Monday, November 7, 2011

Mean Girls

In our evolved, western society it seems there has always been a higher archy of women...whether it's the saint vs. whore, the wealthy vs. poor, greek vs. freak...we like to set a tone and make a statement about WHO deserves our time and who doesn't.  I'm kind of guilty of doing this.  I'm guilty of getting in a group of friends and deciding who's attractive, who isn't, who's worthy of attention, who's not, who's a whore, who's not, who's tacky, who's well dressed, who's classy, who I will spend time on who I won't, who has value and who doesn't.

I never actually thought this behavior and mindset would make it's way into the pole community.  I never thought I would see divisive commentary publicly from pole dancers, I never thought I would see women make rude comments in a pole class about their prowess, I never thought I would see women tear women down IN THE POLE COMMUNITY.  When I started pole dancing there were so few of us that it didn't matter what talent anyone had - we were elated to speak with one another, excited to know there was a world beyond our own pole rooms and youtube... in know the women on youtube were REAL, was an amazing thought.  2hen I first started pole dancing I didn't know anyone who pole danced for the sake of pole dancing personally, I didn't know that pole dancing was thing that came with a community.  I quickly found a community of intelligent, honest, caring women who welcomed me into their fold with love and encouragement.  This was not what I expected when I googled "pole dance moves" and found the Vertical Dance website...I was also shocked to realize that most of the women involved with that board were European. (What?!?!  The world doesn't revolve around America?)  So, not only were there few Americans online, there were few women from my state online.

My First
I met my first pole friend on the VD forum...I actually sent her a crazy private message because I couldn't believe my luck!  Another woman from Michigan pole dances, like in her house, like for fun, like does tricks and stuff?!?!?!  I am shocked to this day that "Kisentia" actually agreed to meet me - in a public place - ofcourse, I'm sure she thought I was nuts.  Well, I showed up at Olga's Kitchen at the Westland Mall on like NO SLEEP (I was guest djing in on a morning show for a friend of mine who then worked in the Cayman Islands) and fell in love with "Kisentia."  Immediately we made a short list of the one other person we knew who pole danced and had a pole jam!  We wanted to experience the fun sharing and sisterhood we saw in the European communities so we got together with the one other person we knew and rocked the pole silly!

Since then Kisentia and our other pole friend have gone on to become Mommies so I haven't been in touch with them for awhile, but that doesn't mean I don't think about them - especially as I write this and as I begin to experience more negativity and competitiveness from the pole community.  Back then, I thought, believed that we could ALL get along, that we were a sisterhood.  I guess I was wrong.

Pole Dancers Are People
The reason my utopia of beautiful women of shapes, sizes and ages cannot exist is because pole dancers are people.  I don't like every person I meet and quite frankly most people probably don't like me.  We co-exist on this planet together and work not make waves or ripples in those lives who we've shunned, and sadly yes, I've shunned my fair share of people and pole dancers.  Why?  Because no matter what bond you might think you share with other people at the end of the day you have to decide if that person is a right fit for you and if they aren't - you have to cast them out.  You HAVE to.  You can't surround yourself with people who are unequally yoked with you whether friend, lover or pole dancer.

What troubles me is when you get beyond the whole people thing and we still cannot agree, cannot agree to disagree and cannot move forward in the promotion of a greater cause - pole dancing.  Yes, I'm well aware that pole dancing won't feed the hungry, won't bring about world peace, won't cure loneliness, sadness, HIV, cancer or any of the other real problems that face our world; pole dancing can cure one thing...the female higher archy.  Pole dancing should bring women together who would not likely be friends to spend precious moments together in a vulnerable setting.  We may not agree with the direction of pole dancing or what it even is but we should all agree that it is a sisterhood that is in fact quite rare to find.  Who else do you know at least weekly strips down to their underwear and dances around sexily for the same sex for free?  Who else do you know works their ass off to nail some random upside down thing that will likely end in bruises and frustration?  Who else do you know in your personal like who could possibly understand the desire to dance or hang from objects?  Who else can you share your addiction with?  Your secret?

Why it sucks when you steal my tricks
I've read so many amazing articles on how to become your own woman and flourish in her and her ways.  I've learned to accept the dancer I am and work to make her better but also to enjoy my body and the things it can do.  I've learned to be pleased with the joy of moving even if it's not beautiful because dancing is freedom - and that includes the freedom to move in an ugly way so long as it feels good.  I've learned that it doesn't matter how good I am  if I'm dancing with a smile on my face.  I've learned that I don't care where I rank in the world of dancing much less pole dancing because this is something that feels good inside out.

