my own, it would go like this: you don't need permission from anyone but yourself to dance however you like, and you certainly don't need to apologise for the dance your body creates when you finally allow it to do what it wants to do.

You might even surprise yourself once you finally let go - the student in Kelly's workshop went on to give an incredibly beautiful mini-performance, and she had the class mesmerised. You've probably fallen in love with pole dance because you love the way it helps you to express yourself and the emotions you feel. So go ahead and express them. Don't laugh at yourself. Don't tell yourself that you're lame. Don't sigh in exasperation at any mistakes that you make. Just keep dancing.

There are so many excuses to not freestyle... I'm too uncoordinated. I'm not flexible. I have no dance background. I look silly. I'm too old. I'm too out of shape. I'm not good enough.

Just try to remember that pretty much every single pole dancer started out inflexible, uncoordinated, out of shape and silly-looking. I know I certainly did. So refuse to accept your own excuses and GET ON THAT POLE.

Take yourself seriously. 
Charlie Sky knows that pole dance is serious business.

Let yourself be carried by the music

Choose a song that you respond to on an emotional level, on that day and at that time. I have a freestyle playlist in my iPhone, and on the day I pick the one that resonates most with me at that particular time.

Dance to the music. Try to find ways to build your movement as the music builds, and bring it down when there's a quiet or softer part of your song. Don't just run through every single trick you ever learnt, try to create a flow between tricks and floor work.

Lose yourself in the music

Get off the pole!

That's right. You heard me. Step away from the pole.

During a freestyle, you need some downtime away from the pole, or you'll exhaust yourself. Another great reason to learn to love floorwork is that it will make your freestyles more interesting for others to watch. I often find that the freestyles I enjoy the most are the ones that have a lot of creative floorwork. Everyone knows I love a big old power move, but I also love to watch a dancer who can move confidently away from the pole (possibly because I'm still not 100% comfortable away from the pole myself).

So if your brain explodes at the mere thought of dancing away from the pole, let's make it sound less threatening: just try to learn how to do some things with your arms and legs away from the pole. Experiment with striking and holding poses. Change levels - go from standing to kneeling, get all the way down on the floor, and then work out how to get back up again.

And remember - floorwork is not just walking around the pole in circles over and over again. Although of course, if that's all you can think of to do in the moment, do that. It's better than stopping in despair and staring mournfully at yourself in the mirror or banging your head against the pole repeatedly.

There's plenty to do off the pole - don't be scared!

Film yourself. And watch yourself. And don't squirm uncomfortably inside while you watch yourself.

Filming yourself and then playing it back is without question THE BEST WAY TO IMPROVE. Even if you hate watching yourself, do it. Try to be a fair critic of your performance. By that I mean be as objective as you can, and recognise the good things you did, as well as the bad.

I know that when watching yourself, you will always spot the flexed foot, the bent leg or the awkward landing, but try not to focus too much just on the mistakes. Look for what you like, and try to replicate it in your next freestyle. And try to avoid making same the mistakes you've just made.

Watching your own freestyle can be a rollercoaster of emotions.

Don't stop. Whatever you do, just don't stop.

You're 2 minutes and 45 seconds into your song, and you stuff something up. Everything was going so well, and then you stumbled. It feels like the whole freestyle is now lost and completely irretrievable. So you stop dancing and throw yourself down on the studio floor and say "This is so stupid! I suck! I'm going back to yoga."

Noooooo! Don't stop! Don't go back to yoga! Keep going!

You have to keep going, for 3 reasons:

1. Your freestyle will never be perfect, so stop thinking it has to be perfect. You're allowed to make a couple of little mistakes (or even big ones). The purpose of the freestyle is not to create a perfect piece, but rather to practice dancing without choreography. So don't let yourself be put off. Keep going. Dance through it.

2. Another excellent reason for not stopping is stamina and endurance building. It's really hard to pole dance non-stop for 3 or 4 minutes, and you will never be able to do unless you actually do it. So keep dancing, and get stronger.

