Why am I doing this to myself??
You're sitting backstage in your sequinned bikini, waiting for your name to be called. You've broken out in a cold sweat all over your body - except for your palms, which are hot and sweaty. You apply another coat of Dry Hands. Now your hands are slimy. You wish they were as dry as your mouth, which is causing you problems swallowing.
You take a deep breath, realising that you are close to hyperventilating. You want to throw up. You start to question your sanity. You wonder whether your decision to enter a pole competition is actually a symptom of latent sado-masochism. Perhaps you should seek professional treatment. You wonder why in God's name you are putting yourself through this.
Then your name is called. You step onstage in to the bright lights, and hear the crowd roar. You hope that your muscle memory will carry you through the next 3-5 minutes, because you're pretty sure your brain won't be much use. You can hear the crowd cheering your name. You're doing it!
Then it's all over in a flash. You step off stage gasping for breath, staggering in your stripper heels, reaching for water as you collapse on the floor... You did it! And more than that - you want to go again!
Welcome to the roller coaster of emotions that is competitive pole dancing. It's pretty addictive.
I remember in vivid detail the first time I entered a pole comp. I thought long and hard about it before entering. Was I ready? Would people laugh? Would my costume fall off? After a fair bit of agonising, I decided to do it.
It was Miss Pier Hotel, Amateur Division. I had a pink and leopard print bikini, some false eyelashes and my shoes (this was back in the old days when no one dreamed of performing pole barefoot). I packed my bag with everything I needed, shanghai-ed my friend Laura in to coming along to support me, and drove to the Pier Hotel.
As soon as we parked the car I began to experience heart palpitations, which only worsened when I walked in the door of the hotel. All I could see was a blur of fluorescent road-worker vests.
For those of you unfamiliar with the illustrious Miss Pier Hotel comp, let me explain. The venue is not the sort of place a self-respecting lady would usually go for a drink. Its customers are usually salt of the earth, bearded, tattooed, hard-drinking, hard-living characters. I was absolutely terrified. I turned around so fast I nearly knocked my friend Laura over. But Laura stood firm - both literally and figuratively - she would not let me back out of the comp. She wanted to see me do my stuff.
So, I agreed, in spite of my rising anxiety at the thought of performing in front of this particular crowd. Here's a photo to give you an idea of how classy this venue is - check out the guys in the background. I should probably point out that this photo was not taken at my first comp - as you can see, by the time this pic was taken, I'd grown more comfortable in this environment ;-).
1. Make a list
In the weeks building up to the competition, make a list of all the things you think you might need on the day. Some essentials are:
- grip aids (put your name on them to avoid confusion backstage)
- costume (both pieces - top and bottom - seriously, double check that you have both pieces!)
- DOUBLE SIDED TAPE! Essential. The last thing you want to be worried about is whether you're giving the audience more than they paid for.
- music (check whether you need it on CD or iPod. If CD, bring two copies, with your name on them - just in case)
- stripper shoes if you're wearing them, and if not, a pair of thongs (or flip-flops for the Americans) to keep your feet clean before you go onstage if you're dancing barefoot
- baby wipes (to clean your feet, and wipe yourself down if you get a bit sweaty)
- make up for touch ups
- bottle of water and snacks
- a wheelie bag to put all your stuff in, maybe with a lock on it, if you're performing somewhere without a secure backstage area. That way you can throw everything in your bag at the end of the night, lock it, and put it somewhere safe so you can go dance and celebrate the end of the competition.
2. Backstage étiquette
Try to avoid at all costs:
- Diva behaviour. That means no tantrums, no sulking, no hysterics - even if you have a disastrous performance and your costume falls off.
- Fighting with other contestants. Not cool.
- Attempts at "psyching out" other contestants by talking about how amazing your routine is. By the same token, don't lie and say you haven't rehearsed at all, and then bust out a phenomenal performance.
