The sweat, the blood, the tears. The sweaty palms, the spray on glue keeping your costume in place. Many in the pole community know what it’s like to compete. Only a few know what it’s like to run a pole competition. Shayne Evans and Shannen Alexei spoke with the organizers of some of the most well know competitions around the world about what goes into preparing for these events. Without these pioneers, pole and aerial performers would not have these extraordinary platforms to express their creativity and show the world what they have got! Read about what its actually like to run a competition by some of the most well know organizers out there (its a lot harder than you think!) Name, competitions you run and locations Nina Reed. I own and organize the Colorado Pole Championship, and organize Pole Theatre USA. Both of my competitions are held in Boulder, Colorado, USA. Kennetta Huchens. Aerial All Stars – a two night pole and circus art competition spectacular that features Rising All Stars (pre-pro) on the 1st night, and Aerial All Stars (invite only pro) on the 2nd – with both pole art and circus art (aerial only) divisions. Pole Divas student competition that’s been running for 10 years – Unleashed Aerial Divas equivalent – Aerial Unleashed Frisk – A Sexy Pole Dance Competition – being held for the first time in 2016 http://poledivas.com.au/News/Frisk—A-Sexy-Pole-Dance-Competition.aspx Amy Guion. Pole Sport Organization. 10-12 events per year throughout U.S.A, Canada, Mexico, Switzerland B.J. Pettigrew. Co-founder of Pole Sport Organization, the World’s largest pro-am pole competition. We run competitions all over the United States, Canada, Mexico, and in Europe. You can see the full list at www.polesportorg.com. Crystal “CryStylez” Belcher. Melee on the Bayou: Houston’s Premier Pole Dance Competition. Houston, TX, USA. Tami Joy Schlichter. U.S. Aerial Championships. New York City. USA. What drew you to running a pole competition? Nina Reed: Back in 2012, my husband and I were talking about pole competitions, and specifically why there weren’t any in Colorado. Fast-forward six months, and I decided I might as well start one myself. I’ve always loved anything that requires obsessive list writing and organization, so it was a great fit from day one. Kennetta Huchens: It started by wanting to give our students an avenue to improve their skills and perform with Unleashed 10 years ago, and the passion grew from there, along with my desire to produce different and bigger events.
B.J Pettigrew: I was training at BeSpun after total knee replacements and many elite-level pole athletes at that time trained were training with Leigh Ann. They would all come back from various competitions with concerns about the safety standards and the lack of transparency in judging and judging criteria at those events. In addition, at that time there were no opportunities for amateur dancers to compete or really even to perform outside of studio showcases. I was coaching Amy Guion for competition at that time and she was the first person I encountered that agreed with my belief that we needed to create a competition series that would allow any competitor of any age and ability to compete without the constraints and subjectivity of video submission and was she willing to do the work to take it from vision to reality. In 2016 we are entering our fifth season and are so proud of how much our sport has grown since our humble beginning at the first Pacific Pole Championships in 2012 in a hotel ballroom by the L.A. airport. Crystal Belcher: I had competed in two competitions, did a number of performances and coached some winning routines around the Southern region. I felt that Houston needed an event like these to highlight athletes, celebrate our community and expand the frame of thought on what pole dancing is. Tami Joy Schlichter: Love of competing myself! What is the most difficult part of planning and running a competition? Nina Reed: The most difficult thing about organizing a pole competition, at least for me, is covering venue deposits and all the expenses that come up before ticket sales come in, and being okay with the risk that comes with spending a lot of money without any guarantees of making a profit. That, and getting the competitors to submit their music on time 😉 Kennetta Huchens: Worrying about tickets sales – hands down the biggest stress for me. It also gets tricky trying to keep all the different people involved in the event happy and well informed. Amy Guion: Communication. Whether it’s with the competitors, the venue, volunteers, judges or partners, I think that good communication is the key to having successful shows and relationships. I spend lots of time on the phone, email, and even Facebook messenger! B.J Pettigrew: I don’t know that it is difficult – it is just a lot of work and you have to be able to be very organized and constantly be able to find solutions to problems that you hadn’t anticipated. For me, because the pole community is so close, what is probably most difficult is that it absolutely has to be run as a business or it won’t exist – and sometimes it is really hard to hold friends to the same rules as everyone else, but if you don’t, the competition will lose credibility. Crystal Belcher: Planning and running! I don’t think there is one component that is the “most difficult.” But if I had to choose one, it’s asking myself how can I make this event better than the last. There are a plethora of components to hosting a production and they all need to work in unison to create a magical experience. If the show falls short of that, I haven’t done as good as a job as I intended. Tami Joy Schlichter: Obtaining high-level submissions, judges, and then filling the audience! What is the best thing about running a competition? Nina Reed: My favorite part of organizing a pole competition is the day of the competition, when I see the venue filling up with people who are there to see my show, when I share little moments with the competitors backstage, and finally when I get to sit down and focus on photographing the show – that’s my happy place! Kennetta Huchens: The special moments that happens on stage on competition night where the whole audience connects with an artist and is completely engrossed