This weekend, we spent a couple of days as vendors at Ink-N-Iron, a massive culture festival in Long Beach, CA. The festival has everything from tattoos, piercings, hot rod shows, and live performances, to burlesque, pin-up, and yes, POLE!
The event played host to the inaugural PCS Queen Mary Pole Championship, with Amateurs competing on Friday evening, followed by the Pros on Saturday afternoon. After each day of competition, there were also Pole Performer Showcases of some incredible polers, too!
The festivities were held inside the Queen Mary, on the M deck, which was kind of hidden away from the rest of the festival: you had to go up 3 floors, then inside the ship, then up another floor, then walk the length of the ship, where you’d then find the mid-sized Brittania Salon/Ballroom, home of the poles! The room filled up quite a bit for each round of competition, with the Pro comp being a bit more packed.
For the Amateur round, we saw 8 competitors take the stage, many of them performing in their first competition. The gals went out and did themselves proud. The routines included some impressive tricks, but as a pack, the gals were at a reasonable level for an Amateur Comp – no crazy fonji antics, just some great dancers performing mostly clean routines with strong tricks! Judges Jennifer Kim, Rachele Ribera, and Katherine Voorhees had a tough job! First place went to Sandra Guadiama with an emotional piece set to a remix of “Mad World”, Second was Nadine Young playing up the wild side with a routine to “Paradise City”, and Third went to Rea Kowalski, with another more-emotive piece and some impressive strength tricks.
In the Pro Division, we saw 11 competitors, all of whom were so strong and amazing, but each very different in what they presented and the stories they told! The crowd really enjoyed a lot of the performances, but in the end, judges Karol Helms, Sarah Jade, and Alethea Austin selected Sasj Lee as the PCS Champ (making this her third straight victory in a row). Her first runner up was Amber Wolf, with a sexy and playful routine that was both beautiful and strong. Second runner up went to Tiffany Rose Mockler, who also took the Audience Award, and Kerri Friedman rounded out the pack.*
As far as the International Pole Performers Showcase goes, each night was all about the sexiness! Katherine Voohrees opened the shows, displaying her signature style of sexy, bendy beauty, which the crowd loved. Her fellow performers included Jennifer Kim, who combined grace and sex appeal with an incredible connection to the crowd; Sarah Jade, whose bendiness and sexiness are intoxicating; Rachele Ribera, who impressed with powerhouse moves and sexy flair; Nadia Sharif, whose “Roxanne” themed routine was a phenomenal showstopper; Jamilla Deville, who seduced every last person with her showgirl moves and incredible grace; Karol Helms, who lived up to her Miss Sexy title; and Alethea Austin, who closed the show with drama, sex, darkness, and some special sidekicks.
The event was sponsored by X Pole, Bad Kitty (who provided the Pole Pixie costumes), and Glitter Heels, who also had a vendor booth. My company, Poleitical Clothing, was on site as vendors, debuting new items and selling some old favorites! There were some last minute changes to the rigging, with the poles moving from 40mm and 10 feet tall, to 45mm and 12 feet tall, but the performers and competitors took it in stride. The festivities began relatively on time and ran fairly smoothly, with only some minor hiccups along the way, like a shoe malfunction with one performer, and a brief lighting issue when an audience member leaned against some switches for the house lights. While there was no private dressing area for the dancers, the girls all seemed to be in great moods and take everything in stride! All of the pole events were hosted by Tara Phillips, who is always cheerful, fun, professional, and eloquent when she hosts and event – she works hard and does her research on each dancer and company present, and it really shows when she gets on stage.
As a pole dancer, it was interesting to see the reaction of the crowd to each of the performers. This crowd was not stacked with polers, but rather, stacked with people looking to watch women dance. The pole dancers present were there to support friends, but mostly from the Long Beach and Orange County areas – much the SoCal posse is from LA studios, and we saw very few familiar faces from LA studios, beyond those competing. The crowd’s lack of familiarity with pole beyond strip clubs was obvious at times, from the reactions of some of the drunker attendees, but on the whole, most of the audience appreciated the performers and stayed relatively respectful (save for one or two incidents). While the usual tricks that get mad applause at all-pole events did not get the same response with this crowd, they did scream for crazy flexibility and super sexiness, which was fun to see.
While we did not spend a ton of time at the rest of the festival, it did look like fun, especially if you’re into pin-ups, burlesque, and tattoos – some of the pin-up vendors had some to-die-for items available, and the tattoo room was incredible to behold: three floors of artists working on all manner of tattoos, from small pieces to full back art. The event organization left something to be desired, especially for vendors – for example, we faced arguments with parking attendants and having to pay through the nose for parking because we never received a vendor packet from the Ink-N-Iron office, which was disappointing and frustrating. The event itself is expensive (tickets, parking, and food alone will cost you a bundle), but there is a TON to do once you are there – you could probably attend all three days and still not see everything!!
