Tagchoreography

Same Same, But Different

Last month the International Pole Championships brought the best of the best to the world stage. Live streams and social media stories allowed even those across the globe to watch each routine. As I sat there with my laptop perched on my knees, red wine in hand, the next routine started … “I know this song!”

Not only did I recognise the song, I had also choreographed my own routine to it. The waves of joy and appreciation I felt as I watched the competition were then mixed with nostalgia, memories, and connection. Hanka Venselaar … we speak the same language.

Across five years pole dancing in Sydney I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to perform over 15 self choreographed routines.Not only did the studio host regular showcase nights, but we also had access to a theatre venue once or twice per year, allowing us mere mortals to grace the stage and get at taste for the limelight.

Choosing a song for these performances was always so hard. I read over people’s playlists for pole and usually roll my eyes. They were just not my style.

So when I watch competition pieces it is rare to find such a connection with an artist. Tricks are always impressive, flow is inspiring, but when someone perhaps feels something that you feel …. priceless!

In hip-hop culture there are constant references to other artists. A title of a song included in a lyric, a sample from a record inspiring a whole new flow from a new MC. There appears to be less of a threat of copyright infringement and more an appreciation for each other’s talents. Don’t hide your source, name and fame them!

Not to say here that I expect Hanka Venselaar to have seen my performance from 2016. Or to understand how important that piece would become in my growth as a dancer and aerialist. That is not why I write this article.

Dancers, especially from pole, sometimes feel that revisiting a song that someone else has danced too, is the wrong thing to do. What if we changed our perspective to see just how many different interpretations of a song there could be? Not to make them hierarchical, not for the sake of for better or worse, but to learn, to grow, and to be encouraged to also think … more?!?

It is for this reason I have selected to play myself and Hanka Venselaar side by side (or at least simultaneously, my video editing skills only got me so far hahaha). My dance, from 2016, a part time pole dancer of five years, with a number of performances under her belt but far from a professional. And Hanka Venselaar, a competitor in the International Pole Championships and who has tens of titles and a lifetime of experience in aerial arts.

This video was created as a comparative exploration and should in no way diminish or criticise either performance. This one minute sample is from the same piece of music, matched identically as we both reach the climax and move towards the end of the song.

I have the utmost respect for Hanka Venselaar and the other competitors from the International Pole Championship 2018 and believe this platform for pole dance adds value and greater understanding to the idea of pole dance as art. The pole dance community supports creativity, diversity, and unique expression. This video compilation explores how one song, interpreted by two unique and creative minds can lay a foundation for a dance that is both very similar yet entirely different.
Personally, I am elated to find a dancer that shares a certain musical taste and I hope, if Hanka Venselaar sees this, she will have witness how her movements and dance inspire others involved in aerial arts.

May we forge a path of shared vision and shared passion, collaboration over exclusion and judgment. The tens of thousands of pole videos now dancing through the Internet have created a library of people’s stories. The threads of music and songs that now join dancers together throughout the years and across the other side of the world are just waiting to be discovered.

Happy dancing! 🙂

 

Imagery and Visualization for Choreography

I have always been fascinated with the process of choreography, actively seeking out connections between pole dance and other forms of movement. For me, the elements of choreography for the pole, aerial, or floor routines, should overlap. Incorporating narrative is important, as well as including motifs and themes. These help the dancer communicate with the audience as well as tie the whole routine together so it is much more than just a sequence of clever tricks and poses.

I recently came across Wayne McGregor from his TED talk and hearing his ideas about choreography just blew my mind!

Dancers from the pole and aerial community talk about “combos”. Thousands of videos are all over social media, linking tricks together in familiar or innovative ways with the change of leg or hand or direction around the pole. Hundreds of questions flood pole discussion groups asking how to link poses – what do I do after a superman? – any tips for my leg hang to ayesha transition?

Creating smooth combos is an essential part of creating a routine, but listening to Wayne McGregor opened up an entirely new way of thinking about movement and what comes together to make a dance.

What struck me is that he didn’t talk about poses, but about movement. Rather than stationary shapes connected with transitions, he uses spatial language and direction to inspire dance. Sometimes he places an imaginary object in the room and asks the dancers to move around it, to trace it’s shape, go under it, or respond to it changing. The eventual dance may have familiar shapes and poses but how they were created and how they flow together becomes a unique collaboration between the choreographer and the dancer.

