Hello, everyone! Destynnie here. This story is the debut of a community section we’ve wanted to add to PolePedia for a while called Pole Stories.
Today I wanted to go over a retrospective of my first competition at PSO Northeast.
I’ll say it up front:
It was awful.
It was awful, and that kind of made it an awesome experience.
I’m going to start the journey when I first signed up, as it gives context to the rest of the story.
I signed up in March of 2018 for this competition because I was switching studios and I wanted a goal to work towards. I wanted to push myself. I wanted the hardships along the way; and hell – November 17th was my one-year pole anniversary. How cool would it be to celebrate it in a competition?
I had just taken a workshop with a PSO winner, and I thought “man, I could do this. Why not? If I sign up now, I’ll have plenty of time to practice.”
I agonized over what I wanted to compete in. I eyed Exotic but didn’t feel it was right for me at the time, so I settled on Championship, even though I felt drawn to Dramatic. After all, with a background in martial arts, didn’t Championship make sense?
Now, I just had to focus on what level to go into. I could aerial invert and circus climb cleanly, and many tricks I knew were 1-2 points of contact. That makes level 4 the right choice, right?
Due to an elbow injury, I didn’t have my handspring anymore, unfortunately. I would later change to level 3 in a moment of anxiety.
I then promptly forgot about the fact that I signed up for a few months – save for the occasional email from PSO and a dusty whiteboard to-do list that I never looked at.
Aww, look, it’s me at my very first pole dance class! Not long before I signed up.
Fast forward to August. Registration deadline was getting close, and I hadn’t even chosen my song yet, so I hurriedly chose one, waiting a couple of weeks for editing before I could really start thinking about my routine.
During August, I quit the company I had been co-owner of, so my fiancé and I were in the middle of working on a new company. I was also beginning to plan PolePedia, which took up much of my attention and energy.
Between pulling together a new company and planning PolePedia, I was running on fumes most days, barely having any energy for my pole classes, if I had time to make it in at all.
I went from going to class 5 days a week to maybe making it in for 1. Between August and October, I also spent close to 5 weeks traveling. It was for business, to see my family, and other obligations that required it – that also meant I hadn’t been into the studio at all and I was beginning to lose strength. It felt like I was starting from scratch whenever I’d get back into town.
While I can work remotely, there were some weeks where 2-3 days were spent in a car as we drove from one place to another, and if you’re in an unfamiliar city, your productivity can suffer easily working from coffee shops and friends’ living rooms, so we would always come back to our apartment in Providence with a backlog of work to catch up on.
The beginning of October was full of trying to learn to freestyle and see what came out of it – after all, that’s what other people did to come up with competition routines, right? It certainly didn’t feel like the way I worked, and I quickly changed songs to “better suit my style.”
What even was my style?
I spent much of October stressed and worried over how I wasn’t making progress and how “my brand is now tied to my notoriety as a dancer.”
That’s a lot of pressure to put on when you know you’re running out of time to pull something together. When I signed up, I didn’t have PolePedia, and I didn’t expect to have had such a gap of practice. Freestyling to my song didn’t work, and I was beginning to feel frustrated, regretting my decision and the money spent. It simply didn’t seem like a good year to have signed up.
Late October was full of life, such as out-of-state friends visiting, planning birthday surprises for my fiancé, and of course, Halloween celebrations. Despite running on fumes energy-wise again, I could have made time to practice, but I didn’t, missing more classes and valuable practice time because, well, I was tired.
The first of November rolled around in the blink of an eye.
My song was still not easy for me to dance to. I was having too much trouble with it to make and perfect a routine on short notice. An hour before the music deadline, I edited a new song and submitted it.
There was no going back, now.
I was having some paralyzing anxiety at this point; I’m the type of person who packs a week in advance for a weekend trip. I want to make sure I have everything prepared ahead of time.
I had procrastinated for so long because I was worried about my – about PolePedia’s – notoriety. I was worried about my stamina because frankly, I didn’t have much of it. I was hitting muscle fatigue thirty-minutes into classes.