What I haven't learned to accept is negative, competitive behavior.  Why does it suck if someone takes your trick and claims it as their own?  Because we all want affirmation that we are good.  When someone takes what's yours or even is inspired by you but would rather not discuss where the inspiration came from - that feels bad, feels like maybe I suck so bad you didn't want to mention my name or be associated with me, or it just let's me know that you are so crazy insecure that you can't give credit or more importantly respect to another pole dancer unless they are famous.  It tells me that you are more concerned with being *awesome* than with being a sister and a good person.  It tells me that I need to be a mean girl with you and not let you sit at my lunch table, and to be honest, I'd rather have you sit with me and share in all of our knowledge together and grow with you.  I'd rather you become apart of my journey and I apart of yours.  I'd rather respect one another.

Why I Give Credit
I tend to name moves after the person I saw do it...why?  I like for people to know the inspiration behind what I'm thinking.  I am so excited to find things other dancers do that I want to work with and I want that dancer to know she inspired me.  It feels good.  It's kind of like putting good energy back into the sisterhood so we can continue to grow together and develop new moves, tricks and styles together.  Without the sharing of ideas what would pole dancing be?  How many of us have watched a youtube video - mimicked what we saw and gave our inspiration no thought at all?  I know that I have and try not to do that, I think it's important to put kindness and love back into the fold, I sincerely believe that through the inspiration of others I have been able to create and inspire dancers myself and that is an amazing gift.

Is Being the BEST Worth It?
I'm not saying that pole has not turned from a sensual art into a sport - it totally has.  I'm not saying that a bit of competition isn't a good thing, it keeps us on our toes!  I have even had a very healthy, fulfilled, competitive relationship with another pole dancer.  I miss that relationship something fierce...I miss being impressed, inspired and pushed to get as good as Pole Dancer X.  I miss her cheering me on, I miss cheering her on, I miss working by myself at home thinking Pole Dancer X is so going to freak when she sees this, or "Oh yeah Ms. X got what?!?  I'm going to get it in half the time!"   I miss that competitive and loving relationship...but you know what?  We always gave each other respect and props for all the things we taught each other.  We NEVER got caught up in being better than each other, just becoming our own better dancer and we both relished in one another's success.

Winning and being the best at anything requires sacrifice.  You will not be a champion pole dancer without making sacrifices somewhere.  You won't be good at anything without sacrifice.  I ask though, is it worth the bad attitude to be a winner?  Is it worth it to be so self focused you've shut your sisters out?  Is it worth watching others and not being able to see through the sometimes unpointed toes and clumsiness?  Is it worth being unable to enjoy someone else's dancing for the sake of watching them dance NOT taking their stuff?  Is sacrificing your friendships, potential friendships worth a win?  Worth being considered the best pole dancer on the planet?  A title that so subjective it's not even funny?  Is being the best worth being a mean girl?  Is being worshiped worth the sacrifice of a loving sisterhood?

Fact.  Pole dancers of all abilities and notoriety suffer the sacrifice of our personal relationships due the amount of practice we put in.  Fact.  Pole dancers of all abilities and notoriety suffer the sacrifice of our bodies and our time, wouldn't it be nicer if we sacrificed together?

Sisterhood of the Pole
As I get ready to eat my mac and cheese and cheeseburger I'm left with a single thought...Let's all make an effort to produce more love, encouragement and inspiration into the sisterhood.  Let's pretend for a moment we aren't people with political views, religions and whatever else makes people argue...let's just be pole dancers and celebrate whatever kind of pole dancer your sister is.  Celebrate the stripper!  Celebrate the athlete!  Celebrate the dancer!  Celebrate the choreographer!  Celebrate the new and advanced alive!

