Competitor Diaries: Part 3 – One week to go!

So, two weeks ago I had a bit of a breakdown. I’d been a bit ill, and red bull and strawberry laces weren’t helping me push through any more. I hated my routine – I thought it was embarrassing, beginners-level, clunky and ugly, I hated my song, and I was getting pain and niggles everywhere.

I was at the point where even looking at a pole was filling me with dread. Even freestyling, I could only think of moves in my routine, my whole life was one routine, again and again. I just wanted to get the whole thing over with, never think about it again, and get on with my life. To make it worse, there were still parts that were going wrong, didn’t click or I hadn’t polished enough. So it really needed the work. Thanks to other stresses back in the real world I was also eating and eating to get me through, always thinking in short term energy bursts, some crisps here, bread there, and definitely not getting my 5 a day.

All in all I was miserable and I finally realised my own head was making it worse. So I manned up. We filled the house with vegetables and pulses, I started going to bed earlier, drinking loads of water and trying to look after myself. I started training elements of my choreo to different songs to ‘trick’ myself into rehearsing. Bits of the routine that I felt awkward about, I just scrapped. And I switched my head back to where it was when all this began – to get the best experience I could, to be me, to have some fun! I forced myself to think positively, to smile while training, and over a few days, some of that anxiety began turning into excitement. There are studies that show how closely the emotions of fear and excitement are linked in your brain, and if you can switch the way you interpret all of those crazy chemicals, you can really change your mindset.  By the end of last week I was genuinely looked forward to it for the first time in ages. Such a relief!

As the competition is on freestanding poles, including a brass pole for the spinny element, the competition organiser invited anyone who wanted to to come down to her studio to practise. I wasn’t sure whether to go as I thought a bad training session with a week to go would destroy me! But I’m so glad I did – the brass pole didn’t feel too much different, and I was good to have a little practise with the wobble of a stage pole. Plus, now I’ve met a few of the people ahead of next week so won’t be walking into a room full of strangers.

This whole process has been about as emotional and challenging as I thought it would. Part of me is still terrified, but there’s now a big part full of excitement – as well as a big part that can’t wait to get back to training strength and flexibility again properly – doing moves like these…!


So here we go, the final hurdle… 5 sleeps to go!

Missed the first entries?

Part 1: Mostly ok!

Part 2: Getting sick of it now

Competitor diaries: Part 2 – Getting tired of it now!

It’s now three weeks to my competition. Two weeks ago I finished the choreography. I’d not been well, and some personal stuff going on had meant that I’d not been rehearsing as much as I needed to, and I had in my head that I NEEDED to finish the routine that day. Plus, I’d just found out that my song NEEDED to be 3 mins 30 max, and it’s currently 3 mins 42. So I had to figure out some clever cutting, and just Get Shit Done. As much as I love dance, I actually really struggle with creating my own routines that I’m happy with. I’m so much happier freestyling.

I felt awful getting up early before the saturday morning classes at the studio to make the most of the empty space. I just couldn’t warm myself or the poles up, and everything was exhausting me. Plus I had to keep stopping to blow my nose – gross. Getting frustrated and angry at myself, I left the studio, went on the hunt for red bull, fruit smoothies and protein flapjacks. And so it was on a sugar and caffeine high that I finally finished. I lay down on the ground, sweaty, snotty and exhausted and allowed myself a moment of congratulations and gratefulness for hitting that milestone.

So now it’s all about the polish. Polish, polish, polish. Toes, lines, facial expressions, little gestures and twiddles to refine and add character. And I’ve also got the point where it would be ok if I never heard this song again. I’ve been messing around with it since November now, so it’s been pretty much three months on and off of working on it. But my bespoke fit costume is in the post, I’ve bought my stage make up, and I’m getting to the point where it’s just a “snag list” as we would say in my day job!

My other pole skills are definitely falling behind now, I’m just doing my best to keep training strength as much as I can (my weekly silks sessions help so much) and just not to lose too much flexibility. I’m starting to feel little niggles cropping up in my elbow and knee, and I’m just doing my best to gently stretch, ensure correct posture and engagement and avoid any repetitive or overworking type injuries. This week I just took three days off in a row as my shoulders started to struggle -it felt like forever to be not training.


Because of the aforementioned personal stuff, I’ve been comfort eating like crazy lately too. It’s left me feeling flabby and lethargic. Now with three weeks to go I’m trying to make sure I’m getting my vits, iron and protein to look and feel my best on the big day, full of energy, bright eyed, bushy tailed, long legged, green hearted 🙂

As tough as it’s been, so far I feel like I’m handling the pressure better than I expected. I’m sticking to my plan of setting specific challenges for each rehearsal time, and save for a few wobbles, it’s working. Today’s plan is to keep rehearsing my spinny combos on the 45mm diameter pole (still missing the 40mm so much!) At the end of the session I’ll film the whole thing again and pick my next problem area to improve.

So – three weeks to go. It’s probably going to hit panic mode soon.

[Missed Competitor Diaries: Part 1, I think I’m mostly ok?]

[Next in series: One week to go!]


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…]

Performance Anxiety: Poledance like everyone’s watching

Most polers I know have a complex relationship with pole. It’s so addictive, it delivers you the greatest highs and feelings of empowerment, but also, on a rough day, there’s nothing that makes you feel crappier than a bad practice session. You feel vulnerable, weak and exposed. And nowhere are those feelings more intense than in the run up to performing a routine.

Most polers I know LOVE performing, including me, passionately. It’s a chance to show off what you can do, your strength, your trickery, your fluidity. I’ll change up what moves I perform and they style of my dance depending on whether it’s other polers or non polers watching (non polers are blown away by a crossed leg drop back but don’t give a crap about janeiro. Also, when it’s non polers watching, hello twisted grip!)

