This time will be different: PSO Northeast 2022

I’m competing in November.

In some ways, it feels like a first, though it’s not. I’ve competed twice before. Yet I’m not proud of those performances, and that’s a horrible feeling. I love pole—and have nothing to show for it.

Hello ego, my old friend.

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—which was what I was good at. I knew only what I thought I should be good at.

In the end, I placed tenth out of the eleven 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 moment it first 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 a theme.

The competition was a success 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 it again.

But then a pandemic arrived four months later. Studios closed, and I ended up pole-less for a full three months. During that time, I replaced in-person pole classes with Zoom-based floorwork classes. I moved apartments, and though 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. Neither the floor nor the chair required as much physical strength as pole did, so I was able to focus on my transitions, lines, and musicality. I felt successful at what I was trying to do, rather than like a desperate imposter.

To my surprise, the studio scheduled my piece 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 the first one, I’m still embarrassed by my timidity. I know that I hold myself back. I’m scared to be vulnerable in the way that a good performance requires. I feel stupid playing the part of a confidence pole dancer, when I’m anything but.

I tell myself it’s acting, but I can’t commit. 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 a stage and pretend otherwise?

Yes. Maybe. Partly, at least. But I’ll never be proud of a routine if I can’t push past my self-hatred. It may not sound like my ego at work, but in a way, it is. It’s my ego telling me I should be doing more, which is ultimately what prevents me from showing up as I currently am.

The only way I can think to tackle this is to get very clear on my intentions. So I’ve reflected on what I don’t like about my previous competition experiences, and I’ve come up with a definition of “success” for this time around:

  • 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 ask for help when I’m stuck. I will not feel that I have to do this alone in order to be successful.

I’ve got five months. Let’s see how it goes.

*I used the word “exotic” here because that’s what PSO (still) calls it. I recognize that this word is outdated and offensive.

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