The Ink-N-Iron pole performers and Queen Mary Pole Championship competitors held their own in terms of the entertainment available, and who knows, maybe they converted a few souls in the audience into thinking that pole is more than stripping and sexiness – and, maybe…just maybe…they inspired some folks to go take their first class!
*At the time of the announcement of the placeholders, Lindsey Green had been awarded 3rd Runner Up. She was given the plaque in the awards ceremony and was initially shown to be the 3rd Runner Up in photos online. The results were re-tabulated and placements changed after the event, moving Kerri moved up to 3rd. To my knowledge, there no formal announcement widely shared online, so I found out about it after writing this piece. I have updated this post to reflect the new placements. My apologies to Kerri and Lindsey for not correcting it sooner – I’m sure the situation was uncomfortable for all involved. ~DC 7/16/2014
This was really the first time I’ve seen higher level pole dancers compete. I was not able to stick around for the level 3 Championship round at PPC, so I didn’t get to see those performances (except online) – I saw some of the level 2 and level 3 Artistic Entertainment categories, which were great, but the Masters Cup was an entirely new sort of thing for me. There were group, doubles, women’s and men’s categories, all of which held something new and different!
(Note: I’ll try to update this post with links to the videos/winners as they show up on YouTube – not every video is available yet!)
The thing I came away with is how much of a challenge this must be for the performers! To choreograph a dance with 4 or more dancers, hitting everything in sync or reflecting/mirroring moves or even doing complimentary moves…wow. That’s a lot to take on, and every performer in that category should be proud of getting up there. Two groups had unfortunate technical difficulties during the show (one even had a performer not present because their flight was delayed!), but they still got up and performed, like pros! In the end, I think it was really interesting to see the elements that worked well and how certain things created a sense of unity amongst the performers on stage. Jag6ed ended up coming away with the title!
Again, much as with the Group Category, I have so much respect for what it takes to work as a team in a pole routine. What impressed me on top of that was how GORGEOUS the routines can be! When a pair hits their stride and is REALLY working together – not just doing the moves in unison, but working off of each other, feeding off of each other…it’s incredible to watch. It reminds me of watching the very best kind of acting scenes, which is one of the things I loved about it – it seems to double the power of the energy and emotion of the performances, so that you’re absolutely drawn to the stage. While Jennifer Kim & Sergia Louise Anderson were performing, I could barely take my eyes off of them and had to actively remind myself to keep checking the camera (more on that later)! I’m excited to see more doubles routines in the future! The winners were Nadia & Mina, by the way! :-)
This was an interesting category, mostly because the women were all so different. Everyone had their own style, and when I talked to Courtney (who was also volunteering), she said her favorite performance was a completely different performer than the person I picked as my favorite. Some ladies took risks, some did more traditional routines, some had more flair, some had more grace, some had more emotion, some had more character, but all were super talented. The woman that ended up winning the category – Charlee Wagner – only had a year of pole experience. A YEAR. And she was up against some huge hitters – but she was amazing! The kind of amazing after only a year that makes me want to sit in a corner and cry about still not being able to nail my aerial pencil, but hey, good for her – not only was it amazing that she’s only been doing it a year, but her joy for the dance came through, and that was the thing I noticed more than anything else – she was having SO MUCH FUN. The performance I ended up really being drawn to was an unusual one, when put up next to the others in the category – very contemporary, with a lot of emotion behind it – congrats to Bailey Hart of Australia, for being so compelling that I (again) had a hard time focusing on the camera I was manning. While she didn’t place, I walked away remembering her name. This is her performance, which was one of my favorites of the night – I’m embedding it because loved it so much:
I had never seen men perform live, so this was a treat! The strength is amazing, but the flexibility blew me away – and the artistry is so interesting, because again, the styles are so different. I really loved getting to see when the guys either allowed themselves to be fully immersed in the artistic expression, but what made me even happier was to see when there was JOY pouring out of them, like when Derick Pierson performed. He’s friggin ADORABLE. Such talent and SO much joy when he dances. I loved it! And I have no idea how he kept his hat on THE ENTIRE TIME. Ravan took the title – he was a beautiful performer!