in their performance. It’s such a magical feeling, and something that you can never truly connect with the same way watching it back on YouTube or Facebook later. Nothing beats the live show! It’s like the difference between watching an action movie at the cinema or on your phone. Amy Guion: It’s fun to meet all of the competitors after I have been talking to them over the internet for a few months. Putting names to faces at registration is probably my favorite part of the show. B.J Pettigrew: There are so many. My favorites include; seeing competitors and studios come back year after year, excited to represent their home studios, but still welcoming everyone else in the community, making it like a reunion every competition. We get to see competitors improve and have personal victories from year to year. We get to see the whole audience cheering and supporting a competitor that maybe isn’t having a good performance – practically willing the competitor to stay on the stage, do their best, and finish what they started, even if it wasn’t the performance it was meant to be. We constantly get to see the best of this community and prove that competition can be friendly. Crystal Belcher: The best thing by far is to see these men and women just put it all out on stage for friends and family. They have worked so hard over the months to prepare for the show and it’s so fulfilling to see them shine and give of themselves to a crowd of hundreds. It’s a remarkable experience that I simply am inspired by and adore. Tami Joy Schlichter: The day-of. Watching the show… chills! What are your biggest fears on the day (or first day, if it spans multiple days) of the competition? Nina Reed: My biggest concern on the day of the competition is always whether the rigging and poles will go up on time.
Kennetta Huchens: That bump in or rehearsals will run overtime creating high stress for everyone before we event start! Then that something will go wrong with someone’s show – the music, the lighting, the poles, the rigging – there are so many facets to a performance that it only takes one little thing to let a performer and the audience down. Amy Guion: Setup is always stressful, because you want everything to look just perfect for the event. B.J Pettigrew: Having put on over 20 competitions, I don’t know that I have “fears” per se. Stressors, definitely. You want everyone to be there on time, you want everyone to have the best time possible, you want to keep everyone safe and healthy. That is a lot of responsibility, but the best thing about the pole community is that I have never had a situation where something was unexpectedly needed and someone didn’t offer to lend a hand. Crystal Belcher: Late start, AV issues, injuries and disappointments. You can only hope that things go awesomely, but I almost feel as if it’s just silly to not expect for the worse to happen. Therefore I set myself up with an essential team that is trained in every aspect of event planning. They not help me to remain calm, they can troubleshoot on a dime. Tami Joy Schlichter: That someone will get injured. What are the top 3 things that can or do go wrong during the competition? Nina Reed: There are a lot of things that could go wrong during the competition, but if I’ve done my job right the only things I’m worried about are 1) volunteers who don’t show up on time – or at all, 2) selling enough tickets to cover all the expenses, and 3) a competitor getting injured on stage. (We have a staffed ambulance on stand-by at the venue, but luckily we’ve never had to use it.) Kennetta Huchens: 1. Pole or rigging issues. The most frightening for us is the dynamic rigging for the aerialists as if we raise or lower them at the wrong time it can really affect their performance and safety. 2. Timing. If you don’t have your systems streamlined there can be big delays and some awkward moments on stage with the poor MC trying to fill time. 3. Injuries. Even if you do everything right, when you have artists 4 meters in the air it is dangerous. We don’t get a lot, but injuries and falls can happen, and can be serious. B.J Pettigrew: Oh, there are so many moving parts to a competition that there are probably hundreds of things that can and do go wrong during a competition, but it is different at every competition. The key is to have back-up plans in place and be able to think on your feet while remaining calm. Probably the most gratifying thing for me is when, at the end of a competition that has been “rough” in terms of little (non-literal) fires I have to put out, people come up and tell me how perfectly everything went, because that means I did my job well, I handled little (and bigger) situations as they came up, and I managed to look relaxed enough doing so so that no one could tell that my mind was spinning the entire competition. Crystal Belcher: Late start, AV issues and not allowing people to help you. Tami Joy Schlichter: Lights are messed up, music is messed up, and someone injures himself or herself. What are the most common constructive criticisms or critiques you receive? Nina Reed: I haven’t really received much critique, but I change little things between every competition. At the venue where I did my first shows, there were always long lines at the bar and restroom, the stage was small, and the backstage area was less than optimal for the performers. Now I’ve been able to upgrade to a bigger, nicer venue, which takes care of all those complaints. My shows have always run on schedule, we’ve never had problems with starting the wrong music or anything like that, and so the majority of feedback I’ve received has been positive. (But if anyone reading this has constructive criticism to offer, I’d love to hear it!) Kennetta Huchens: Where do I start haha? This is one of the hardest parts for me as I always work so hard to please everyone but there are bound to be your critics. Number one has to be the results. It doesn’t seem to matter how qualified and experience a judging panel we secure, there will be a lot of vocal people claiming they got it wrong. This can be insulting to the competitors who did win, the judges, and us organizers. But we also know that performance art is a very personal to the individual watching, so results will always be controversial.
