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National Capital Pole Fitness Competition: A Review

3 Mar
The Meeting

The Meeting

“Oh shit. It’s today.”

That seemed to be the general sentiment amongst all eleven competitors of this year’s National Capital Pole Fitness Competition upon waking that cold Saturday morning. Calling in scared sick and pulling the blankets back over their heads was a tempting idea, however all eleven got out of bed and walked out the door armed with glitter, sequins and attitude. No one looked back.

Saturday morning this time last year was a different story.

Last Year’s Winners! (Photo by Ben Ripley)

“Almost half dropped out over night. They dropped like flies!” explained Li Hewitt, owner of Ottawa Pole Fitness Studios. Her husband, co-owner Michael Hewitt recalled how they suddenly went from 38 to 18 competitors which resulted in phone calls letting girls know their performance time had been bumped from 2pm to 10am, so wakey-wakey!

The cancellations seemed to foretell the day’s events as they were met with one technological glitch after another which lead to a stressful day (and admittedly made worse by nursing a hangover). Not to say the day wasn’t a success; they managed a sold out show with many impressive performances ranging from amateur to professional level. Prizes awarded for each division included memberships (free classes!), trophies and medals, gift bags and many girls won titles such as Miss Sexy and Miss Trickster.

U of O Pole Dance Society. Awesome.

Now with one competition under their belt, Li and Michael had bigger dreams for their second time around. As official sponsor of the University of Ottawa’s Pole Dance Society, Ottawa Pole Fitness was offered use of one of the University’s auditoriums, free of charge. Hoping the success of last year’s competition created buzz and interest, they booked the 300 seat venue and broke the news that the competitors would be performing on (gasp!) two stage poles. The call for submissions, which included a mandatory submission video, was sent out mid October and by December 1st they had yet to receive a single application. A month remained before the deadline.

Why the lack of interest?
Does the idea of designing a routine around a stage pole really turn someone off from competing completely?
Or does the thought of dancing on a giant stage with blinding lights suddenly make you second guess yourself?
Or did people just not want to put in the work needed to make a submission video?

Hoping the latter to be true, Michael and Li let the students know they no longer needed to create a submission video. Lo and behold, the applications started pouring trickling in. As of December 31st, 2012, the National Capital Pole Fitness Championship had 17 competitors. Going from 38 competitors to 17 was not what they had in mind.

“I think we just have different students this year.” mused Li. “Not everyone has that competitive edge, it requires a certain personality.”

Despite the decline in applicants, the owners of OPF powered through the planning process but it wasn’t long before Michael and Li encountered their first hiccup. The free auditorium? Not so free after all. That, and the fear of potential empty seats in the 300 seat venue due to the slowly declining number of competitors led Li and Michael to make an obvious decision: Hold the competition where everyone calls home, OPF’s Studio B. No stage poles required! (The collective sigh of relief could be heard from space).

Settling on a location was checked off however many issues needed to be addressed, namely, how do you fairly judge 17 competitors who range in skill? Easy. Substitute “Amateur”, “Semi-Pro” and “Pro” with, “The Entertainer”, “The Trickster” and “The Performer” with equal cash prizes of $250 awarded to each title.

Meet The Judges

Meet The Judges

“We want everyone to have an equal chance.You can still entertain a crowd without doing the most advanced moves.” explained Li. Another way of being fair is the omission of strength as a deciding factor due to two of the competitors being male (last year saw an all female competition). Scoring would fall under five categories: degree of difficulty, technicality, artistry, costume and music with deductions and bonus points awarded to tally scores. All four judges shared the same belief: A winning performance doesn’t require the most advanced tricks or the flattest splits, it requires someone who is comfortable on stage with a creative edge. Grace and flow seemed to be a top priority as well.

A week before the competition they were down to 11 competitors. Those that dropped out did so due to either work/personal conflicts, injury (not just me) and possibly nerves. Li and Michael expected there to be drop-outs as it’s par for the course.

“Even if we’re left with five competitors the show will still go on!”

369As a welcome surprise, all 11 showed up to the studio early Saturday morning, most of them setting up shop immediately in front of the large glass mirrors wielding eyelash curlers and magenta lipstick. The day started with a meeting, beginning with a slightly heated debate over whether tack could be applied to the poles (Verdict? No.) and ending with staff and volunteers buzzing around completing freshly assigned tasks. Seeming calm, cool and completely collected (re: not hungover), Michael went about his duties at a relaxed pace and always with a smile on his face. Not wanting a repeat of last year’s technical fiasco Michael was adamant about being one step ahead at all times. Songs were double checked, wires were double checked and a Skype feed was set up to allow the competitors to view the show from upstairs in Studio A.

