Tag: advice

Gigging as a Pole Dancer: How to Handle Stage Fright

“To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim you don’t grab hold of the water, because if you do you will sink and drown. Instead you relax, and float.” -Alan Watts

You can have every detail worked out. You can train your routine for months. You can spend hours glueing hundreds of tiny sequins on your costume. You can prepare your music, props and lighting cues. But then the day of the actual performance comes and suddenly you can’t stop worrying about what may go wrong during those five precious minutes you have on stage. You agonize over details… that move that isn’t quite 100%, your shoulder that’s been acting up. You stress over things you can’t control, the temperature of the venue, what the spin pole will be like…

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Backstage with the ladies before Schtick a Pole in It in NYC

This past Saturday night I found myself backstage in a dressing room with a group of very talented
pole dancers. Some were stretching and some were adjusting their hair and make-up. We all commiserated over the collective nerves we were feeling. We laughed about it, wondering why we put ourselves through all this stress.

If you are anything like me, you get serious nerves before a performance. (If not, consider yourself lucky!) Whether I’m pole dancing in a small showcase or a major competition I always get nervous before I hit the stage. I listen to my song on repeat and visualize my routine out of fear I may forget the moves. Butterflies drive me sick to my stomach. My palms get sweaty. My heart beats fast. I feel weak in all limbs. It’s torture.

And then some how I get on stage and am able to perform intricate and physically grueling pole combinations. The entire struggle becomes worth this moment of absolute one with the present moment. I step off stage in sweat with my breath heavy and my muscles swelling. It is a euphoric feeling.

With a major performance in Pole Theatre coming up, I have been thinking a lot lately about the best way to deal with the inevitable nerves that come. I will admit it does get easier with time. But there is always some level of uneasiness no matter the occasion. I think that will always be there and the day when it isn’t will be the day I stop pole dancing.

Here are some tips I have to offer for helping your nerves before a pole performance…

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Backstage at Schtick 

Be Prepared
This applies to the days leading up to your performance and even the morning of. Try to prepare on every level possible. Know your moves. Be able to perform your routine in full. Know your music. Be comfortable in your costume. Eat healthy food, especially the day of your performance! Get rest so you don’t injure yourself. On the day of, pack your bag with everything you need. Stretch and warm-up safely. Prepare everything you can leading up to your moment on stage. And in that excruciating time when you are waiting for your name to be called… let it all go. Know you have to stop preparing because you can’t anymore! There is no need to worry about it. You will need to work with what you have at that point. As the Serenity Prayer goes, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

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US National Pole Championships 2015

Meditate
This can calm nerves and help regulate your breathing which will help your body do its thing when it’s go time. If you don’t have a meditation practice you can just close your eyes and focus on your breath. YouTube offers some great options of meditation music as well as guided meditation through a simple search. You don’t want to do this right before your performance necessarily. This is more to instill an overall calming effect. You actually want to use the nervous energy in a way which brings me to my next tip…

Use Fight or Flight Mode
Fight or flight is the body’s natural response to stress. Think about if you were in the wild and came into contact with a bear. You would be pretty freaked out. Your heart rate would increase as well as your breathing. Blood flow would increase to the muscles. These and other physiological changes provide the body with more energy to exert in an emergency. That means more power. This is great for pole dancers! So on a certain level you should be comfortable with this natural reaction your body is having and embrace it. Use it. Go with it. Staying in this heightened state too long can cause overexertion of energy and make you tired though. So be careful of staying in fight or flight too long. For example, going into fight or flight in the wings is helpful. But waking up and having this reaction all day is not. Research this reaction. Understanding it should make you feel more comfortable with experiencing it.

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US National Pole Championships 2015

Be Present
This should be the case throughout the entire process from the spark in your mind to create the routine to the moment you step off stage. It is most difficult and crucial to feel this when waiting backstage and of course, when performing your actual routine. We can only be at our best if we soak up the moment and are fully aware of our body and its relation to the world around us. When you are sitting backstage and your stomach is doing flips, don’t fight it. Go into it, accept it and relish in it. Be happy you are able to feel that level of awareness. This brings me to my last point…

Be Grateful
One of the best pieces of advice about handling nerves I have ever heard was from champion pole dancer Natasha Wangbe grateful for your body. We often think about what we don’t have and where we are lacking. Through doing this we don’t appreciate all the great things we do have. When you are moments before a performance, you have to love where you are at. Coming up with a long-term training plan to transform your body may be something you want to think about afterwards if you want change. But this isn’t the place to worry about that… be where you are at, injuries, insecurities, weaknesses and all. Be grateful for your body’s ability to perform amazing feats of strength. Think of all the people who are not able to use this form of physical expression. Be proud of how strong you are. Look back to that person you were on the day of your very first pole class. They would be in awe. Be proud that you have the guts to get on stage in your underwear and share a piece of your heart.

