I suppose I should have taken the general presentation of the magazine and the manner in which I even got to see the event as a foreshadowing of what it was going to be like. My friend was given two free tickets after Pole2Pole magazine messed up her subscription when she moved as recompense (or were they just trying to get rid of tickets?).
So, on Friday I travelled down South, pretty excited as I was looking forward to seeing some amazing dancers perform, some who I'd seen before and many that I'd not. Post-viewing, I'm not entirely sure what my expectations of the event were beforehand apart from looking forward to the performances. I wasn’t let down by that at all. It’s unfortunate that my strongest impression of the whole event, the one that overrides all of the amazing pole dancing I saw, is of the incredible disorganisation of the whole event.
We arrived at the competition venue in Essex and for some reason we both felt tense and nervous. The competition was late starting. In this time we bought Mighty Grip gloves (which I’m impressed with) and I spilt my beer – my normal incompetence aggravated by my nerves.
When the competition finally started it opened with belly dance performers. I’m afraid to say that I wasn’t taken with them. Their facial expressions were set in concrete and their performance went on for ages. Finally, the amateur section of the competition began. They were quite varied in their ability, but all were unique to watch; however, they weren’t helped at all by the competition organisation. The MC regularly got names wrong, the wrong music was regularly played (one dancer had to wait ages on stage whilst they tried to figure out the right track to play) and the pole looked very slippery (they didn’t look thoroughly cleaned). In addition to this, the set up was supposed to be that one pole was spinning and one was static; however the spinning pole did not seem to be set up properly during the amateur section. So basically there were two static poles.
Through this stage of the evening, the hall was less than half full. Disappointing I suspect, though it did mean that the audience was the most respectful it was all evening.
Special cringeworthiness goes to the MC, who seemed totally unprepared and unable to handle her task. She frequently got names wrong and mispronounced them. She couldn’t remember the charities the raffle she was constantly flogging was in aid of. She was regularly sent off by the judges who hadn’t had time to confer before she ushered the next contestant on. This was due to her being unable to fill in the time between performances with anything interesting and coherent to say. By the end of the evening, people around us were shouting at her to stop talking and get off stage. I wish I could say something nice, but really, it was painful sitting through her presenting.
The professional category followed the amateur. Throughout this category the mess-ups with names and music worsened, the MCing between performances got more excruciating, but the spinning pole appeared to work. What did get considerably worse was the behaviour of the audience. There were more people in during this category; however, people talked continuously during the performances (you could hear a level of talk even above the music) and walked around through the rows and aisles. There were a number of noticeably drunk and rowdy people as well as a couple of contingents of heckling men, who got worse as the evening wore on (and it did wear on. The event overran by at least 2 hours).
There were a couple of cringingly awful MC incidents due to this factor. One when she decided to attempt to inspire a debate as to whether pole dancing was ‘athletic’ or ‘balletic’ (‘cos there are no other styles of dance you can bring in?), to which one of these men yelled ‘it’s about sex’ from the back (we did have to laugh). Another was when one dancer danced in what they later described as ‘club style’ which sent these men mad and caused the MC to run on after and condemn her style, which was both insulting to the performer and locking the barn after the horse has bolted.
What should have been the climax of the event, the champion of champions category can in late after more raffle demands and another iteration of the stone-faced belly dancers. By this time (it was probably about midnight? I seem to remember looking at the time in horror) I was pretty exhausted after all my travelling and the audience was getting increasingly restless, though a lot of people did leave at this point. Despite this, the four competitors (down from six) were breath-takingly good and performed brilliantly, despite being so late on. I only really have some impressions of how they performed and can’t remember many of the details that I’d like to as I was so out of it by that time.
After this we had the raffle draw, which took ages because some of the people with tickets they drew had left, so they had to keep drawing to get rid of their prizes! During this time the results were decided. Then the competitors were called to the stage. This took a while, as it seemed they’d been given no warning as to when this would happen and lots of them weren’t around. There was a lot of dithering as to whether the results should go ahead without them. Finally they managed to get all the competitors and judges on stage and......
THEY’D LOST THE RESULTS.
(or had they just not set up the sashes and trophies? Either way, they weren’t ready to give the results)
So everyone on stage sat down and waited for what seemed like ages. At this point it descended into even more of a farce than it had been when two men got on stage and started having dance off on the pole (they weren’t bad) and were pulled off by a bouncer. A large number of people left, many of the rest were milling about and complaining. We were ready to drop asleep, but we collected our coats, waited for the results and walked out almost as soon as they’d been announced. It was about 1am. We’d been there since 6.30pm and the event was supposed to run between 7pm and 11pm.
To be fair, there were positives to the competition. As fair as I could tell the judging appeared to be fair and was done by pole dancers. The competitors all did amazingly, despite the shoddy running of the event. What’s frustrating is that that shoddy running overshadows their efforts. The organisation and presenting was pretty disrespectful to their preparation and performances. They really deserved so much better than this.
Another thing I find particularly aggravating about the whole event is that this was apparently all filmed by the BBC for a documentary. It angers me that they have footage of how badly and unprofessionally it was organised and of how disrespectfully a lot of the audience behaved. This, rather than the amazing dancers could be used to represent pole dancing in the UK. It’s unfair that this competition, rather than the other well organised and vibrant ones I’ve participated in may represent pole dancing to the general public. People have enough of a critical eye towards pole dance and the organisation of this competition makes pole seem a shambles, unprofessional
and badly presented. I suppose I really shouldn’t be surprised as it was run by Pole2Pole magazine, which is in general riddled with basic spelling, grammar and formatting errors. It’s just gutting that they’ve set themselves up to represent the pole dance industry in the UK and worldwide. We seriously deserve better.