I spent last weekend judging PSO’s Pacific Pole Championship, as I do every year. I genuinely enjoy judging – I love seeing what people bring to the stage, but more than that, I really enjoy the process of providing feedback. I hope what I tell people is constructive (and that nobody thinks I’m a bitch for giving them suggestions of things to improve) – and I look at it as an opportunity to learn how to better coach our competitors as well. An example of this: the scoresheets for 2019 are different than in previous years, so we judged on a new criteria, and it completely changed how I awarded points…and it will change how I coach people in the future.
Another change for 2019 was the reintroduction of the Freedance category. I remember this being around when I first completed in 2012 – at that time, competitors were assigned a song and able to hear it a few times right before they went on stage. For this year, the competitors did not hear their music until they stepped on stage.
I was part of the judging panel for both of the Freedance categories at PPC, which were split into Junior/Senior and Master/Grand Master – since this is considered an experimental category, there were no levels assigned, only age brackets. This was also how things ran when they first introduced the Low Flow category, too.
I’m super grateful to have been a part of the judging process for this, but it got me thinking quite a bit about Freedance/Freestyle and the misperceptions of it within the pole community.
I teach Freedance weekly, and I have for around 4 years. Before that, I was invested in it as a student. If there was any genre within pole that feels like mine, it’s this one. I’m deeply connected to it in a way that makes me excited to share it, but also protective of what I believe it to be.
To me, freestyle is about connection: to an audience, a story, a character/being, an emotion, or another prompt of some kind – it’s driven by a focus on that parameter, and that’s what I look for in the technique: are you connected to or focused on something that is larger than tricks?
I would venture to guess that this is NOT what most people would look for when watching a Freedance Competition Category, largely due to a lack of understanding of Freedance Technique (including that it even exists as a thing).
My feeling on this is obviously colored by the fact that I teach freestyle technique: there IS a technique to it, but it is not the same type of technique one would see in other categories, and very few people seem to understand it because freestyle is so rarely taught.
What I am looking for in technique for freestyle is different from what a non-freestyler would look for…I don’t care so much about trick passes, for example. I’ll forgive cleanliness to a certain degree, in favor of other elements I consider more important for the genre. I don’t give a shit if you go up the pole at all – in fact, in my class, the majority of students stay at the base (I can count on one hand the number of students I have had who have gone up the pole with any regularity). Going up the pole doesn’t show me anything about your Freedance Technique unless you do the work to incorporate it into your aerial work.
Do I feel like Freedance has a place in competitions? Yes. I do. I’m actually really excited about the idea of it, because it means that there’s a chance that Freedance will a) become more widely understood, accepted, and even celebrated and b) more people might be willing to try it.
That said: I think there’s an opportunity to educate pole competitors on how to work within the genre for competition, as well as for judges to learn what to look for while judging. PSO stated that the category was judged on a technical scorecard because it’s still experimental, and the artistic scorecard includes elements that would be difficult to apply (which is true, from my experience) – I’m curious to see if they develop a new scoring system for this category, if they continue to include it – or if they provide any other training/education around the concepts of Freestyle Technique.
Do you have thoughts on Freedance in competition? Comment below!
Recently, I had my first experience being a judge for a pole competition. The experience was awesome and educational in more than one way – I’ve written two blog posts about it for Bad Kitty and Pole Sport Organization, but I wanted to write a third, from a more personal place.
Having been a competitor in the past, as well as a performer who has received feedback from professionals, I have some experience with judging notes. On the whole, I would say that most of the ones I have received have been…lacking.
I think most judges mean well. But, what I have found that I crave – and this is true of most of the competitors I have spoken to – is not only flattery (duh), but constructive criticism/feedback. Yes, we as performers and competitors want to know what we did well! But, we also want to know what to work on, and if possible, to have a clear explanation of it.
