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Is Freedance Suited for Competitions?

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.

Dance it out. Photo by Alloy Images.

Freedance photo by Alloy Images.

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.

VertitudeAlloyApril15-DanielleC-1810

Photo a fabric freedance by Alloy Images.

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!

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How to Give Awesome Judging Notes

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!

PAAC scores

The Judging Notes that I received for my PAAC routine. The gluteal fold thing still bothers me (I had on tights!)…

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.

Be honest

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. 🙂