Updated: Feb 25, 2019
Though pole competitions are not the end goal for many of us who pole dance, we need to acknowledge that competitions can help a sport develop. In the world of pole, comps have assisted in legitimizing pole as a real sport, structured how pole should be judged (such as on a stationary pole and spin pole in competition), made participants take a hard look at the different sides of the sport (dance versus aerial) and pushed competitors to try trickier moves and more sophisticated sequences. This is what competition does to a sport: It pushes the sport to grow.
Hey, pole dancing is hard let’s make it a competition. 1990s- 2005
Though pole competitions are not the end goal for many of us who pole, it needs to be acknowledged that competitions can help a sport develop. For pole, comps have assisted in legitimizing pole as a real sport, structured how pole should be judged (such as on a stationary pole and spin pole in competition), made participants take a hard look at the different sides of the sport (dance versus aerial) and pushed competitors to try trickier moves and more sophisticated sequences. This is what competition does to a sport:it pushes the sport to grow.
If you weren’t poling in your basement or using poles during strip club off-hours in the early years let’s do a little recap on the origins of pole competitions. The first discussed competitions on the pole began in 1991 at the Deju Vu strip clubs, a franchise in the United States. The yearly competition was titled the Po’Lpymics (of course it was). At that point in time, the competition was less about hard moves and more about exotic dance.
Enter Pantera Blacksmith. She competed in the early 2000s and pioneered “challenging” pole moves. She put out a DVD tutorial on some of the harder moves she had perfected (shoulder mount, inside leg hang, brass monkey) and this was the first time most polers had seen these moves. If you saw this video in the early 2000s your mind was blown that someone could do these acrobatic moves on the pole and it was all you talked about with your pole friends for six months. Many of the first pole competitors were influenced by her use of demanding pole “tricks” and sequencing them together without breaks.
In Europe, the Miss Pole Dance Worlds competition was first held in 2005 in Amsterdam. This competition included Reiko Suemune(yes, the first known person to do the Reiko Splits) and Elena Gibson and there was a legendary controversy over first place. However, Miss Pole Dance Worlds went on to introduce the public and a future generation of polers to pole as a genuine sport and aided in launching the careers of Jenyne Butterfly and Felix Cane. Miss Pole Dance Worlds had spin offs in many countries all over the world including the UK and Canada. Miss Pole Dance Australia began in 2005 and helped push the athleticism of the sport to new levels and many notable Aussie pole dancers made a splash from the competition. Felix Canewon in 2006 and that propelled her into developing a feature role with Cirque du Soleil, for the show Zumanity. When Cirque Du Soleil took note of pole dancing, this was a moment of legitimizing pole as an aerial art equal to other aerial arts and acrobatic endeavors, further solidifying pole as a sport.
What is significant about these early competition years is that the world was introduced to pole as a sport that could be akin to gymnastics or ice skating. For the first time, the average person could see pole athletes creating moves that were on par with aerial and acrobatics. Whatever growing pains were faced in this time period, in the end didn’t matter, as people saw the future of the sport.
Is this a real sport? 2005 - 2015
US Pole Dance Federation (USPDF) Championship was first held in 2009 and won by Jenyne Butterfly, who also was noticed by Cirque Du Soleil and eventually developed her pole dance featured performance in the show One. The USPDF is still going strong with competitions held all over the U.S. During this time, many other organizations hopped on the bandwagon deciding to sanction pole competitions. This was a period of confusion in the sport. Not only were there multiple competitions claiming world champions, but judging at competitions was all over the place. Again, growing pains can lead to positive changes such as better divisions, better judging, better rules and allowing men’s categories in competitions too. Beginning in 2010, new moves were almost being created daily and keeping up with the changes was proving difficult from a judging perspective.
Pole Sport Federation, United Pole Artists, U.S. Pole Dance Federation, Pole Star Invitational, Pole Art, World Pole Championships, International Pole Dance Fitness Association and Pole Sport Organization were a few of the organizations running pole competitions. Some organizations are defunct and some competitions are alive and well. During this time, there were often multiple world champions at one time. If you were poling through this period, you remember how messy it was, but you also remember the excitement of seeing people from all over the world doing moves you had never even imagined. Seeing Oona Kivelaat the International Pole Art Comp in 2009 and realizing what precision looked like or seeing Mina and Nadia doing crazy doubles pole and inventing moves. Instagram wasn’t around until the end of this period. Watching competition videos was how you learned new moves or decided what workshops you needed to hit next.
Wait, there are different styles of pole dance?
Pole Art was a competition set up with Pole Expo in 2010 that embraced storytelling and more artistic and dance-based pole performance. Pole Theater, developed by Michelle Shimmy and Maddie Sparkle, was designed to showcase the many styles of pole dance, including dance-based, trick-based, men and women. There are other more artistic-based pole competitions and these add variety and opportunity for polers who want to perform. On an influential level, these competitions are keeping art and dance in pole.
Can the Olympics Handle Pole? 2015 to present
Possibly the most important competition move that has happened ever for pole was the International Olympic Committee (IOC) recognizing pole as a sport in the fall of 2017. International Pole Sports Federation (IPSF) was founded by K.T. Coates and is now the international governing body of pole sports as sanctioned by the Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF). What this means is that pole is on the observation list for possibly being included as a future Olympic sport. Each country will have a governing body under IPSF so in the U.S. it’s the United States Pole Sport Federation (USPSF). With this new governing body and pole being on the observation list for the IOC, eventually at some point all pole competitions may fall under IPSF if the goal of the competition is to make Olympic athletes.
Only time will show what an Olympic appearance will do to the competition world of pole, but in the meantime, there are plenty of competitions and plenty of styles to compete in.
Read more at the Bad Kitty Blog