Written by Bexiita Ackland Competing in pole has become big business. What was once something only for the elite and/or crazy has become commonplace, with more and more reputable local and regional competitions, and with a wider range of competitions incorporating different styles of pole. From pole athletics to stripper style and everything in between, there is now a well organised and prestigious competition for you. Sometimes it feels like every person in every class you take has competed, is competing, or is planning to compete. And that’s totally brilliant – competing can take you to places you never imagined, pushing you physically and mentally. But is competing for you? Once you make the frankly pant wettingly scary decision to get up on stage, a whole world opens up to you which is hard to comprehend until you are actually part of it. Here are eight things to consider before making that decision and taking to the stage: 1. Can you afford it? The costs of competing can potentially be huge. Costumes are anywhere from around the £40 mark if you are canny/lucky on eBay, and up to £100-£200 for a bespoke outfit (that’s around $150-$300 for my American friends). Add on to that the costs of private or extra lessons or workshops you may want to book to polish up your tricks, the costs of hiring a space or studio to practice your routine or film your video heat, plus the costs of travelling to such sessions and things start to add up. That’s before we even get to the hair, make up, nails and so on – I’ve seen pre-comp beautifying to rival most weddings. However, like weddings, competing can be done on a budget – if you are handy with a needle you can create a wonderful costume yourself which will stand out as not being yet another creation by the designer du jour, and of course you can do your own hair and make up (or go with a caveman/Wild Woman of Borneo theme that requires no beautifying at all). You may have free access to your own space or own pole to practice, so practice may not cost your too much money at all. However there’s no way to get away from…. 2. Do you have the time? Do not underestimate how much of your time competing will take up. Do you have friends, family or any sort of a social life? Do you hear that whooshing sound? That’s the sound of your social life disappearing. You may be a natural and come up with a whole routine in an hour or two, but most people spend a lot of time sitting on the floor with a notepad, planning combos, scribbling things out, writing new combos, screwing up bits of paper, considering burning the entire notebook and studio to the ground, starting again from scratch and then ending up with something completely different weeks later. All of this faffing about will take up huge amounts of your spare time. You may also take up other sports on your non-pole days to help with strength or cardio when you realise how much stamina a whole routine requires (this is when pole dancers fall in love with swimming, running and crossfit). You may take up a stretch or yoga class to help with flexibility, because let’s face it flexibility always adds a wow factor to routines. And after all the time physically taken up, it will also take up all your time in your head. Don’t even bother trying to have a conversation with a pole dancer a week before they compete, unless you want to talk about glitter, tendons, the unquantifiable amount an unfamiliar pole might spin and whether to step first with the left or right leg. Seriously, the week before I compete, I bore even myself. Of course, you may thrive on the focus and thoroughly enjoy the discipline of planning your life and managing your time effectively. The process of creating a routine is undoubtedly hugely rewarding and enjoyable, and a much better use of time than watching crap TV. On the other hand, if you have no friends or social life whatsoever, you are a perfect candidate for competing. 3. What about significant others? OK so most people do have friends and a social life, and possibly a significant other and even children. These people are going to bear the brunt when you are tired, injured, stressed, nervous and trying not to eat chocolate. Is that going to make your life difficult? For the last four weeks or so before your competition, will your family be understanding that you will be training a lot and not at home? I’m not saying that you should put your dreams on hold, but it’s probably a good idea to brief/warn everyone concerned beforehand. Do you have a good support network around you? Will someone be there for you when you are crying over crystals? It can happen. Do you have someone to go to for advice about music cutting or costume designing, or someone to warn you against capes, skirts or props? (Seriously, think twice about wearing a skirt). And do you have someone to remind you that it’s only a competition for goodness sake, chill out and eat the chocolate? 4. Are you emotionally ready? Are you prepared for what you will go through and the questions you will ask yourself? When you are tired and drained, sore and aching, with creativity flowing from every pore leaving you emotionally open, it’s not unusual to ask some pretty soul-searching questions Am I good enough? Should I be doing more? Why didn’t I start training splits years ago? Why is everyone is better than me? Remember that bit about sitting on the floor with a notepad putting your routine together, only to realise you have far exceeded your capabilites? That’s when all the ghosts of pole appear to let you know just how rubbish you are The main thing to remember here is that this is NORMAL. Here’s a secret: everyone feels like that sometimes. Everyone wonders if they are good enough. Everyone questions themselves and worries they will mess up and embarrass themselves. Take a deep breath, speak to your pole instructor or fellow students or someone in the industry you admire or respect or just think will be nice to you. And for goodness sake, don’t start obsessing about what your fellow competitors are doing and comparing yourself to them. You are you, and they are them. Believe me, deep down, they are thinking the same thoughts. 5. Are you physically ready? Depending on the level you are competing at, competing can put a strain on the body. Are you healthy and reasonably fit? Do you have any underlying medical conditions that mean when you are tired and stressed, your health is put in danger? I do not for a moment mean you cannot compete if this applies to you. Rather, I mean you need to be aware of this, listen to your body and manage your training appropriately. You might also use the process as an opportunity to improve your general health and nutrition – healthy eating will undoubtedly help your with your training, and having your performance as a goal can be a great incentive to improve your overall fitness. Make sure, however, this is a by product of your training, and not the sole incentive. It is not a good idea to compete “because that way I will have to lose 2 stone by July”. Also remember that cake, chocolate, chicken wings, doughnuts and eating out with friends is lovely and enjoyable, and also that you do not get scored onstage for your thighs. 6. Are you doing it for the right reasons? Also known as why are you doing it? There are many brilliant, positive reasons to compete. To push yourself with your training. To set yourself a challenge. To take yourself further along your pole journey. To inspire your students or family. Because it looks like fun. There are also reasons to compete which are based in negativity – To prove a point. To “show someone”. For the glory. Because you’ll definitely win. Competing is always a risk, but if your reasons to do so are based in positivity, then whatever the outcome it will still be a positive experience. If however you are going through the whole thing – the work, the stress, the training, the expense – for a negative reason… I don’t have to spell it out do I. 7. Will you enjoy it? Your performance itself will last a matter of minutes, but can be hugely intense. Your training can last months. Will you enjoy both? Personally I like performing, but the training – n ot so much. Others are the other way around, and love working towards a goal but are terrified on stage. Training when you’re not in the mood or it’s snowing outside or you’re as stiff as a board can make you just want to lie on the sofa watching X Factor, or it can take you to a wonderful place of zen and sense of achievement. If you have not enjoyed the process, or appearing on stage, it will show in your performance. Similarly, if you have loved every minute, that will ooze out of your performance and pour all over the judges and crowd like that stuff in the 50s B-movie The Blob, but make them enthralled and fill them with joy rather than terror and fear. 8. How important is it to you to place? If you give your all to your training, focus your time, pour your heart and soul into your routine, give it everything you’ve got on stage and then place much lower than you were hoping or expecting, how are you going to feel about that? How will you feel if you come last? It’s normal to experience post-comp blues, even if you are happy with the result. Competing can become such a massive thing and not having it any more can leave a void. But will you still be feeling those blues next week, next month, next year? Will it put you off competing altogether? Remember, competing and judging is subjective. Who can know what makes up the “best” routine? On another day, you may have placed higher or lower. Of course, you want to do your best, and it’s natural and human to want to do well. But if you are placing your self worth on doing well, you are putting yourself in a dangerous position, both mentally and emotionally. If you can genuinely say that as long as you did your best and where you place is just a bonus, then you are in the right frame of mind. Go ahead, and make it your time to shine. Your stage is waiting.