This time will be different: PSO Northeast 2022

Guess who’s competing at PSO Northeast in 2022?

In some ways, it feels like I’m competing for the first time, though I’m not. I’m just being more deliberate about it than I’ve ever been previously. I’m not uber-proud of either of my previous competition pieces, and it’s truly a horrible feeling. I love pole—and I have nothing to show for it.

Hello ego, my old friend.

It’s time to reign her in.

I competed for the first time at PSO Northeast in 2019, three years after touching a pole for the first time. Three years isn’t an insignificant amount of time, but in retrospect, I was very much a “baby” pole dancer. I didn’t know what I didn’t know—and what I didn’t know was just how feeble my understanding was of what I was good at and what I enjoyed. I knew only what I thought I should be good at, which I determined by comparing myself to other people in class.

In the end, I placed 10th out of the 11 performers in my category. I was devastated. I came off stage so happy to have made it through my routine—without falling or forgetting my choreography!—that I couldn’t believe the judges expected anything more of me. Their commentary was eye opening. It was my first time receiving technical feedback, and also the exact moment it occurred to me that I was supposed to be performing. That’s right: I made it all the way to comp day without asking myself, “Am I prepared to entertain this audience?” As a result, my first routine was a string of tricks, executed at varying levels of success, set to a song that was more of requirement-cum-nuisance than an inspiration or theme.

The competition was a success only in that it made me understand my shortcomings in a way I hadn’t needed to previously. It gave me ideas and motivation for the next one. I was crushed, but I was ready to do better next time.

But a pandemic arrived four months later. Studios closed, and I ended up pole-less for a full three months. During this time, I replaced in-person pole classes with Zoom-based floorwork classes. I’d recently moved apartment, so while I didn’t have a lot of furniture, I did have a folding metal chair. These things—the floor and the chair—became my new apparatuses. When my studio announced it would host a virtual showcase in October, I submitted a piece using them. I had a lot of fun putting it together. Because it didn’t require as much physical strength as pole-based movement did, I was able to focus more on my transitions and lines and musicality. I felt good at what I was trying to do, rather than a desperate imposter.

To my surprise, the studio scheduled it to run in the second half of the showcase, behind a “Warning: Sexiness” disclaimer. Sexy wasn’t my intention, but that third-party label was an indicator that, after four years of searching for “my style,” I’d finally stumbled upon it—organically.

The following spring, I entered PSO Taurus with an exotic* submission. Though I’m more proud of this routine than my first one, what I’m not proud of is the timidity that I felt internally. I held myself back. I was scared to be vulnerable in the way that a good performance requires—because I feel stupid playing the part of a confidence pole dancer, of smiling and winking and seducing my audience.

I don’t fully know why this feel like an act—or why, even if it is, I can’t commit to it. Is it because I hate my body—a hatred that’s routed deeply in anti-fat bias and my own experiences as a fat child—and feel that I have no right to get on stage and pretend otherwise?

Yes. Maybe. Partly, at least. But I’ll never be proud of a routine if I can’t push past it. It may not sound like my ego at work—because it doesn’t sound like I think that highly of myself—but it is. My ego tells me I should be doing more, which it what ultimately prevents me from showing up as I currently am.

The only way I can think to attack it is to get very clear on my intentions. So I’ve reflected on what I haven’t like about my previous competition experiences, and here’s how I’ll define “success” this time around instead:

  • I will perform for the audience and not my ego. A routine that’s exciting to watch is ultimately a routine that’s impressive.
  • I will commit to the role. I will be present on that stage, in body and in facial expression.
  • I will base my routine on moves I’m able to do, not moves I want to be able to do.
  • I will not panic-add “impressive” moves to the routine at the last minute. Every trick will compliment the routine, not be a display of ego.
  • I will let music inspire my movement. If something isn’t working, I’ll let it go sooner rather than later.
  • I will finalize my routine at least a month in advance—by October 19—so that the final weeks can be spent finessing the details and overall presentation.
  • I will not worry about deciding between exotic* and Russian exotic* right now. It’s okay that I like elements of both, that “my style” doesn’t always fit neatly into once category. I can choreograph the piece, then decide later where it fits best.
  • I will ask for help when I’m stuck. My peers who have given the best performances have had a whole team behind them, and I will not feel that I have to do this alone in order to be successful.

I’ve got five months. Let’s see what can happen with some clear intention.

*I used the word “exotic” here because that’s what PSO (still) calls it. I recognize that this word is outdated and offensive. It’s a term that’s been reclaimed by strippers, and I understand its use by pole dancers is appropriative.

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