One of my favourite things about owning a brick and mortar pole dance studio is that I get to host regular in-house showcases where I can join our students, instructors and friends from the Pole Dance world and Burlesque community in creating art and performing our hearts out!
I personally feel that there are limited opportunities when it comes to performing pole dance at an amateur level; competitions are great though they do not suit everybody due to their rules and restrictions (which of course are necessary when it comes to developing a points system).
With our showcases, I strive to create a supportive and safe environment for individuals to express themselves in whatever way they feel fit. The emphasis is on creating a well-crafted choreography that the dancer will enjoy performing (and in turn the audience will enjoy watching) as well as creating a memorable experience for all involved!
You may have already read my blog ‘6 Steps for Pole Dance Competition Success’ that I wrote a while back. That blog is still relevant and I very much recommend perhaps giving it a read in addition to this one: all of the advice is applicable to showcases! I’m going to use this blog to talk about more practical advice as well as some more creative / artistic advice.
Start planning early (On choosing your song):
Picking music is probably the most difficult and most important part of the process. If you’re anything like me you probably have a Spotify playlist titled ‘Songs that I one day hope to pole dance to’, which is the length of your arm.
When it comes to narrowing it down for your showcase piece, consider how the music inspires you and makes you feel. You’re going to be listening to that song A LOT during your preparations and rehearsals, so make sure it’s one that you like. Choose carefully, but having said that, there’s a lot to be said for being decisive and committing to one song. Without having your song choice, it’s extremely difficult to make decisions on choreography, tricks and story/theme.
In your pole dance training journal or notebook, break down your song into blocks: verses, choruses, bridges and of course how many beats are in each section. If you are not sure about how to count beats, just ask me next time you’re at the studio and I’ll drop serious knowledge bombs about beats and how to interpret the music!
In addition, KNOW YOUR MUSIC (there’s more about that in my ‘6 Steps for Pole Dance Competition Success’ blog)!
Brain-dumping (On tricks, transitions and themes):
In my humble opinion, any performance, whether it be a showcase or a competition piece, should not be a demonstration of your most difficult tricks but rather ones that you can do comfortably and ‘easily’, no matter your skill level.
In choosing which tricks to include in your showcase piece, start with a brain-dump of all the tricks, movements and poses that you have in your repertoire. Pick your favourites, or ones that you think could work really well with your chosen song and theme!
Most importantly, at showcases it’s all about the show and creating something memorable that you can enjoy and be proud of. As a rough guide, you can break your choreography content into the following: 30% tricks, 30% floorwork / basework, 30% audience interaction / telling your story through dance (you can use the remaining 10% however you like).
As I mentioned earlier, in showcases you have free reign to create whatever you want to create without having to abide by rules or think about what’s going to get you the most points on that score card. I see my performances as an opportunity to safely express whatever I am feeling or going through at a given moment; some themes I have explored previously are rumination and self-sabotage, navigating a Dark Night Of The Soul, Irish symbolism in American pop culture and then just good old fashioned superficial sexy slinking to my favourite heavy metal songs. Your theme can be something deep and personal or it can be lighthearted and fun, BUT it should be authentically YOU!
Sharing your story (On preparing a biography for the MC):
At our showcases here at IPDA you’ll have noticed that we have a professional MC on hand who is tasked with setting the tone for evening, keeping the audience engaged between acts, introducing each performer and keeping the show flowing smoothly!
Remember, the audience is here to see YOU the performer and to be wowed by your awesomeness. However, between each act we need to clean the poles. This is where the MC comes in. While the poles are being cleaned, the MC will say a few words (provided in advance by you) to tell our audience about who you are to build their excitement and keep their attention! I’ll say it again, these showcases are all about YOU, therefore it’s important to put some thought into your biography and how you would like to be introduced to the audience before you blow their minds with your dancing.
I recommend keeping your biography lighthearted and including some fun facts about you, such as: where are you from, what you do for a living, why you got involved with pole dance, what is your act about, etc. It’s also a good idea to write in the third person and to include your pronoun so that the MC knows how to address you!
Here is an example to take inspiration from:
“Denise is from Wexford, now living in Dublin and she has spent a good bit of the middle part in Asia. She is an ex-yoga teacher, current lawyer, feline-loving, pole dance enthusiast. Favourite things (other than pole!) include strong tea and bad jokes. Here is one of Denise’s favourite bad jokes: Did you hear about the magic tractor? It went down the road and turned into a field…”
The ‘ARRGGHH’ bit (On act creation and trusting the process):
Right, so you’ve picked your song, written a deadly bio, brain-dumped your fave tricks and movements and decided on a story / theme that you want to portray. You’re probably excited as eff and visualizing yourself executing your choreography epically and the audience exploding with awe at the amazing art you’re creating. Hurrah! Step 1 of the act creation process is to accept that the plan / idea you’re starting out with will probably be very different to the performance you end up doing. In short, try not to get too precious about your ideas and be open to chopping and changing as you go along.
There is no hard and fast rule on to how to go about creating your choreography; you can start from the beginning of the song and work forwards, or from the end and work backwards if you like! Whatever works, works. I find it can be helpful to choreograph the tricks sections or important moments that portray your theme /story first, then later to figure out the dance and floorwork transitions and then to focus on adding layers of audience interaction or additional meaning / emotion (having said that, I don’t always work this way).