I also hadn’t done any spin pole for a little over 8 months, so I was scared I wouldn’t do well. I’m personally not a fan of the spin pole because I get dizzy easily. In level 3, everything must be 3 or more points of contact when the hips are above the head. That removes 90% of the moves I feel solid in, such as Janeiro.
I started pulling things together the way I think about it, despite warnings of “it doesn’t work that way” from other dancers. My fiancé encouraged it, partially thanks to his knowledge of me, partially thanks to his then-current writing on the theory of building a show; he had been a professional performer for a decade, so I felt his advice was sound.
I analyzed everything I could.
I broke everything down into sections; one for spin pole, which I wanted to start with to get it out of the way, one for the floor, and one for static. I identified changes in the song and planned out each section based on sections of middle-level tricks, low-level tricks, and most impressive tricks.
Truthfully, I spent 90% of my effort on the spin pole sequence because I was so worried about it. That’s part of where I went wrong.
Tuesday evening, 11 days before the competition, I went into class to seriously begin working on my routine. I had my key moves outlined, but I was still struggling with my stamina. I also ripped open the top part of my foot because of it barely grazing the spin pole each time I would begin my climb. Even with pointed toes each climb, that millisecond of contact enough times was enough to tear skin rather deeply and hinder my ability to practice as much as I needed to throughout the rest of the week.
Frustrated between the injury and my lack of stamina – despite having pushed myself to practice for four hours in one day – my body wouldn’t have it the next day. I began bulking, eating plenty of healthy fats, protein, and carbs every hour. This solved my stamina problem very quickly! But I was still coming back to pole after a pseudo-break and lacked the strength I had before.
It was 7 days before the competition, and I was trying to keep up with work, eating, routine prep, and pushing down panic attacks. I was beginning to have stress dreams, as I later found out many competitors have right before a competition.
Spin pole was proving difficult, but everyone around me was pushing me to finish the choreo. I finally settled on an OK spin section and spent two days working on a floor section that I was actually very happy with.
It occurred to me at this point that I was crafting a Dramatic routine to a Championship competition.
“I’m probably going to lose” I announced, but I didn’t mind.
Winning wasn’t the goal I had anyhow. My goal was exactly what I was going through; hardships and pushing myself through the process. I just didn’t think it would be so… all at once.
Four days before the competition. The clock was ticking down. I put together an OK static section that very day and ran through the whole routine once. I was hitting muscle fatigue and a lack of stamina again, despite bulking. I treated my body to a nice rest day, with a too-long warm bath to soothe sore muscles. I listened to my music and solidified my choreo in my head.
This was the journey I wanted, sure but now I had to actually perform after all of this.
Two days before the competition I had to revamp my spin pole section because I lost a move. I could do it on static, and a week ago I had it on spin, but it wasn’t happening anymore. This was when I began getting a little psyched out, and frankly, I was upset at myself for losing something that I had felt solid in just days before.
My whole body seemed to be complaining at how I had pushed it the past week, feeling sore without much improvement over the days. It felt like my body was slowly betraying me as I got worse at pole because of overtraining.
I woke up several times each night, feeling panicked about how time passes despite not being ready. I was sleeping in to give myself rest, but I still felt fatigued each morning, dreading the day.
There was one shining moment where, heading to the bathroom in the middle of the night, I sat down and rested my head on the window sill, looking up at gorgeous, bright clouds and watched them pass.
Clouds don’t care about time, I thought, staring up at the sky, wondering how everything would go when the time inevitably did pass enough for competition day to come.
It felt silly after the fact, but it encouraged me to make plans for the week after the competition, so I had something else to look forward to.
My fiancé, Elliot, had been incredibly supportive throughout the week. He gifted me with food regularly, and he would talk me down when I would get too anxious. He encouraged me to practice when I dreaded it and made sure I was emotionally okay, giving me extra hugs throughout the day, and pushed me to reach out to others for help.
My pole-mama, Zane, was taking extra time to help me work through sequences and figure out transitions, plying me with first-aid supplies for my foot, and staying longer after class to give encouraging words.
My partner in pole, Priscilla, took what precious little free-time she had to help me work through sequences and figure out transitions, checking in on me and giving me pep talks to help boost my confidence when it was low.