3. The third, and perhaps more persuasive reason is this: I can't even begin to count the number of times I have disobeyed the above golden rule, and stopped halfway through a freestyle. Then, when I've gone to watch to video afterwards, I've found that the massive and inexcusable error was actually nothing more than a nano-second of a wobble. Sometimes, I've actually groaned out loud watching the video because what felt like a mistake was actually what looks like a really cool and interesting transition, and I'd abandoned the freestyle for no reason. Some of the best tricks were the result of a fall into an awkward position that turned out to be an awesome move... So you never know! Keep dancing and hope for the best.

Have a couple of tricks up your sleeve

Don't think that you need to go into your freestyle with zero clue as to what you're going to do next. It's not cheating to know that you want to showcase one or two particular moves in your freestyle.

I usually have an idea of a few combos or tricks that I want to use, and then what happens in between is the freestyle.

Don't rush

Take your time. Be sure that you finish off each move, each gesture and extension before you move on to the next trick. Time may feel like it's dragging, but force yourself to hold poses for slightly longer than you want to. It gives the audience (or your video camera) a chance to admire what you're doing.

Haters gonna hate

You might just keep your freestyles all to yourself, or maybe you'll share them with friends, your partner, your mum, or maybe you'll throw them out there to cyberspace and see what happens. If you do choose to make them public, you have to be prepared for the wild, weird, sometimes wonderful, sometimes hateful world of youtube and Facebook comments. People can be really supportive and generous, but they can also be really cruel (and sometimes random, like the guy who inexplicably wrote the comment below on one of my videos). Don't let the negative comments get you down. If they do, check out my blog post on the topic.

Whatever, weirdo.

And remember - practice makes perfect

Make time to freestyle as often as you can. I would say at least every week. The more you do it, the less awkward it feels, and the more accustomed you will come to moving without knowing where you're going.

I wanted to get some input from other pole dancers, to see what they thought. So I reached out to Natasha Wang, because she is an amazing and poetic performer, and also because she's sitting right behind me as I write this in my living room, so it was convenient :-).

Natasha says:

"The more often you free dance, the more easily you will be able to let yourself move to the music and improve the flow you create. You need to do it all the time - it's a skill like anything else, and you'll lose it if you don't practice it."

For some inspiration, below are two videos. The first is a recent freestyle, one that I'm quite happy with. I have other videos that are more tricks-based, but I chose this one specifically because there is a lot of posing away from the pole and floor work, as well as pole tricks.

Below it is an old freestyle, from when I first opened the Pole Dance Academy and really began to freestyle regularly. It's funny watching an old video of myself, I think there's a big difference (I hope you do too!), and I think the difference comes from practising freestyling. I mean, obviously over the course of three years I have improved in terms of strength, flexibility and tricks, but the flow and confidence of the freestyle only comes with practice. Watch the second one closely - something goes quite wrong for me at one point, but like a good little freestyler I kept going! See if you can spot what it was ;-)

Recent freestyle:

Old freestyle:

Look closely at 2 minutes 10 seconds. I actually hit my head on the ceiling beam, but in keeping with the golden rule of freestyle, I didn't stop. Did you notice that I'd whacked my head??


You have a right to dance! So go on. Let yourself dance. Give yourself permission to move to music with purpose and passion. It's ok to make mistakes and to feel silly and awkward. It gets better, and eventually, it will feel less like pulling teeth and more like freedom :-).

So now you know what you gotta do. You gotta fight. For your right. To freeeeestyle!

Shimmy xxx

PS One final but random tip. I like to freestyle with clean hair. It swishes better that way. So I always wash it the morning of a potential freestyle day. This is my last random tip for you.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

A Foreigner's Guide to Australian Pole Dancing

Over the past month or so, Australia has been lucky enough to welcome to our sunny shores some fabulous international pole talent. There have been (and continue to be) a number of fantastic pole camps, including the Australian Summer Pole Camp on the Gold Coast, the upcoming WA Pole Camp and the East Coast Pole Cruise (which will take place onboard a cruise ship – with waterslides! I’m VERY excited about that). We have also had Miss Pole Dance Australia, and the Australian Pole Championships. It’s been a massive month or two for Australian pole dance. We’ve had Michelle Stanek, Marion Crampe, Josiah Badazz Grant, Anastasia and Evgeny, Laura Martin, and we will soon be seeing Natasha Wang, Kelly Yvonne, Sergia Louise Anderson, Venessa Clack, Nadia Shariff and probably many more pole stars.

