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!
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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!
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!