When we work on a spinning pole we are essentially holding a shape and allowing the motion of the pole to accentuate our movements. The language of pole dance can be limiting as we think about choreography as a sequence of poses – climb, straddle, scorpio, butterfly. Even for floor work, movements can also become quite static, one pose to the next, even if they are choreographed to the rhythm of the music. Naming poses is useful, especially to help us communicate choreography with other dancers, but it should be remembered that this is not the only way to think about movement.

What if there were other elements on stage to inspire your movement? Real props, or imaginary ones, can fill the space and will influence the way you can move around it. If there was a box in the middle of the room, you could leap over it, dance around it, or even pick it up and dance with it!

I first heard Kristy Sellars talk about giving the pole in your routines a character or status, which offers similar possibilities. Think of the pole as a lover, or an enemy, and explore how you might respond to it differently, in the way you touch the pole, walk around it, or dismount from it.

Using these ideas will change the way you enter a pose and move through it, or may inspire a new shape or movement all together. Rather than your combos looking like everyone else’s, your dance will become uniquely you.

I highly recommend watching Wayne McGregor’s TED talk and taking inspiration from his ideas about dance, choreography, movement, and expression. We all have movement habits and it’s easy to let muscle memory and familiarity take over. Adding imagery and visualization to your choreography will help you break these movement habits and dig deeper into your creativity. For those who also feel uncomfortable with freestyle, these exercises can also be a great starting point to exploring new movement and inspiring a new direction for a routine.

I created a simple dance flow with a scarf to explore the prop vs no-prop concept. A small dance was recorded with the scarf and then repeated without it, attempting to recreate the movements as closely as possible.

This clip could be worked on and polished for accuracy, however the point of the exercise needs no more clarity. What amazed me was how the eventual choreography would never have come about without the experimentation with the scarf in the first place. Sure, I could have danced and imagined I had a scarf in my hand, but the result is a completely unique flow that emerged from my body interacting with the scarf in the first place. My body learned “the dance” so to speak and could then repeat it for the second take.

These experiments may never become a final dance, but they do teach us something about the way we move in relation to our environment, and how to inspire new movement through the use of props, imagery, and visualization.

I’d love for you to share your experiments too! Tag me on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram with your videos!

 

Floor Flow Drawings

A new space inspires new ideas. At home, my dance space is a few square meters on the floor in front of the kitchen bench, stretching out towards the couch. Our floor is polished concrete, slightly too hard on the knees, but amazingly slippy for wearing socks and doing some slinky floorwork or chair dancing. Sessions of yoga often flow into dance sessions as I let my body move with or without music.

The nature of the space creates boundaries for my movement, but I’d rather think of them as creative limitations. I can’t move the fridge or the cupboard, but I can find a new way to slide under myself or turn around, reaching the boundary and bouncing off again.

One morning, I had an idea of being able to draw my floor flows. Inspired by other artists and dancers, I was curious as to how a movement, or a series of movements, would translate to a 2D field of lines on paper. My eagerness grew as I slowly collected the materials to complete the project.

Sourcing charcoal here was a challenge, so for my initial attempts I strapped together six 8B pencils and held them in each hand. Finally getting lines on paper was immensely satisfying, yet I craved to be able to smudge the lines as I rolled across them. Three drawings later, however, I already had a new understanding of the process and output that I was creating.


The freestyle drawings gave great insight into the way my body was moving on the page. It tracked the path of my hands but not my feet or legs. For a long time I have struggled with knowing what to do with my hands when dancing. Body waves, and leg sequences flow quite naturally, and as a pole dancer I could always just hold on to the pole. But now it was the movement of my hands and arms that was in focus.

After a few more pencil freestyles, and a run through with charcoal I took a step back and reflected on the shapes that were appearing. The boundaries of the paper had to be respected, but in the same way as the walls of my lounge room and furniture had to be creatively avoided, I was confronted with almost endless opportunities of how to move within the space of the paper.

Watching the videos of my freestyles, I began to isolate movements that offered shapes and lines that I found aesthetically pleasing. Breaking these down there were sixteen sequences. I made notes of these sequences and shapes in small drawings, numbering each line to recall how my body moved to create the shape.

Just like the process of creating choreography for a dance, my body and mind formed a relationship around the language of movement. My body had showed my mind a new way to move. But this new language needed translating, my mind breaking down the patterns to something more understandable. I am now at the stage where my mind is retelling these ideas back to my body. With a greater understanding of how my movements are reflected on the page, the process is now less of a freestyle and more a choreography.

