Monthly Archives: May 2015

Art & Innovation in the Pole World

What is Innovation? Where does it come from?

In the pole world, I believe most people would say that innovation comes from the people who create new tricks people haven’t seen before. This is a valid assertion, but I think it goes beyond just “here’s a new trick”, at least for me. I like to think of it as a new form of movement – not just the crazy trick, but the creation of a movement or style unique to that dancer, which others then take on. Two great examples of innovators in our community are Marlo Fisken and Seanmichael Rau.

Marlo is someone that most polers watch. We want that new Marlo trick. We scream and cry and give it our best shot, and some of us actually get it (not me, sadly)! Her tricks are always uniquely HERS. They just look like Marlo: all grace, lines, and beast strength. Beyond her tricks, she’s famous for her flow, where again, she brings innovation to the table. Her style of movement is envied and often copied, and the community is always looking for her next Instagram clip.

Seanmichael represents another side of the Innovation coin: someone who has taken standard tricks and made them his own. This isn’t to say that he doesn’t create his own tricks (he does), but rather, that he has that unique ability to take a regular trick and make it look completely new. It’s a rare talent. Beyond this magic, he’s also a master at creative transitions. So much of what he does is incredibly difficult, but subtle and may be easy to miss. It’s my belief that people watch him, waiting for the big things to happen, not realizing that they’re already watching Picasso paint Guernica right in front of them.

Now, where does innovation come from? In pole, I think it can come from one of a few places. I believe failure is an impetus, for example. Striking out, while upsetting, can lead to an entrepreneurial spirit (so to speak). With some space to recover and regroup, failure can give you a clean slate from which to try again.

Another fertile ground for innovation is that of curiosity. If you are willing to step off the beaten path, innovation is possible. I think this is especially true for those dancers who are at the top of their game – the same old stuff probably gets a little boring, so it makes sense that a creative, curious person would ask themselves, “I wonder if…”

I believe we’re fairly accustomed to, if not outright expecting, innovation when it comes to new pole moves. Everyone wants to know the Next Big Thing. If you’ve attended a few pole shows, like I have, you’ll see the trendy tricks of the year pop up again and again. It’s just how we are.

But, here’s where I see an opportunity: innovation in the realm of art.

I think there are some cool things happening, like the inaugural Pole Theatre USA and Miss Pole Dance America events that went on earlier this year*. Still, though, I feel like there’s a huge gap around art. People say they want it, but often, I see those who bring art to the table not being recognized for it.

Perhaps this is because art is so subjective, but then again, maybe it’s a matter of the audience not yet having the taste for it. Or the knowledge of it. Maybe it’s a matter of the fact that we’re now entering the era of the next generation of pole stars, and there are far fewer artistic innovators emerging than there were with the OG pole stars. Or, maybe nothing looks new anymore, and we’re jaded. Maybe it could just be a natural evolution of the community, too.

With an open landscape, the OGs had the ability to craft and shape things a little more. Now, with the last few years being pretty competition driven, it feels a little like the art was bled out of it. To me, art in pole is not a matter of (as an example) wearing a hat in a vague stab at a character – it is true commitment to that theme, from deep in your bones to the surface of your skin. If that includes a hat, awesome. But that hat better not be the only signal.

This isn’t to say that nobody is creating art in pole. People are, believe me. I’ve seen recent performances that have blown me away, from their art to their investment in their stage presence (something I generally feel gets the short end of the stick, along with art). I’m just…looking for more, somehow. Maybe the right way to phrase it is, I am looking to see it more OFTEN.

So, who is going to be the next innovator? How can YOU take steps toward innovation? On a personal level, I think it’s about challenging yourself. Even if you fail, at least you tried, and that’s the first step to growth. You don’t have to be Marlo or Seanmichael to innovate for yourself and bring creativity and art to life. Be brave. Take risks with your art. Commit to it. Find out how to do this and still be you. Because this isn’t about trying to be somebody else, dance like somebody else…it’s about finding your voice and using it to fill the room. And, if it falls flat, it’s okay. Take a step back, heal, and find your way back to creativity, even if it’s a slow and cautious path. The pole world needs artists and innovators if it is going to thrive. And, besides: you never know who is inspired by you, even if you aren’t feel very inspired by yourself.

Who do you think is an innovator in the pole world? Let me know below…

* Yes, I know both events originated in Australia – maybe the Aussies are better at tapping into the artistic side of pole than we are, I dunno.