Our studio, Polefire, has a summer and a winter showcase, where the top attendees are invited to perform and bring along friends and family to show them what it’s all about. This year I found it particularly difficult. As mentioned before, I overtrained and injured my elbow recently, and ended up being out of real strength training for about 6 weeks. In that time I also became rusty on my freestyle skills; moves and flow usually seem natural to me, suddenly they weren’t (although I have to work my butt off for any strength or flex gains, fluidity has always been a friend of mine). I panicked, felt on edge, like I’d lost everything that made me, me, in the world of pole.

Poledance training: it’s all about dem toes

In the end I decided on and sacked off two separate themes and costumes within a few weeks, and just had to concentrate on the basics – finding my flow again. With about ten days to go there was no way I could put together a routine considering I was still officially easing my way back in to training and couldn’t do anything where my right arm is straight and has too much pressure on it. All I wanted was to be able to dance, to freestyle to one song without freezing up in front of everyone.

I went heavy on the emotion, choosing sad and intense songs to try to feel creative and inspired. Eventually it worked. After some stropping and dramas I felt ok about dancing again and could get through a song without feeling clunky and awkward. I choose Placebo’s cover of Running up that Hill, as the words spoke to the self-induced drama I’d enforced on myself -‘If I only could, make a deal with God, and get him to swap our places, I’d be running up that road, running up that hill…’ #emo #sorrynotsorry. The theme of the showcase was Heroes and Villains, and I chose Bad Dreams as my villain. In the end although I messed up my angles due to not rehearsing enough, I was generally pleased – you can see it here but be warned, it’s ass to camera.

On top of the pole melodrama, I’d also volunteered for my first ever silks performance. Silks is insane – there’s virtually no rest and it’s much more difficult to naturally flow in and out of moves as a beginner, being all tangled up and suspended in the air. I chose to be Kaylee from Firefly (obv) and set about a routine consisting of moves I could confidently get in and out of easily and with flourish rather than faffing around figuring out what goes where like I do with most silks moves! It was a very simple routine, but I was ecstatic that the performance went without hitch, and I’m really excited to build on that (uninjured and in training next time!) Video will follow.

There’s no doubt that I’ve lost a lot of strength, and also confidence. But it will take more than this for me to cancel a show :p

How I fell in love with Pole Fitness

A few years ago an old friend suggested we go to a pole fitness class. I hated the gym, hated running, but was finding that my teenage metabolism was leaving me and putting on weight became easier and easier. So we went to the class, nervous as hell. Would we have to be sexy, what will the other people be like? Would there be judgement?

Honestly, the class wasn’t great. It was mixed level, and as a beginner, we were sort of just left doing the same boring moves again and again rather then be inspired or encouraged. Some of the other girls were lovely, others I was intimidated by. Anyway, when my friend couldn’t go, I didn’t go, and only going once every few weeks or so wasn’t fast enough to progress. I’d look at the advanced girls going upside down, and there was no thought in my brain that I’d ever be able to do that, it just didn’t seem like something I’d be good enough to do, and I had no encouragement to the contrary. Anyway, we gave up pretty easily.

Fast forward to January 2013, the year I was getting married. I said things like ‘I want to tone up’ and ‘I want to burn fat’ – both polite ways of saying ‘I want to be skinnier’. Still a gym hater, I looked for a new pole dancing class to try it again, this time on my own.

Oh the difference. One day in January I turned up at Polefire, nervous again and not knowing what to expect. At the time, classes were downstairs at Grand Central on Oxford Road, which meant you had to go behind the bar to get there, which was scary in itself! But the girls there were amazing – supportive of every little victory, helpful, funny and outspoken. I felt like I could achieve something one day, like I might become ‘ok’ at this. The founder of Polefire, Sarah Fenney, is now a hero of mine. She sees things in you you don’t see in yourself, makes you believe, makes you harder, better, faster, stronger!

The first time I climbed up the pole to the ceiling my eyes pricked with tears of pride! I’d be covered in bruises, sweaty and aching (the first morning after your pole class you’ll discover arm and ab muscle pain you never knew existed!) I was exhilerated, I was inspired. I stopped saying crap like ‘tone up’ (which doesn’t actually mean anything) and started saying ‘muscle definition’ and ‘build up strength’. The weight fell off, but more importantly, I started to be OK with body as it was (most of the time anyway, I’m only human).

As I progressed, I started doing more freestyle and dancing. It was an outlet for creativity, to forget your everyday worries and just create beautiful shapes, losing yourself to the music, experimenting with little variances on moves to make them unique to you. Then I started doing performances, and discovered a whole new level of adrenaline. I was hooked.

When I’m stressed at work ( or about anything else) I walk into that studio and it’s OK. There’s nothing like the adrenaline of a ‘drop’ to push worries out your mind, or the excitement of getting a new move to make you feel powerful and capable. When you’re hanging upside down by your ankles, trying to rest the pole on the right bit of your back without falling, the stress of work seems a million miles away.

I always suffered from insomnia, but now I sleep much better. I think about the food that goes in my body, about iron and protein. As I’ve become more confident about my body, my shorts have got shortened and my abs are out more and more.


I’ve taken up aerial arts (particularly silks) and have started working actively on my flexibility – posts for another day!

As luck would have it, a family trip to Vegas this year is coinciding with the World Pole expo and I’ll get to train with one of my idols, Marion Crampe.

Pole is incredible, it’s a crazy sisterhood of support, creativity and empowerment. I would encourage ANYONE whatever your age, shape or size to give it a try. I’m also on the Polefire performance team, and get to frequently show off at various Manchester venues. Feel free to watch my pole journey on Instagram.

And if you’re thinking about taking a class and have any questions, feel free to just ask 🙂

Much love, Kayley