These types of notes give us workable goals to think of for our next competitions or performance, but also for our overall growth. As such, my goal as a judge was to give strong, positive, constructive feedback to each competitor. My advice for any person who is going to be judging a competition or feedback showcase would be:
Remember to be kind
This is especially important for competitions that include amateurs, but I also personally believe it’s important for the pros, too. Everyone wants to be told they did well and to be recognized. Even if their routine needs a lot of help, picking out one or two small details or moments and celebrating those in your notes can make all the difference in encouraging the recipient. Remember that people thrive best in pole when they feel validated for their hard work. We all love getting the stuff that we couldn’t get the week or month before, and this is similar – and, that sometimes, competitors don’t know they did something cool. They may just be focused on some mistake they made. Let them know that they are seen and recognized for doing something well!
Even when I watched someone who clearly struggled, I tried very hard to find something positive to say. People often know when they struggled. And, this doesn’t mean you have to overlook that, but…try to find something positive. An example for you: I watched a competitor who truly had a rough time with their routine and connecting to the audience, but they had a couple of small moments that shone through – a spinning climb on static, and the joy on their face on their spinning pole pass. So, I took a moment to mention those at the start of my notes. It’s a small, kind gesture that can encourage someone to keep going with their pole journey.
Be constructive in your criticism
Based the feedback I heard from my friends regarding their judging notes, the ones they appreciated the most were the ones that gave them clear ideas of what to work on. I tried to do this with every competitor, even the ones that were awesome. Constructive criticism can be anything from “remember to point your toes” to things like audience connection, costume effectiveness, pacing and energy, an increase in difficulty of tricks, and any host of other suggestions to improve the strength of a routine. Always try to find eloquent ways to express these criticisms. Some of my favorites were, “For next time, I would like to see you do [insert constructive note]” and “For the future, I would like you to work on [constructive note] to strengthen your performance.” Framing it as “something to work on for the future” can help a competitor really see it as a workable goal, instead of just a critique. If you do need to make a deduction, check to make sure you have it correct (at PAAC, I was personally deducted for something that was NOT correct, but the judge either did not listen, or was not informed). Ask the panel assistant, or your fellow judges, if you aren’t sure.
Also, remember that many competitors will suspect what they need to work on, but still want to hear it from someone else. When I did my PAAC routine, I knew I didn’t get enough momentum in my spin, and that I did not have a high difficulty level to my tricks, so it wasn’t a shock to me when those notes came up. It just reinforced that I needed to work on those things!
Take your time
Yes, you generally have a time limit within which you must finish your notes and scoring, but…don’t rush it just to beat the clock. Say what you want to say, and take that extra 30 to 60 seconds to let the competitor know your thoughts. Providing fuller notes only enriches the experience of the competitor, but also, it gives YOU more experience. I don’t think I got any notes done in under 2 minutes, and I would say that I was under 3 minutes maybe 50% of the time (maaaybe), and nobody cared. It doesn’t take all that long to say something of value.
Sometimes, people do need the truth put to them. I will admit to having given a few notes that were terser than others, particularly in moments when I felt the competitor was sandbagging (a pet peeve of mine), or when they had potential and did something that I felt took away from the performance. An example would be a competitor I watched who started out super funny, but who – in my opinion – did nothing to sustain it. Without the dynamics and hard work that I saw from other competitors, their routine felt boring, as if they were relying on one gimmick to get them through, instead of having put in hard work to create a full routine. Keep in mind, that is MY personal opinion of what I saw, and my notes reflected it. I know another judge on the same panel absolutely disagreed with me!
Which brings me to this…
Judging is very subjective. Just because your neighbor loved something, doesn’t mean you have to. One thing that is interesting to me is the issue of handling deductions. During my pole panels, we generally didn’t chat much amongst ourselves about the performances, save for when there were some obvious deductions. But, in the lyra panels, there was A LOT of talking amongst the judges about the deductions – everyone consulted each other, and in general, the judges were a little more critical about what they saw. Again, if you ever aren’t sure about a deduction, ASK! 🙂 On a side note: There were definitely some issues this past PPC with judges not being informed of when competitors had gotten moves cleared ahead of time, so they were adding deductions for things that had been okayed by PSO, which upset me – I do hope they fix that issue soon.
