Irmingard Mayer, reigning PSO Artistic Pro National Champion, just put out a beautiful video chronicling her road to nationals. She shares a few tears, her adorable chubby cat and her frustrations during her 6-month journey. After watching the 5-minute video (see video here), my first thought was, if I created a video of my competition journey it would need at least PG-13 rating at least as all my practice videos end with “shit! Shit! SHIT!” and unnecessary violence committed against my iPhone. There would be significant arm flailing as my foot is perpetually just out of reach, more tears, and more yelling followed by pacing while mumbling and hand rubbing. Suddenly when it’s just me, a pair of chromes and the camera I become terrified of my trix and resort to pacing, followed by a bipolar mumbling half evil coach “you’re terrible, you suck, why can’t you do this” and half positive self talk “you’ve got this, you just did it, do it again” while rubbing my hands together over and over to keep them warm and grippy but not too sticky.
Competition is hard. Really hard. Moves that once were the crème de la crème of pole dancing are now everywhere (remember when a flat jade was like “DAMN”?). Everyone seems to be into contortion-level flexibility and everyone has deltoids that make body builders jealous. Every routine is amazing, every costume is perfect, the storyline epic and the eyebrows are always on fleek. So how does the newbie competitor or even the seasoned competitor keep up? Especially if pole is not your full time job and even if it is – how do you find time for your own pole work while preparing lessons and keeping your body from completely and utterly giving out on you with repetitive stress injuries a very real possibility?
If you’re a teacher, start by following the advice you give your students. Breathe. Not just in and out of pole moves but also in how you’re prepping for competition. There will always be things outside of your control. And if you’re a student, listen to your teacher and breathe already!
Identify how much time you can give to competition prep. Ideally you should have 3 months or more before starting on your piece. Map out how much per week you can give to competition prep, with more time being needed a month before. Can you give 1 hour a week? Can you give 3 hours every day? How much time you “need” depends on a lot of factors like what moves you’re doing/your comfort level with the moves, how long you’ve been poling, the specifics of your competition/level and if you’re already injured or prone to injury. Once you have a broad idea of how much time you might need and how much time you can actually commit – schedule it in your day planner (ok, I’m old), your Outlook, whatever. MAKE SURE YOU SCHEDULE A REST DAY. If you are poling, conditioning and/or stretching 6 days a week, please, do your body a favor and rest at least one full day. Ok you can take a walk.
Be kind to yourself. As a teacher I am super supportive. I tell my students it is ok if they don’t get a move, to “listen to their bodies” and all sorts of other happy, “pole is fun” rhetoric. As my own coach and (de)motivator – I’m pretty mean, waffling between my bipolar evil internal coach and a timid “you got this!” cheerleader. Some people are at their best when they are being yelled at – I am not. But flipping that internal switch to not be so self-critical is hard. Some training days are just gonna suck and you have roll around on the floor or do something that does NOT (shock) involve pole dancing. Read a book. Talk a walk. See if you can recruit an external motivator like a coach, a buddy or your partner/spouse to help out both early in the process to bounce ideas off of and close to competition when the stress level is at it is highest. You’ll likely be alone working on your routine by yourself a lot so it’s important to identify your inner critique and start working on getting her to shut up. Pole is a mental game and competitions magnify that 10 fold. Being down on yourself and saying you suck will actually make you suck.
Most of all remember to have fun. I LOVE being on stage – I don’t care if I’m speaking, dancing or doing a live cooking demonstration, I love, love, love being on stage. Sometimes in the worry about if my competition piece is good “enough” or hard “enough” or if my toes are always perfect, I forget to have fun. And when I don’t have fun on stage you can tell. The pieces that I just said “f-ck it, I’ve practiced as much as I could and I’m doing the best I can” were the ones that were executed the best. You can’t control the poles being slippery or that some ex-Russian gymnastic prodigy is making her big debut in your category but what you can control is your attitude. TRY to have fun, remember why you’re doing this in the first place (hopefully you’re doing it to have fun and/or because you also love being on stage) and let the chips fall where they may. Your face will show it and you’ll likely place better than if you melted into an annoyed little puddle.
Always do a “lessons learned” session with your self after the competition even if you won first place and see what worked and what didn’t. I had a big breakthrough when I decided to do my own choreography instead of working with a choreographer. I would worry too much about missing the right cue doing movements that weren’t natural to me. Once I focused on doing “my” moves, even when I missed something it still looked ok and my body naturally freestyled onto the next movement instead of making the “oh shit” face. I placed the same in competitions when using a choreographer and when doing it alone so why not be more comfortable and just go it alone? I do still challenge myself by putting in trix that I haven’t perfected yet and work on them during my competition prep but the details, the dance and the actual transitions are things that my body wants to do naturally.
Maybe you’ll find that you need a choreographer, or you need more rest days, or maybe you need to go up or down a level or try a new competition with different rules to see if that might be a better fit for your goals. Whatever it is, learn and move on. Don’t focus on the judges not scoring you high enough or the music being weird, your prop failing or whatever random thing happened to you the day of. You can practice and practice and practice and still something will go wrong. My last competition was the best run through I’d ever done and I broke a toe the night before. I just said, “f-ck it, let’s have some fun” and I actually did. Of course I was nervous and boy was I in pain later, but I had given all the time I could to practice (I’m sure I could do more and I’m sure my competitors did more) and that was that. I hope to channel that same level of self awareness for my next competition (22 days and counting!) despite my last practice video ending in “shit, shit, SHIT!”
If you’re with me and Irmingard on this crazy pole competition journey, whatever level and style you’re doing, good job and remember to breathe. We’re all in it together.