Pro tip: While you are choreographing, think about controlled movement and holding your poses, they tend to read better from the audience (plus you’ll get lovely photo moments!).
Step 2 of act creation: Ask for help! Creating choreography can be tough and it’s very easy to get stuck in your own head. There are lots of ways you can avail of help. Coming to as many of our Pole Play open training sessions are great; you’ll have the headspace to work on your choreo at your own pace, and you’ll more than likely be surrounded by your comrades who are also working on their showcase pieces! Solidarity!
Make videos of what you are working on so that you can review it and be your own judge on what looks good on you. Feel free to send these to me (I LOVE getting nerdy and reviewing progress via video if I can’t be with you in person) or to share them on our Member’s Only Facebook group. It’s also great to share them with your non-pole ‘muggle’ friends; impartial feedback can often be the best!
On that note, simply talking about your ideas with your friends and pole buddies can be really good. I find that when I’m trying to explain my ideas or the story / emotion behind my piece, I get really clear about what I am in fact trying to portray which then informs what to include or not include in my act.
As you create your showcase piece, it’s very normal to hit creative blocks or slumps along the way. I like to think of my act creation process as a wave going something like this: “This is awesome!!! I have such a cool idea and this is gonna be my best performance yet YAY!… Oh this is going to be a bit harder than I expected… Oh wow, this choreo that I had in my head REALLY isn’t working and now I need to pick different / less complex tricks, argh!… UGHH this choreo sucks, why did I pick this song / theme?!… Ok, I think I have an idea to make this whole thing easier and more enjoyable… Oh yes, now I remember why I picked this song and theme; I believe in my own cause again!… Ok, this choreography is done and I think it’s going to be ok… Yep, I got it, I’m pretty pleased with this! Let’s do it!!!”. Welcome to the inner workings of my mind 😉
In short, what I’m trying to say is trust the process and know that there will be dips and bumps along the way; once you accept this as part of the journey you will have no problem in overcoming it!
Here’s a handy timeline of act creation to act polish that you can use as a rough guide in creating your choreography. Note the timeline is quite generous as I’m working from an assumption that those following this will not have a pole at home or time to attend every single Pole Play session:
● Brain-dump favourite tricks, poses, movements, floorwork etc.
● Break down your music into sections / beats and know your music
● On paper, loosely map out where your big tricks or important movements will go in relation to the sections of music.
● Work out the tricks and dancing that you will include and more importantly their transitions. Loosely practice them with your chosen piece and be open to chopping and changing until you find the movements that feel right for where you are at physically and mentally.
● Get a bit ruthless! Make decisions as to what you will include and what you will take out of your choreography, and commit to that.
● Run your piece over and over, getting to know it and making any final changes to the finer details.
● Get really comfortable with adding emotion and intention to your movements as you start to know your piece inside out so you don’t need to think ‘what trick comes next?’.
● Between your practice sessions, visualize yourself dancing in front of the audience and going through every step of your choreo with ease and grace.
The day of the showcase (On making your life as easy as possible):
You’re probably going to be nervous and excited when the ‘big day’ comes! Here are some practical tips. Make sure you have a good meal and have eaten enough throughout the day (in fact, start this the day before!). Prepare your hair and make-up at home so that when you arrive at the studio you will have less to worry about and all you will need to do is minor touch-ups before you hit the ‘stage’. This will also help you to pack light (as you know we’re limited on space at the studio, the less you bring the less you’ll have to worry about going missing).
Try to not listen to your music too much throughout the day; this can cause your adrenaline levels to spike and thus be depleted by the time you dance! The same can be said for warming-up; be careful to not start warming-up too early or you can use up your precious energy. Of course, make sure you’ve warmed-up enough: think about the tricks and dancing that are in your choreography and include movements that work similar ranges of motion to prepare your body for what’s ahead. Aim to be finished warming up as the person ahead of you on the running order starts their performance.
Before / during your warm-up, take some good deep breaths, listen to your music and visualize your performance.
As you wait for the MC to read your bio and introduce you to the crowd, stay calm. When you get into position, take a deep breath again and exhale deeply. Know that you’ve prepared as best as you can and enjoy your time on stage!
Post-Showcase (On existential dread and decompression):
Here is your heads up: there tends to be a post-showcase come-down or slump. You’ll have spent weeks (easily months) preparing yourself for your performance, so it’s natural that your body and your brain will go into ‘derp’ mode to fill the void left by the showcase. You’ll be tired, so make sure you give yourself at least one full day of rest (ideally a duvet day) for the day after.
It can feel a bit strange or sad in having created a piece of art and seeing it through to it’s completion, which is known as existential anxiety (typified by that feeling of ‘Now what?’). Know that this feeling will pass in due course! I personally find it can be helpful to engage in other hobbies or forms of art; finding a new book to read, new music to listen to, etc.) or to allow myself to daydream about the choreography that I want to create next. On this subject, it’s no harm reflecting on what you loved most about your showcase piece and what you feel you’d like to improve on (without engaging in self-critical thinking); you can do this on your own but of course it’s best shared with a friend, pole buddy or your instructor. And thus, the process can start all over again for the next showcase…
Here’s a video of our 7th Anniversary Showcase, produced by Crooked Gentlemen. I love this video as it really captures the light-hearted and sexy fun spirit of our showcases! Here’s to future showcases! Hurrah!