Live Reaction

Reaction To The Live Feed

Not everyone shared Michael and Li’s calm demeanor. While there were no full-blown freakouts, the nervous energy was palpable. Some chose to tune the world out via headphones, choosing either the song for their routine (like Rebecca, an OPF instructor who started the show with a jaw-dropping hoop routine) or perfect pump-up songs (like Abbey, who chose to listen to “Nigerian Party Music”). Others worked on their combos and some chose to apply layer upon layer upon layer of tack to their hands (“I call it a ‘Tack Bath'” said Tambra, the first competitor to hit the stage). The most (outwardly) nervous of the group, Amanda, drove up from Montreal with fellow friend and competitor, Cameron.

Beautiful Ball of Nerves (5 Minutes Before Showtime)

Beautiful Ball of Nerves (5 Minutes Before Showtime)

“She’s so good!!” he explained as we watched her (winning) performance from the comfort of Studio A. “She’s always saying she’s not any good but really, she’s amazing. She’s so hard on herself.”
Between warming up, stretching and applying her carefully orchestrated grip routine (iTac on legs at least one hour before -and not allowing that shit anywhere near her hands-, Tite Grip on hands a half hour before followed by Dry Hands 30 seconds before walking on stage) Amanda was a tiny ball of nerves. You’d think having an extensive history in ballet would make her a seasoned veteran in performing in front of audiences, but according to Amanda this was her first time dancing on stage alone. As in, not in a group number.

Just a warm-up Iron X...NBD

Just a warm-up Iron X…NBD

Even while she laughed and partook in conversations around her (amidst nervously hopping on one foot) I could see her routine flashing before her eyes at any given moment. She had this intense quality about her that gave me the feeling she was in it to win it, and watching her whip out effortless Iron X’s and Cocoons during warm-up sealed the deal in my mind that her routine was the one to watch. After a very impressive performance (all done on a spinning pole) she admitted it went well despite rushing. “I realized I was ahead in my routine so I had to walk around the pole a few times for the music to catch up.”

She wasn’t the only one who experienced this. Nearly everyone I spoke with afterward told me tales of having to make up moves on the spot or holding poses for longer in order to fill in time, but these were the only complaints I heard. No one forgot their routine. No one fell on their head. Everyone walked off stage with smiles that read “Holy shit, I did it!”. Some even cried.

366This was Tamara’s second time experiencing the joy of going through with competing, and this time she was prouder than ever. I was able to watch last year’s performances on DVD a few days before the competition and the difference in skill and flow was unbelievable. What a difference a year makes! It wasn’t just the increase in difficulty that stood out in her performance (though she did a killer Knee Hold to Spinning Scorpio Switches, one of many impressive combos that earned her The Trickster award), it was the thoughtfulness put into her routine and her overall comfort level on stage. Picking a song she could connect with helped, and her song of choice was Florence + The Machine’s “Breath Of Life” (Amanda’s song choice was also by Florence, coincidence?).

Wowsers

Wowsers

But what does Tamara really owe her confidence to? Countless hours perfecting combos. Every time I spoke with Tamara in the months before the competition she seemed exhausted and walking off stage she almost collapsed from both shock and relief. This is only the beginning for Tamara as she has plans on seizing every opportunity she has to compete or perform. She has tasted the high and is already planning for future competitions.

Where Alexis Could Be Found All Morning

Where Alexis Could Be Found All Morning

While Tamara has the drive to compete, Alexis simply has the desire to perform. Any man who takes Pole Fitness will garner attention in a predominantly female environment, but Alexis stands out as The Fairest Of Them All. You can’t help but be fascinated by Alexis, he’s a photographer’s dream; having a sixth sense of when a camera sets its sight, he arches his brows, lengthens his neck and either pouts or feigns mock surprise by the time my finger has found the shutter button (er, iPhone button). With a long time passion for dress-up (cosplay) he was first introduced to cross dressing during his two year stay in Tokyo working on his PhD in Cultural Practices and Identity in Japan.photo(5) It was through his new group of friends that he was introduced to Pole Fitness but it wasn’t until returning to University of Ottawa and seeing U of O’s Pole Dance Society doing demonstrations that he decided to join and pick up the sport (although he refuses to treat it as such). He felt welcomed immediately and was encouraged by the owners of OPF to unleash his inner alter ego and dress in drag (many costumes being home made) while at the studio. Although it seemed he was playing a character on stage, Alexis insists that in performance he puts forward a very real self, one that is defined by many outside influences. Still, embodying that persona takes intense focus and he had no hesitation about relaying that fact. “You’re going to have to go away now.” he said flatly, momentarily pulling the earbuds out of his ears before closing his eyes and turning his back to me in the dimly lit hallway outside of Studio B, two minutes before showtime. I scurried away feeling like a dickhead, but I didn’t take it personally. I know what it’s like to need your personal bubble before performing.

