Arlene’s 6 Steps for Pole Dance Competition Success!

With just 3 days left before ‘Pole Theatre Ireland’ 2015, we are flat out here at IPDA headquarters in Dublin as well as at our Galway base, helping 6 of our students and 2 of our staff members put the final finishing touches to their competition pieces. I thought I’d share some of my top tips for preparing yourself for a Pole Dance competition.

Pole dance competitions are the most fun way to set your goals for toning up/getting strong/nailing those tricks on your wishlist, as well as bringing to life your vision and creativity. There is nothing more exciting and more fulfilling than taking a bow after putting together a pole dance choreography that you have created from scratch and performed to an audience who appreciate your skill and every single move you do, and who understand the awesomeness of pole dancing. It truly is a gift to be onstage and to share your talent and skill with an audience who loves you!

They can also be very challenging, taking weeks of preparation and training sessions, choreography chop ‘n’ changes, song choice changes, as well as (oftentimes the most stressful part) finding the right costume! They can leave you feeling jaded, bruised and never wanting to hear your chosen song again, among other things!

Preparation is key in any competition, as I have learned, and there are some very easy steps you can follow to take the stress out of this big experience…

arlene caffrey
Striking a poses at last year’s Pole Theatre Ireland competition!

I took part in my first pole dance competition after 11 months of joining my first ever pole dance class, back in 2007! A few months after this, I went on to become the first ever ‘Miss Pole Dance Ireland’. I’ve since traveled the world to perform and compete and have taken part in 17 competitions, including the World Pole Sport & Fitness Championships. I’ve won 7 Irish national titles as part of that too!

At the risk of sounding cocky, over the years I’ve gotten pretty good at this whole competition malark!

But, it’s more so because I’ve learned through experience, what works and what doesn’t work. I’ve figured out through trial and error, what are the ways to make your life as easy as possible when it comes to competing.

So let me share with you the top 6 things that will make your life easier when preparing for that competition!

1. Nail those tricks

arlene caffrey
Flying high! At the World Championships in 2010!

Each competition has different rules and criteria regarding pole dance tricks. Some competitions have strict guidelines as to which tricks you can and can’t perform (even to the extent of having prerequisites), and some competitions are a free-for-all.

Number one advice here is READ THE RULES regarding the requirements and scoring system for the tricks/technical aspect of your chosen competition!

You should spend time carefully choosing which tricks you would like to put into your choreography. Think about which tricks you can do easily/comfortably, tricks that look good on your body and tricks that will work with the character/choreography/music you have planned.

Make a list of the above tricks and also possible transitions in and out of them. This will give you a good starting point for building choreography.

Give yourself 4 weeks to learn and figure out which tricks, combos, entrances and exits you will use. Be realistic and work on moves that you know you will be able to learn in this short timeframe, and make them look good!

Remember, an ‘easy’ trick done beautifully is worth more than a ‘difficult’ trick done badly! Don’t kill yourselves trying to master the really hard stuff before your competition date! (Ps: Sticking to tricks that I was comfortable doing played a big part in winning all of my competition titles: so keep s*** simple!!)

Two big things that I recommend is to make sure that your pirouettes are perfect and that your inverts are clean (the judges will crucify you for jumping into your inverts, plus seeing sloppy inverts makes me cry). So have a look at the video tutorials in my blog here to refresh your technique and make sure there’s no bad habits here.

2. Choreography: Polish it until it sparkles!

arlene caffrey
Creating drama at last year’s Pole Theatre Ireland, with my serial killer inspired act!

Give yourself another 4 weeks to tighten up and fine tune your transitions and choreography. The more you dedicate time to practicing the routine and focusing on ironing out any kinks, the better it will look.

Record yourself dancing and review it at the end of every practice session, so that you can see what it looks like.

Remember, myself and Kathleen are available for private lessons if you need help with this important apsect. We’re even available for Skype private lessons, if you don’t live in Dublin or Galway! The earlier you can get to us the better (i.e.: don’t leave it until the week before the competition!) as we’ll be able to go through stuff in fine detail, and you’ll have time to apply what you’ve learned.

You may hit ‘creative block’ during the process, so if you do, reach out to your instructor or pole buddies for help!

3. Know your music

arlene caffrey
My crazy hobo inspired pole dance act to ‘Aenema’ by Tool, which won me the title of All Ireland Pole Dance Champion 2014.

I’ll write it again in capitals: KNOW YOUR MUSIC! I cannot stress this enough! Make sure you know your chosen music like the back of your hand. It will help you to learn your choreography and means that you will be able to dance to the music rather than rattle off a sequence of pre-learned tricks. If you get lost in your choreography on the day or forget your routine, knowing your music will also help you to find a point of reference and pick up your choreography again.