I don't want to judge a dancer on her toes, movement, her heels or her bad kitty wear choices.  I don't, even in a competition setting, ever discount another dancer or not appreciate her.  I don't want to, even in a competition, think that another dancer is better or worse than me...I want to share the stage with her.  I want to share a class room with as many pole dancers - whether better or less skilled than me and damn it!  I want sisters who love and respect each other.  I want sisters who accept the outcomes of performances, competitions, competition auditions, gigs....whatever!  I want sisters who can look across the room and see that another pole dancer needs reassurance and give it to her!  I wants sisters who can step aside for a moment and enjoy someone else and relish in someone else's success and I want sisters who will support, love, encourage and find nice things to say to all pole dancers, I want sisters who will respect...I want sisters to respect.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Robot Dancer - Part One

There comes a point in time where you have to step outside of yourself as a dancer and watch yourself through the mirror.  You have look at your reflection, then stop judging it.  This blog is my journey, my personal diary of a journey that began early this year to find the inner performer and dancer and find a way to become emotionally available to her.  I'm not good at being emotionally available at all.  I'm not a touchy feely person, although I do love hugging, I don't like forced affection or sadness.  I cannot stand whiners or even whining myself.  I find myself looking in the mirror and feeling like human life, love and feelings are just puzzle pieces that need to be put back together.  I believe in finding solutions rather than holding onto despair.  I connect on a deeper level with very few people, I call it the circle of trust.  Making truly DEEP connections takes me a long time, I'm not sure if it's the fear of being hurt, the fear of knowing what it feels like to be betrayed and ripped open and knowing I never want to feel like that again or just simply how I'm wired.  I'm a very big fan of logic.  I love logic, it solves everything!  BUT sometimes...logic isn't enough.  You can't cuddle and hold logic, logic doesn't let you cry, logic doesn't let you love with all wild abandon, logic doesn't make you hot and sweaty.  Logically, it doesn't make sense to me to bear your sole to a world who has no use for it.  This is why I think I am so distant from those outside my circle of trust.  I think this is why I get uncomfortable when it gets personal.  The only person I connect with on a deeper, spiritual plane is my amazing and talented boyfriend - who by the way painted the picture to the left which inspired this blog.  He's the only one that makes logic go sit in the corner and be quiet.  He's the only one I can confess and bear my heart fact, he might enjoy me using some logic every now and again.

As I walk down this path of becoming the dancer I want to be - I realized I needed to harness that emotion that I hide deep within, harness the frustration and sadness, the anguish, the past lives that I would rather see buried and bring them to the surface.  It first occurred to me back in mid March in a class I was taking that I had polished these moves yet they lacked any meaning besides being really awesome and pretty.  I had channeled this thing that I think is sexy, this thing that I love so much, yet this thing was empty...or atleast I now feel like it was empty, maybe it was half full?  I had become very good at rolling my eyes in the back of my head, swaying to the music and getting lost in fulfilling the image of what I saw in my head.  Filling up stereotypical images isn't enough - in fact, I've become so good at rolling my eyes in the back of my head and losing myself in the music that I found myself hiding beneath layers of sensuality.  I started to put my sexuality on a platter so that I could hide and be safe.  I'd rather be sexy than exposed.

Then came my stint with stripping.  I began using my clothing as the metaphor for shedding my layers of thoughts and feelings...but really it was another way of hiding.  I could expose parts of my body so I wouldn't have to expose how I felt, in case those feelings we rejected, somehow invalidated.  It's easier to be rejected for being too sexy than it is to be rejected for an honest portrayal of what lies beneath.  Don't get me wrong the physical act of stripping pushed me to begin to toy with the idea of exposing myself, now it's time to play with my emotional clothing and shed that.  I am a big fan of stripping and grinding it out, there's nothing that feels better to me after a moment of hell than to whip the hair and tear the clothes off and roll around on the floor.  In fact some of those never seen before moments ARE the real moments, the moments and things I am talking about hiding, that never get seen because of fear.

It takes a lot of courage and inner strength to tap into the real you and put her out there.  It's scary.  With that in mind I began experimenting privately.  What if I listen, truly LISTEN to the music I want to dance to?  I started using visualization, popping in my earbuds and letting myself slip into the music without dancing, really hearing the words and the rhythms, envisioning what telling that story would look like, then what would it feel like...what if I could move my body and use my talents in a way that expressed how I feel or relate to this?  Then I started noticing my dancing looked different.  I stopped dancing for the mirror and started to live my visions.  At first, it was pretty ugly - without the mirror and my "logic" to guide me, my extensions were not what they could be, toes lacked pointing, I would pull up and sometimes find my shoulders were slumped over.  My dancing FELT better but was so much more raw and unrefined.