As a competitor, you must be prepared that some judges will love you, and others…not so much. Case in point, in my PPC 2012 routine, one judge gave me the highest score on the board – a good 20 to 30 points higher than most of the others. I still don’t know WHY, though. I got very few actual notes back. Just try to not take it personally!
Remember that part of your job as a judge – as I see it – is to help these competitors be better! Providing excellent notes helps – it really does. So, if you’re thinking about judging soon, or you plan to in the future, keep these tips in mind. It might make all the difference to someone you watch. 🙂
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. 🙂
Last night in class, we started conditioning for handsprings – exciting and scary! Back in the fall, I started learning the original mount position for a twisted handgrip handspring, but I was not strong enough (nor flexible enough, although I am not that flexible now anyway) to be able to hold it or even really get into it with any ease. We were not at the place to begin the launch conditioning, but my instructor at the time (Autumn, who just had a baby!) just wanted us to learn what it felt like to be in that position. I’ve been conditioning twisted handgrip to go into aerial ever since, but haven’t revisited the handspring launch position since then. Drea brought it in this week, so we can start getting familiar with it now, even though most of us aren’t quite ready to go full aerial. She’s teaching us twisted first, because we’re all still conditioning that grip up on the pole – it’s the Jenyne Butterfly dead lift version of a handspring, I think. I was able to get into the position with a lot more ease than in the fall, and I could hold it for longer, but I wasn’t able to get up yet – whatever balance and strength it takes with the bottom arm isn’t conditioned yet. But, it’s conditioning I can at least work on at home – I can work on staying in the launch position to get used to it and doing little controlled hops to work on the core conditioning.
On top of that conditioning, I also have homework conditioning to do to get caught up on straight leg inverts – I am woefully behind on that (when compared to my fellow classmates, which I shouldn’t be comparing myself to, but whatever). Straight leg inverts have always bothered my back a lot – I used to have immediate pain from them – now, I can do a few, but either go home and feel pain that night, or all the following day. It sucks. I still can’t get up with straight legs, either – so, I feel like I’m hurting myself for no progress. It’s a source of a lot of frustration for me. Drea gave me baby step conditioning to do to work up to it, which is good – it’s just really upsetting that my body won’t do what I want it to do.
On the plus side, I was able to do the butterfly from the floor mount (as opposed to an inversion to get into it), which is something that I had tried once with Autumn, too. Last week, I hadn’t done proper stretching on my left leg to allow it – I tried to get into the position and whatever I messed up in my knee last year twanged hard enough that I aborted it without trying the trick.
In other news, I will be volunteering at the International Pole Masters Cup Championships on June 21st – I thought it might be neat to see what goes on at the event, even if I don’t get a chance to watch the show itself. I may be doing a second day of work/volunteering at the Pole Convention, but waiting to hear back on that – it would be for a vendor, instead of for the event itself.
And, best of all, I have a really fun idea for a pole-related item, which was cooked up with a member of a group of polers I chat with via Facebook – we’re looking to meet up about it next week, and I’ve enlisted my boyfriend for help with it. I would be SO EXCITED to get it off the ground!
I need to work on my PPC post and get it out sooner, as it looks like the photos/video may take a while – I finally checked in to ask about them, because I thought I would have received them by now, and it turns out that a lot of us haven’t heard back – we also haven’t received our scorecards (feedback on performances) yet, which I had forgotten about. So, I will try to get the PPC post done and up, then post photos and maybe video/scorecard when it all arrives.
Here’s a fun little pic from this week’s class – our theme was “Apron Strip”, so I brought the only apron I own (the front reads: “I keep the best snacks under my apron.”) and my “fancy housewife” rubber gloves that have fabric detailing on the ends. We are a silly bunch sometimes!
It’s really weird to not be training. I have no idea what to do with my time. My budget doesn’t really allow for me to go to more classes each week, and I’m notoriously lazy about doing pole at home (short pole, not that stable), so I really have been at a loss since PPC.