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As pole dancers we pursue a highly physically demanding activity. We push our body to its limits. All this work is rewarded with minimal financial gain and a general lack of respect, understanding or appreciation from the mainstream. Maybe that is the very reason why we do this: for the pure love of it despite the struggle. The larger the hurdles the more our passion for this amazing, athletic art form shines.

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All done! Photo by Sam Harris from Schtick a Pole in It, NYC 

Pole Storytelling: Attaching Meaning to Movement

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Moment from my 2015 US Nationals routine captured by Alloy Images.

It seems pole performances have been getting more and more theatrical over the years. Purely athletic and technical routines still exist. But even in national competitions, dancers are almost expected to incorporate characters, props and costumes in addition to intricate tricks.

I love this storytelling aspect of pole dancing. But there are unfortunately so many ways it can go wrong. At times, the story can detract from the movement quality. How many times have you seen a performer become so immersed in their character that they fall out of tricks, don’t complete lines or have sloppy transitions? On the other hand, and perhaps more common, movement can disconnect the dancer from the story altogether. They can be 100% engaged when off the pole, but as soon as they take their movement into the air they shift to robotic trick-mode.

I took a storytelling workshop several months ago and an interesting discussion arose among the group. Almost everyone in the room felt it was all too common for pole dancers to feel this pressure to continuously create new routines. Yet even with each new routine, new song and new costume ensemble so many dancers still tell the same story. I have been guilty of this. It’s the same routine with a different song. Don’t get me wrong. I believe that if something works for you, then you should take as much advantage of it as you can. But there is a difference between sticking your best tricks in every routine because you know they look good and really exploring quality of movement that feels good on your body while also effectively expressing your message.

I was recently accepted to Pole Theatre USA (gulp) for the Professional Drama category. I am also teaching my Pole Storytelling workshop in Tübingen, Germany this weekend. I have been thinking a lot about palpable storytelling lately, how to get a message across and how to help others do the same. I think one of the most intense human urges beyond basic instinct for survival is a desire to feel connected, heard and understood. Pole dancing can be a powerful means of expression. The possibilities for exploration on the apparatus are endless.

Below are some tips I have found to be useful over the years to connect meaning to movement, helping me best communicate my message to an audience. I do want to note, I don’t think these guidelines should be applied towards most competitive routines. This article is more geared towards using pole as a form of artistic expression. I have included photos and memories of performers who inspire me with their dedication and ability to captivate on stage.

Simplify your movement.
Everyone has different strategies when it comes to building a routine. A lot of people I know like to build pieces up around their most advanced and impressive tricks. When I first start creating the outline for a theatrical routine, I initially put advanced technique aside. I focus more on building simple movement to match the story. It is much easier to advance the difficulty level after the mood and energy of the piece have been set. I have even discovered new shapes and transitions through this process. Of course you can always modify advanced tricks to fit the energy of the piece too. But getting the message across is more important than performing the hardest tricks.

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Marcy Richardson exploring a shape with unique flair. Photo by Mark Shelby Perry

Explore familiar tricks in depth.
Building on the previous point, I like to explore positions that are very familiar to me. For example, I will start in a seated position on spin pole and make slight alterations in hand placement or contact points or even the angle of my head. I try to move as slowly as possible to sense my body’s reaction. Following the path of least resistance usually leads to shapes that feel good in my body. And when it feels natural, it usually looks good.

If you can’t do the move in character take it out.
If you can’t fully commit to your character when performing a trick, then I’m sorry but you need to take it out. No matter how great you think it looks, that expression of overexertion is distracting. It pulls the audience away from the magic of the moment. Think of your favorite pole routine. I’m sure a huge factor in your enjoyment of it beyond technique was the ease in which the performer executed their tricks. Michelle Stanek performed a simple and short routine for her USPDF compulsory round. The quality of her movement was so honest and engaging though, it locked the audience into her. It’s often the “how” not the “what” that counts.