Sydney has crazy real estate/rental prices, so having the luxury of a spare room is quite rare. But I have one! So I’ve had the good fortune to be able to host many of the inspirational and talented pole dancers who arrive in Sydney. After many conversations with international pole stars about pole dancing, we inevitably get around to the topic of why Australian pole dance is so different from international styles. 

And it's true that we do things a little differently Down Under... I mean, we are perfectly capable of arty, pretty, contemporary routines. A lot of us perform like that regularly. But every now and again, we like to bust out some crazy, Aussie-style pole shows, the likes of which don't seem to really occur elsewhere in the world.

So it strikes me as important for international pole relations to draft a document that sets out some important principles behind the way we do things round here.

1. The Weather

It gets hot in Australia in the summer time. Really hot. In the winter time, it gets cold. This may seem easy enough to understand. However, Australians live in complete denial about the fact that it gets cold in Australia in winter (especially Sydney-siders). We really do believe that it’s warm all year round, and that the cold weather is an aberration. When it’s not summer, we all act like the cold weather is strange and unusual (even though the same thing happens every single year).

I believe that part of this strange denial stems from the fact that Australians don’t like to wear a lot of clothes. In the summer, people walk around in public pretty much half naked. We love it. It’s just how we roll. We sunbake topless at the beach. We wear shorts so short you can see where leg becomes bum. We wear Daisy Dukes that are pretty much just denim underpants. Bikini tops and monokinis are fine to wear to a nightclub (provided of course that you have your denim underpants on as well).

So as you can see, for most Aussies (and again, Sydney-siders in particular), being half-naked in public is a non-issue.

Which means that it’s only natural that Aussie pole dancers have to go a bit further to shock and awe. Which brings me to my next point.

2. She wore an itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny…

Aussie pole dancers are renowned for wearing pole outfits so tiny that the audience spends most of their time wondering how on earth the pole dancer’s costume is staying in place.

I recently stumbled upon a conversation thread on Facebook that made me laugh.

Tips for keeping everything in place...

Now, I don’t want to give away my Aussie sisters’ secrets… But here are a few tips.

  • Have faith. 
    • In my experience, paranoia tells you your knickers have moved when they have not. Further more, if you’re up on stage, no one can really see anyway. So just relax.
  • Double bag it. 
    • Wear two pairs of knickers, or a g-string under your costume. I personally prefer to wear a pair of knickers that match the cut of my costume, rather than a g-string.
  • Double sided tape on your bum cheeks. 
    • Look, you can of course use tape if you want to, but my preference is not to use it. This is because I once did, and it didn’t hold. And then not only did the audience see my butt cheeks (which is fine by me), they also saw two pieces of sticky tape covered in costume fluff stuck on my butt (which I am not ok with). Although some people use it with success - I was able to lend a hand to the lovely Miss Filly in a crotch emergency once. I gave her a couple of strips of double sided tape to keep her itsy bitsy silver bikini in place - and it worked (only just!).
  • Hairspray on your bum cheeks. 
    • Never tried this - I don’t think it would withstand any kind of power pole move, but just for the sake of completeness I’m including it.
  • Strapping tape right down the middle of your Hoo Ha. 
    • You need to be a brave woman to go down this path… and a waxed/lasered woman too! I have never done this, but Aussie pole stars Jedda J Jordan and Fontaine swear by it. Jedda says “If your costume moves, no one sees anything – just like a Barbie!!” NB: Having a drink or two before attempting to remove the tape is recommended…
The Foni Fanny, named after it's inventor, Fontaine (left).
Not telling you who is modelling the Foni Fanny on the right!
And of course, sometimes, in spite of your best efforts, your costume might move a bit… you may not even notice! Hopefully the audience doesn’t notice either. And with a bit of luck, there will be no photos on Facebook to record the incident. 