Between these three people, I felt like I had a very well-rounded support system. I love each of these three people to the moon and back and deeply appreciate everything they did for me while I was training.
That, of course, wasn’t going to make up for a lack of practice.
My body was still tired from the week before, but I realized, “of course I’m losing stamina. I’m doing the same thing for an hour or more, when I only need to do it once for a total of three minutes the day of.”
That was an encouraging thought. I didn’t care about placing, but I didn’t want the routine to be bad.
It was the day before the competition. I packed up to go to Boston as we were staying with someone in the area the night before to avoid traffic.
I had a loose idea of my routine, though I was still editing it in my head, and I hadn’t listened to my music enough to cue myself in full confidence.
I hit a feeling of apathy, so I wasn’t nervous, I wasn’t anxious; I just simply felt like I didn’t care. I was ready for it to be over so I could get back to my life again.
I had been through so many moments of pure frustration and anxiety. I had dozens upon dozens of videos on my phone from practice, half of which were mostly me laying on the ground feeling absolutely defeated. I was ready to put it behind me.
No matter how I did, I was cresting the hill… whether I wanted to or not.
The Day of The Competition
When we drove in, I was surprised at how large the hotel was, and even more surprised at how small the competition was. In my mind, it was as large as a stadium, but that wasn’t the case.
Competition day – the stage setup and audience.
I checked in at 7:45am despite not going on until closer to 5pm. I was there to do double-duty, representing PolePedia separately from competing, so I immediately turned my attention to that.
Later, people I knew began to file in, which allowed me to meet and chat with a lot of people, from competitors to members of the audience, and staff.
At noon I disappeared to do my makeup, and with the help of Priscilla, we got it done in a little over an hour. At this point, I’m beginning to feel moments of anxiety over how little I know my routine.
I had seen people performing all morning, and if I had set aside the time to polish up my routine at all – instead of a week to pull it together entirely – I could have easily done it without a second thought, but because of the exhaustion from training in the past week, I was starting to accept I wasn’t going to do well. Watching the routines from Dramatic competitors also reaffirmed in my mind that I should have signed up for Dramatic – I would have enjoyed the process and creative freedom a lot more.
I was set to watch my studio classmate perform first in our category before I went out to the competitor’s dressing room – but person after person, they began to call competitors that were after her.
I tracked down someone with a clipboard and asked when she was supposed to go on, and she looked at me in surprise; “are you sure she hasn’t gone on yet?” she asked. Peering over her shoulder, I see a list of competitor names with dashes next to the ones who have gone – and my classmate is crossed off, despite not having gone on.
I sat back down, resolving the situation and being assured she would go on after the next person, but I can’t say it didn’t make me a little nervous.
Going into the competitor dressing room was like interrupting a sacred space. As soon as I walked through the door, almost everyone was staring at me. The room was eerily quiet, filled with anticipation. Half a dozen people were scattered around the room, some walking around, listening to their music and idly dancing. Some were stretching on the floor, others were doing yoga on mats, and some were rolling their muscles out on massage balls and foam rollers.
I found a corner to set my bag down, trying to shift my mindset. I desperately felt the need to listen to my song, as I was starting to hit anxiety over not knowing it well enough.
It was game time, and… my phone was dead.
Luckily, since we drove in the night before, I packed a phone charger with me. I spotted an outlet and relocated, earbuds in hand.
Sitting in the corner, tethered to the wall by a phone charger, I felt a little silly, watching everyone else run through their routines mentally. I didn’t know my routine, and I didn’t know my song. I had run through the entire thing a total of three times – if you can count the last due to muscle fatigue and almost falling off the pole.
I had a rough outline, and now was the time I had to gear up, try to shake off the exhaustion, and put together the fine details of my routine. No practice poles were in sight, however, which was surprising.
A lady walked in – the same one with the clipboard from before.
Everyone looked up, seeming to hold their breath. She calls three people to go with her and retreats again as they follow her out to the competition side room. That’s why everyone was staring at me; they were expecting the runner. I don’t know her official title, and was the first thing that came to mind, so we’ll call her that.
Me, bugging my parents on Facebook chat while waiting in the competitor’s room.
