My Take On Pole Competitions

by Curtis Isom, Founder/Editor-In-Chief

March 2014 gave me a chance to attend two pole competitions and compare each.  The first was the Vertical Pole Showdown (VPS) held March 8 at On The Border Gentlemen’s Club in Franklin, WI.  The second was the Regional Pole Olympics March 29 at The Show Palace in Darien, WI.  The first was put on by Skindustry (based at OTB) and the second was put on by Miss Polechamp USA which holds competitions all over the US.

In comparing these two competitions, I’m going to break them into the following six categories:

COMPETITORS – Any competition, should have a “level playing field” with participants that are on or around about the same experience level.  If your competition, even if advertised as being a national event, usually draws contestants from local pole studios and pole enthusiasts, why would you want those with National or World titles to compete?  Doesn’t make sense. 

As I understand from talking with friends in the pole community, there are competitions that don’t allow those with National or World titles to compete.  So unless your competition is geared towards those currently having a National or World title, why let them compete?  Another question is if you have won a National or World title, why compete in a contest usually attended by local pole enthusiasts?  This is not to say that a local pole enthusiast couldn’t “go up the ladder” compete against someone with a National or World title, I just have an issue with National or World title holders “going down the ladder” in an attempt to make “easy money” by competing with local pole studios and pole enthusiasts.

Now with all of that said, the VPS allowed two Feature Entertainers, Christina Aguchi and Katie Sutra (both with National Pole Championship Titles), to compete against the rest of the field coming from local pole studios and pole enthusiasts.  A number of the local pole enthusiasts in the audience expressed their dislike of letting the two Features compete, but in the end the two Features were outdone by a local pole enthusiast Marina Hex who walked away the $2,000 1st Place prize money.  As for the Regional Pole Olympics, all the competitors were locally but two, one from Rhode Island and one from Michigan.  The one from Michigan, Feature Entertainer Artemis Moon (no National Pole Titles), came to premier her new show, just have fun, and wasn’t worrying about winning. The Regional Pole Olympics was won by local pole talent Gara Bare who walked away with a 1st Place crystal trophy and $500 cash. 

So If I had to say who had the more “level playing field”, it goes to the Regional Pole Olympics.

JUDGES – When it comes to those who judge competitions, I strongly believe in the idea that you should be judged by your peers and not the public.  When a competition is at a local club and the judges come from the same area, the chance of them knowing some of the competitors is very likely, even if the competitors are just numbered and not named.  Why else are the local judges there?  They are familiar with the club and its entertainers.  If you have a pole competition, your judges should be from the pole community because they are more knowledgeable about what is happening on the pole.  They see what the public misses like bad mounts/dismounts and incomplete tricks. 

It’s nice if those in attendance know who the judges are and their qualifications.  It’s not only professional courtesy, but lets your competitors know they have a qualified group judging them.  It’s should be MANDATORY that the competitors DO NOT talk to the judges during the competition!  In my opinion, if you are caught doing so, your scores are tossed out and you’re eliminated from the competition.  NO EXCEPTIONS!  Talking to the judges during a competition just implies you’re trying to gain some influence.  Therefore, unless the club layout prohibits it, judges should never be seated at the side of the stage.

At the VPS the audience and competitors knew the judges were from pole community and the competitors stayed away from the judges.  At the Regional Pole Olympics, no one knew who the judges were or if they were involved in the pole community.  At the VPS, the judges were seated away from the stage whereas at the Regional Pole Olympics, the judges were seated at the stage.  In addition, in going through my shots form the Regional Pole Olympics, I came across a picture of one of the competitors talking to a judge while they were on stage during the competition!  I don’t think corrective steps will be taken by those running the Regional Pole Olympics, but they need to be paying more attention to what is happening on stage, especially when you have the judges seated in such close proximity to the competitors.

So when it comes to judges, this one goes to the Vertical Pole Showdown.

SCORING – Besides the judges, how a competition is scored is a crucial component and should be as transparent as possible.

Now every competition has it’s own criteria for how the judges are to score the competitors, but what happens to those scores after the competitor leaves the stage is my focus.  I believe that once a competitor leaves the stage, the score sheets are collected, the scores tallied, the competitor should be told their total score as soon as possible.  You don’t have to make the total score known to the public, but not telling a competitor their score shortly after leaving the stage can give the impression that the scores can be/are manipulated.  So why wait to give a competitor their results?  They can be told to keep the scores to themselves or post the scores to a tally board so the competitors know where they stand.  To wait till after all the competitors are finished and then tally all the score sheets again suggest the idea that the scores can be/are manipulated. 

