Emy and Bex are students at the University of Bristol and accomplished pole dancers. Their Tomb Raider themed routine recently took first place in a local U.K. Amateur Pole Performer competition. The pair will go on to represent Bristol at the UKAPP finals in September. When Emy posted about their win on my Facebook page, I asked her to do a little Q&A for the fans. I hope you'll find our chat as interesting and enlightening as I did.
Bex (left) doing a twisted grip Ayesha, while Emy (right) is doing a twisted grip Straight Edge. Coordinating two people on the pole is a lot harder than one, but it looks more impressive. Photo by Eddie Winthorpe.
Stella: I think most people are familiar with pole dancing but tend to associate it with strippers. Not that there's anything wrong with that necessarily, but I'll bet a lot of people don't realize the skill, strength and training it actually takes. Could you talk a bit about the activity in general for people who aren't familiar with it?
Emy: Pole dancing is a novel form of fitness that everyone has different perspectives on. Some consider it to be a sport and prefer to call it Pole Fitness, whilst others prefer the dancey side of the activity, and want to reclaim the phrase "pole dancing" from seedy gentlemen's clubs.
Most people may be surprised to realise that pole sports originated long before gentlemen's clubs.
"The history of pole dancing can be traced back over two thousand years to dances that were performed by women for women and to an Indian sport called Mallakhamb, Chinese Pole, and also side shows in travelling circuses and more recently 'Gentlemen's Clubs'." –"History & Future of Pole Dancing" ThePolePower.com
The activity has become increasing popular in recent times, with many women finding it a brilliant alternative to the gym, as once you try it, you realise there is NO denying how hard it is; after your first session simply performing a couple of spins your arms ache so much for days after! If you want to tone up (especially upper body and abs) then pole is for you. I can personally testify that as I have noticed such a change in my body since I took up the activity.
The pole community is growing all the time as it is now being offered in most developed countries, with hundreds of studios popping up all the time due to large demand. As a result there are now so many national and international competitions. UKAPP was the first one I entered, however I supported my instructor and friend at Miss Pole Dance UK in Brighton this past weekend!
What a lot of people don't understand about it is that we are actually performing tricks on the pole, often inverted with only arms holding ourselves upside down, which requires an amazing amount of strength and balance. We are not simply grinding around the pole in underwear.
My personal view on it is that it is simply gymnastics on a vertical bar; it is such a shame that it has the connotations it does, and it's also a shame when people refuse to open their eyes to realise quite what it is we are doing! What I enjoy is introducing new people to the sport, and then seeing them get as passionate about it as I am. Showing off on thin lampposts is always fun too, when a group of men walk past and try to recreate the trick, and fail miserably. ;)
With the sport comes many bruises and aches, not to mention the danger of falling on your head! Despite this, the satisfaction of achieving a new trick or the adrenalin rush from performing at showcases/competitions/in public is awesome and totally worth it!
Here, Emy (on top) has flipped over Bex (on the bottom), caught the pole in what is called a thigh hold, and is then supporting Bex as she holds a no-handed Superman move.
What makes up a good routine and what are some of the challenges you faced in competition? What do you think set your winning routine apart from the others?
In UKAPP this year there were 4 categories: Performer, Intermediate, and Expert for singles entries, then a new Doubles category. In a competition environment, there are often strict judging criteria.
[Here she gave a detailed explanation of the standards for each level, among them being smoothness and proficiency/ease of tricks, fluidity of routine, confidence, costume/theme, dance routine, crowd interaction and fun factor. Some categories emphasize certain areas over others. The Doubles category also gives marks for dancer interaction and teamwork.]
Neither of us are particularly dancey or flexible; our strengths are power moves, or the fancy tricks on the pole. A well balanced routine is more likely to win a competition so we genuinely were not expecting to win, having seen who we were up against! Our main challenges were timing—hitting the moves on the beat of the music—and grip. After a while the pole gets sweaty from hands, and we had a hands-only move—the double twisted grip—near the end of the routine which we were worried about!
There was no bitchiness between competitors backstage. Everyone in the pole community is so supportive.
I think we won because we had a wicked theme! (Although it has been done before by amazing people, check out Chelle Hafner from Australia and Russian Ekaterina Gostevskikh.)
Did you get a trophy or some kind of prize, or is just being the best reward enough?
We got a sash saying "UKAPP Heat Doubles Winners 2011" and a certificate for getting through our heat. :)
Emy says this pose doesn't have a name, but it was their big finale. As Bex holds up most of Emy's weight with her feet, she then takes one hand off the pole as the music fades out!
Photo by Eddie Winthorpe.
Tell us a little more about the competitions themselves. I guess there are solo and pairs routines. Are there different skill levels as well? How many people compete? Women only?
There must be hundreds of competitions worldwide but generally their structure is similar. UKAPP has never done a doubles category before this year but Miss Pole Dance UK has always had that category. Most competitions will separate out competitors into categories, limiting their moves at each level. (I know all about that since I, along with the Bristol University Pole Society committee, are currently organising a HUGE Inter University Pole Competition for March 2012.)
Competitions are generally for men and women, it's just that it is mostly women who do pole for fitness; which is a shame since men naturally have more upper body strength and therefore are a lot better at lots of the moves than women are. (Grr...jealous! Haha!) However, there is a Mr Pole Fitness competition just for men!
However, at the elite levels, there is generally just the one category, such as in Miss Pole Dance UK, Pole Art, etc. Guidelines are generally similar and focus on flexibility, strength, floor-work/dance, and spin combinations. In fact I just got back from Miss Pole Dance UK 2011 and the winner was incredible. (Jess Leanne Norris only just turned 18 and now holds the title.) The top two singles winners and the top double act (my instructor and my friend, the two Kates, who did an amazing Alice in Wonderland routine) will now be competing in the World Pole Dance competition in Budapest in October.
So you've won the Bristol doubles competition on June 18th. Does this mean you go on to compete at a higher level?
Yes, now we have won our heat, there are several more heats across the UK, and the winner from each category from each heat goes on to compete in the final in St Albans on September 24th. Now we need to come up with a new routine and theme, any ideas are welcome. We want something equally iconic!