After half an hour of running through my routine in my head and listening to my music, someone began talking to another competitor across from them, breaking the sacred silence.
Welcoming the distraction for a time, I joined in. Soon, most of the room was chatting and talking about various pole-related or competition-related subjects.
The runner came in again, and immediately the energy in the room shifted; reactions from dread, to anxiety, to eagerness or confidence came from each competitor she called away.
After the runner left, the conversation continued, softer without a few of the voices who had contributed earlier.
A haze of glitter set in, fogging the room slightly with reflective sparkles. In the opposite corner, someone was applying glitter powder to their body. She looked up, noticing everyone else looking in her direction – “what?” she asked, “if someone doesn’t like a little extra glitter then they’re in the wrong damn sport.”
We all laughed and continued the conversation. As time passed, each person would pop in and out of the conversation, switching between listening to their music or idly chatting while stretching or dancing.
None of us knew one another, but we were all friendly and quite social. Good lucks were echoed from around the room each time someone was called back, and fears discussed frequently in conversation. Perhaps it was because we were taking – and had taken – different versions of the same journey that we had a strong sense of comradery as we all talked and stretched. There was an air of understanding and allowance. It was a raw layer of people that you don’t normally get to see.
The room felt timeless, but checking messages I sent as I walked in, I had been in the room close to two hours before I was called back by the runner, set to perform second to last.
Right before I left, someone else came in to grab their pole bag and said, “the spin pole is really powerful, be careful.”
I didn’t feel nervous walking up or going behind the competitor’s screen next to the stage. I checked my grip and settled back into the corner, trying to keep warm by dancing. While the audience had it too warm, the stage was almost too cold. The spotlights from the stage were blinding from where I was.
Next thing I know, someone else holding a clipboard comes up and asks for me and when I’ll be ready for the music to start on stage. I’m starting to get a little worked up, a little tingly all over, but not as nervous as I felt I should have been.
They announce my name, my affiliation and my intro statement. I walk up to the middle of the stage and get into my starting position. Despite looking directly at the audience, I can’t see anything between the glitter on my face and the spotlights in my eyes. I was quite blind.
My music starts.
Shoot, I wasn’t ready for it… How come it’s so quiet on stage when the music is blasting in the audience?
I start going through the motions of what I know – belly dance, back to pole…
I’m twenty seconds into my song and it’s time for me to get on spin. At this moment, I look at the spin pole, and my mind blanks.
Ah, right, this was the part that I didn’t have down, so let’s freestyle a few spins from the floor to fill up time.
At this point, I can’t feel my body.
Everything is tingly, and I have lost all muscle control, shaking in my boots – if I had boots. The best I can do is strain to hear my music and go through the motions. Damn, it’s not like I’m meeting my boyfriend’s parents for the first time.
Coming out of a spin, I went right into a climb and began to gain momentum.
They weren’t kidding when they said the spin pole was powerful.
It was too strong for what I was used to, and it dawned on me at that moment, but of course, the height of the pole is going to carry the momentum further… Not that the realization helped me any. It was during my climb I knew I had made a mistake; I should have touched down to the floor before starting the climb. Every attempt to box out my climb just pushed me into the pole and I gained even more momentum.
Damn, I hate spin pole.
My climb was awful, but I feel like I’m about to lose my grip and fly away, so I have no choice but to force my way into snake spin; at least with my back against the front of the pole, I feel stable!
Unfortunately, that just means I’m gaining more momentum.
At this point, I try looking at the audience, but I just feel like I’m on one of those whirlwind rides at the state fair that spins you around way too fast using centrifugal force – except there’s a strobe light in my face, too.
I come out of snake spin after a few excruciatingly long moments, and I have too much momentum to go into any of the other five moves I had planned for spin, so I dismount, dazed.
On the ground, I feel incredibly dizzy.
My eyes say I’m on the floor – or what I can see of it – but my body says I haven’t stopped.
I tune into the music for a moment and shoot, I have…forty-five seconds of dead air I need to fill now.
Ugh. Body waves! Leg stuff! Leg stuff…Leg…How much more music is there, seriously?
The only way I know how to describe how I felt was fading in while blackout drunk. It was a surreal, slow-motion blur when I would look somewhere else. My world was swimming and I was mostly blind, thanks to the spotlights.
