Opinion Piece Written by Philip Deal Get ready y’all because its almost here! International Pole Convention is just around the corner. This year it will be held in New Orleans with events beginning at 8 am on June 3rd! I am so excited to be a part of it myself. I’m writing this post for UPA to talk about what’s going to be going down, and more importantly why you should be going. The International Pole Convention, founded in 2009, is the original annual event celebrating the pole dance and pole fitness community with hundreds of attendees, all-star performances and featured product and service exhibitors brought to a new city every year. 2014 has brought new ownership, management and focus to this classic event with even more opportunities to expand. I personally had the chance to sit down and have lunch with the new owner, Colleen Jolly, to ask her questions about where her new direction would lead Pole Con and I was excited to hear her response. As the pole community at large continues to expand at a very rapid pace there needs to be a central event every year. One that will bring and host the leaders of the industry to discuss the future of pole.I started pole in 2010 and let me tell you the environment that existed is not the one that exists now. Pole competitions have come and go, original leaders in the community have disappeared, the popularization of “sexy fitness” has flooded the mainstream media, and there is a new acceptance of pole being a respected as a sport. There where a handful of companies that sold products that seemed to “own” the industry, but now so many other product distributers are around they have lost a strong hold on their control. Fresh blood is pumping through the community with new students walking through the doors of new studios popping up all over the country. There are growing pole artists and choreographers creating small troupes to incorporate an artistic side of pole. The embracing of other circus arts like aerial silk, aerial hoop, and hand balancing can be found in a lot of studios now. The question is, where is this all going? When I first entered pole it was very small and insulated and the leaders in the community were guarded and still trying to overcome the “stripper” stereotype. Pole Stars like Natasha Wang, Felix Cane, and Jenyne Butterfly were on TV and all over YouTube racking up millions of views on “our” style of pole. If you get on Living Social and Groupon you are more than likely going to see advertisements for discounts on pole dancing lessons. This year the two largest pole distributors X-Pole and Platinum Stages made a company merger of some kind that I am still trying to figure out. The point is that pole has become so broad, large and fast it’s hard to keep up. I would say it seems chaotic. Why is this an issue? Let me explain. The leaders in this community have been able to somewhat keep a handle on the growth and preserve the integrity of the original concept as pole as fitness, sport, and art. Let me say that again. Some of us are neighborhood studio owners who are offering sexy fitness and pole dancing. Some studios like Body & Pole in NYC seem to be manufacturing athletes competing in International Pole Championships. Small companies like AERA, Polespeak, and Black Girls Pole are using the apparatus to hold small performances just like you would pay to see the ballet. Pole Sport Organization has taken this country by storm holding regional and national competitions offering over $10,000 in prize money to it’s contestants. And U.S. Aerial, Inc is building a relationship between our community and the circus community at large. I had the privilege of sitting at the table over dinner while Tami Joy Schlichter (U.S. Aerial) and Adam Whoolley (Directer of Circus Now) sat and started bridging the gap between traditional aerialist and pole people of our genre. It was eye opening to me. It was the first time somebody in “pole fitness” and somebody in “traditional circus” sat face to face to address the chasm between the two communities and I would like to think it was a historic moment for all of us. That conversation is the topic of another blog post. But that dialog I witnessed is the same dialog that the leaders in our community have to have. Right now we are not a “fractured community”, we are doing just fine. But what about the supply and demand of studios, products, and events to keep this bubble growing. Last year Jack Gaffney (owner of Bad Kitty), Mary Ellyn Weissman (owner of Empowerment Through Exotic Dance LTD), and myself via Facebook called for an industry meeting. There needed to be a forum where studio owners, traveling pole stars, competition owners, distributers, and it’s consumers could speak out about what the future of pole fitness will look like 5, 10, 20 years from now. Of course we have no idea what that is, but the still standing pillars in our community need to come together to support each other and create a game plan, or at least remind ourselves of our roots. International Pole Convention is taking the incentive this year to hold that forum. Colleen Jolly will be bringing together all the afore mentioned individuals to sit down and have their moment to voice their hopes and dreams for the future of pole. This is pretty epic and long overdue. I highly recommend attending Pole Con this year if you can. For one thing it’s in New Orleans… who doesn’t want to go to New Orleans for a weekend of pole workshops, performances, competition, and product demonstration? There will be parties and a celebration of empowerment through pole. Isn’t that what we have all dreamed about for so long? Plus this forum is free and open to the public, hosted by yours truly. The event “The Future of Pole Fitness” will be taped and released after but how exciting will it be to see all of this transpire live. You will have the opportunity to meet so many others working as hard as you are to push pole even further than it is now. Bring a group. You have plenty of time left to make plans in case you didn’t know the event was taking place. I have no vested interest in promoting Pole Convention to you or trying to convince you to attend… trust me. I met Colleen once and I think she is great, she’s not my buddy yet. And to be honest with you, there will be people there and companies I would rather not see or be in the same room with, but it’s my duty to attend and address this matter. At some point the leaders in the industry are going to have to sit down and spread it all on the table. That’s what you will miss if you don’t attend Pole Convention this year. This is an opinion piece and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of United Pole Artists.