My First Competition
After winning the US Pole Dance Federation Championship in 2011, Natasha Wang revealed how inspired she was by the film Black Swan. She said it spoke to her need to strive for perfection in her dancing. I don’t know if you remember the movie, but the obsession of Natalie Portman’s character was haunting. I never related to this feeling until I entered a competition myself.
In January of this year, I decided to enter the National Aerial Pole Art Championship. This would be my very first time competing and first appearance in a national event. I felt intimidated by the other talent submitting but figured I may have a shot at getting into the Neo or “Amateur” Division. So I got my video camera ready. I rented the private room at Body and Pole. I had some concepts in mind but went in largely not knowing what I would pull together. A week later, I found out I had been accepted into the competition.
Next came the preparation phase. I thought of a song. I thought of the choreography I would put with my music. I thought of a costume. Details came to my mind as I listened to my competition song on repeat up and down the 1 train line. During my first practice session I realized the flows I had imagined did not work out in reality as they did in my mind. Surprise, surprise! Modifications would be needed. The investments of time and money into preparing for a competition are exponential. I paid for private sessions and rented space in studios. I had a costume made. I paid for my flight to LA and a room to stay at while I was there. I work a full-time day job and in order to compete with pole dancers who spend every day working in studios I had to make up for lost time. After working ten hour days I would get to the studio for a 90 minute class. Sometimes I would take two back-to-back.
As the date approached my anxiety increased. I thought about all the work I had put into preparing and if it would be worth it in the end. In the week before the competition several flows in my choreography were not sticking. This sent me into a panic. I frantically tried to rent more space at any studio I could find with 45mm Xpoles. A past injury to my lower back resurfaced and I called my acupuncturist up for an emergency session. I started obsessing about things I couldn’t control. Would the poles spin smoothly at the competition? What would the temperature of the room be like? Would my back heal in time?
From the moment I arrived in LA butterflies were swirling in my stomach. The anticipation was driving me crazy. I listened to my song over and over. I analyzed every crescendo, every accent and every beat in the music. I visualized myself dancing on the stage. This came to such a point where it consumed my thoughts. I was ready for competition day. I had done all I could to prepare and now it was time to let it happen.
Arriving at the venue, there was excitement in the air. The competitors gathered in a large back room. They were all surprisingly approachable and friendly. We had about five hours to go until show time. Everyone was getting their hair and makeup done. We excitedly looked over the lineup and debated if it was better to go sooner or later. Some were social, others were more introverted in their pre-competition preparation. Anjel Dust, the event’s organizer, was running around trying to take care of last minute details. As soon as the poles were up we all had time on stage to test them out. This was where things got tricky. The spinning pole lost its smooth rotation and needed to be switched out with the pole that was on static. Then after more competitors took turns testing their tricks, the static pole became warped. The competition had to be delayed until a new pole could be brought in. The anticipation would have to go on a little longer.
As my time on stage approached I became restless. I paced back and forth, shaking my arms and legs out every so often. I kept stretching in my lunges. My stomach twisted in knots and my mouth went dry. Suddenly, my name was announced and the lights dimmed. I walked out on the dark stage to reveal myself to an audience in unfamiliar territory. No one knew who I was. I had to show them. I breathed in deeply (possibly the best last minute advice I was given) as I waited for my music to start.
The next 3 minutes and 58 seconds were some of the most incredible I have experienced in my life. I can only describe it as an out-of-body experience. I wasn’t thinking but at the same time I knew exactly what to do. I was lost in my music and completely surrendered to the moment. My pole idols were watching me, judging me. It was so surreal. When it was over, I felt the warmest sensation spread throughout my body. I was satisfied with my performance. I did the best I could. I gave everything I had to that performance and that was enough for me.
Throughout the remainder of the event I watched the other competitors. Each and every one was unique and incredibly strong. Their passion and commitment was evident. I realized the common bond we all shared. I felt connected to them and so honored to have shared the stage with them. There was an outpouring of warm, fuzzy feelings like I never experienced before. I was so grateful for everyone who had helped me along the way because I knew I could not have accomplished what I did without them.
The results were announced and I was honored and humbled to learn I had received 2nd place. Amanda Rose won the Neo division and it was a well-deserved win. I don’t know if I’m a natural competitor. The experience was stressful. It was physically and emotionally draining. But I’m so happy I had the opportunity to perform and compete. It was transformative and pushed me to be a better dancer, athlete and artist. The experience for me was a metaphor for life itself. Prepare as much as you can. But when it comes down to the moment, let it all go.