My small sketches speak to me and tell me how to move. Without words, the lines and shapes ask me to pirouette, turn, thread through, and extend. Some of these dances were seemingly endless repetitions that lasted for 20 minutes or so. Others existed in the boundaries of a song, inviting me to stand up and look back at what I created as the music moved back in to silence.

As much as I am so excited to share these drawings as themselves, I am also curious as to how a pole dance or floor routine could be choreographed with similar symbolism and design. Last year I wrote about Merce Cunningham and how his theories about movement and dance influenced my choreography, and how these thoughts inspired a new way of recording movement. Reflecting on these ideas, the drawings seem instrumental to the evolution of my thinking about movement and dance.

The following video is a floor flow drawing routine I created with choreography with charcoal. This sequence was choreographed based on the sixteen flow shapes I discovered through my freestyles. It was a whole new learning curve discovering how to link the flows together so I didn’t have to get off the paper during the song. After the rehearsals though it was exciting to find that the dance felt similar to my early freestyles where I just let the music move me. I love those moments when the dance takes over, and even though this sequence was mindful and choreographed, it was wonderful to let go and just flow.

 

 

I’m so grateful to my husband for letting me take over the space and helping wash off the charcoal for so many days in a row! I hope you enjoy and are inspired to work creatively in your own space. I’d love to hear your feedback or share in your own ideas for new work!

Everyone who has subscribed to my newsletter will receive exclusive access to the behind the scenes videos of these floor drawings, including the small sketches, process notes, and outtakes! Don’t miss out! Sign up before April 19th to share in this new venture into creative movement.

 

Pole Dance Stories

Novelist Willa Cather once said, “There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before.”

Then again, it has also been said that there are seven foundation stories from which every successful narrative known has been made.

Choreography can start from many places. You may have heard a song that you just have to dance to. Perhaps you’ve just invented the best combo, and you can visualize it on stage as the climax to a routine. Alternatively, I have often felt with no place to start but a competition or showcase on the horizon that requires me to put something together. In each of these cases, choosing a focus on a story, rather than just a theme or character, may help you construct a fluid routine that has the potential not just to impress but to take your audience on a memorable journey.

If you are looking for inspiration for your next routine, perhaps some insight into the structure of stories could help you. Before or after you choose your song, adding story elements to your performance will ensure that you are engaging the audience from many angles. In my experience, pole dance routines with stories also tend to be appealing to non-pole dancers. The performance becomes more of a show and offers the audience something to understand and relate to when they are unfamiliar with the nature of pole dance.

I outline each of the seven plots below (as described by Christopher Booker in his book The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories, 2004) with reference to pop culture examples to help you understand how each is different. Under each example are some points about how the plot could form a container for a rich and meaningful pole dance routine.

1. Overcoming the Monster – The protagonist sets out to defeat an antagonistic force (often evil) which threatens the protagonist and/or protagonist’s homeland.

Examples: James Bond, Attack on Titan, The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, and Shrek, David and Goliath.

This can work well as a doubles or group routine, allowing for dynamic interplay between two or more characters. Costumes and characters here can be diverse, ranging from simple contrasting colours (white vs black), to actors based on real stories themselves.

2. Rags to Riches – The poor protagonist acquires things such as power, wealth, and a mate, before losing it all and gaining it back upon growing as a person.

Examples: Cinderella, Aladdin, Jane Eyre, A Little Princess, Great Expectations

Such a narrative may require props and effective costuming to help support the messages conveyed to the audience. When done well, and with familiar characters, it is possible for the props to “fill in the gaps” allowing you to emphasise just one part of the story over another, avoiding the trap of feeling like you need to fit an entire fairy tale into a 3 minute routine!

3. The Quest – The protagonist and some companions set out to acquire an important object or to get to a location, facing many obstacles and temptations along the way.

Examples: Iliad, Watership Down, The Lord of the Rings, The Land Before Time, One Piece, Indiana Jones

Consider how the music could add a sense of struggle followed by triumph. The poses and shapes chosen by the dancer would also emphasise challenges and then success. When telling this story, the obstacles and temptations would form the bulk of the routine, while the final success would offer the audience a sense of relief. How could the audience feel like they were on the journey with you?

4. Voyage and Return – The protagonist goes to a strange land and, after overcoming the threats it poses to him or her, returns with experience.

