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Tactical Ninja - I'm on a pole!

Jul. 21st, 2014

11:29 am - I'm on a pole!

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Actually, I'm not. But on Saturday night I went to the Wellington heats for the NZ Amateur Pole Performers competition.

As you're probably aware, these days pole is a gymnastic dance sport instead of something you only see in strip clubs, and there are studios springing up everywhere. This comp has been running for 5 years, and has categories for everyone from Fairly New through to Been At It Forever. There were about thirty competitors, three of whom were men. One of the men was Dr Wheel's brother, and he was my main reason for going along.


Kitted in an AC style hood decorated with EL wire and not a lot else, he performed a series of strength based moves and climbs - it's no mean feat looking manly when you're pole dancing, but he managed it. He has a body very similar to Dr Wheel's with a slightly feral style of moving that worked really well. One of the other men actually did air-guitar while hanging off the pole, which was I guess another way of looking manly. The third man didn't even bother to try going for manly, using a blue-feathered costume and a series of OMG I Didn't Know Men Could Be That Flexible moves. Technically, he was probably the best, but I liked Brother Wheel's performance for its obvious Y chromosomes. Like I said, making pole dancing look manly is hard, and I like men.

Meanwhile, there was a level of detachment to the most skilled performances that I found a bit strange. Several of the competitors in the lower levels were engaging with the audience, and were obviously enjoying themselves, but it seemed the higher up the skill tree we climbed, the more detached the performers were. For several of them, we might as well not even have been there. It was as if the dancer were completely dissociated from the audience, and for me that brought up a bunch of uncomfortable connotations relating to the traditional role of pole dancing, the watcher and the watched, or the objectifier and the objectified.

I'm aware that the detachment that goes with concentrating hard on a gymnastic performance is different from that required to deal with your living relying on being used for sexual gratification by a bunch of people who have power over you, but the effect is the same. A lack of engagement that for me, takes the performance too far from theatre to really resonate. I was a passive observer of someone who did not care that I was there.

Another observation - pole is not sexy. I mean, many of the performers were hot to look at, graceful, and technically proficient. By nature, pole requires you to wear not very much. For the women in particular, it was difficult not to behave in an overtly sexual way - let's face it, climbing a slippery pole isn't exactly a subtle metaphor - and a lot of the basic moves involve gyrating and leg-spreading. One would think that such obvious sexual references would be a turn-on, but I found it strangely clinical and unstimulating. I don't know if this was because of the detachment of the dancers or my own skill at desexualising the overtly sexual*. Perhaps a bit of both.


That having been said, I enjoyed myself a great deal. There were a couple of standout performances, and it was very cool to walk in knowing almost nothing about pole as a sport, and then watch a large number of talented people giving it heaps. I learned about fundamental moves, how they can be strung together, what constitutes difficult in the world of pole, and a lot of interpretations of moving up and down and around a solid object 4m high. I can see the appeal for performers, and the packed room suggests an appeal for a wider audience too.

Oddly enough, for me who is usually all I WANT TO DO THAT whenever I see something cool, pole is not on my list, even after seeing it done well. Put simply, I prefer climbing on people. There is something about the interaction, the trust, the constantly renegotiated sharing of space, and the slightly unpredictable way that people move, that makes acro so much more interesting, for me, than any static apparatus. Also, people are warm.

No, I am not referring to my base as an apparatus. OK, maybe just a little bit...

* More on this later, maybe. I've been thinking a lot about it lately.

Comments:

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From:ms_hecubus
Date:July 20th, 2014 11:46 pm (UTC)
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I've seen pole dancing in a strip club and it did nothing for me. The only time I got excited was when the fully clothed bartender climbed up on it and did some acrobatic maneuvers. And not sexually excited, yanno.
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From:tatjna
Date:July 20th, 2014 11:54 pm (UTC)
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Hot people being acrobatic definitely turns me on more than people trying to look sexy.

I think it has potential, but that the dancers are limited by the requirement to stick with what is quite a small and static apparatus. The climb/do/trick/drop format is similar to what is done in tissu, but tissu has more scope for interest because it's higher, more flexible, and can be split into two.

Having said that, there's this:


HAWT
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From:pombagira
Date:July 21st, 2014 12:36 am (UTC)
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yeah.. i really liked the preformers, and variety of preformances.. it was great fun!
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From:ecosopher
Date:July 21st, 2014 01:26 am (UTC)
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That's interesting about the level of the performance and their engagement with the audience... do you think it's because those at higher levels were just focussing on the moves rather than enjoying it?

