Tactical Ninja - I'm on a pole!
Jul. 21st, 2014
11:29 am - I'm on a pole!
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.