Interview with Colleen Jolly, Owner of International Pole Convention

by | Interviews

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Destynnie

Hi everybody! Today we will be interviewing Colleen Jolly of International Pole Convention!

Priscilla

Hey Colleen!

Colleen

Hi!

Destynnie

So, for everybody who may not know, what is Pole Con?

Colleen

So, Pole Con at its basic form is an event that gathers together pole dancers from all over the world. A lot of people have said Pole Con is like a big pole family reunion. That’s something we are really happy about.

Destynnie

Yeah, and I know that’s definitely something a lot of people really love, just having that family aspect of pole.

Priscilla

and having a dedicated place for everyone to get together and talk pole things that we don’t normally get to talk about. [laughs] It’s awesome, we loved it. 

Colleen

Yay!

Destynnie

So, what’s the story of Pole Con? How did you come up with it, and what was it like in the first few years of getting it started?

Colleen

Sure! So, I’m actually not the founder of Pole Con. Pole Con was founded and had its first event in 2010.

The previous owner, in 2014, just decided it wasn’t something she wanted to do anymore and I couldn’t let Pole Con stop!

Destynnie

Yeah, you can’t let that go!

Priscilla

So grateful that you took it over, for sure!

Colleen

My first Pole Con was in 2013 and I just fell in love with it, so when the opportunity came to take over the event in 2014,  I jumped at the chance and purchased the event, and I did my first event in 2015 in New Orleans.

Priscilla

Mm! [claps] Yes, and full circle bringing it back!

Destynnie

So bringing it back next year to New Orleans!

Colleen

Yeah! It’s going to be our 10 Year Anniversary, and it will be my 6th year.

Destynnie

Oooh!

Priscilla

That’s good! Good numbers all around! That’s really, really cool.

So, the last Pole Convention that just passed in June, it was in Denver.

Colleen

Yes.

Priscilla

We were so fortunate to go; again, this was our first one, and we just loved everything about it.

As far as how Pole Con has been going, and how it was this past year, what did you think? How did it go?

I mean, I thought it was a great success, but I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Colleen

Thank you! Yeah, every year Pole Con grows about 20% in terms of number of people attending.

Destynnie

Wow, congratulations!

Colleen

Thank you!

Priscilla

Yeah, that’s good for our community! That’s good news, everybody listen up!

Colleen

Yeah, that’s more people involved, more people all over the world. It’s great that we change locations every year because we wind up getting a new crew that will follow us.

We had a lot of people from Denver who were just so appreciative that we came to Denver and they could just drive.

Destynnie

Especially in neighboring states, that’s a couple hour drive just to get to Pole Con, versus across the country every year.

Colleen

Mm-hmm!

Priscilla

That’s really fun. I like that change of location. Not only does it bring people from the area to it, that otherwise wouldn’t have traveled, but for Destynnie and I, I can definitely say it was one of the motivations to get us out there.

We’re like, well, Pole Con’s in Denver! Oh, I guess we have to go to Denver!

[all laugh]

Priscilla

You get to see new places, and then to have it accessible if you’re close.

Destynnie

Yeah. It was a nice excuse for us for a cross-country road trip, because we came from Rhode Island, and we’re just kind of like, “Hey, there’s Niagara Falls on the way!” and “We might as well just drive to Denver!”

Priscilla

We toughed it out – so everyone – do that if you want to go to Pole Con and it’s somewhere far you’ve always wanted to go, just drive.

Colleen

[laughs] That is a long drive!

Priscilla

So worth it though! We’d do it in a heartbeat… We almost just stayed in Denver too. [laughs]

Destynnie

Yeah, I didn’t see a downside to just moving there [laughs]

Colleen

[laughs]

Priscilla

So, just sort of still touching on how Pole Con went this year, did you find it was any different? Besides the amazing increase that you’ve been seeing pretty consistently.

Was there anything different from previous years that you noted in terms of what you added, and what went well, what didn’t?

Colleen

Sure, so every year is. [laughs] I try to tweak the events just to respond to the community and see, you know, what are people doing, what are people thinking about and talking about.

So, this year we added a couple of showcases. We added a Para-Pole showcase, which is for polers who are differently-abled.

Para typically refers to people who might have been born, or through an accident, have maybe one less or two less limbs or something like that, and you get the Paralympics, but we extended it to chronic illness and any folks who self-identify in that way.

Destynnie

That’s amazing. That gives them the spotlight to say “even though I’ve been through this, I can still do This.”

Colleen

Mm-hmm!