I ended up with a private class on Monday night, because every other girl in my night was out for some reason (it was Memorial Day, which I’m sure played a factor). So, Drea was great and helped me with a few different things – I totally kicked her in the face, which I felt SO bad about. I’d like to think I’m not someone who kicks people that often, but who knows – anyway, I felt terrible. I know she gets kicked A LOT, but still – you never want to be that asshole that kicks the teacher in the face. 🙂
I played with the meathook again, working on a hold technique passed along to me by Natasha – it feels better, but it’s hard (the entire thing is hard, though). My armpit grip is pretty strong, while my hand grip sometimes is not – my wrists have been acting up since I started training and aerial conditioning. I’ve never had the strongest wrists, but I had issues with my hands locking up while training – since then, I have only a certain number of solid grips to use each class. I’m hoping that it’ll get better over time. I worked on some shoulder mounts, aerial pencil, etc. I also did the crazy splay leg climb we saw at PPC. 🙂
I have class again Monday, but tonight I went to see Kat perform at Believe Fitness Studio in El Segundo. (I’m writing this post while my video of her performance renders on my laptop.) It was a Girls Night Out sort of thing, where new/prospective students can see performers of all levels/types, as well as have a few drinks, snacks, and shop a bit. It was super crowded, so while I got there early enough to get one of the “free week of pole” spots they were giving out to the first 30 people, I wasn’t able to get a spot in the room for the first half of the performances. But, I got to chat with Kat, and I was in the room for her performance, as well as an amazing doubles aerial hoop (Lyra) performance. I loooooooove watching hoop, and doubles routines are so interesting – I would love to be able to take pole, silks AND Lyra. Oh, Universe…please help me out with affording these classes! 🙂
Since I have three free pole classes at their studio, I’m taking advantage of the two that don’t conflict with my regular class, just to get some extra pole time in. The studio is SO FAR AWAY from where I live that it’s not practical for me to go down there for drop in classes, unfortunately.
On Sunday, I’m also headed out to support Kat – and Drea! – at Girl Next Door at King King in Hollywood. Tickets sell out quickly, so if you haven’t gotten yours, DO EET! Kat’s performance is going to be sick (it’s secret, but I’ve got insider info, and it will be MUST SEE), and Drea is always amazing to watch.
A few fellow Pole Gals started a little secret group on Facebook for some of us to chat, post videos/pics/questions, etc. I posted something today about a fitness challenge I saw online, and it turns out that a few of the gals are interested in joining in and keeping each other accountable! That’s great – I need that! I’m notoriously lazy. 🙂
I know I owe y’all a post about what I learned from PPC – and I promise to write it soon. There’s a slim chance it will be reposted or reprinted elsewhere, so I’ve been holding off until I can think of a good way to frame it before writing it. I did do a breakdown of what I spent – although, I think I lost the post-it I wrote it on (I am a post-it hoarder…it’s a side effect of being a list maker and random note taker) – and it ADDED UP. Holy shit. I did add in expenses that may not have been necessary to add, but still…wow.
Also, I’ll post some of the Alloy Images pics – and maybe video – from PPC as soon as I get them. I got all dorky and bought a Living Social coupon for a custom photo book, so I can get the photos printed in a manner that will keep nicely over time. 🙂
Oh, and the title of this post? Comes from the fact that Kat wore chaps in her performance tonight. It was amazing.
Here’s a cool, short video of Jenyne Butterfly doing some Lyra and pole:
My boyfriend and I arrived early at the hotel, having booked a room tonight, in order to make my early performance tomorrow a little less tiring. The hotel is nice, and our room is lovely – ordered insanely priced room service (salmon salad is a winner!) and have been relaxing for a while.
This might fall under TMI, but it made me laugh: I walked into the bathroom a few minutes ago and, as I sat down to pee, I caught myself doing hand flourishes reminiscent of ones I have in my routine. I pee fancy!
I am stressing so much about the little things I desperately want to fix in my routine, so much so that I am having wild thoughts of adjusting choreo (bad idea). That being said, there has been a lot of love and support coming my way from my friends and acquaintances. I am so appreciative of it all!
Look for more updates throughout tonight and tomorrow! Here is a pic of some of my lists related to the competition…I make lists when I am anxious. 🙂