The quality of the competitors videos is another common one. It is tricky and very expensive and I am constantly learning and improving on this. Vendors may not be happy with their sales, or sponsors with their exposure, the audience may not like the venue, the competitors think the day was too long. Some things are out of our control. B.J Pettigrew: Some we receive are things that we can’t really change if we want to be able to run these competitions because they are not currently (and may not ever be) financially feasible. Other critiques are on things that we know and plan to improve upon, but some things take steps and as much as we would like to go from A to Z immediately, some areas will take longer to develop if we want to do it thoughtfully. We are very fortunate, though, to also receive critiques that we are able to implement or address right away. We are always looking for ways to improve the experience for everyone, so we are delighted when we receive ideas that we can immediately apply. To that end, we frequently send out surveys to obtain additional feedback and we also consider every email or oral suggestion we receive. We would not exist without the support of the pole community, so we listen every chance we get. Crystal Belcher: Start earlier. Because I am a creative mind, I tend to procrastinate on things that could be done in advance. Breathe. Worrying won’t help. It’s best to just let the stress go and do what you can. Trust in my team. I asked them to be a part of this for reason. It’s because of them that this show is so successful and well respected. Tami Joy Schlichter: Need a faster motor for the lyra category (fixed this!) Need two poles for pole (no we don’t!), need more money to give away as prizes (I am grateful and thankful for the amount we have.) If you could give a person planning on running a competition one piece of advice about competition organization, what would it be? Nina Reed: My number one piece of advice that I’ve been offering people who want to run a show or competition, is to make it legit from the start. Get written contracts with your venue, rigging company, sponsors, competitors – anyone involved with the show, really. Make sure to get specific insurance that covers exactly what you’re doing. Take some time to work on your budget before you start booking anything – you need a realistic idea of how much you can expect to make from ticket sales, before deciding how much you can afford to spend on your venue. Treat it like a business, and be prepared to put in a lot of work hours!
Kennetta Huchens: You have 3 categories of customers that are equally important: the audience who buy your tickets; the competitors; and your supporters such as sponsors, vendors, judges and volunteers. You need to work hard so that everyone involved in your show has the best experience possible, as without any of them you don’t have a show and you want everyone to want to be around again the next year! Amy Guion: I would say, start planning WAY in advance of the event. It’s never fun to be down to the wire and having to work things out last minute. Also, triple check everything a couple of days before the show. One show, we had no poles! But because I checked in 2 days before, we were able to get them in time for the competition. B.J Pettigrew: If you are doing it for money or prestige, there are probably much easier and less stressful ways to accomplish that goal. Competitions are expensive and a lot of work to run and require that you become an mini-expert in a variety of areas such as truss design, insurance, licensing, taxes, etc. Amy and I have been a great team because our skill sets complement each other. She has expertise in the pole industry, while I have been able to use both the experiences I gained in figure skating to build the judging system and the event foundation, but also my experience as an attorney to review contracts, negotiate settlements and to research various topics. I don’t think either of us could have taken PSO as far as we have as well as we have alone or with other partners, and we are very fortunate in that respect. So I would say, truly research and know what you are getting into if you decide to run a competition. Make safety the number one priority. And do it for the love of the sport Crystal Belcher: Ask why your competition serves a benefit to the masses, especially if you are in a heavily saturated market. Is this for you or for the advancement of your performers? This show has to be about them, not you! Timing and relationships are vital. Become a student of the craft and research what it takes create a successful show, Volunteer with other competitions to see all the inner workings. Choose an event weekend that is conducive to spectators and performers. Plan workshops around the weekend or other events that would entice ticket buyers. Lastly, have fun and take it all in!
Tami Joy Schlichter: Talk to me! You need help, and I’m super organized. 😉