In the end, some of the groups/duos/people that placed were obvious picks, but some really were not, at least not for me. I think I just respond to certain things in certain ways, which is an interesting thing to realize, because I’m sure that’s also true of the judges. I recently received my own scorecards from PPC, and while they did not contain a ton of notes, the scores were wildly different in range. I had the highest single judge score in my category, for example – and it was 30 points higher than another one of my scores. I think that tells me a lot about the fact that people look for different things and respond to different things – I had positive notes about my lines and pointed toes from one or two people, but middling marks in that category from others, for example. Some liked my character and emotion, and thought I did well with connecting to the audience – others didn’t. I can only imagine it must be tougher at the higher levels!
As for me and my overall night as a volunteer, I ended up being moved from being an usher in order to man one of the cameras for the event. By switching jobs, I ended up with more responsibility – don’t fuck up the master shot of the performances! – but also had an amazing view: dead center, just behind the table section. So it was there I stood, most of the night. Very early on, I had an audience member complain that I was blocking the view (which I’m not sure I could have helped, since the camera was positioned for me, so I was not allowed to move it), so I spent the first few performances crouching, then spent the rest trying to blend in with a support beam/pole that was maybe 8 inches in diameter. As a result of having to man the camera for the event, I wasn’t able to take any personal photos of the performances, which bummed me out a bit. Still, I had an amazing view of everything!
Jenyne Butterfly was hosting – and boy, is she cute and kinda dorky (which she admitted up front, so I don’t feel like I’m labeling her as such). She’s SO tiny! Actually, almost ALL of the major stars I saw last night are tiny – as are the other recognizable polers, like the cast members of Girl Next Door. In attendance, I spotted a bunch of GND girls – some of them were competing – and a few of the Champions: Jenyne was hosting, like I said; Felix Cane was there to judge and also had a booth (all of the judges were famous polers, like Steven Retchless, Fawnia, Jamilla); Natasha Wang was in the audience (went up to say hi at the end – she gave me a hug and said she’d been trying to get our mutual friend to come, without success – I haven’t seen her in person since we went on the Haunted Hayride with said mutual friend a couple of years ago, before I started poling again). I also saw Becca Butcher from across the room and thought she was Zoraya, just because it was dim in the venue and she has all of that hair! :-) I definitely got my geek-out on over the course of the night! However, the only famous poler I actually spoke to – besides Anjel Dust, who was producing the event – was Natasha, and that was really only because I have a previous connection to her and felt comfortable saying hi. I think I’ve lived in LA too long, where it’s usually taboo to approach anyone famous. :-)
I did get to talk to some of the other folks working the event, like Joe from Alloy Images, who shot the photos for PPC. We talked about my pics and the photos in general for the event – he told me some great advice for making sure that you get good still photos (which was advice Drea also gave me, but it was awesome to hear it from a photographer). He explained that some of the performers that are incredibly dynamic to watch never actually hit their tricks – they don’t go all the way into them and don’t hold them for long, so the still photos are flat and not very clean, but the videos look great. The people who commit to the tricks and hold them (Drea recommended holding everything for at least a 3 count, so judges/audience can see it, but also for photos) are the ones that get beautiful stills. He also talked about facing (as Drea did) – he mentioned that a lot of the girls had beautiful jade splits and Russian splits, but they weren’t facing properly, so the view from the camera was all crotch and no extension of the legs.
The gal running the cameras was Suzy Q Williams, who has created the documentary Pole Life – we talked a bit about how she came to create the production and how she found pole, what it had done for her – she was super sweet and very helpful in giving me a crash course in how to operate the camera. I didn’t do much with it, other than turn it on and off, and replace the battery when it was dead, or swap out the memory cards when they were full – since I was the master shot, I just had a SUPER wide shot of the stage and had to make sure the shot stayed the same. (I desperately hope it didn’t look too bad – I was afraid to try to adjust it, so I left it alone after she set it up and made sure it was focused correctly.) Anyway, Pole Life debuts at the Vegas PoleCon in September, so if you’re there, check it out! There is a kickstarter set up for the film, so if you’ve got a few extra bucks, please consider donating to help fund the project – they’ve reached their “official” kickstarter goal, but every bit helps – I know that for sure! I think it’ll be an amazing piece!
I also got a chance to meet Lori of Confessions of a Twirly Girl! We’re friends on Facebook and follow one another on Twitter, and she had been in attendance at PPC – and gotten a few great photos of my performance! – but I hadn’t had the chance to meet her until last night! I hope to see her again at the Convention, which I’ll be at tomorrow – more volunteering!
I love all of this – I love seeing more of the pole world and how amazing it can be! I’m sure I’ll update more after the Convention, and I’m starting work on my piece about what it took to compete for PPC. :-)