How do I express myself and make it pretty and draw people into my world?  How can I intoxicate?  I knew I had to start really working on FEELING the extensions and the power of the floor and the air beneath my feet.  Then it hit me - it's really hard to express yourself with a long series of advanced moves.  How am I expressing my anger at repression with a handspring?  I went back to my basics - which I use as a constant in my dance life for building strength and grace - then I find of fell in love again with the feeling of just spinning around the pole.  I started to FEEL where the aysha goes, where that handspring goes and how to use it express my strength and perhaps anger, happiness, joy, love...but I could never figure out how to USE the bad ass tricks without first finding my inner spinner and falling back in love with the simple things that can be molded and manipulated with speed and grace to tell my story.

I'm beginning to shed my nuts and bolts and become a real dancer.

Monday, April 4, 2011

F@ck The Pole!

"Karol Helms F#cks the pole!"  That was the sentence that came out of a very drunken Thursday night conversation with a non pole dancer.  When the man who had once been my radio cohort and cohost told me to stop a video of myself THAT'S what he said to me.  "Karol Helms F@cks the pole!"  I was silent for a moment.

"She F@cks the pole, she f@cks the audience, she f@cks the music!  That's what makes her so F@cking great!"

Evan Branch.  Comedian, friend, watcher and supporter of my pole dancing - said the most brilliant thing I have heard in a long time about pole dancing.

I asked Evan to host the first ever Metro Detroit Pole Dance Showcase (which Karol very graciously performed in) because of his ability to see the sexual and funny side of pole dancing.  I mean were talking about a guy who thinks that every move that involves a crotch shot is the "lunchbox."  What I didn't realize was that he paid attention to every dancer and everything about each dancer.

So in a drunken conversation about yet again another one of MY videos - he asked me to pause the video and blurted out "Karol Helms f@cks the pole!"  He then explained to me something I had never seen before and gave me the missing piece I've been looking for.  He said in all sincerity "In July, you attacked the pole and made it your bitch, it was so aggressive it made me feel awkward and uncomfortable.  Now, your f@cking the pole too."

I thought drunkenly to myself - I'm not f@cking anything.  I've never let myself go the way someone like Karol or Alethea has.  I've never really f@cked the audience - never looked at them and as Kira Lamb would say made them drink my kool-aid.

Back in August of 2010 I had the pleasure of meeting and coincidently scissoring with Michelle Mynx,  one sexy half of Gravity Plays Favorites and she taught me how to "eye f@ck."  Each and everytime she did it to me I had these goosebumps going up my spine, I am not going to lie, I was a little turned on - and I'm not attracted to women in that way.  She also f@cks the audience, f@cks the pole and f@cks the music.

So where I am leading you with all the pole f@cking?  Personally, I've spent so much of time AFRAID of the fricken pole, scared of falling off of it, in distrust of my body that I've never been able to f@ck it.  I see this all the time - some of us, we're trying to bust our asses to get new moves to show the pole whose boss instead of hustling it and making it give us what we want.   The pole will provide our every fantasy and desire but we have to let it.  We have to be open to it, we have be gentle and make IT want US.  Yes, I know I'm talking about an inanimate object that has no thoughts or feelings...but still the pole to many dancers embodies challenge.  It doesn't always have to be a challenge.  When do we as dancers gain the confidence to f@ck that pole so good, it won't want anyone else on it?  All of the greats, they don't have to continually prove the pole is their bitch...maybe that's why they're great - they've already made the apparatus their bitch.  Their body is their bitch, the crowd is their bitch - it's all assumed.  There is so much POWER in controlling what you expose to your pole or to your audience.  You don't have to PROVE anything when you're dancing or performing - just show them who YOU are.  What are YOU feeling?  It's all about YOU and YOUR GRATIFICATION!

Tonight, I f@cked the pole.  I don't even know what I did but I know it felt good.  I was in control.  I knew the pole was my bitch, it didn't have a choice.  I finally felt that POWER that trained dancers that I admire and girl crush on have confessed that they feel when the DANCE.  I didn't doubt myself.  I wasn't afraid of a cold piece of steel.  I was in control.