- Do not walk off-stage after your show and announce "THE POLE IS SO SLIPPERY!! WE'RE ALL GOING TO DIE!!"
- Ignoring other contestants when they try to talk to you.
- Being friendly, warm and respectful to other contestants.
- Sharing. If someone is in a panic and has forgotten their Dry Hands, offer to share yours.
- Wishing contestants good luck, and asking them how they went when they come off stage.
You're all in it together, so you may as well try to have as much fun as you can together on the night.
Announcements and Prize Giving
If it is called, be gracious in victory. You might want to avoid:
- fist pumping;
- hooting and hollering;
- show boating;
- over the top displays of excitement.
Even though you are justifiably over the moon at having won, be sensitive to the fact the other contestants onstage are probably feeling very disappointed. All your hard work has paid off, but all the others (who have probably worked just as hard) have just had their dreams crushed.
If you lose, take it with dignity. Don't be a sore loser. And wait til you get home before you start ranting about how you were robbed - even if you, your friends, your mum and your dad are all certain that you were ;-)
Some tips from the Pro's
I asked around a bit for some tips and helpful suggestions from some seasoned competitors. Here's what they had to say.
Amber Ray:"Get some extra classes in before the comp in dance and gymnastics, don't just stick to pole. And practise your game face in front of a mirror, that alone can make or break a performance."
"Training is important...but it's even more important to listen to your body and take enough rest.... I found out the hard way..." (Hanka fell ill after training too hard for a competition).
"Finalize your routine choreography AT LEAST 3 weeks before the competition date so you can spend the last weeks running your routine over and over and over, with the last week in costume. These last few weeks are when you start baking in those important nuances, like facial expressions, emotion, storytelling, and when you perfect details such as making sure tricks are angled correctly to the audience, floor passes start and end on the correct parts of the stage, etc."
"Make sure to choreograph time to just "be" in your routine. Moments of nothing are often the most beautiful, and many routines are too jam packed to let the natural flow come out.
Being on stage will often make you rush, so practice...."
"My advice is to do your choreography alone. Because the dance is one identity, some feelings, one personality. And it is very important to make a story. When I build my choreo, I have a lot of images in my mind and each movement has a meaning. I was alone when I started pole dancing and I really do it for myself. So I didn't wish anything except to live my passion."
And my tips... (even though I admit that unfortunately I'm not always enough in control of my nerves to follow my own advice!)
I try to treat each competition like a performance, and to forget that there will be winners and losers at the end of the night. I figure that really, you're only competing with yourself, and I take each competition as an opportunity to train my bottom off. I'm always amazed at how much stronger and more flexible I feel after a competition, and that's why I do them.
When conceptualising and choreographing a routine, stay true to yourself and your own style. If you try to create a routine based on what you think the judges want, there's no guarantee that you'll win, and then you'll just have a performance that you didn't really believe in. Challenge yourself with a difficult routine, but if a move's not working, ditch it. Try to rest the day before the comp.
On the night, stretch really well before your performance. The adrenaline will make you feel stronger and more flexible, but you can still injure yourself if you don't warm up properly. When you're onstage, keep your facial expressions alive - don't go on robotic autopilot - and finish off every move before attempting the next one. In my experience, you have to put 150% effort in onstage for it to look like you're giving it 60%, so you really have to put your all in to it.
And finally... Enjoy it! You've worked so hard, you should take a second before you go on to congratulate yourself for all the effort you've put in. It's your moment - let yourself have some fun onstage!
And to finish...
Lastly, I wanted to share something that pole artist Timber Brown wrote. I think it accurately describes a competitor's final seconds before stepping onstage.
"The lights are warm. My hands tremble. I pray that they will do the same thing that they have done in the countless rehearsals that have depicted this moment so many times before. There are no guarantees. Will harmony find it's way into my life right now? That perfect place that is the crux of mind, body, and every external factor in between. I use my final two seconds to prepare for my five minutes of fame..."
Gulp. Take a deep breath. It's your time to shine.