Interview with Fran Mackenzie of VerticaLove
Beardy McPoler here, with a story/interview that will warm the hearts of any poler, regardless of their background.
Fran Mackenzie created VerticaLove 5 years ago as a pole event for every poler, all-inclusive, regardless of background or studio affiliation. Think of it as a weekend in “pole Switzerland”, but in Ontario Canada, near Toronto.
Lucky for me, I was finally able to make it to one of her three annual VerticaLove pole events, 2016 VerticaLove presents Something Wicked Showcase.
I was instantly in love with the venue and the stage and the people and the performances. I have attended every VerticaLove event since and have loved each one.
In the 15 months since my first VerticaLove experience, I have visited southern Ontario for 9 more pole events (and even missed a few more). I know of no other area (200 miles wide) with as many pole events each year, and Fran’s VerticaLove seems to be the center of it all.
Fran just celebrated her 60th birthday last week, and she graciously agreed to the following interview:
#1: How (and how long ago) did you come up with the concept for VerticaLove?
In 2012 there was a woman who used to do showcases in Toronto in nightclubs . That was the first showcase I ever went to and it was the first time I saw Alethea Austin and Cleo the Hurricane perform.
Peggy, who ran the showcase, ran into some issues with the showcase and decided she didn’t want to do it anymore.
On Canada Day 2012, I was at Layla’s house hanging out with her and poling and talking, and we both thought it was sad that Peggy didn’t want to do it anymore. So we decided to continue on, with Peggy’s permission, as we didn’t want to offend her by stealing her idea.
We contacted Peggy and asked if she was okay with it and she said go for it. She sent us her spread sheets and what her costs were so that we knew what we were getting ourselves into.
We brainstormed that afternoon and realized that we didn’t want it to be in a nightclub. We needed it to be in a theater. We knew that Toronto costs would be out of hand for both of us, so we decided to look in either Hamilton or Brantford. Brantford had very little and really no one in Hamilton wanted to even know about pole.
It was Monique VP who found us our first theater, The Lyric on King St.
For us the location was good, as it could support pole and aerial
Our first year, 2013, we had Aerial Amy, Karol Helms and Cleo as our stars, as well as about 40 local performers. Unfortunately, the roof collapsed soon after we did our show and we had to find another location which is how we came to the Bay City Music Hall.
That first year was hard because that was when Layla was getting sick and we didn’t know what was going on with her. She was supposed to perform, but she couldn’t stand up.
#2: How did YOU discover pole?
I discovered pole in 2009 when I was told by my doctor to get active. I really hate the gym and I had heard about pole when I saw it advertised in Mississauga, but when I went looking for the studio, it was gone. I went online and found Aradia Burlington, which is now Brass Bombshells. I was the oldest student there; it took me three times as long to learn anything and I loved it. I think it helped that the woman who was my first pole instructor was closer to my age than the really young chicks who might try and kill me. That woman is Shelley Donald and she is my best friend who is The Black Widow at my events.
#3: What was your very first impression of the pole world (local to you, and then again when you saw it globally), and compared to now?
I am really fortunate to come from a place where pole has evolved a lot. When I got started, Jades and Supermans were advanced moves, but now they are fairly standard. When I started, no one had silks or lyra, there was no accro. You had pole and stretch classes in our area.
I had no clue how big pole was when I started. It was that little taboo thing that no one in the muggle world wanted to hear about. When I met Alethea and Cleo, my eyes were so opened and I saw that there was a potential to learn more.
As VerticaLove grew, I saw it as our way to bridge our little Canadian pole community to the larger one out there. When I went to The Great Midwest Pole Dance Convention for the first time, I saw that we are really one community with branches everywhere. Pole people are really the coolest! Even a nerd like me could be sort of cool with all these great people.
This is when I met Mary Ellyn Weissman, who has taken me under her wing and taught me so much. I have nothing but love and respect for her, who has done so much for this community. She was the one who taught me about competitions and how to judge, what to look for. So when I decided to create VerticaLove presents Great White North Pole Competition, it was a no brainer to go to her for advice. Her friendship has kept me sane.
#4: Outside of VerticaLove, what interesting pole related experiences have you had? (judging, attending, etc)
I’ve been to several different pole events. OPFC, CPFA, Midwest, Ontario Pole Jams
I am trying to travel more and get out to see the different studios. I do travel to Ottawa at least once a year to the OPF showcase. There is some amazing talent up in Ottawa and I wish I had more time to see more up there. Sometimes a weekend isnt enough.
#5: What would you hope that more pole events adopt to their own events, whether learning from your example in VerticaLove or just in general?
Each event is different. Every organizer needs to decide what kind of event they want to have. I am pretty open to any suggestions that people have to make my event better. Sometimes I can do it, sometimes I can’t.
This year, we added Fab Pole to our competition. This was a good fit and I would love to see more pole silks, Fab Pole come to studios. It’s another challenge that I think a lot of students would love to try.
It’s not up to me to tell another event what to do. I also see why some events want to keep the sexy part of pole out. Some people believe that we have an uphill battle fighting the stereotype of strippers and being sleazy.
I actually embrace the stripper style of pole which is why I love exotic pole. Some people just move better that way. Some people move better in heels. Some prefer bare feet.
I want dancers to move in the manner that makes them more comfortable. We all do not move the same, we don’t need to dance the same.
“My stage is open to everyone. This is the stage that people can dance on in any style that they choose to.”
2017 Artistry of Pole Competition & Something Wicked Showcase
#6: VerticaLove being ALL inclusive, how do you feel about pole studios and/or pole events choosing to ignore or even shun the sexy side of pole? (To each their own? Or those people are being unfair to polers?)
There is no one correct way of doing things. We have some studios that do not participate in VerticaLove, and we have studios that really embrace it.
My stage is open to everyone. This is the stage that people can dance on in any style that they choose to.
VerticaLove is more that an event. It is what we use to unite our community, not only in Canada, but across the globe. If you can’t dance at my event, you can watch and support the community. You can make friends with each other, pole with each other, and care about each other. This is what I have created. With a little help from my friends.
Interview and Blog by: Benjamin Hunt
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