Destynnie

I love that. I also noticed you had the Queer Showcase and the Black Girls Pole showcase, which was amazing. 

Priscilla

They were all so great. It’s really, really heartwarming to know that there’s such an inclusion as well, especially to see that at a place like Pole Con, because it really is just becoming this epicenter for us, and this ground where we all get together and see each other, new people, new things.

I would have never even known – I mean, of course I would always hope that everyone is getting into pole the way we all love it, as a community, but to have a showcase like that… Awesome. Really, really awesome.

That really makes people think They can do it. The worst thing is when people are like “I can’t pole,” and I’m like, “I don’t want to hear it! Everybody can pole.”

Colleen

Yeah. I totally agree, and I want the Pole Con showcases and the folks on the Pole Con stage to really represent the community, and that’s everything from ability level, gender expression, and also thematic.

So, this year, we also added the Creepy Showcase, which was really fun. I keep feeling like I need a better name than “Creepy,” but I don’t know.

Destynnie

We can brainstorm this! [laughs]

Priscilla

I think “Creepy” works, it fits. It definitely fits.

Destynnie

I like it, it’s straightforward and it tells people “This is what this showcase is about,” without them having to guess, “so, what do they mean by this?

Colleen

Yeah! Right!

Priscilla

We’re going to be Creepy! “Oh. Okay.”

[all laugh]

Colleen

We were really excited about Creepy this year, and then we also added Low-Flow and then we had a Freestyle showcase this year.

Destynnie

Mm! The Freestyle showcase was amazing. We got a chance to pop by and see that for a little bit.

I know a couple of people we talked to were actually doing it, that was their favorite showcase that they did, because there was one person who loves Freestyle, so she was excited she was able to get a chance to go on stage and do it.

The other person we talked to had never really done freestyle so this was a major milestone for her to just go on stage and do it. [laughs]

Priscilla

Yeah, no strings attached, just have fun. That’s what was very much a running theme at Pole Con too, everyone was just like “I’m just here to have a good time, share time with my Pole sisters and brothers, and everyone in-between.

I loved that inclusion and that expression, and it’s needed – people need to see that.

Destynnie

Yeah, and I think especially like you were saying, it’s a chance for pole dancers to come together as kind of a family.

The fact that the audience is all pole dancers I think helped people let loose a little bit and just have fun with it.

Colleen

Totally, and one thing that I really like about the Pole Con showcases is where it’s a non-competitive environment.

There are so many competitions, and I know that competitions are great and they’re a great way for people to challenge themselves, they’re a great way for people to get their name out in the industry, but it can also be kind of stressful and change the dynamic.

At Pole Con, we did have a competition in 2015 that shared our stage – it was a separately run event but it shared our stage – and after that I said, “No, it just changes the dynamic.” So we don’t have any competitions at Pole Con.

Priscilla

I like that.

Destynnie

I like that. So, 10 years is a really big milestone and you’re doing it in New Orleans like you said. Do you have any major goals for that year, or the future of Pole Con in general now that you’ve officially reached a decade? [laughs]

Colleen

Yeaaaaah. Oh! I have new postcards, hang on

Destynnie

Oooooh!

Priscilla

Yes, standing by!

Colleen

Okay [laughs] I’m still moving and everything is in a mess so things are just everywhere.

I’m really excited about our new branding.

Destynnie

Oooh, that looks sharp!

Priscilla

Beautiful colors!

Colleen

With the fleur-de-lis for Pole Con, too.

Destynnie

I love the galaxy theme you’ve got going on in the background of the fleur-de-lis.

Colleen

Mm-hmm! Really for this year, I want it to just be a huge celebration. When we first went in 2015, it was a big celebration because it was bringing Pole Con back.

During the sale, Pole Con 2014 was actually cancelled. 

Destynnie

Ohh.

Colleen

So, there was no Pole Con 2014. Coming back in 2015 with a new owner – people had no idea who I was [laughs] and I’m sending out all these emails like “Hey, come to Pole Con!” and they’re like “I thought that was canceled, who the hell are you?”

[all laugh]

Colleen

So, it’s cool now to go back and say we’ve got this really rich history, we keep growing, the pole community keeps growing.

I guess I just want to continue that growth, I want people to continue to come and find a space and say, “Hey, even for a few days, I found my tribe, and this was very emotionally valuable for me.” That’s where I want this to keep going.

Destynnie

I think it’s going to be amazing, especially with that rich history like you were talking about, just having this milestone of “let’s celebrate this – more than other years – let’s celebrate the community.” Specifically, the Pole Con community, where pole dancers are invited to join this family. I think that’s amazing!

