“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.
“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.
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.
“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!”
As 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.
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.
“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.
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.
This 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?).
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.
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. 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.
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.
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!
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