I'd be interested to read what you have to say about desexualising the sexual.
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From:tatjna
Date:July 21st, 2014 02:26 am (UTC)
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I think it's possible - and there are a couple of things I also wonder about:

- perhaps the performers at lower levels had fewer expectations of how good they *should* be, so they split attention between moves and audience in a different way.

- perhaps the history of pole leads to a certain sensitivity about engaging with an audience, a deliberate attempt to exclude the watcher so as to make no mistake* that this is not stripper pole and you are not invited to put money into waistbands.

* Ooh, desexualising the sexual. ;-)
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From:tieke
Date:July 22nd, 2014 01:51 am (UTC)
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Possibly relevant is that the beginner level category was judged only on performance quality, not on technical ability or difficulty of moves.
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From:tatjna
Date:July 22nd, 2014 01:53 am (UTC)
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Yeah, that seems pretty relevant to me. ;-)
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From:adam_0oo
Date:July 23rd, 2014 09:21 pm (UTC)
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I am good at working the audience and acting on stage, often better at it than the dancing, so I do that a lot more. Generally, I agree, the harder something is, the more concentration is involved and the less you need to engage the audience, since your skills do it for you.

Though, I guess that can vary.
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From:tatjna
Date:July 23rd, 2014 09:23 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, I think a performance would have to be very compelling for the performer to get away with completely dismissing the audience.
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From:adam_0oo
Date:July 23rd, 2014 09:29 pm (UTC)
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Well, you say dismissing and I say not interacting, though, I wasn't there, so I don't know what it looked like.

I generally find performances can have a different percentage of costumes and music and plot and interaction and acting and skill, all of which add up to a whole. I can say the interaction and acting was great, even though the performer used mostly beginning skills. Or, there can be a stern faced ballerina up there, dazzling us all with her flips and splits and such.

Or, for instance this (nsfw) http://adam-0oo.livejournal.com/516879.html. Her costume was amazing, and she looked great, but she just kind of walked around stage a bit, so after a little while it was disappointing.
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From:laoke
Date:July 21st, 2014 07:31 am (UTC)
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It's an interesting dichotomy. From dancing - it's often the lower grade competitors that look like they're actually out there and having fun, whereas the more technically proficient couples are the ones that do absolutely amazing technical work & don't focus on the performance at all. It's the ones that can do both that really shine, and it's usually the mark of a professional dancer.

But not everyone gets that. Not everyone can perform at that level, or be that technically proficient, and that's the problem really. I suspect that you'll find that they're focusing on the technical aspects now because it's something concrete that they can objectively measure for themselves: the performance aspect really does require another set of skills entirely.

As far is it being sexy or not: welcome to my life. I can't look at a dancer, pole or otherwise, and not see the technical proficiency & performance over everything else. I love to watch a good dancer, male or female, but it's hard to get excited by something that's technically excellent and devoid of performance.
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From:tatjna
Date:July 21st, 2014 09:37 am (UTC)
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I like dance where the dancer looks like they're doing it because they enjoy it. Bonus points for having done it enough to get good at it. This is why I like dance parties. ;-) Especially ones with dancers and circus people at them...
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From:ferrouswheel
Date:July 21st, 2014 11:50 am (UTC)
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The dancing I find most sexual is that which is rhythmical and involves suggestive hip movements (i.e. not comical movements, but nicely organic and suggestive). Spinning around a pole, while metaphorical, doesn't really connect to my subconscious sexuality.
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From:meri_sielu
Date:July 21st, 2014 03:52 pm (UTC)
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I have a couple of friends who pole dance, including one who is getting really good and can hang from the hoops from one leg and hold her entire body weight on the inside of one knee and such and I'm always amazed by it. It looks like a real work out and one that is good for your belly in particular but I don't know that I'd do it myself. Belly dancing is more my thing, I've found a class but it's an advanced one so I am going to have to check it out and see if it's something I can keep up with. :)
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From:tatjna
Date:July 21st, 2014 08:11 pm (UTC)
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I really enjoyed belly dancing when I did it. Our teacher was an Iraqi woman who moved like her bones were made of jelly, and always said "You European women, don't know how to move your shoulders!"

It's true - we all struggled with the arm movements...
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From:meri_sielu
Date:July 22nd, 2014 12:27 am (UTC)
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It's true, from the few lessons I had the shoulder shimmies were the things I really couldn't get to grips with.
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