Examples: Odyssey, Alice in Wonderland, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, The Hobbit, Gone with the Wind, Chronicles of Narnia, Apollo 13, Labyrinth, Finding Nemo, Gulliver’s Travels, The Wizard of Oz

Try to choose one perspective when telling these types of stories. Or if you are in a group or performing as doubles, keep the elements simple and cut back. I’ve previously shared how much I love Kristy Sellars’ Alice in Wonderland routine. By adding the video projection she was able to share so much more about the journey and the narrative. We might not all be able to be so ambitious, so consider how less is more.

5. Comedy – Light and humorous character with a happy or cheerful ending; a dramatic work in which the central motif is the triumph over adverse circumstance, resulting in a successful or happy conclusion. Booker makes sure to stress that comedy is more than humor. It refers to a pattern where the conflict becomes more and more confusing, but is at last made plain in a single clarifying event. Most romances fall into this category.

Examples: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Much Ado About Nothing, Twelfth Night, Bridget Jones Diary, Sliding Doors, Mr. Bean

 

Pole Comedy can be hard to accomplish. There are many moves, tricks, and poses that can be dramatised in a funny way, but make sure your performance also has a sense of triumph over struggle so it is more than just goofy dancing.

 

 

6. Tragedy – The protagonist is a hero with one major character flaw or great mistake which is ultimately their undoing. Their unfortunate end evokes pity at their folly and the fall of a fundamentally ‘good’ character.

Examples: Macbeth, Bonnie and Clyde, Anna Karenina, Madame Bovary, Romeo and Juliet, Breaking Bad, Hamlet

This could be a simple as a lyrical or contemporary based routine that captures the emotion of the tragedy. This story line can be a good starting place for those wishing to put more meaning into their routines, or who find energy from an event that has happened in their personal life.

 

7. Rebirth – During the course of the story, an important event forces the main character to change their ways, often making them a better person.

Examples: Beauty and the Beast, The Snow Queen, A Christmas Carol, The Secret Garden, Despicable Me, How the Grinch Stole Christmas

In my mind, this is a more refined version of the “Comedy”, “Voyage and Return” and “Rags to Riches” stories. However, the turning point of the story may happen earlier so within the performance you have more time to express the ideas of the rebirth.


Hopefully these story ideas have inspired you to consider a new routine or have helped you flesh out a previous idea to turn it into a full show! No matter what story plot you choose, remember these key points:

  • Your story needs to be understandable to your audience, which may require that you use props or settings to help them follow the plot.
  • Think about how your costume can also work as a prop to help convey your story. Do you take off something, reveal something new, or change entirely as your character evolves?
  • Many of the familiar fairy tale stories have been done before – think Alice in Wonderland, Snow White, Cinderella. This is not to say that you should avoid these topics, they are done again and again because they translate so well! Perhaps think about how you can add to the story, or present it in a different way. Instead of playing the character of Snow White, how would the story look from the Evil Witch’s perspective? Maybe you are the prince, searching for Cinderella after she loses her shoe?
  • Your performance does not need to tell the entire tale. In three to five minutes this would be a huge undertaking. Choose part of the story that is manageable, and add on with props and costumes that fill in the rest of the narrative for your audience.
  • Make sure you sustain your character throughout your floorwork, transitions, and pole tricks. If you can’t do the trick in character take it out, and choose to maintain the mood and integrity of the performance as a whole. Pole champion Irmingard Mayar warns, pole dancers “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” which jars and stops the flow of the story.

 

I’d love to hear your thoughts about pole dance and story telling. Comment below, or tag me in your ideas on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram!

The Best of the Best!

Great pole dance is often so subjective. A dancer’s choice of song, their style, heels no heels etc etc. Some performances strike a chord depending on when you saw it and what else might have been going on in your life. Occasionally, there are standout favourites that everyone agrees upon, and each dancer usually has their own personal treasures that they revisit time and time again.

 

As I get ready to release my own February Favourites (for all subscribers!), I found time to reflect on my favourite performances from the pole world from last year.

I love the innovation in these routines. The dancer’s ability to turn themselves inside out on the pole, not just in a flexi way, but in a way that expresses creativity and understanding of poses to link them together in a new way. I love seeing old tricks put together in new ways. And I especially love a dancer who expresses a new sense of musicality, hitting beats and finding flow in a way that draws you in, silencing everything else around you as you watch!

If you are still adding pole goals to your list for 2017, perhaps these routines will give you inspiration to think outside the box.

