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