Tagroutine

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! πŸ™‚

 

Pole Dance Stories

Novelist Willa Cather once said, β€œThere 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.

Time to Say Goodbye

Last month my partner and I landed in Cambodia, the beginning of an undetermined period of time abroad. Saying goodbye to Sydney was full of mixed emotions. I quit my job of over ten years, bid farewell to friends and family, and had to say goodbye to my home pole!

As pole dancers know, dance is therapy. So before taking down my pole and leaving my home studio I spent some time freestyling and revisiting flow, reflecting on the performances that were created in that space.

Each morning for three weeks before we left, I woke with the earworm Time To Say Goodbye. Responding to the call I began to choreograph a piece to the song. There wasn’t enough time to record it as a single take, but whilst wrapping up the lose ends of Sydney over the last month I’ve had time to work with the video, revealing snippets of emotive dance and favourite tricks that have come together for a kind of compilation performance.

There are no big tricks or funky floorwork, just me in my happy place, a bittersweet moment in the process of closing a chapter and preparing for something new.

Thanks for watching!

 

Inspired by Anais Nin – Part 3: Material

“too great an emphasis on technique arrests naturalness. The material from which I will create comes from living from the personality, from experience, adventures, voyages. This natural flow of riches comes first. The technique is merely a way to organise the flow, to chisel, shape; but without the original flow from deep inner riches of material, everything withers”
The Journals of Anais Nin – Volume Four.

There is so much I love about this quote. Anais Nin is not a dancer, but her words speak to every artist. This is the final post in a three part series that unpacked each of Anais Nin’s ideas and how it relates to artistic expression, including pole dancing.

I think sometimes pole dancers forget to see themselves as artists. We’re told by the media and social memes that we are strong, empowered women. That we are athletes, stronger than our counterparts. We need sass, attitude, and if people don’t listen we’ll just bust out a move and prove them wrong.

Just like other creative endeavours pole dance is a form of expression, in your lounge room or on the stage. Just like a painter, photographer, writer, or singer, a pole dancer is expressing part of themselves. It feels good and that’s why we keep doing it! At the heart of the matter, we are not in it for the likes, nor to show off in the gym when we can do more pull ups than the guys. Our intentions when dancing come from within. We are artists and dancers, and shouldn’t be afraid to take that seriously.


“The material from which I will create comes from living from the personality, from experience, adventures, voyages.”

As I begin to write this post I sit looking at a vista. The lake a calm blanket of blue after a few days of rough winds, the birds chirping and playing in the Spring time sun. It is so quiet, my tapping on the keys seems to interrupt the air in the room. A paradox of time and space, that I finally have time to sit and write, but the space is begging for me to just enjoy the view.
Wangi Wangi

My partner and I are house sitting, a stepping stone on an adventure of a life time. Last month I quit my job and we sold most of our belongings. We have been together for 12 years and although being attached to our routines and habits, and many pieces of furniture and knickknacks, it is time to take stock and see what else the world can bring. Sydney has been great to both of us. I have a strong supportive pole community and space to perform a few times per year. Lee has been able to create an amazing portfolio of photographic work and meet hundreds of inspiring models and artists. But Sydney is also draining our creative energy. The cost and lifestyle sadly no longer contribute to our vision for the future and so it is time to move on.

Anais Nin, the author of the quote above, was a writer. She traveled for a long time with Henry Miller, one of her lovers and a fellow author and artist. She says, “The material from which I will create comes from living from the personality, from experience, adventures, voyages. This natural flow of riches comes first.”

My choreography and performances also emerge from my personality, experiences, adventures and voyages. A few months ago I wrote a playful post using all the titles of the songs I have danced too. It was a humorous reflection on five years of dancing, but it really reminded me of how much each piece was an expression of a moment in my life.

(Remember at the beginning of this series where I said that pole dancers shouldn’t be afraid to take themselves seriously? yeah, that)

In 2012 I was training with Jamilla Deville at the Art of Pole Studios in Sydney. We were preparing for a showcase and I was with just one other student and Jamilla in an open play practice time. After running the combos and reviewing my choreography on my own, Jamilla asked if I would like to dance the whole piece while Donna and her watched. My dance was full of nerves and not very polished but the song offered time for pauses and allowed me to stay inside myself. My final pose was a swan, a kind of pole sit where you lean your torso around the front of the pole, laying over your legs. The music finished and I reconnected with Jamilla and Donna who were smiling and praising my efforts. Before I had even dismounted the pole, Jamilla said, “Thank you for sharing your dance with us” – a statement acknowledging the intimacy of the moment while also acknowledging the exchange – “sharing your dance with us” – sharing a part of me with you.

After Solotude 3, I had a few people ask about my inspiration for my choreography, wondering where my sometimes ‘out of the box’ ideas come from. The answer was simple, but probably deeper than most want to realise. It comes from the same place that Anais Nin talks about.

amelie hermitude duo

I have danced to French composer Yann Tiersen (J’y suis Jamias Alle) pictured left,Β Β Β Β  choosing the piece after returning from a trip to Paris. Frayed by Hermitude, pictured right, was a routine that came together while I was working through some personal issues, in addition to having torn a hamstring. Pole dance was healing.

Sometimes a piece works in a cathartic way, while other times a dance is simply an unpacking of thoughts about an experience. Next time you are creating a dance piece consider your intentions behind your movement. You may have lost someone recently and that may inspire a whole new way to express your emotional energy. You can find inspiration in new relationships even those as fleeting as a snippet of conversation from waiting in line for coffee. Isadora Duncan used nature, her observations of palm fronds swaying in the wind, inspiring new movement possibilities.

When I choose a song for my choreography I find an artist who has also created something that will compliment or emphasise what I am expressing. The eventual choreography is then an interplay with what I feel I need to convey and how the song already says part or all of it.

“The material from which I will create comes from living…”

And so my partner and I have started a process to keep on living. Moving away from the squeeze of Sydney we are setting off to Cambodia, landing in Phnom Penh at the end of September.

I will still be dancing and writing, but the form it takes will be inspired by our new landscape, friends, adventures, and all the riches of an ancient culture. I have goals to work on my flexibility, hoping the weather will work in my favour to always be warm enough to stretch. I am also open, however, to see what happens! I’ve been working full time now for more than 12 years am excited to stop the snowballing effect of debt and obligations, and open my mind to learning new things.

What will pole dance look like in Cambodia? I’m not sure yet. There are multiple studios in neighbouring Thailand and Vietnam which I am excited to be able to drop in to, but it’s an exciting prospect to be able to see what comes up and find new inspiration in another culture, a new lifestyle, and a new community.

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