I couldn’t feel my body aside from the occasional tingle and how badly my legs were shaking. It felt more like a dream than reality, but that didn’t stop me from being incredibly aware that I had no idea what I was doing next.
That, folks, is why you get nervous beforehand to get rid of some of the excess adrenaline.
– Me, over burritos later that night.
I started to stand to swing around the pole and start doing something else – anything else – but my cue to be on the ground finally hit, so I dropped right back into a lunge, still incredibly dazed.
Cueing myself in my head as I had done half-a-dozen times before for my floor sequence, I at least remember what I was thinking.
Drop to the knee, roll to Exorcist.
Leg up – ugh, don’t lose your balance now, dizzy or not – roll to the side, leg out. Fan to opposite side, leg out!
I can’t hear my music.
Right, there’s some leggy stuff here… Sliiiither down. Just get ready for Scorpion. Leg on my arm, and… up!
… Don’t tell me I’m going to miss my best move in the floor section. Damn it. Of all things… UP!
Ah, I’m in it. People are cheering… Yes! Let’s sit here for a moment. Bask in it.
Coming out of Scorpion… Right, some leggy stuff, rolling over to my back, and… Did I miss something? Whatever, just shoulder roll – no that’s not how you shoulder roll, you should know this of all things.
Shoulder roll back, and arch back…
Right about at this moment, I tuned back into the music and was happy to hear that it was at the place it needed to be.
And my heart sank when I realized this transition to the pole was part of the choreo I hadn’t touched.
The music here was very back-and-forth, so the idea was to do some interesting “being pulled to the pole” and “trying to pull back” sequence. I remembered what my instructor was talking about one night, and her suggestion was to do a ~sensual with the pole, touching it without touching it~ sort of thing. I had played with the motions one time – and I mean that literally; one time.
That was, unfortunately, the most practiced movement I had for this piece, though.
So, I started moving, knowing in my heart of hearts I was about to do some stupid, weird s**t… and right about here is where I blacked out.
Next thing I know, I was in Cupid on the static pole, and facing an awfully wrong direction.
I held it, but not nearly as long or as deep as I wanted to. Still dazed, still unable to feel much of my body, my mind freaked out about being an indeterminate height from the floor and wanted to move, so I swung around into my aerial invert position…
My hands were way too high.
My shoulders weren’t pulled back.
I resigned to the fate of this routine, and I pulled myself up in an invert anyway.
I couldn’t tell at that moment from lack of feeling, but I knew it was one of the sloppiest inverts I had ever done.
The only thing worse would be quitting right at the end, though, right?
I pull myself into a Baby Butterfly and the crowd cheers again. I hook my leg into Genie and – ah, I’m going to slip if I go into it.
I adjust my leg a little bit out of habit and pull myself into Gargoyle. Understanding that my cupid was off, and therefore my aerial invert was off, I knew for a fact my Gargoyle was going to face the back wall, so I twisted around to at least get a side angle, feeling defeated.
In practice, I had gotten a front angle with Gargoyle every time, but I guess that’s what happens when you start a week before the competition.
Back in Genie, I take my top leg off and stretch out to a weird Scorpion tabletop I liked the shape of in practice. My music cues me to start coming into my climb and sit, so I can do a dramatic pose at the end, but my muscles give out and I dismount instead. I fake the pose from the floor, trying to look out at the audience through the spotlights.
I didn’t want the routine to be bad, and it wasn’t; it was atrocious.
You know what, though? If I’m going to go out, I’m going to go out spectacularly, towards one end of the spectrum or the other.
Yet, I think the audience was applauding.
I couldn’t hear much past my own thoughts. Still, without feeling, I walked up to the front of the stage, bowed deeply, and walked off stage.
Despite walking almost to the edge of the stage for my bow, I couldn’t make out faces past the spotlight.
I walked quickly off stage, still with Jello-legs. The runner I had chatted with is standing next to the DJ table and I distract myself with chatting with her before joining my friends.
Back with my studio mates, everyone clamors to hug me as I run over. My instructor gives me a hug and immediately checks my foot injury, which I hadn’t thought about the entire day.