Now, I am realistic enough to know this feeling can only last so long in the ebb and flow of self discovery and self esteem, but for now...f@ck the pole.  Make love to it.  Make IT desire YOU.  TRUST yourself and  your body.  Do what feels GOOD to your body and your pole.  It doesn't matter if you can't do a friggin iron X or some stupid advanced thing...f@ck it like it's johnny Depp and you'll never have the chance to do it again.  It feels good.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Bad Romance

My love affair with pole dancing started 4 years and 3 months ago.  I installed a pole, had lost my job, had some lingerie and a dream...going upside down on a pole.  I wanted it so bad as if being upside down would give me clarity to the issues I would soon face about my future and my career.  I got lost in the need and desire to dance around this object everyday and became obsessed with a site called youtube; which prior to this affair I had never heard of.  One sunny January day after my boyfriend had left for work I logged into the youtube and began searching videos and watching and thinking and watching and thinking then walked to pole, back to the computer, to the pole, to the computer in a dance.  Finally I decided that was it - time to suck it up and just do it.  I nailed my invert!  First try!  It scared the shit out of me because I hadn't really thought about what the sensation would be like.  At that time, I didn't even know you had to have skin exposed to grip the pole, I just kinda thought it was magic or skill or something I didn't possess.  There I was hanging upside down a peek a boo pole I couldn't even climb.  I am so lucky.  I'm lucky I survived my own stupidity and am here to even write this blog.

From that first invert I was hooked into a dangerous addiction that would take me years to get over.  Once I realized I could flip upside down - that wasn't enough.  My dream morphed into something else and I am not sure what it was now, but the feeling of power I had made me drunk and hungry for more.  After proving myself to be nothing short of amazing, I say this tongue in cheek because this IS how I felt,  I found some more moves that became my new dream...scorpio was my new drug and I had to have it and I think I actually nailed it somewhere in that fateful day I nailed the invert.  You see, I didn't know these moves were supposed to be hard and although they were difficult and tiring, I thought there was something wrong with me because all I could see was dancers on youtube doing far more "upside down" things than I what I could do in a day.  It never occurred to me that pole dancing took practice and skill because all I could see was flawless video clips of gorgeous aerial angels dancing through my head as I played on my pole.

About a year into pole dancing I had been equalized and seasoned.  I learned that the things I had been pushing my body to do were unsafe for most, yet in my head, not unsafe for me.  It was then that I ventured down the path of teaching.  Why did I want to teach?  I want to give other women the same feeling of power I had every time I nailed a trick.  I wanted to give other women that skip in their step that comes from being strong, agile and athletic.  I was still trick addicted at this time and luckily ran across some very important people that taught me to temper my tricks with dance.  The addiction to push beyond reason was still very strong in me and I needed to find others who felt the same way, that shared the same sickness, that could only get high on mastering every trick they saw.  My intentions were so very true and honest.  I wanted to show the world that I wasn't SEXY!  I'm STRONG and able to do great tricks!  I wanted to spread this gospel to other women.  I was sick.

I didn't actually start teaching until about 6 months later.  By this time I had come to see and value the human body in a way I could never value my own.  I wanted to nurture and care for the bodies in front of me and I was so soft and timid with them.  I was a virgin teacher afraid of hurting her students, afraid to let them grow wings and fly themselves.  Ofcourse there was there was the issue of liability which again scared the shit out of me more than that first invert ever did.  But at this point I had left a studio to pursue my own thing, was unsure of this decision, scared of hurting someone and finally beginning to face the fact that I was a junkie.  I wasn't pole dancing because it made me feel good, I was doing it to get high on nailing new tricks.  Oh yeah, I told myself it was for fitness but it really wasn't...I was reclaiming power I had lost in a 3 year nightmare of chauvinism.  Pole to me was POWER.  Power because I could do things men couldn't.

It was an early May morning and very warm, I set up my four poles and stood in front of scared, excited and shy faces looking at me and I realized in that moment a new kind of power.  This power had to be handled gently with love and consideration.  I immediately forgot what I was doing and felt overwhelmed with the charge of raising up new pole dancers.  I couldn't raise them to be my junkie friends.  I couldn't show them inverts and knee holds I had to start from the beginning but I myself had no beginning.  AH, but I did!  The day I put that pole up was something like December 22nd, it was a Christmas present for my boyfriend.  So clearly the feelings of that night rushed into me like a wave of sedation.  I wanted to be his sexy stripper for the night!  I wore a slutty Mrs. Clause string bikini and danced around the pole to Nine Inch Nails and fell so in love with how great it felt to dance that I kept dancing so long, he put his pants back on and said to come get him when I was ready.  Coincidently I did go get him when I was ready - I've never left him hanging, pun intended.