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Dealing with Disappointment in the Pole Community

I’ve been mulling over a post about disappointment for a while, but it took me a bit to put it together. I feel like I see disappointment from pole almost every day, from my friends’ posts on social media to my own personal experiences, and it got me thinking about why it seems so common, as well as what to do about it.

I think one of the magical things that keeps people coming back to pole is the sense of validation they get from their achievements. The feeling of nailing your first spin or trick, of working hard on something for weeks and finally getting it, the feeling of marked growth that can be had…all of it is an addictive validation. Couple that with the sense of community – the support one can find from friends and classmates, the sense of tackling a problem as a team or group – and pole can be a pretty powerful experience!

As is normal with things that you get invested in or come to love, expectations can run high. I think it’s natural to get excited and maybe set your expectations a little high. The thing about expectations, though…they’re often a set up for disappointment.

I once had an ex who was all about no expectations, because he felt that expectations always bring disappointment, and he never wanted to be a disappointment to anyone. This is pretty extreme, and in a way, a means of never having to commit to anything to the full degree required for success. Expectations are a natural part of any relationship, whether it be with a person, or with a hobby, a passion, etc. Perhaps, with a passion like pole, the expectations are a little more like expecting things from yourself, or the community, or your friends. You want to do well, and you expect to get that new trick, combo, etc. You expect your community to support you, your friends to celebrate you. And, it can be pretty disappointing when something you expected, or even hoped for, doesn’t work out the way you thought it would.

So, how do we cope with disappointment? In my personal experience, there’s a lot of hurt. A lot. Like, butt-hurt level hurt. Sometimes, that can lead to complaining, lashing out, needing to verbally talk through everything. Sometimes, it means taking a break – from a class, from your friend(s), from the community, from pole itself. Distance can be a pretty powerful salve, if you are inclined to need some time away to clear your head and get perspective.

Another solution that I like is creativity. I find that when I am most disappointed with pole or the pole community, when I’m at the point of wanting to throw in the towel and walk away, hurt and sad…the thing that pulls me back from retreating fully into myself is the act of creation. This could be working to develop your own curriculum; reaching out to teach somewhere new; jamming in a studio on new tricks; freestyling your heart out; even doing crafts, or focusing on something creative outside of pole. For me, there is also writing.

The act of creation gives you a chance to have direct input into an artistic endeavor that is not subject to anyone else’s expectations or whims. It’s also a distraction, to be frank. Something positive you can use to move through the negative.

If you’re suffering from disappointment of the physical kind – i.e. not being able to get a trick everyone else has, or not progressing as quickly as your friends – take a step back and try to find the thing that is yours to do. Maybe it’s not rocking that janeiro, but it could be your low on the pole flow, or floorwork, or freestyle. Try to invest in what is yours to do and let go of the expectations of being “as good” as everyone else. The trick may come, or it may not. All you can do is feed the healthy, positive things, and continue to try to put your best foot forward with the hard stuff. Feeding the good is the best way to set yourself up for success with the endeavors you find difficult.

Dance it out. Photo by Alloy Images.

Dance it out. Photo by Alloy Images.

If the disappointment you feel is a result of emotional reactions within the pole community – maybe a rift between friends, or a disagreement at your studio, as examples – remember that space and time can help heal the rawness. Taking a break from the environment or people that are causing the upset can give you some space to get your head around what is actually happening, how you feel about it and why, and what you can do to make a positive impact for yourself. Also, take a moment to remember that many of our personal thoughts can be distorted, causing us to interpret things in a manner in which they were not meant (look up Cognitive Therapy for more on this). It is with these emotional disappointments that I find creative activities to be the most helpful. Sometimes, your feelings really do need a creative outlet to be expressed. So, go with it, and find your creative niche. Create something wonderful for yourself.

On a closing note, I wanted to add this: Pole can’t and shouldn’t be the only thing in a person’s life. When I was still acting, there was always this adage that actors need to live full lives – not only to help their creative work (i.e. understanding characters), but also to have more to talk about than acting. I feel like this applies to pole, too. I think pole can be wonderfully restorative to dancers going through a tough time, and I think it can be a joy for those looking to have fun, blow off steam, be creative, etc. I also think incredible bonds can be forged amongst those in the community, based on their mutual love of the activity. But relying on pole for too much brings in higher expectations, and therefore, the chance for very deep disappointment. Cultivating passions beyond pole can help lighten the load and improve the fun you do have with it. Plus, you’ll be a richer person for it. J

Do you have any tried-and-true methods for coping with disappointment from pole? I’d love to hear them!