At the VPS, the competitors know within a few minutes after leaving the stage what their score was and that score is then posted to a scoreboard in the back.  At the Regional Pole Olympics, it wasn’t till after the winners were announced that the competitors were given their score sheets.  No scoreboard.  I have to ask why because if you want competitors to come and compete, you want them to feel like your competition is fair and non-biased.  If you think competitors don’t share their competition experiences, and thereby affect who attends your event, you’re kidding yourself.

The clear choice for scoring goes to the Vertical Pole Showdown.

STAGE TIME / ROUNDS – At the VPS, there are two rounds with each competitor getting 3 – 4 minutes to do their routine and the top three highest scores advancing to the finals.  At the Regional Pole Olympics, there is only one round and each competitor has 7 – 8 minutes for their routine.  So which idea is better?

I always say that when someone competes, they should bring their best. 

If you have multiple rounds to possibly compete, which round has your best pole routine?  I’ve shot numerous pole competitions and what I’ve noticed from my pictures is some competitors do the same routine, but switch the order of tricks around.  So even if you switch the tricks around, isn’t it basically the same routine?  So their best it just a certain group of tricks with no variation?

8 minutes to do a routine, you have to not only have to bring a very wide range of pole tricks to perform, but have the stamina to execute them as flawlessly as possible.  That shows what a true pole enthusiast is made of.

So even though the idea of multiple rounds test the skill set of a pole artist, the idea of a single round seems better because you have just one shot to show what you’re made of.  This one goes to the Regional Pole Olympics.

COSTUMES – A pole competitions is suppose to be a POLE COMPETITION.  Plain and simple as that.  I understand having some sort of outfit/uniform to wear while doing pole tricks, but please leave the clothes on while doing the tricks.  For some ladies on the pole, gravity isn’t your friend while you’re doing tricks topless.  Trust me, I have the pictures to prove this.

At the VPS, the competitors are required to wear outfits that keep everything in place.  If you don’t and something gets exposed, you’re docked points.  I like this idea and provides the competitors more pictures to share.

The Regional Pole Olympics had some competitors with costumes putting on a floor show like it’s a feature competition.  Why?  Doesn’t make sense.  If you want a competitor to do a feature type of show, then make it a FEATURE competition, not a POLE competition.  You’re misrepresenting what type of competition you’re doing.  I looked all over the Miss Pole Champ USA website and couldn’t find anything on the requirements for competing. If there is, please send me a link and how you found them from the website’s home page.  I don’t know about anyone else, but when I go to a pole competition, I EXPECT to see competitors doing pole tricks, not spending more time crawling all over the floor taking clothes off.

Hands down, the Vertical Pole Showdown is the idea of a true POLE COMPETITION,

PRIZE MONEY – When it comes to prize money, each competition decides what is fair to award.  I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way.  I do think if you give prize money in a decreasing value, it should be in the same percentage.

For example, at the Regional Pole Olympics, 1st Place won $500, 2nd Place won $250, and 3rd Place won $125 which is a fifty percent step reduction for each place.  But at the VPS, the prize money was $2,000 for 1st, $750 for 2nd, and $500 for 3rd.  I just wondered why the percentage reduction was large between 1st and 2nd (62.5% drop) and a smaller one between 2nd and 3rd (another 12.5% drop).

But as I stated before, every competition decides what is fair to award and I respect that.  For that reason, even though the prize money for the Regional Pole Olympics was more closely grouped, I don’t see a reason to give this one to either competition.

In conclusion, these things  make up a good pole competition:

1) You have a level playing field.

2) Your judges are from the pole community.

3) Your scoring is transparent, no making the competitors wait to know how they did.

4)  It is a POLE COMPETITION, not competitors with costumes doing feature shows with pole tricks thrown in.

5) Time on the pole and prize money is up to the organizer.

With all of these things taken into consideration, I have to say that the Vertical Pole Showdown is more a model of a true Pole Competition.  But, I do think they need to reconsider letting those with National or World titles to compete, because it just makes the local pole community look at them in a negative light and could affect the number of future local competitors.  You should be building your competition up, not doing things that could tear it down.