After watching the few videos of the first ever World Pole Championships created to follow strictly Olympic Games rules, I am now even more convinced that I cannot support this idea.
First of all, I would like to say that I have an immense respect for the athletes competing and who displayed mind blowing tricks.
There is no criticism on the level or the difficulty of the sport which I definitely think from a strictly athletic point of view would totally own its place among other Olympic disciplines. Here are my personal reasons listed below.
What made me decide to start pole dancing in the first place was that for the first time I found a dance class I felt I could start at an adult age and without it representing a strong disadvantage while still mixing dance, gymnastic and circus elements. Of course any competitive dancer starting pole would get results a lot faster than the average newbie. It seems like the population of pole dancers is such that you can feel comfortable enough to start at your own pace and at whatever stage of your life. In fact, quite a few champions of pole dancing competitions (not in the Olympic sense) discovered this art form quite late and are accomplished dancers. I believe this allows dancers to display a certain form of maturity in dancing: people dance for themselves and for their audience when they decide to “go public”, with sole real goals at first often being a way out of their daily activities, where they can express themselves. Many polers will say that they entered their first competitions more for the personal challenge or out of an act of randomness than for the actual goal of making a career or even a name for themselves out of it.
What I love about pole is the freedom and authenticity of it. I love that most people don’t take themselves too seriously. If you have a look at youtube, you will see people of all ages, all styles and all countries daring posting videos of them being sexy, messing and laughing, training and failing – sometimes the best part-, showcasing, performing, competing. In fact they are thousands of videos but displaying so many different styles. You wonder sometimes if it is even the same art. I love watching dancers in 6 or 8 inches heels, or barefoot, or in hip hop runners or whatever footwear they prefer. It takes a good sense of humour and also a wise mix of humility and confidence to expose one’s self in such a minimal appearance. The dancer is definitely exposed, but his/her body parts are not the only things revealed, the soul is poured.
What I love about pole is its edgy, eccentric, borderline side. Even though it is becoming more and more main street, there is still a “dangerous” side of it: dangerous because of the laws of physics (gravity being a big one), but also because of social “laws”. It is still hard to predict how people will react when they first hear you do pole dancing. Colleagues, family members, friends, partners will all have to position themselves and embrace a new “world”. Until people pass the gates of the pole world, they might be intimated and won’t know what to expect. There is a guilty pleasure in either keeping the mystery around polers and their activities or if in contrary this outsider has gained our trust, there is a great joy in sharing our passion and enthusiasm. I guess every community works on the same model. You need a while to know enough to understand it and become part of it. The pole community has to deal with a very heavy load of stereotypes making it quite frustrating sometimes to “come out” and be recognized for what we really are. I don’t necessarily want the pole community to stay closed to a small number of people or stay hidden. I am the first one to say and show people what pole dance is nowadays as a sport and an art form, in all its various ways. I am not convinced that lobbying for pole dancing to be formatted to fit the Olympic Games criteria will bring benefits to the pole community. I do not feel this will push pole in a direction I feel comfortable with.
Even on small details, like the fact that songs need to be royalty free and without any lyrics. Again, I completely understand the purpose of it for the Olympic Games. I just think that personally it is like muting artists and dancers. It is definitely restricting choices a lot. Maybe it is because I am naturally very talkative but I pay so much attention to lyrics in songs and use them in my story telling and choreography. I also love instrumental pieces but what I prefer above all is the choice, diversity and surprise element.
Another point which is so important to pole and will be lost in Olympic competitions is the major role played by the crowd. You can recognise straight away any pole event or pole videos by the amount of loud screaming and cheering coming from the audience. People go wild. You would expect an audience assisting to Olympic Games to be reserved and quiet. When you watch them on television, what always astonishes me is the very severe and strict audio background. You can only hear couple of judges or an odd neutral voice. Taking away the high pitch noises, the “ go girl”, the “yeah” of satisfaction, and all those familiar encouragements would be like taking all the oxygen out of my lunges when I am on stage. I personally need those super loud, nearly tribal, surrounding sounds to feel the energy, the confidence, the power. (And I’m very generous at giving them back!) I am sure people could align with this. Polers need to be pumped up!
