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.