 

Natalia Tatarintseva – I stopped watching a lot of pole dance from the Ukraine and Russia, feeling overwhelmed by their gymnast bodies and apparent mastery of flexi tricks. Then I saw Natalia Tatarintseva who blew me away with her innovation and dance style. I love her use of the prop as well, integrating it into her spins and tricks! Prepare to watch in awe!

 

Elizabeth Gerrard and Nicola Burke – As well as being incredibly in sync, these girls offer new twists on old combos. All coupled with great connection and expression which helps tell the story of their performance. I love their simple gestures emphasised by musical beats.

 

Ke Hong – This guy has amazing flow, grace, and strength. And OMG his pointed toes! I love the drama of pole dance to classical and orchestral music. I’ll be watching what this guy does in the coming year.

 

Kristy Sellars – For all those polers who were hiding under a rock in 2016, Kristy Sellars changed the game in pole dancing forever! After her “Alice in Wonderland” performance, she created “The Abduction”, a collaboration of dance, visual effects, and amazing imagination! I love to share this routine with people who are not pole dancers. It really brings the art to the world stage and sets a new standard for the possibilities of pole dance.

 

Did I miss anyone? Who were your favourites from 2016? And who do you have your eye on for this year?

Let me know on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter and continue the conversation!

Chair Dance

Since being away from my pole and a regular studio space, I have had more time to explore other aspects of my dance practice. Mornings start with at least an hour of yoga and stretching before breakfast. After some work or time exploring our new city I find that my desire to just move leads me to long floor work sessions and most recently choreographing a chair dance routine!

The processes involved in chair dancing has challenged my creativity, flow, and stage presence and has offered a new perspective on tricks and floor work. It’s a great foundation to strengthen your dance skill set too!

Many pole studios offer chair and lap dancing in conjunction with pole, or as separate classes. Training in Sydney, I joined chair dance for one term a few years ago. As a group of three we performed what we learned at a showcase. But aside from this class, my experience dancing on, with, and around a chair has been limited.

Creating a chair routine and recording my chair dance freestyles, I have become aware of three elements of chair dance that may compliment your pole practice.

Creativity
I have to admit that when I first chose to start working on a chair routine I was stumped. I had a song, and knew what feeling I wanted the choreography to take, but it was hard to know where to begin. I could not rely on standby pole combos or spins. I was also limited by the type of chair available, how it could hold my weight in various balances, and the space it offered for placement in poses.

Making shapes and coming up with something new is challenging. I was surprised though at how many of the tricks and shapes I was able to translate from my pole experience. A pike, a back bend, a dynamic transition from a closed shape to an open one. I was reminded about the quality of the movement that matters, not just a shape having a name.

Unpacking this took time and experimentation, but I’m so glad to have had these moments. When I do get back on a pole I hope to have such a larger repertoire of tricks and formulations to return with.

Versatility
Using a prop such as a chair, or an ottoman as you can see in my final routine, offered new angles to explore floor poses and transitions that I was familiar with. It also challenged me to think of new ways to move around the space. The ottoman does not have a back, so I had to make a decision to have it against the wall, or to be able to move around it from all sides. When working with a chair in conjunction with a pole you can also choose to have the chair rest in front of the pole or place it to one side.

I really enjoyed the process of discovering the wall and then working it in to my dance. As I recorded my freestyles and watched how my arms and legs responded to the space, I found a new sensuality in my movements. Touching the chair and wall could be a movement in itself in a way that is not always possible when dancing with a pole.

Engagement
Eye contact, facial expressions, and hand gestures, are all elements of chair dance that make it more intimate. The audience is right there with you and being able to captivate them is much more important. I have already written about stage presence and polishing your choreography, but there is a whole language of the body that can help you tell your story. This was perhaps one of the most powerful lessons I have learned from engaging in chair dance, and something that is probably more related to burlesque and exotic dancing. I’m excited to see how this evolves as I work on new chair and floor routines too.

 

My “What To Do When You Don’t Have a Pole” videos from my pole hiatus last year got some great air time. Chair dance has reminded me how much I do just love to dance. There have been many moments in the last few weeks where I warm up by just putting on my long socks and turning up the volume. A space to dance needs just a floor and your body, no props required.

I do, however, recommend a chair (or a footstool) if you are looking for ways to change up your dance practice and inspire new movements and inspiration.

You can watch my chair dance routine on Vimeo here.