Witten by: Arloa Reston
I recently got back from the North American Pole Dance Championships in Chicago where I met and re-met incredible polers and human beings from all over the world! After the competition was over and they could relax, I decided to question a group of them about their competition experience, motivations and other thoughts around competing. I started with the Grand Masters (the 50+ polers), figuring with age comes wisdom, because they are an amazing and inspirational group of people (and because I am one of them).
Out of the eight I spoke with, this was the first competition for half of them and the rest had competed anywhere from 2-8 times, but all except one of them had experience with pole performances prior to competing. Each competitor had a different process for preparing for the competition, most of them had a lot of support from their studio staff and fellow pole dancers, and they started preparations anywhere from 6 weeks to 6 months prior to the competition.
When asked about the emotions and the physical aspects during the preparation time, the responses included nervousness, exhaustion, frustration, worry, insecurity, self-doubt, wanting to quit and feeling like everything hurts. And the questions that plagued them included “why am I doing this”, “am I good enough?”, “I can’t do this!” and “can my body take this?”
Despite all of those not so warm and fuzzy thoughts, they also had a lot of positive feelings: feelings of accomplishment, feeling fantastic, feeling stronger, feeling like they had more stamina, realizing they actually had a routine put together and that they could get through it and excitement for the big day. The positive feelings most definitely won out in the end, as there were resounding “yes” answers when asked if they were happy they had chosen to compete and when asked if they would recommend competing to other pole dancers. Although it can be an emotional and stressful journey leading up to the competition, every one of them felt that competing enriched their lives in multiple ways.
Let’s hear from them individually:
Laurie Cary, Age 52, Poling for 8 Years
“I have learned so much about my craft as well as myself. How do you know what you’re made of if you do not push yourself?! Choosing to compete has taught me many things about dance, perfecting tricks and performance technics, but more importantly it has taught me to not be afraid… You get back in life what you’re willing to put out there. The risk comes with great rewards.”
“My thoughts [when preparing for a competition] are always focused first on how I can develop something that someone wants to watch. Then branches off to working on technical aspects and finishing touches. I usually have a wide array of emotions including self-doubt to feeling fantastic!”
Susan Ohlenkamp, Age 51, Poling for 4 Years
“It’s funny. I was a lot more sore and bruised in the first month and a half [of her 3 month preparation period]. It made me worry if my body would be able to handle it. More training and cleaner dancing made me so much stronger!!”
“Competing has indeed enriched my life. It has made me appreciate others who go through this process over and over and over. I have a major sense of accomplishment. There is so much to be gained physically and mentally!”
Judy Jovanelly, Age 58, Poling for 7 Years
“I chose to compete because I wanted to have goals to work towards and to hold myself accountable. During the preparation process, I initially felt like I had been hit by a truck and that I had zero stamina, which steadily improved as I trained. It’s healthy to challenge yourself in positive ways, which competition did for me. I also LOVE meeting new people!”
Jenny Gibbs, Over 50 (not counting), Poling for 2 Years
“I developed a lot more strength and stamina. The mental part is hard. I woke up with panic attacks almost every night for the past 3 months! But then I would remind myself that it was just 4 minutes of my life and not as bad as childbirth.”
“I truly did not care about the scoring, I just wanted to put on a good performance. I could see that some competitors were upset about not “winning” but I felt like I had won simply by getting on that stage.”
Cassandra Croft, Age 55, Poling for 6-7 Years
“Emotions are so hard to deal with. Most people are supportive. Most may not want to talk about this, but the ones that aren’t supportive seem to have louder voices and seem to get louder as you get closer to the event. You can’t be all things to all people in life, especially at a time when you are challenging yourself and vulnerable putting yourself on a public stage. Reminding myself I chose this, I can manage this. Being around others who understand, who are going through, or have gone through this process helped. Having a circle to give and receive support was hugely positive. Thoughts of can my body see this through were a huge concern. We are active and have aches. Everything hurts all the time. You need more recovery time as you age and you have less time to rest while training and prioritizing teaching commitments. I felt I should have quit, could barely lift my shoulder for days and only training a move once a week was not smart nor going to make a routine ready. Enter more emotions of quitting. I constantly reminded myself don’t allow this to give myself a reason to quit. I’d feel worse if I gave up. Modifying what my body could repeat with minimal recovery time was more important than a particular move. I pushed through roadblocks I was creating for myself and looked forward to keeping my word with myself to practice. Doing my best to keep things transparent to my other commitments was important to me. The support around me helped me through this. I focused on honoring what was going to work in the time frame and finding the strength mentally and physically to be ok with exactly where I was in the process. Not surprisingly, I began to feel better, both physically and emotionally.”
Bob Zamora, Age 59, Poling for 7 Years
On his thoughts and emotions during preparation and competition: “Honestly? ‘I hate this shit.’ For the first month I hated everything about NAPDCC. I have danced as an invited guest 2013, 2014, and 2015. I hated cutting my music, balancing the pole passes etc . I didn’t start loving it until I told Estee that I was not going to put complicated moves or transitions that I don’t already do with heart into the routine. I said I was going to dance just like any other stage performance. With that off my shoulders I got into it and loved every part of NAPDCC.”
Susie Keesling, Age 52, Poling for 3 ½ Years
“[During competition prep, I felt] EXHAUSTED !!! I told my husband, it’s funny that I can go to the studio and warm up and do bad ass tricks on the pole, but when I drive the hour back home, I’m so stiff I can barely get out of the car! I think it’s due to age. I love it anyway! I think that all of the concentration and prep for the competition made me a better poler.”
“I just love the people of pole! It was wonderful meeting so many 50+ polers!!! We rocked it!!!”
Patty Yaconis, Age 53, Poling for 5 Years
“Competing opens you up to new experiences and people. We get caught up in a routine and sometimes it is hard to break out of bad habits. Competing makes you look at everything in your life differently. And challenges you to be better. Watching the other dancers I was inspired and ready to keep learning and try new things. This was fun and the best part was meeting everyone! I loved it and will work harder next time on a new routine to enter again!”
So, the bottom line is that competition is challenging. It is emotionally and physically stressful and exhausting. There are moments during the process where almost every competitor will question themselves and think of quitting. But those who do it and follow it through to the end are very happy they did it! They have a sense of accomplishment that is hard to compare to anything else in life, they feel stronger and more confident and they end up meeting a lot of really cool people in the process!
What are you waiting for? There’s a competition coming up with your name all over it!
About Arloa Reston:
Arloa Reston is a pole performer, competitor and instructor. She is currently on staff at The Choreography House and Luscious Maven, is a Master Trainer with Pole Moves and a cast member of Kelly Yvonne’s Girl Next Door show.