Still coming down from the adrenaline, but with feeling returning to my limbs, I’m laughing.
“Honest opinions?” I ask. “You did it!” I hear from several of them in response.
Yeah, it was that bad, I thought with a stupid grin on my face.
Everyone was proud of me for getting up there and doing it. I’m not a fan of false praise, though. I’m happy to admit it was awful. It’s hilarious to me at how poorly it went, and it happened for the simplest reasons.
We went out for burritos afterward. I was happily laughing with everyone about just how awful it was.
“I like how you oozed across the floor,” – my fiancé, Elliot, after learning my floorwork was planned that way.
“You were going soooo fast!” – My (to-be) sister-in-law, with a look of worry on her face.
“Hey, you went up and did it, though!” – My optimistic, supportive instructors.
“At least you went as hard as possible in one direction.” – My dad, via Skype that night.
“I heard you came in 14th in the NE region of the NATION!” – A great friend and business partner.
It seriously is one of the worst performances I’ve ever seen, and I’ve watched hundreds.
I heard “You’ll do better next time, don’t worry!” over the next few days from those around me.
Well, of course I’ll do better. It’s not like I could do worse!
Overall, I’d have to say my experience was positive. Yeah, I know, surprising. The truth is, I enjoyed it, and it was an excellent chance to connect with other pole dancers in a way I wouldn’t have been able to by just going into a studio.
I would definitely do it again, with two caveats:
I would want to enter a category I enjoyed more, perhaps Dramatic, and I would need more time to practice.
Definitely, I say, so long as I had more than 11 days to practice – minus rest days.
Looking back, I know what I did wrong. Hindsight is 20/20 and all that, you know. I didn’t give myself enough time to pull something together, I switched music too late and it threw me off, and I over-trained, tiring myself out right before the competition.
But you know what? That’s fine. I’ll laugh it off, because in the end, I came out with some valuable lessons, and advice I want to pass on.
- Take the time for dedicated practice. At least a few months’ worth.
- Do what you want to do and don’t be discouraged by others’ opinions. Want Dramatic? Go for Dramatic!
- People are all around you who support and love you. Find them, reach out to them. Explicitly tell them you are asking for help on your routine and ask for constructive criticism.
- The other competitors have taken a similar journey for this, so if you feel competitive, make sure it’s a healthy, friendly competition. There’s beauty in celebrating their hard-earned victories, too.
- Just enjoy it and have fun. Identify what you want out of the experience and make that your goal.
- If it’s your first competition, don’t be afraid to go for a level you feel absolutely comfortable with. If you’re not sure, practice some of the required moves in a short routine before you sign up to make sure it’s the right level and category for you!
- Don’t spin too fast on the spin pole.
I say all this to get to my point: I learned from the experience, and I found that incredibly valuable. It sounds silly, but everything up until the competition was why I signed up in the first place. I pulled the routine together, I had guidelines I had to abide by, and I had the hardships along the way that I grew from.
I achieved my personal goal for signing up, and I feel better because of it.
I just tired myself out right in time for the actual performance, so I happened to showcase the lowest point of my pole life thus far. (Hooray!! At least one of the three judges thought it was a great routine.)
I sucked as hard as I possibly could have sucked, and it only gets better from here.
I can put together choreo pieces that I’m proud of now because I learned how to do it better in the process of putting my routine together.
I can feel good about practicing because nothing is “on the line” – there are enough mental stakes in a competition that I don’t need to add my own.
It feels like I can breathe and fly again, instead of feeling suffocated and burdened by the responsibility.
I am happier as a dancer because I finally broke past my mental barrier of not “being able to” freestyle.
I’m excited to work on things I want to progress in without feeling guilty that I’m not training for a competition.
I’m looking forward to listening to all my favorite metal bands without feeling guilty that it’s not my competition song.
And I’ve grown as a dancer and as a person from all of this.
A few weeks later, I’m just now getting back on a pole, feeling some of my motivation and drive returning. It certainly took a lot out of me, though I’m hoping with several months of practice next time, next time won’t be nearly as intensive.
For now, however, I’m incredibly happy to be able to focus on other things and get back to my life.