So in 30 seconds I relived the last 18 months of  my life and had to face an addiction and still pull myself together to raise up these women in front of me.  Deep Breath.  We all grabbed our poles and walked around it, one thing led to another and 12 women were taking turns grinding up and down the pole, giggling and blushing.  This is the moment that my life made sense.  After 3 years of putting up with asshole men who thought they were smarter than me - yet relied on me to make them successful - 18 months of getting high on the fact that I'm so strong and awesome now, I was exposed and exposing others.  I had spent so much time denying that pole dancing was sexy that I personally had a hard time teaching them to grind on the pole.  I had a hard time teaching them to be sexy and transitions fluidly.  I mean, I had always kinda tried to dance and dabbled with being sensual and did really want to be seen as that but my head never accepted that part of me.       I guess I had been so trapped by male perceptions that it became my prison and I was afraid to be anything less than strong...then in a single moment a group of women brought me back to earth.  Those women taught me far more than I could ever teach them.  That first group of women exposed so many of my flaws and gave me the desire to fix them, I'm sure they have no idea how they changed the path for me.

So why am I blogging about trick addictions and the women who broke me down and reminded me to dance?  Because.  Because we all need to check ourselves to keep our dancing authentic and feeling good.  When I tell a student to dial it down for a second, I'm not being a bitch,  I protecting that gorgeous body and pushing you into the moment I was in the first time I danced on a pole.  That feeling of nakedness, fear, that feeling of letting it all flow out, that feeling of being EROTIC, sexy and wanted, that feeling of power that comes from YOU - not your tricks, not your clothes, not your shoes, not your job...that thumping, pounding music, that cold steel pole, that lost feeling that takes into a world where everything disappears...that feeling of being girl.

How often in our day do we get to be fucking girls?  Just girls?  Sensual, pretty, weak, strong, ok, wanted, needed, desired, emotional, tearful, laughing GIRLS?  Curvy, beautiful, scared little girls.  We need to push ourselves to fear the woman inside then dig a hole for her to come out.  Pole dancing shouldn't end when you walk off your pole or out of the studio.  Pole dancing should be in our veins, in our walk, in our thoughts and I don't mean a gross obsession but we should be taking strength and courage from it in the RIGHT ways.  We have this great gift that allows us to investigate our femininity and masculinity - we should allow it to envelope us in HEALTHY ways.  It's not your tricks or your dance, it's you.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Competition Breeds...More Competitions?

1:49 am  - I can't sleep.  I just had the delicious task of going through all of my old pole dancing videos.  It's really kind of fun to see how far I've come over the years and rather cringe worthy when I watch myself way back when...eeek!  I can almost see the point where I finally "GOT IT" not moves persay but got the whole pole dancing thing.  You know the whole concept of flowing, gliding seamlessly into one thing then the other in a subconscious stream of physical ecstasy.

It was mid last summer when the whole idea of maybe, think about, maybe submitting for competitions came about.  I'm not a terribly competitive person on the whole, I don't mind losing at board games - EVEN IF My boyfriend only has to answer pi questions when we play trivial pursuit because he always seems to land perfectly on pi no matter what!?!?  This doesn't bother me, much.  I am not kidding he always lands on pi!  I am the one who ends up struggling to land on pi, I answer like a million questions in a row, land on pi, get the most impossible question ever and then have to start all over again!  I digress.

Mid last summer a good friend suggested I throw my hat into the running for a competition.  This idea just hadn't occurred to me and I certainly did not think I was even close to ready or good enough.  I wasn't, I didn't get in. What I did get was some great feedback, for the first time in my short time pole dancing I was given a critique that made me really change my angle on things and ultimately led me to being able to sell myself and get accepted into a competition.

Still the want to compete has never made me want to sign up for silly competitions just to be in them.  I've actually been a part of so called competitions with so called legitimate regional titles - Miss Pole Erotica, and watched it end in a booty shake off!  Yup!  Booty Shake Off.

Just because it's a competition doesn't mean it's good
Dancers, I know how badly we all want to reach the level of being competition quality dancers - whether it's to win a title or just know that you are super good!  But, I'm about to rain on your parade.  Not all competitions are good competitions and they are not all run by well meaning people with the best interest of the pole community in hearts.  Sometimes people just want to make a name for themselves and they don't care about you the dancer.  Need I remind you of a pole competition last year that was squelched before it really began when the organizer decided to make a VLOG defaming Bad Kitty?  That competition fell apart in just less than 24 hours after the VLOG aired when all of the celebrity pole judges pulled their names from the competition.  It's my opinion that the organizer of that particular event only cared about themselves and for a moment got so haughty they thought they were actually bigger than Bad Kitty - and no one's bigger than Bad Kitty (well, maybe X-Pole!)