Drumroll.....

Drumroll…..

There’s no denying how much work each of the competitors put into their routines, or how many bruises earned or hours of sleep were lost in the weeks leading up to the big day. Even if they didn’t get to walk home with a shiny trophy or Felix Cane’s DVD set they still got to walk home with an aura of “Fuck Yeah, I’m Awesome”. All eleven of them proved to strangers, friends, family and themselves that they are capable of conquering their fears and working their ass off. Remember, everyone who competed was prepared to do their routine on a much larger stage with less forgiving poles.

The Entertainer, The Trickster & The Performer

The Entertainer, The Trickster & The Performer

From free coffee provided by Bridgehead to awesome door prizes (Someone won an Apple TV. For real.), to an M.C. who kept everyone entertained while the poles were dutifully cleaned by volunteers, the 2013 NCPFC has set the bar for future pole competitions in Ottawa. Ottawa Pole Fitness has proven to be one step ahead of the rest and has no plans of slowing down. Li and Michael’s eyes lit up as they spoke of future plans for the studio but I don’t want to ruin any surprises. Let’s just say you should like them on Facebook to be the first to know!

Success! Now Someone Buy This Man A Drink

Success! Now Someone Buy This Man A Drink

Click here for to watch all the performances of the day including Rebecca’s Hoop Routine, Richelle’s crazy advanced routine (inspired? She’s holding a workshop this Sunday!) and my fave, Maria and Catherine’s Super Sexy Doubles routine!

***This is now part of April’s Blog Hop!!!**** Click HERE for more entries from great writers discussing competitions and showcases

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Game Changer

2 Jan

Christmas Tree Splits didn’t happen, so just pretend my arms are my legs and Ta-Daaaa!

December was a write-off for writing. My daughter’s birthday party needed planning, new gymnastics and swimming classes needed to be attended, throw in some regular Christmas Craziness, a surprise drama-filled gift from a neighbour and a bout of Festive Flu and you’ve got no time for writing.

But it’s 2013!! Everything is crisp, white and promising. I hope everyone rang in the new year with someone they love. My love and I spent it doing our favourite thing: Watching a great movie while eating a mountain of chicken wings and clubhouse sandwiches.

December 31st was the deadline for my studio’s competition. On December 29th, after fully recovering from the flu, I got to use my Christmas present, my new camera (!!!). You know how in all my videos the music is edited in over all my footage? That’s because my phone won’t record sound. It’s been like that for almost a year, you’d think I would have gotten it fixed, but I didn’t. Main problem? I couldn’t record freestyles. The one time I did I had to line the song up perfectly in editing afterwards and it was a pain. Even if it was .3 seconds off it meant something in my routine didn’t line up perfectly. Anyway, I finally got to try out a freestyle and I picked one of my favourite all-time songs, “Farewell Transmission” by Songs: Ohia. I love that song so much, I remember first listening to it when my band was on the road for the first time and we were driving through the Rocky Mountains. What a perfect soundtrack.

I wasn’t trying to do anything too difficult, I just wanted to feel out the music. It was the first time I understood what it meant to “lose yourself” in a song, it felt similar to when I’m jamming with someone and something special happens where you detach yourself from the moment. The music escapes and you feel almost like a spectator to your own performance.

And that was when I realized I needed to pick a new song for the competition.

2 days and counting.

The song I had originally chosen just wasn’t….me. I could picture a routine, and it had a good beat, but I never felt like I could lose myself in the song. There was no raw emotion associated with it.

I told Pat my predicament and he turned on YouTube.

“This song.”

It’s a song I have heard on the radio, although it wasn’t top 40 radio. It had a good beat, CSNY style harmonies, some powerful moments and best of all? It’s 3:02. Eff yes.

I got warmed up and tried a freestyle just to make sure it was easy to dance to. Beginning to end, I got through the whole song without stopping. I lied down on the ground panting and wheezing when Pat offered his take.

“I know you’re lying on the ground out of breath but what you did looked really easy. The good news is, is that if what you just did was your actual performance it wouldn’t be embarrassing.”

Good to know I’ve got his support.

I was so relieved to find the right song, and I’m really glad I waited until the last possible second to submit to the competition.

Procrastination with a silver lining.

The Grand Plan

15 Dec
Getting Some Man Power Into Those Stretches

Getting Some Man Power Into Those Stretches

I have two weeks to enter my submission to my studio’s competition.

About two weeks ago we were given the best news ever and were told we no longer needed to make a submission video! All we need is a write up, photo, a monetary fee and a song.

Not just any song. The song.

