Choreographing Your Pole Routine and the Importance of Song Choice
Written by Erin O’Brian The first time I walked into a pole class, at 29 years of age, the last thing on my mind was performing in public; it had been years since I had danced, I had a one year old child and to be completely honest I believed that competing was in my past not my future. Fast forward 7 months, and sitting in the audience of a pole dancing competition changed everything. There is nothing quite as inspiring and motivating as seeing others peform: the music, the lights, the costumes, the awe-filled intake of breath as a performer delivers sensational tricks, added to the electricity in the air that is unmistakable is highly contagious. I was hooked; I was determined to be part of the energy and the magic that I had seen on that stage. I was almost giddy with excitement at the thought of performing – thoughts of glitz and glory preventing the cold hard factgs from dawning on me: I now had to choreograph and perfect a routine in just a few short months. The truth? It wasn’t going to be easy. There were going to be good and bad days, I was going to be sore, I was going to be bruised and frustrated, but I would also learn to love the process along the way. I would learn the steps to creating a successful routine (success of course is measured differently for different people. For some success means winning, for others success means a performance they can be proud of and enjoy; it is a personal journey for everyone) which made it a less stressful process the next time I built a performance because after that first experience I knew I had to do it again. I also knew that having a step by step plan, while not completely eliminating frustration and nerves (and most certainly not eliminating bruises!), would keep me sane and focused. While I am by no means an expert, my journey so far has helped me to create a plan that works for me and could possibly work for others. STEP 1: Song Choice (unless entered into a competition such as Pole Theatre; Step 1 would then be Theme/Story Choice) This step, in my opinion, is the most important. Your song guides your routine and will be a part of your every day life until the competition/showcase is over – you need to love it. When I choose a song it is only because I feel it, I experience it, and I know I have to dance to it. Once my song is chosen (it is important to note that rules about song length do affect song choice to some extent) I listen to it every single day, choreographing in my head as I drive my oldest daughter to school or ballet, or when I’m doing the dishes or running on the treadmill. In this way I become “intimate” with my song: with the beats, the lyrics, the timing, the “boom” moments and the softer sections, leaving me free to concentrate on the next steps. Knowing your song inside and out enables you to show the audience and/or judges your musicality: your understanding of the song in all of its different aspects and your ability to bring this out in your dancing. A dancer’s level of musicality could very well be the deciding factor for a judge, it also allows you to reach your audience and move them with your interpretation of the rhythm, tone, and feeling of the music. It is for all these reasons that I consider song choice one of the most important, if not the most important, parts of choreographing a routine. STEP 2: Tricks (Real and Possible): At this point of the process I make three lists of tricks:
- “Real tricks” – the tricks that I know I can do.
- “Possible tricks” – the tricks that I plan to be able to do and would like to include in my routine but that still need work.
- “Back-up tricks” – a list of tricks that I can fall back on should those in list 2 end up in the “not going to happen” list!
The need for list 3 arose during the choreographing of my first competition routine. At the time, I wanted to include a specific move on spinny pole (there were going to be two poles in this particular competition, one static and one spinny) that gave me endless nightmares and stress because it quite simply was a major gamble whether or not I would actually stick it. Luckily I have something that is invaluable to the creative journey of routine building – an amazing teacher/coach/mentor who also happens to be my best friend. One of the many things she does for me is to give me support while still being honest in her critique. After a particularly frustrating session she told me exactly what I wasn’t quite prepared to face; “take it out”. She was right, I was going to be nervous enough without adding in a move I may or may not be able to get on the night. Hence – backup list – you never know when you might need it. I should probably point out that I really do thrive on being organised, and although I try to freestyle when I can, it would not be my strong point like it is that of other polers; thus making a step by step plan very important in my choreography process. STEP 3: Combos and Spins: Now that you have made lists of the tricks you want to include, it is time to think of possible combinations of these moves. An instructor or training partner is extremely helpful during this step in particular: bouncing ideas around and coming up with possibilities you might not have thought of on your own. This applies to different spins as well – you might be performing on two poles (one static and one spinny) and different spins work on each. Step 3 and 4 actually work very well in conjunction with one another and I often jump from one to the other and back again due to their interdependance. A great number of changes occur during this time, a natural part of the creative process; I might thrive on organisation but there are definitely times when the plan does not go to plan! STEP 4: Timing breakdown and Floorwork: As I mentioned in Step 3, the timing breakdown and working out of possible floorwork goes hand in hand with the putting together of combos. This is because the breakdown of timing within your song dictates how long your combos are going to be and also how long your floorwork sections will be. Although not the main part of a pole routine, floorwork is nonetheless integral to the success of a performance: this is where you can showcase your dancing skill, your acrobatics, your showmanship, your musicality – perhaps all of the above. Foorwork also works to connect and weave together your routine: connecting combos, connecting tricks, getting you from one pole to the other, and weaving toghether the story or message you want to tell. This being said, floorwork does not have to be over the top or incredibly intricate, but I firmly believe that it needs to be polished and relevant. STEP 5: Training (with and without music): (Troubleshooting is a big part of this step as well) Here comes the actualisation of all of those lists! Your method of training for a performance may differ from mine and could very well be a tried and tested process that works for you – I am not here to tell you any different – however you may do it, now is the time. The way in which I approach this step resembles previous steps in many waysm while at the same time nothing is set in stone and even my OCD nature can allow for a bit of give and take. I start by training individual tricks – some will work and some may not – incorporating the theory of repetition as I do them again… and again… and again. You know what they say, perfect practice makes perfect. Then come the combos and spins, all of which I initially train without my music. I do this because once I add music I want to be pretty sure of my tricks so I don’t end up banging my head against the wall. Floorwork is something I work on and change throughout: I work on it at home, in the shops, in the shower, often to the pained amusement of my husband. Once I am more comfortable with my tricks and routine structure, I add my song into the mix. This is where the fun truly begins. STEP 6: Perfecting: During step 5 I develop a rough copy of my routine and changes are still a possibility – probably more like a certainty! – and problem solving happens daily. Step 6 however is for the run throughs of my finished product (NOTE: Changes could happen at ANY time but I generally want to avoid them from this point on). It is during this step that fatigue, frustration, nerves, and self doubt could creep in – try to remember why you are doing this: you love it! It will all be worth it; the bruises and skin burn, the tears and late nights, the sore muscles and headaches – when you step on that stage you will revel in the adrenaline rush and soak in the applause. It will be YOUR moment. STEP 7: Perform and Enjoy: The day has arrived! Hair and makeup, checking and re-checking that you have everything, final run throughs in your mind as you pack, nervous chatter and your stomach doing back flips – competition day is full to the brim. One of my favourite parts of competing is the road trip to the venue – I litereally do not stop talking for even a minute. Then of course there are the amazing women and men backstage who share in the magic and mayhem; what a night! Your preparation is done, it is now time to enjoy every second. It really is magical being a performer and being able to experience those dazzinlgly bright lights. These steps have helped and continue to help me on my road to performing but I am very much still learning and will continue to love every step. About Erin: Erin, originally from South Africa, lives in Ireland with her husband and two daughters. She is a fitness instructor who teaches spinning part time while using all available other time to immerse herself in her one true passion: everything pole.