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Michelle Stanek executing stellar stage presence in her famous 2012 USPDF routine.

Understand your character, theme or story on a deep level.
In addition to the “how” I also think the “why” is an important element that can have a tendency to be lost in pole performances. Why execute this particular trick, at this place, at this time in the routine? Consider these questions as you decide what moves to put in. Watching freestyle videos can help you decide this. So can visualizing movement in your head. Allow it to happen organically. Then contemplate the “why” with the directions you have decided to take. If it’s not adding to your message then it’s distracting from it.

Know your music.
Your chosen music should add to the telling of your story. What comes first: the music or the story? Sometimes it’s one and sometimes the other. This is almost a whole separate topic. You should know every note, lyric, transition, accent, crescendo and decrescendo in your music. This will help guide what moves you choose to put in your routine but also the quality in which you execute them.

Do I believe you?
This is a great question I always ask myself from the perspective of the audience. And perhaps even greater, do I believe myself? If you don’t believe your story how can you expect your audience to? It may be raw and personal or you may be portraying a character with no relation to you whatsoever. Each should be executed with solid intention. Keep in mind, bigger isn’t always better. You can express the most intense emotions in an incredibly subtle way and it can often be more powerful than overly dramatic actions. Whatever direction you choose to take, fully commit. If you’re going to go big, really believe it. And also be prepared for some people in the audience not to be ready to go to that level with you.

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Holly Harlow performing a spatchcock with serious personality, staying 100% in character. Photo by Alloy Images.

Be Yourself
No one possesses your body and your experiences but you. Use this to your advantage. What can you bring to the table that no one else can? There is no one way to do a routine right. Different people can take the same song, or moves or concept and have completely different interpretations that all work perfectly. Embrace your body’s strengths as well as limitations. Draw from personal experiences, even when portraying a character. Your audience will connect with your honesty.

Go with the flow. 
When it comes time to put all these elements together, let the routine unfold as it will and make every attempt to stay as present as possible no matter what happens. This is often the hardest part of the entire process for me. What we do is so physical. There are so many variables at play and we prepare for so long for just a few minutes on stage. The pressure for perfection can be intense. My foot slipped off the pole in a PSO routine one year. In my mind, it was a travesty that ruined the entire routine. I reluctantly kept dancing, but I was just going through the motions. I wanted it to end. It was the longest 4 minutes of my life. When I got the video back to watch the cringe-inducing mistake, the foot slip surprisingly wasn’t as bad as I thought. But you know what was awful? Everything that came after. My energy shifted and every move became disconnected.

The ability to remain absolutely present on stage is elusive. With time, this skill can be honed. It’s what truly draws the audience into the performer’s world and makes time appear to stand still.

 

Gigging as a Pole Dancer: What to Pack

My first installment in this series on exploring various aspects of performance as a pole dancer was super long. So I’m keeping this one short, sharing with you all the items I consider vital to support a stellar performance experience. In no particular order….

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Spray bottle with rubbing alcohol and towel 
You can’t always guarantee the venue will have this for you. Plus, I like to have it on me backstage to wipe my hands and feet down last minute.

Any grip aids you use
This one seems obvious. But I can’t tell you how many times I neglected to pack this in the past and always desperately scavenged for rations from those around me.

Yoga mat
I’ve warmed up on all kinds of nasty, sticky floors. It’s best to have something clean to lay and stretch on!

Balls and/or foam roller
Whether I’m recovering from injury or not, this is nice to have on hand. My forearm has gone into spasm twice during performance. Having tools around to help in an emergency is comforting.

Flip flops
This is huge! And something I never thought of in the beginning. Pole dancers are barefoot a lot. Even if you are performing in shoes, you won’t be wearing them the whole time backstage. I use my feet in my routines a lot. You don’t want to pick up dirt on the floor, or worse step on something and injure yourself.

Sweatpants
I need to be comfy and warm when I’m stretching and relaxing before a performance. Sweats are my go to.

Costume
Duh.

Back-up costume or regular training gear
I like to have this as an alternative.

Music and headphones
This is a must if I’m going to properly get in the zone.

Wardrobe tape
I don’t use this but it’s good to have if needed with certain tricky costumes.

Thongs
I use this under every costume to avoid…. erhm…… slippage or any awkward outlines for those epic crotch shots.