That wasn't all that was wrong with the aforementioned competition.  There was very little information about judging and a number of other things pertinent to pole dancers wishing to enter.  Someone really was just riding off of the names of their celebrity judges to promote...again themselves.  It was a sham.

How do I know if a competition is worth my time?
First off let me say that any chance you get to perform in a SAFE environment (this means free of demeaning things like tip buckets) you should consider it, if it's not costing you anything.  Small local competitions can be good things if they are run by the right people.  Sometimes studios will run small competitions, by all means take part in these things after you've researched the parties involved.  I reiterate if it costs you nothing and the travel is convenient take part - just make sure the ORGANIZERS are the UP AND UP.

Red Flags
Research the people running or judging these things.  Do they have good reputations?  Have they been involved in scandal?  Have they been malicious in any way towards any studios?  Do they own studios?  Are they renowned, even locally, for their dance ability, teaching ability, organizing ability, anything?  Why are they putting on a competition?  Are they making outrageous allegations - like for example that no other competition judges fairly?  What do they have to gain? Do they have the dancers best interest at heart or are they someone who has pulled outrageous stunts to get publicity?  Do your research because you might just find out the organizer has been involved with scandals or caused them.  You might find out that the only reason they are holding a competition is to build their own name.

What is their judging criteria?  Make them tell you.  Are they using their own criteria or ripping off another organization?  If a competition is truly something you should be apart of, the organizers should have taken the time to set up their own standards.  While competition standards may bear striking similarities, organizers should have a clear cut idea of what they are looking for and they should openly share that with you.  If they are linking you to another organizations judging system they clearly have not thought much about their own competition.  Organizers should be creative!  I remember hearing one of the larger challenges at EMW was that competitors had to submit their routines in writing to judges and they were actually judged on how well they followed their routine!  Brilliant!  It's difficult and challenging and adds a new spin to pole dancing.  I might add that as a freestyle dancer I'd never have made it.  Kudos to the amazing men and women who took part and wowed us!

The competition should have an actual prize that is not available to the open public.  A proper competition comes with a title!  Think X-pose's pole princess or Pole Am Winner, Pole Drama Winner, Trixpert Winner - these are TITLES that you must WIN.  The prize should also include (some) cash.  Your win should MEAN something.

If the audience has ANY say in who wins - this is not a well run competition.  If the audience is allowed to TIP dancers in any way, shape or form - this is NOT a legitimate competition.  If the winner is decided by applause or tips - run away!  The audience's interaction should end at cheering.  Now, if a competition wants to allow judges to make their ruling but allow the audience to pick a favorite - that's fine, however the audience should not determine the winner - that's what judges are for!

I still just really want to compete
As long as you understand that some of the competitions you may encounter are not worth your time that's fine.  If you can go out, perform your heart out and have a great time - well, that's what counts the most.  I just wouldn't want any dancer to be deceived by competitions popping that seem well and fine but are truly only in place to put the organizer on the map.  Research the organizer.  Please.

While we may all want to be competitive dancers and I think it's great for dancers to have choices we still should try to extricate ourselves from people who are putting on competitions that are misleading.  If a competition is using another's organizations NAME to promote themselves, please boycott it.  Only by standing together do we weed out trouble makers.

Note - I don't think it's wrong for competitions to honor other organizations status's and rankings in determining where competitors would fall within their competition.   I just think it's wrong and highly unethical to use the exact SAME judging criteria as another organization.

Competitions I like this year
The year is still fresh although this January makes it feel as if we've already been through 12 months of hell.  So far I the competitions I am most interested in - whether competing or performing are:
USPDF Nationals and Regionals.  This organization has set the standard for pole competitions.
EMW - I hope, hope, hope Michula and Sam will do it again.  I thought they brought some truly unique competitions into our world
The Great Midwest Pole Competition - hosted by Empowerment Through Exotic Dance.  I attended the Great Midwest Pole Jam last year and had such a wonderful time.  I have total faith in the organizers that this will rock the midwest's world!
APFA They might be the new kid on the block but I believe this competition is held fairly and with integrity.
Pole Dancing Universe An international pole dance competition here in the USA?  I am intrigued.  This one is going to be good!