I knew what song I wanted to use even before I found out about the competition. It’s perfect. Lots of drama, tempo and melody changes, completely instrumental, slightly psychedelic and from a film nobody has ever heard of (including me, and I took a year of film studies and worked at an independent video rental store). I had the routine mapped out in my mind, which included fast paced spins and an impressive tumbling routine thrown in during a drum solo.

Which is why I had to start completely from scratch in finding a new song.

I love the song too much to risk pairing it with an underwhelming performance. Because there is no way in hell I am capable of doing what I’m doing in my head when I listen to that song. Yet. One day! Maybe two years from now, who knows, but I’m saving that song for something special.

After making that decision I was completely lost. The only stipulation for song selection was that it must be between three and four minutes. Of course, all the great ambient and trance songs are longer than four minutes, and all the cute 60’s instrumental ditties are shorter than three minutes.

My other ideal song (that was originally Plan B) was this song.

But…..sadly it’s 17 seconds over the time limit.

I want a song that has slight pauses throughout to emphasize the drama of lowering into impressive moves like an Ayesha or Plank. I love bands like Boards of Canada and M83 (old stuff, I’m a snob) but I find they use a continuous beat or motif that runs throughout the whole song. While pretty, it doesn’t give a routine that much depth.

Fast paced songs are fun, but do I really think I could get through three and a half minutes of bouncing around upside down like an energizer bunny? No. Slow to medium tempo it is. Besides, I need to compensate for my lack of flexibility by doing slow and controlled strength moves.

I spent about a week straight on last.fm trying to find songs that were like Portishead but not Portishead because every god damn song by them has been done to death by the pole world. I would type “instrumental lounge” into YouTube and cross my fingers before falling down the rabbit hole. No matter what I typed or clicked on, I seemed to end up at the same Massive Attack song. It was like a conspiracy. A massive conspiracy.

But then I found it. Smooth and sexy, slight breaks throughout the song, good hooks and a total length of 3 minutes and 46 seconds. Not sure how popular this song is as I’ve been living under a vinyl rock for the last five years and have no clue what’s hip or “now” as all I listen to are songs that are “then”. Last thing I want is to pick a song where everyone will be all, “Uh, didn’t she see the video where Felix Butterfly Skukhtorova used this song? All I’m thinking about right now is how much better their routine was.”

And hopefully it’s not a song that everyone else has discovered too. Not that I’d blame them, because it’s pretty sexy and pretty perfect.

But if someone else chooses that song, the only fair way to decide who uses it is Pistols At Dawn.

Now to writing out the routine.

I made a list of moves that I am comfortable doing. Moves that no matter what, even with a slightly slippy pole, I should be able to pull off under pressure. They include EG Ayesha, Shoulder Plank, Superman, Extended Butterfly, Gemini/Scorpio and some more. There’s no way I’m including anything that I currently struggle or have “off days” with. So that means no Cupid, SG Ayesha or Allegra (maybe, I do need a flexy move in my routine).

So with my list of moves in front of me, I’ve been sitting in front of the computer listening to the Song over and over again, waiting for inspiration to hit me upside the head. When I have the “aha!” moment I jot down the time and desired move. I have yet to try dancing to the entire song, but so far I’ve got the bare bones of a routine. Once I have the whole thing mapped out I plan on designing my workouts as drills. So certain days it will be going from a Flatline to the Marley 15 times in a row followed by 15 handsprings to Extended Butterfly combos. Or something like that.

I’m not worried about performing in front of an audience (having sweaty hands is another thing). I know the hours and minutes leading up to showtime I’ll be shitting out my insides from nerves, but the second I walk out I know I will sort of go into a Zen-like state where no one is watching and I’m just out there doing my thing.

I’ve been competing in front of audiences since the age of 5 when I would enter the Kiwanis Music Festival in solo violin, solo piano, sight reading, family duet and sometimes more. Not only would you perform in front of an audience, you would have an adjudicator critiquing your performance, good and bad (and if it was bad, they wouldn’t sugar coat it), before announcing the winner. In front of the audience. The music festival took precedence over everything else, including school (and my birthday. Every year I had to compete on my birthday) and I would spend many late nights practicing portions of pieces over and over and over and over with my mother beating a wooden spoon against the music stand on time with the metronome, sometimes breaking it in anger if I rushed or played a wrong note.

Yeah, it sucked. But I would always do well. Not that I cared, I fucking hated playing the violin. But I do care now. I want someone standing over me at all times yelling at me to point my feet and being all, “No, that dismount was sloppy. Do it again. Now!”. Because, really, I’m way too easy on myself.

Maybe it’s time for some pole jams. Friendly critique, mutual support and inspiration. Anyone out there agree? Maybe once a week we could rotate locations? I’ve mentioned it a few times to some girls, and while everyone seems interested, there has yet to be anything come of this. Which just means I need to try harder at organizing things.

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