Priscilla

So, I’m curious, do you plan on keeping all of the same showcases at this upcoming Pole Con?

Are there any that you’re thinking about adding, or any activities, or anything special for New Orleans that perhaps didn’t happen in previous years?

Since we were talking about it before, I’m curious. We’ll be there regardless, but yeah.

[all laugh]

Colleen

Yes, so there will be one new showcase that I’m not ready to announce yet, but there will be one new showcase.

Destynnie

We’re staying tuned!

Colleen

Because, if I add any more showcases, I think my stage manager is going to kill me. 

[all laugh]

Priscilla

Fair, fair! You’re like, “We’re just going to keep this low-key for now, I’ll tell her later.” [laughs]

Colleen

Yeah… I sent her the spreadsheet this year because I added all these new showcases, and I changed the metric for how many people can perform so things were quicker and we can have more folks. We had so many applicants I could only let in about half the people who applied.

So, she took a look at the spreadsheet, and she was like, “Um…[laughs]

Priscilla

All side-eyed, like “you sure?” [laughs]

Colleen

I’m like, “I’m sorry – thank you!” [laughs]

Priscilla

That’s a really good sign though, having that many people. It’s better to have too many to choose from, and I’m sure it was a process getting there, but anyway – continue with the activities, I’m curious.

Colleen

So, definitely the one new showcase. We’ll probably add another panel – every year, we want to add a new panel discussion based on the issues of the day.

So, we’ve got our long-running stripper and sex worker panel, which is really important to keep having those conversations. We added a race and cultural appropriation panel, that’s run by Black Girls Pole. Then, this year, we added a Queer panel so folks could talk about those issues, you know, queer issues, gender issues, sexuality, etcetera.

Next year, we’re looking at adding a plus-sized panel so that people can talk about those issues as well that come up, especially in studio contexts, but also for competitors, etcetera.

Priscilla

Absolutely, it’s very topical for sure.

Colleen

So, a couple of new structural things and then I’m working with the local New Orleans pole community, which since we were there then came back, it has changed quite a lot.

There’s a pole studio that’s just going to be a few blocks from our hotel room called Awakenings in New Orleans, run by Squeak Machine.

Squeak and her crew are great, there’s a whole bunch of other local studios that are a little bit further away from right on Canal Street where we’re going to be, and I’ve already been working with them on figuring out some neat New Orleans-specific stuff that we can add to Pole Con.

So, I don’t want to give away any surprises, but there’s definitely some NOLA-specific things coming.

Destynnie

That is super exciting, especially since you’re right in the center of all the action, it’s going to be a really fun year.

Priscilla

I love that you’re embracing the community too. When you’re there, you may as well just pole as much as you can, and with something – like you said – so rich like New Orleans, it’s going to be fantastic.

It will be my first time there when we go, so as much of New Orleans as I can drink – I mean not actually drink – but really drink in the city! It’s got so much to offer, so that’s very exciting to hear.

Colleen

Mm-hmm.

Destynnie

Now, you mentioned that, since last time you were there, the community in New Orleans has changed a lot as far as pole, but I’ve also noticed that the pole community as a whole has changed a lot. What do you think about how it’s evolving?

Colleen

It’s really rapid. I mean, honestly, I feel like the pole community is changing just in the last week or so, there’s been a lot of changes with the way that Instagram has done the algorithm; there have been continued issues with shadowbanning, which have kind of extended from the stripper, sex workers, burlesque, and exotic folks into even more of the pole sport community.

So, there’s a lot of widespread changes that are coming to the pole community from a really macro place, you know, these are some laws that affecting people from all over the world. It’s touching on our community – as well as other communities – in kind of unique ways.

I think it will be interesting to see that, on the one hand, you see pole more and more in major TV, in major motion pictures, in major cultural things like Cirque du Soleil, so it’s becoming more of a consciousness than just being in the strip club.

At the same time, as these big changes are happening, we’re also seeing changes within our community.

Like, every year we add a panel because these are questions people have: “how do I talk to people of different genders in my classroom in a way that welcoming?” You know?

You walk in and say, “Hey ladies!” and maybe not everybody identifies in that way, you know?

The pole studio should be a really safe space for people that maybe don’t feel safe everywhere.

Destynnie

I definitely agree, and I love that those panels give everybody a voice, and they allow the people who are running these studios – or maybe teaching or just running a class here or there – it gives them a chance to ask the questions they might be afraid to ask elsewhere. It creates the space for it.

