Competitor diaries: Part 1 – I think I’m mostly ok

I recently decided to enter a pole competition because hey, I’m not getting any younger. I felt that I’d always regret it if I never had a go, and I think it was the week I turned 30 that I submitted an entry to Supreme Poledown. I’ve been poling for a few years now, and I’m lucky that I’ve had the opportunity to perform at our studio’s showcases, and even occasionally at our local rock bar a few times. But a pole competition is a whole different ball game.

What drew me to this competition specifically, was the emphasis placed on showmanship and choreography, which I like to think are strengths of mine – more so than show-stopping tricks or strength. I had months to prepare, and so I made a rough timescale that looked like this:

Oct-Dec 2016: Decide on a song and work on stamina
Jan-March 2017: Create and perfect a routine

You can see it’s not quite as detailed as maybe a plan should be.

My goal for the performance isn’t even to win. It’s to be adequate. I want to fit in with other polers, to hold my own and put on an ok routine that people enjoy, as well as get a decent video recording that’s a fair reflection of my ability. I want to know myself, challenge myself, and be accepting of the result. Basically, I just don’t want to embarrass myself or look like a dick. I don’t need to be Kirsty Sellers (if only).

The start of January was when I wanted to start working HARD.  However, at my very first practice session after Christmas, I had a full on breakdown. I was still fat and slow from too many mince pies, full of January blues and struggling with getting up at normal times again – all of which aren’t conducive to a decent training session, let alone to helping you think creatively. I tried to dance to my song and basically burst into exhausted tears. Luckily, the amazing and experienced Sara Fenney and Kat Loveday were on hand to talk me through it, tell me it would all be fine, and no, that this wouldn’t be my last panic. They told me to remember the reason you decided to do this, and that’s all you have to achieve. And they’re obviously right! I was well aware this would be an emotional rollercoaster – but competition prep is a whole new level. Pole can make you feel vulnerable at the best of times, but putting yourself, your skills and your style up on a stage for people to judge you is the ultimate exposure, so it’s not surprising that these little moments of panic in the run up to a competition are so common.

So where do you start? If you google it, there are a few articles and blog posts here and there about how to get ready for a competition, but none of them really helped me. I felt like they spoke quite broadly and best-case scenario-y, rather than a realistic approach for more normal people. Over the last three weeks I’ve kind of fallen into my own a little process, and thought it might help to share what I’m going through for anyone else preparing for a performance. If nothing else, it’ll hopefully help me out if I ever go through this again. Anyway: here are some things I’ve learnt to far…

How to prepare for a poledance competition

  1. Avoid the abyss: Map it out

After my panic, I had an intensive three hour session studying and analysing other people’s competition routines. It put into perspective how little of a routine is actually traditional pole moves, floorwork and dance take up a massive proportion of the time. I also studied how time is generally split between the two poles (for those who don’t know, competitions use two poles, with one set to static and one set to spin). Most performances generally start on one pole, move to the other, then finish on whatever they started on, so only two “changes” occur, minimising any clunkiness. In fact, one of the judging criteria is how creatively and smoothly you can move from one pole to another without it feeling jarring. Based on this research, I wrote out the lyrics to my song into an Excel spreadsheet (yes, really) and colour-coded which bits of the song should be on which pole, mapping out my static pole, spinning pole and floorwork. This gave me a framework to sort myself into when actually choreographing, stopping myself from that moment of terror, when you look into the abyss of OH MY GOD I COULD DO ANYTHING SO HOW COME I CAN THINK OF NOTHING. We’ve all been there.

2. Set micro goals

At the start of each training session I make a plan of what I want to get out of my time. For example, creating new choreography for a bit of the song I haven’t worked out yet, working on my flow in a section that I know is still clunky, getting more confident with spinny pole, or just training stamina and memory by running it again and again back to back. So even though I don’t have a timetable, at the end of a practice session I mentally feel a little win, because I set an objective, and I met it.  I feel like drafting a full on timetable would stress me out more, because if I missed a target, I’d panic. In this way, I can work out how much time I have, what I’m in the mood for, where my energy levels are that day and make sure I work to a realistic goal that moves me forward at the end of it.

3. Don’t stop dancing

I’m well aware that on the day there’s a good chance I could entirely forget what I’m doing. It will be a whole new stage, different poles, judges and a big audience to put the pressure on. So as a back up plan, I keep training my freestyle skills. Dancing to completely different kinds of music to my performance song also gives me a little break when it’s driving me crazy listening to the same ten second clip for the hundredth time! Recently I’ve been really into blues, which is entirely different from my routine.

4. Don’t abandon everything else

Even though all I feel like I should be doing is routine, routine, routine, I’m still attending the same pole classes, silks classes, yoga and flex classes that I usually do. I don’t want to forget why I love pole, or lose too much strength or flexibility in the pursuit of one routine.

So it’s eight weeks to go, and I’m feeling surprisingly good. I’ll update closer to the time, and hopefully any future breakdowns will be only minor!

I’d love to hear from anyone else working on routines right now – get in touch if you want to chat! xxx

[Update: Go to Competitor Diaries: Part 2 – Getting sick of it now…]