Snacks
Bananas are my favorite. The potassium in them helps alleviate muscle cramping. Plus they are easy to digest!

Ibuprofen
Always good to have, just in case.

Hair and Makeup Products 
Even if I’m having it done I always bring back-ups just in case.

 

So what are your must-have items for a performance?….

Gigging as a Pole Dancer: Technical Details

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Photo by Kat Benzova

This will be an ongoing series in which I explore different elements of performing as a pole dancer. In this first edition I will discuss behind-the-scenes details to consider leading up to your performance. And there is SO much to cover!

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Photo by Andrew Foord

My very first pole dance performance was at a student showcase in the familiarity of my home studio. I was comfortable dancing on the poles. My friends were cheering me on. Not everything was perfect and it was OK. I have since gone on to perform under a vast array of circumstances. I have performed on competition stages, in studios, on movie sets, at live events, at charity shows and even in an active strip club on stage. I would like to talk about what I’ve learned over this time and rookie mistakes I made in the process.

One of the most important points to consider is the range of variables involved with a pole dance performance. Pole dancing is a demanding athletic endeavor. So your body must be in top condition to perform. It is also an artistic undertaking so many aesthetic elements are involved. Finally, many event producers are not familiar with the more technical aspects of pole dancing and therefore unknowingly make plans that can impede our ability to properly perform.

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Performing in Vegas with GNR

I would like to outline some important questions to consider when pursuing your next pole dance performance.

 

What poles will you be using?

This is the most important point. If you don’t have the right equipment it will be hard to perform your job at all. Make sure the poles are professional grade. If the pole is rigged, check the structure and test the pole beforehand. If it is a stage pole the same applies. I believe every pole dancer should know how to install various types of poles. This is for your safety and it’s your responsibility to know your equipment.

The day may come when you will have to perform on a pole you’re not used to. It may be the material or the diameter that’s different. You will have to know how to modify your moves for safety. Many event organizers outside of the pole industry aren’t even aware of the distinction between poles so you have to educate them in advance. When I performed with Guns N’ Roses in Las Vegas the crew had initially set up poles similar to those you would find on the street with no finish on them. This resulted in painful abrasions all over my body. After they learned we could not perform safely on the poles they installed, they quickly remedied the situation by switching them out to professional grade poles.

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My legs after dancing on unfinished poles at GNR show in Vegas

 

Where will the performance take place?

Will it be in a city you have never been to? Will the humidity level affect you? Will the cold or heat affect you? Will the performance take place inside? Will the room be air-conditioned? What sort of stage set-up will there be? Try to get stage dimensions if possible. Will there be room to do spins and floor work? Always make sure to get on stage before you perform. You may not have a chance to do a full run-through. But it is helpful to move in the space before your performance. If you absolutely cannot get on stage to run through moves, make sure to visually scope the scene and gauge how you may need to modify moves.

 

What time of day will the performance take place?

Are you a morning, afternoon or night poler? Whatever time your performance takes place is when you should rehearse. Because of the highly physical nature of what we do you need to prepare your body under the most similar conditions possible.

 

Will there be lights and/or fog?

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Performing on set of Lucky Number

This can affect your ability to perform greatly. In the comfort of our home studios we forget that once we get on stage variables can impede on our technique. Know your body and moves. You should know the correct placement, engagement and alignment through feeling rather than relying on getting a visual in a mirror. If you don’t feel 100% safe in something, don’t do it. Also know fog machines contain a grease component that can make poles slippery. You don’t always have control over what is or isn’t used in your performance. So prepare and modify after if needed.

 

 

Will you select your music?

If you are able to choose your music, keep all elements of the event in mind: the venue, the audience and your moves. Your preference for musical taste should never override what is best for the event as a whole. If you do not have the luxury of choosing your music make sure you are well versed in freestyle exercises to prepare for the unexpected. You should be able to dance to music you have never heard before or do not like.

 

Is the performance ambient or choreographed?

For ambient sets, keep it low key with simple dance moves and occasional splashes of impressive (yet comfortable) combos. For a choreographed performance you have the ability to compose a sequence of designated moves. Keep the variables in mind when selecting tricks, especially in more uncontrolled environments. Will the pole be static or spin or both? Also, how long will it be? Keep this in mind when laying out your sequences. Do you have the stamina to pull it off? It is always better in performance to simplify moves cleanly with confidence rather than choosing more risky options. 99% of the time your audience won’t know the difference. Save the fancy tricks for big events with truss rigging.