Priscilla

It’s really helpful and really useful, and I love how you’re taking it. It’s not just pole as it is, as a sport, but it’s pole as it is – as a culture.

You’re really giving people an opportunity to talk about it in ways that, you know, may feel a little, “well, who do I ask? How do I ask?” So those panels were so wonderful for that, and I really think it speaks a lot to where we are as a community, and how we want these conversations to happen.

We’re not ones to be like, “no, no, just don’t talk about it,” it’s like, “no, talk about it.

We want it, we encourage it – and seeing that at Pole Con just definitely made me feel even better about the whole community, knowing that it really was as inclusive as I felt.

Colleen

Yay!

Priscilla

It was nothing but good feels at Pole Con, trust and believe that.

[all laugh]

Priscilla

So, okay, let’s see – how do you think that Pole Con has helped evolve the community?

I mean, we, as outsiders, I can definitely see the ways that it has, but how do you think?

Colleen

Boy. [laughs]

Destynnie

You can humblebrag here, it’s okay!

[all laugh]

Priscilla

I wanted to give that opportunity here, because you should! We’d love to hear it.

Colleen

[laughs]

So, I don’t know, sometimes I have a hard time, you know, there’s always that voice in the back of my head that’s like, “Really? It’s a metal pole, hunny. Like, really? This is life changing? Come on.”

But then, I do get messages from people who say, “this did help me, this did change my life. This did help me feel like part of something bigger.

 

I think with Pole Con, giving people the opportunity to meet people they wouldn’t usually meet?

We often get really siloed into people who are in our own – whatever it is – whether it’s our socio-economic group, that’s our physical location; you’ve got friends from college and you don’t expand elsewhere, but pole really seems to transcend a lot of different things.

People from all walks of life, all different backgrounds, all different challenges, and you come together and you realize, like, while we’re all different, we all actually have the same problems as people. [laughs] and that’s been my experience.

You know, as a pole dancer, all of my friends that I’ve met through pole are people that I would not necessarily have run into, and they have become some of the closest, most valuable humans in my life.

I want other people to have that experience, and I want to give the community a place, like you were saying, to have challenging conversations, you know?

Just speaking from my own personal experience, I never went to strip club until after I started pole dancing.

Destynnie

Yeah, same here [laughs]

Colleen

It just never was something I even considered? It’s not like – I just never thought about going to a strip club, so I never thought about what that would be like, or what that would mean for the people involved.

So, going and having a conversation that doesn’t feel rude, where I’m like, “Oh, you’re the house mom?” Like, “Do you like it, is it cool? What are your hours?” I always love to know how people’s real lives work, you know? Like, what is your job?

I know what my job is. I get up every day and I sit behind a computer [laughs]. But, what do other people do?

How do other people make a living, how do they deal with challenges with their families and, you know, navigate their world? I find that fascinating.

So, I hope Pole Con gives other people that opportunity.

Destynnie

Yeah, and I think, from what I’ve seen, it has definitely opened up those conversations.

Priscilla

Yeah, because, I feel like you’ve made it if all you have to do is pole. Even if you’re just doing that, even if it’s just at the club, if you’re doing pole consistently and you’re making a living and that’s all you have to do, I’m like [claps] get me there.

But, a lot of us, like you said, have day-to-day jobs. We have different jobs that notice the bruises and they’ll notice how buff we’re getting, and they’ll know – like, “what is that? Are you okay? Are you sure you’re safe?” [laughs] and you have to be like, “I’m fine, I’m doing it right, don’t worry.”

[all laugh]

Priscilla

So, let’s see, I think we may have reached the end of our questions, excluding one very important question.

What’s your favorite thing about Pole Con, Colleen?

As raw and specific as you want, but we gotta know!

Destynnie

…and knowing it can change from year to year! [laughs]

Colleen

[laughs] Yeah… I’m never prepared for this question.

[all laugh]

Priscilla

No, we wouldn’t be either, we’d be like “Uhhh, everything? I don’t know.”

Colleen

No, I mean, Pole Con is just… I mean, it sounds silly, but Pole Con is really just my life now. It’s what I do every day, it’s what I think about.

So, if anybody’s following me on Instagram, I have really vivid dreams, and maybe a couple of months ago, I was like, “F*ck it, I need to tell other people these dreams.” [laughs]

Every day in my Instagram stories, I post last night’s dream.

