by Alessandra Izzo aka Ally Cat
On July 29th I witnessed the birth of a wonderful pole event in Melbourne. It was called “Imagine”, and rather than being a competition, it provided a paid opportunity where pole artists could get on stage without rules, judgment, criteria and competitive insecurity. Pure creative spark and the joy of performing were the two main drivers of this show. Imagine was conceptualised by me and co-produced by myself and another.
While the feedback from both the audience and the artists have been overwhelmingly positive, my experience as the organiser was a little more bittersweet. While I emphatically believe that the cast, crew and my co-producer, all put their heart and soul into making this event a wonderful and successful experience, unfortunately that came at quite an uncomfortable out of pocket expense for both myself and my co-producer.
My skills as an event co-ordinator, artistic director and producer have been honed such that I am confident in the value I bring to shows like this. Yet, I don’t expect much in return for my efforts because I truly believe what I’m doing is an important service for the pole community. However, when “not much” translates to having to pay out of my own pocket for the privilege, I am forced to reflect on what is going wrong. And I’m pretty confident I know the answer. So, here it is.
Our community is flooded with competitions.
I know many competition organisers, and I get along very well with most of them. I don’t believe they are intentionally sabotaging our community. But I can no longer sugar coat my words. There are too many competitions, and it’s leaving no space for pole in a purely artistic setting.
My last count was around fifteen in VIC and close to twenty in NSW. It’s literally one competition EVERY THREE WEEKS, not even counting smaller studio comps!
To run a successful show, you require an audience. Obviously for atmosphere, but most importantly, to cover costs. While many of you may grumble over ticket prices exceeding $50, when poles require proper rigging, a large venue and professional sound/lighting operators, costs skyrocket. I understand why tickets cost so much. What I don’t understand is why on earth people think we need another competition.
While pole dancing is such a niche subculture, it’s very hard to sell tickets to the general public. This means we rely mostly on family, friends and fellow polers to support our events. It also means we have a very limited pool of people who are going to buy tickets.
There are only so many times a spectator can justify paying the ticket price to see a pole event in a year. Every time you put another competition on the calendar you are creating problems not only for existing competitions, but you are crowding out any chance at survival for a showcase event like Imagine.
This obsession with creating new competitions is literally draining the blood from the artistic heart of our industry – no matter how “novel” and “different” your competition idea is. It is also creating a competitive mindset in our community where sashes and awards are more important than the joy of performing, without the limitations of criteria and a judgmental environment. We are turning pole into a craft, while forgetting the value of it as an art.
For competition organisers, their job is a little easier than a showcase organiser. The expectation to go and support your fellow poler is definitely higher when there is a chance of “winning”. But by placing such an emphasis on winning, I believe we are all losing.
I can’t guarantee that Pandemonium will run another event, as much as the idea devastates me. I just can’t afford to single-handedly support non-competitive pole dancing in Victoria. If Imagine does run again, I really hope you all support it. Believe me, I’m not doing it for the glory (and certainly not the money) – if someone else wanted to do a community showcase I’d support them in any way I possibly could. But there doesn’t seem to be anyone else willing to put their time, energy and money into creating it for you. And I for one don’t blame them.