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Alexander Wang Event

Some event producers have unrealistic expectations when it comes to how long you can pole dance for. When I performed at the Alexander Wang after party at NY Fashion Week, we were to perform in 15 minute on and off sets for several hours. I never worked harder pole dancing in my life. My forearm went into spasm in the middle of a set and I completely lost grip in my dominant hand. I was sore for days afterwards all over my body. I shouldn’t have pushed myself as hard as I did. It’s difficult to resist the urge of showing off your advanced tricks when Lady Gaga is walking right past you though!

 

 

What costume will you wear?

Always run your routine or moves in the costume you will be wearing! I have made the mistake of skipping this step and I’ve paid for it. Some event producers will require more body coverage than others. They do not understand we must have skin exposed in order to grip the pole. There are certain moves you may need to adjust or remove completely depending on the costume the event requires. The more you pole dance the more you can tell just by looking at a costume what tricks will work. It is always better to try than guess though. Make sure to tape up around edges to avoid nip slips if you’re prone to them or your costume is riding up!

 

Will you have time to warm-up?

You should always warm-up before performing so you can protect your body. One gig is not worth injury. There will be some cases when you are not sure when you will be on. A favorite saying in show business is “hurry up and wait.” I like to give a heads up to event producers that I need a 30-minute warning before I am to perform. The trick is to get warm without exhausting yourself. In some cases, you will not have enough time and in these situations you should modify your moves safely.

 

Will you have time to eat?

Even if you’re nervous you should bring a snack such as bananas, nuts or granola bars. The venue should supply water but you should bring that too just in case! You need energy to perform and you don’t want to experience a muscle spasm during performance. Of course you also want to make sure not to eat too much or too close to your performance since you will be flipping upside down!

 

Do you have performer’s insurance?

Not all events require it but it’s still good to have just in case. I get mine through Speciality Insurance. This protects you in the event that you cause damage to the space or injure a spectator. It does not cover injuries you may sustain while performing.

 

How and when will you be paid? 

This is very important! When you are booked you should know how and when you will receive payment. Do you have to fill out a W9? Will they pay you in cash or check? Do you receive it right after performing or in the mail weeks later? If it is a big event or out-of-town performance you can request an advance deposit and perhaps a per diem as well as travel accommodations. Working out payment details is a huge topic for a whole other post though.

 

Will they supply grip aids and/or rubbing alcohol?

In most every case you will need to supply your own grip aids. And while we may consider cleaning poles with rubbing alcohol an obvious practice, most people outside the industry have no idea this must be done. Inform them you need rubbing alcohol and a rag. Always bring a backup just in case. And please don’t use Windex to clean poles! I have seen this at studios and strip clubs. It is ineffective at best and dangerous at worst.

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Makeup and hair on Que Noche! 

 

Will you do your own hair and makeup?

I prefer to do my own makeup and hair. False eyelashes can mess with my eyesight. Hair products and makeup can cause slipping. Leaving your hair up or down may change the moves you’re able to do. Communicate with your team and let them know what you need in order to give the best performance.

 

Do you have prepared bails if moves don’t work?

I know of pole dancers who prepare emergency exits for every move they perform. While I admire this level of intricate preparation I think it is unrealistic to do this for every type of performance. It is impossible to prepare yourself for every possible scenario. If you consistently make the same error in a particular move in rehearsal, take it out.

The absolute best way to prepare for the unexpected is to constantly explore your freestyle practice. Find alternative ways to move so you truly feel comfortable in your body no matter the circumstances. This will help you excel in uncontrolled environments.

 

Are you injured? 

You know your body best. If you are injured to the point where you cannot safely perform your routine it is best to bow out as soon as possible. For some injuries and cases this is not always an option. Take care of yourself as best you can leading up to the performance and modify moves to keep yourself safe!

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Sometimes you can do everything right in preparation and something will still go wrong. The best you can do is to plan the most you can and then roll with the punches when it comes time. The best performers are not the ones who think of every element and ensure event producers meet those needs and demands. They are the ones who adapt to variables and make the best they can with what they have in a safe manner. These are the performers who event producers will want to work with again. And like anything, the more you perform the better you will get at dealing with the unexpected.

Have a performance question or tip of your own to add? Leave a comment below!