Pick a song that fits your mood/character/theme for your act. If you don’t have a character/theme in mind, you can work backwards and develop this by just picking a song that you love or stirs something strong in you. It doesn’t have to be obvious; for example, you don’t have to create gestures/tricks around every single lyric or base your routine on whatever they are singing about. As long as the music fits the emotion and your choreography is in sync with this overall tone/feeling, it will work.

4. Put some thought into your costume

Arlene Caffrey
My favourite pole dance costume! It’s covered in rhinestones and feathers!

Get working on your costume as soon as you have your music/theme finalized! You don’t have to go to great expense on this, but do pay attention as in most competitions you will be given marks for how well your costume matches your theme/character. Some competitions have VERY specific rules as to how much of your skin should be covered (the ‘gluteal fold’ rule is the most famous example of this, hehe), so again, read the criteria and follow the damn instructions!

Check out Bad and for basic pole pieces that you can embellish easily with rhinestones and sequins. have great accessories such feathers, rhinestones and sequins. If you are ordering from these websites, make sure you give yourself plenty of time for your package to arrive, especially as U.S.A. orders can take a long time to make it to Irish shores. You can also check out local costume designers who can custom make pieces that will fit you and your theme perfectly. I recommend costume designer and Burlesque goddess Alice In Wonderpants (her real name is Claire), for custom pole dance costumes, she is based in Dublin and truly talented! You can visit her amazing website here.

On a side note, be aware of who is the ‘hot’ costume designer in town for pole dance costumes; you may find that 10 other people in your competition have also had the same bright idea of getting a costume made by them. You want to be aware of rocking up to your competition with a costume that’s pretty much identical to what everyone else is wearing, in terms of shape and style, but in different colours (I’ve seen this happen in a few cities!!!). Be original and check that your design is not one being used by everyone else who’s hired the same designer!

5. The Final Countdown – Eat, sleep, rest!

In the weeks before the competition, make sure you are eating enough to promote muscle recovery and to prevent yourself from getting run down and sick. Training at an increased level can weaken your body and leave you feeling tired and weak, as well as making you more prone to illness! Sleep well, eat well. Always.

In the last days before the competition, it’s super important to manage your energy and emotions so you don’t tire yourself out. Run through your choreography and practice ’in your head’ by listening to the music and visualising the performance. Visualizing is a very powerful way to train your brain and body to work together and it will also help with nerves. Run through every single move in your routine in your head and feel yourself enjoying it and nailing every move. Imagine the audience applauding you and cheering you on! See yourself finishing your routine, happy and excited that you pulled it off to the best of your ability. (Sounds cheesy but really helps).

Try not to ‘over train’ as this will drain your energy. At least one day before the competition, do not train at all. Yes, ZERO. Have a rest day and let your body build up strength and energy for the big show.

On the day of the competition make sure you get loads of really good food into you that will give you energy. Slow release energy foods such as bananas are great. Stay away from too much sugar. Have your makeup and hair ready before you get to the venue so that all you have to do is touch-ups before you go on stage. The backstage areas can often be very small and crammed with nervous competitors, so you want to be prepared as possible so you are not fighting for mirror space in this tense environment!

Again, don’t over rehearse at the venue. When you arrive for your tech run, run through your routine at 25% energy to test it out on the stage. Don’t go crazy with practicing at full throttle as again this will drain your energy.

Pack warm, comfortable clothes to wear while you’re waiting backstage as some venues are not well heated! Again I speak from experience! Pack a yoga mat, snacks and water so you can stretch and nibble away. Sometimes a hot water bottle is a good idea, to help you stay warm!

I advise not watching the other competitors who are competing before you. This can make you feel very nervous as it’s hard to not compare yourself to others. You can save yourself this stress by just chilling out backstage and only worrying about yourself! Once you are finished performing, drink lots of water, stretch your shoulders, and then join your friends/loved ones in the audience to cheer on everyone else who’s performing after you!


arlene caffrey
Backstage at a pole dance competition, where all the fun happens!

Pole dance competitions are supposed to be about fun, creativity and celebrating what we love most about the art. So keep that in your head while you are preparing and on the day of the event. Everyone else is competing for the same reasons as you; to share their love of pole, to bring their ideas to life onstage and to blast out their favourite pole moves. Everyone will naturally be feeling nervous, this is normal! So do your best to be a good pole comrade, treat your fellow competitors with respect. Give them headspace, give them encouragement and wish them luck! 🙂 Remember, the pole scene is very small (especially here in Ireland!) so it’s very likely you’ll bump into these people again at future pole events. Seek to make friends and have the best experience that you can together!

Taking part in a pole dance competition is a big experience, and can be life-changing. Seek to create the best performance piece that you can, be willing to work hard and face challenges along the way, and ultimately to push your mind and body to new levels!

We are so lucky that we have competitions and platforms to share our skills and talent with others. As I said earlier, to perform onstage truly is a gift. Use this gift to create art, make history and to elevate pole dancing!

Happy competition training! See you all at Pole Theatre Ireland on April 18th!

Arlene xx