Sometimes they’re really fanciful, sometimes they’re really stupid, and a lot of them are about Pole Con! It’s just always in my subconscious, it’s like – I’m wearing a Pole Con shirt – this is a vintage. [laughs]

Destynnie

[laughs] I saw Bourbon Street on there, I’ve gotta grab one of those!

Colleen

This is our Vintage 2015 shirt, so there’s none left!

Destynnie

Oh really! So, I’ll have to grab one that you put out for this year, then [laughs]

Colleen

Yeah, absolutely, we’ll make a new one for our 10 Year Anniversary – it’ll probably look like this.

Destynnie

I’m down for that!

Colleen

[laughs] But, it really is just my life, and it became my family’s life.

Lakin, my partner does a lot of our design work, and he’s also our photographer. His parents have come to help out at Pole Con, and his mother, my mother-in-law, has often run registration with me.

So, yeah, it’s just become a whole thing.

Destynnie

That’s so sweet.

Colleen

So, we moved, and we’ve literally moved so that we could lower our expenses so that I could spend more time focusing on Pole Con.

Priscilla

Um, Power Couple, keep on doing what you are doing. That’s – that’s just beautiful!

Colleen

Yeah, so living, breathing, eating, sleeping… All Pole Con.

Priscilla

Yeah, I mean, you sort of took it over when it needed to be nurtured, it was a little baby bird or baby, it just needed some love, and you were there and you were ready to do it.

So fortunate to have such a great support system around you too – that’s like, let’s do it, let’s make it happen! I’m really happy to hear you got support all around, that’s the best thing. You can’t do it alone.

Colleen

[laughs] Yeah, it’s a village. Pole Con is a lot of work, and especially when we get to the day – I use the Royal We, I mean, mostly it’s me behind a computer [laughs].

But, we get to that Pole Con week, and it’s crazy, you know, the amount of volunteers, the folks who just come out to help and participate and give their energy to the event and to the community – it’s just awesome.

Priscilla

Do you get quite a few volunteers as well? Like, is it sort of throughout the whole year that people are signing up to volunteer?

Colleen

Yeah, it’s a lot.

I mean, particularly with the stage, we have so many pole cleaners. Pole cleaning is such a critical job, making sure it’s safe.

So, then we have volunteers helping check people into workshops, which is important because that’s how workshop leaders get paid, and people stuffing bags, people helping set up poles… It’s everybody.

Destynnie

Wow. Yeah, just to keep everything moving smoothly through the whole event, and then being several days long with the actual event… Wow. A lot of work, yeah.

Colleen

[laughs]

Priscilla

You’re nailing it though, I mean, you’re doing it right, that’s for sure.

Well, gosh, I mean, okay, we’re super stoked for next year. Do you have any last announcements or any exciting news that you want to share with us as like a final note?

Colleen

So, a lot of information is going to start to come out – I’ve published some information about survey results from last year: what people liked, what they didn’t like.

I read all the surveys so that way I can figure out how to continue improving the event.

I’ve already released some of the changes for next year. Mostly some pricing changes for exhibitors and sponsors, just a slight increase.

We haven’t increased prices in the past six events, so it was important to tweak those numbers because my expenses go up every year.

Destynnie

Yeah.

Priscilla

If it’s got to happen, it’s got to happen. Absolutely.

Colleen

It unfortunately happens, so I’ve published all those changes, and then I’ve got a lot of blogs in the process to explain how to apply to perform, giving people some tips for submitting those applications, and how to apply to be a paid workshop leader, how to apply to be a free workshop leader, so all that information is going to start to come out in early September.

Priscilla

And this is all on your website?

Colleen

Yeah, the Pole Con blog is a combination way for me to communicate things to folks and also a way for people to share their stuff, so we’ve got blogs on everything from pole tutorials to pieces of people sharing their experiences.

We publish those, sometimes I’ll promote them through Instagram as well, and then on our newsletter.

So, we’re just trying to get a lot of information and make sure we’ve got a lot of voices, so if anybody would like to write for the blog and contribute to the blog, please reach out to me, I’m always looking for new voices and new people, to make sure, again, we’re representing the whole community.

Destynnie

Awesome! I like that a lot.

Priscilla

We’ll absolutely put a link in the description so people can get there quick and check out all the really useful information you’ve got up there. It was really nice having that pre-going-to-Pole-Con because we were a bit Deer in the Headlights, so that was really useful.  

Destynnie

Well, thank you for your time today! It was so awesome speaking with you!

Colleen

Yay! Thank you guys for the interview, and thanks for coming to Pole Con Denver, and we’ll see you again in New Orleans!

Destynnie

Absolutely!

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