Hmm, I wonder who this poor girl is?? I've blurred her face out so no one will recognise her... Right?? Except maybe my boyfriend. I mean her boyfriend! Oops ;-)


If you have ever been to an Australian pole dance competition, you might notice a few key differences. I have compiled a list of key features that are common to many Australian pole dance competitor’s shows.

A. At least one costume change onstage. Possibly more.

The general rule is to start big, and go small. Amber Ray is the queen of the massive costume, which is stripped away to reveal a very tiny costume underneath. Fontaine broke with tradition this year at Miss Pole Dance Australia, and actually went the other way – she started small and then PUT CLOTHES ON! Wild. No one knew what to think.

Amber Ray follows the traditional Aussie formula:
Massive costume to tiny costume.
Some tips on costume removal onstage: if something can go wrong, it will. If it is possible for laces to knot, or hooks to get stuck, THEY WILL. Taking clothes off onstage gracefully is way harder than it looks. Take note: VELCRO IS YOUR BEST FRIEND.

Check out my sister Maddie rocking the velcro at 0:45.

B. Music Mega Mixes

In Australia, one song is never enough. Heck, two songs aren’t even enough! We love the mega mix here. Not only can we pole dance, we can all mix music like pro DJs (well, ok, maybe amateur DJs). At the MPDA heats last year, I used 5 songs in my mega mix. Yes. Five. And I did 3 costume changes. Three. 

We also like voice overs. I’ve done them (check out my video below), Suzie Q has done them, Cleo has done them, my sister Maddie has done them, the list goes on. 

Here is an example of a voice over - my Earthquake routine from MPDA NSW this year. 

Speaking of voice overs, Amber Ray once did a live voice over. In the middle of a cheerleader themed routine, she actually belted out a cheer. It was amazing. Check it out:

C. Pyrotechnics, smoke machines, fog machines, sharks with frickin laser beams…
If you’ve ever watched a Miss Pole Dance Australia opening number, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Pyrotechnics are a must, no matter what the cost. This year, MC Maxi Shields suffered singed eyelashes and a melted wig when she was caught in a blast of flames onstage. But the show must go on.


And who could forget Summer’s fireworks from her shoes? I don’t think anyone was expecting that!

This was even more amazing in real life. 

D. Over the top themes reminiscent of drag shows

We are not known for our subtlety. We like our themes, and we like them big, bold, and often, just plain weird. Some noteworthy themes in recent years:
- Oompa Loompa
- Beverley Hills 90210
- Grid Iron Football Player
- Disney characters (Little Mermaid, Princess Jasmine, Cinderella, Poison Ivy)
- Miss Universe Beauty Pageant contestant
- And so on

Below is a photo montage of some typically fabulous, crazy and wild Aussie pole dancer costumes.

There were so many good ones I had to do another montage.... I could easily do a third...

Justine McLucas is kind of a bit of a faux-Aussie Pole Dancer, seeing as how she ditched us for London... But technically, I guess it's ok for me to include her... Just goes to show that you can take the pole dancer out Australia, but you can't take the Australia out of the pole dancer!

E. Miscellaneous features

In case you hadn't noticed, we like to do the splits a lot. We also feel quite comfortable in our stripper heels, and some of us are perfectly happy to perform acrobatics such as cartwheels, backflips, backward walkovers and handstand drop splits in them (yes Chelle and Summer, I'm talking to you ladies). 

Me at MPDA this year, about to do a backward walkover drop split. Boom.

And you might have noticed that we're all a bit partial to a well-executed hair flick...

A warning to all foreigners venturing Down Under...

I wanted to finish off this guide with a cautionary tale to foreigners planning a pole adventure in Australia. Strange things can happen to you once you arrive... You may find that you lose your inhibitions, and start doing things you might not otherwise have done... The Aussie spirit really is contagious, so make sure you're fully prepared for what might happen to you! 

And just remember... What happens Down Under, stays on Facebook... FOREVER!! Muahahahaha....

Shimmy xxx

PS A thank you to Brad Edwards, Chris Misztur, Matt Granger for the photos, and thanks to the pole dancers for letting me post pics of you!

PPS What's your favourite thing about Australian pole dancers??? Keep it clean please ;-)