I am always touched to see the unity and genuine support pole dancers will show each other. No matter what tricks you do, what level you are out, no matter if you have just failed one of your hardest tricks or mastered a new creation, you can always count on fellow polers to cheer you up until you step off the stage. They will always find a way to make themselves heard, even if their vocal cords had to break, they would still clap or find some ways to show their support. And very often the audience is made of fellow competitors. It is heart-warming to see the boundaries falling and everybody coming closer together at a pole event: hugging, comforting, sharing (make up, deodorant, grip aids, yoga mats, you name it!), crying, stretching, rehearsing, dancing, poling. I haven’t seen people really feeling threatened by other polers and I hope I will never see this day! I don’t think pole need rules as strict as the ones required by the Olympic Games and their organisation.
Another aspect of my reasons not to support pole into the Olympic race would be the very neutral visual surroundings required. I particularly enjoy pole routines (competitive or not) that use tailored lighting and visual effects to create a complete choreography, aligned with the dance routine. I really believe it is much more enjoyable when it is presented and organised a show or a gala than the very plain required Olympic setting.
Maybe this comes from the strong history of pole dancing as an exotic dance but I do think that this art form is all about generosity and connection with an audience. I believe that a pole dancer should dance for an entire crowd, every single one of them. I mean genuinely, not displaying eye contact with the entire space but really dancing to get marked by a couple of judges. I think that pole performances that are more likely to create an impression are the ones that connected and touched everybody watching (either live or through media). Even in competitions, I think that the main aspects of it are the performing and showcasing parts rather than the point totals and other intricacies. I hope people don’t forget that they participate to have fun, enjoy themselves – so that others will do too- and meet their personal goals (it could be a challenge with a particular trick set by ourselves, or a confidence boost, or totally focused on meeting a particular audience etc). I am afraid a gap would be created with the audience if pole becomes an Olympic discipline. To be honest, if pole enters the Olympic, it does not necessarily means that people will stop organising more “opened” competitions but I fear that this will push a strong call for standardisation across the board and this will affect people’s creativity and originality. I am afraid that little by little, there will be not enough space left for amateurs and professional who enjoy pole for its artistry and more “circus like awkwardness”.
This can be linked to the judges as well. I can’t really align with a group of judges in uniform. I just don’t think this fits my idea of pole dancing. I love seeing judges that are themselves, sending a message that makes sense to competitors: be yourself, by your costume, the way you display yourself, the way you move, the way you think, the way you feel. I love seeing feathers, beautiful dresses and other clothes and accessories in a judge panel. It tells me that they will appreciate my effort to be myself and original. A small note on judges, I do see a very valid benefit in inviting judges from other dance or gymnastic disciplines at pole competitions. It is necessary to have a frame and some rigorous criteria to be able to judge, but to a certain extent. I think criteria can, if too studious, quickly take away the real essence of a performance. I have seen great improvements and lessons learnt by pole dancers, who are still establishing a very “young” discipline, when they take in consideration some valuable aspects of such and such other art form.
My last point would be a remark on professional pole dancers. I can see how from a business point of view participating and even more winning or placing at an Olympic event would be beneficial. But I have seen some extremely successful studios investing their time, energy and money in many other different ways that don’t seem to rely or need the Olympic machinery.
This leads me to believe that it is not worth it. The investment and risk to sacrifice what pole dancing are too high and unneeded to match very strict and perfectly standardised, sterilised, requirements of an institution. I hope that pole dancing will always be loyal to its first big “burst out” as a way to empower women and bring them joy, pride and freedom.
(Don’t forget to check my links to access the awesome Pole Dancing adventures comics where you will find many other pieces from the author of the image displayed in this article)