So… choreographers in the pole dancing world – or more specifically, their usage in a competition setting. Recently, I got thinking about this topic and wondered why it wasn’t more widely discussed. I tried to think of any instances where a choreographer was credited in a performance video or after a competition routine, but I couldn’t think of any off the top of my head. Of course, there are choreographers in the pole industry. However, I only know about a handful of routines which have been created by them, and I feel as though I only stumbled upon that information by chance, which leaves me thinking…
Why are we so secretive about our use of professionals in creating pole dance choreography?
How many pole dancers are actually using them during competition prep?
Is it taboo to use a choreographer for a competition routine, and if so, why?
I asked in a few Facebook groups to ascertain what people’s opinions of pole choreographers were. I asked who they thought should be the primary creator behind a routine, and gave several options on which they felt was the most appropriate (see image).
The majority of respondents felt that the choreography should mostly be the work of the performing pole dancer, with some help or collaboration with their pole family. However, a lot of people stated that they thought specialist choreographers were a good thing, and that having more of them would only be a positive step forward for the pole industry.
Here are the positives and negatives I feel when it comes to using professional choreographers:
If you look at any other style of dance or sport with dance elements, be it ballet, contemporary, ice skating, gymnastics, and the like, they all have a well-established culture of using professional choreographers. These dancers and athletes are there for their performance ability and are therefore not expected to be excellent choreographers. If pole wants to grow, these respondents argued, then we need to adopt the same mindset. They asserted that by working collectively we can achieve much more in the way of production value, entertainment, and pushing the boundaries of what is achievable from a pole show.
I’m definitely inclined to agree – we don’t expect performers to make their own costumes, but often costuming is still a part of competition scoring. Why would we feel cheated or wronged by a performer using a choreographer in the same way they would use a costume designer?
A choreographer may be able to get the very best out of a performer who would otherwise be limited by their own choreographing skills. If you aren’t creative in that respect, but an excellent dancer and performer, then having a choreographer would help to bring your vision to the stage. This way it satisfies both the dancer’s desire to provide the best performance and the audience’s desire to be wowed by something performed well.
When it comes to showcases and events, there is no doubt that using a choreographer is a non-issue. However, the question becomes more complicated once you introduce a competitive element. In a competition there is that feeling of ‘is that fair play?’ If having a professional choreographer gives you that special edge then we have to examine whether it is OK.
I am not saying that it is wrong because after all, we are talking about COMPETITIONS! The whole point is someone out of the group will have worked hard, have an edge, and therefore win. That edge could be extra training hours because they don’t have a 9-5 job, a background in gymnastics or dance, an amazing stage presence, or years of experience.
However, when it comes down to something as financial as whether you can afford to hire a professional choreographer I do feel it isn’t so cut and dry (when is it ever?). If not being able to afford a professional choreographer for your competition routine directly discounts you from winning, that kind of goes against part of what I love about pole – the fact that it is actually pretty egalitarian and meritocratic! After all, you can start pole in your 30s and 40s and become a global name! There is no other sport I can think of that works that way, especially not for women!!
Furthermore, if a pole dancer wins a competition with another person’s pole dance choreography, without crediting them, and then goes on to sell pole choreography workshops on the back of that new reputation, is that fair? They are financially benefiting indirectly from another’s creativity and hard work. I suppose, if the choreographer doesn’t mind it doesn’t matter. However, it would be nice for them to be credited and spoken about publicly. What do you think?
Why are they so taboo?
If indeed choreographers are a lot more widely used than we realise, what is all the secrecy about? Is it because of the almost cult-like pole star worship that the industry is currently built around? These are some of the questions that were brought up in the Facebook discussion surrounding the issue. Some people said they felt that many pole stars might worry that their fans would not love them as much if they knew they hadn’t choreographed their own routines, or that it would devalue their ‘oeuvre’. Perhaps there is a lot of pressure for a pole star to be good at ‘everything’? I can certainly see it. There is the pressure of social media, workshop tours, and growing fan bases. It may be that these dancers feel a lot of responsibility to their followers, and they wouldn’t want to do anything to disappoint them. This would make the hush-hush nature of it protective rather than deceitful.
So where does this leave us?
I’m reminded a lot by the film Bring It On (2000) in this post. For anyone who hasn’t seen it I’ll give you a synopsis (errrrrrrr, also, yeah you should fix that and watch it asap! *spirit fingers*). A champion cheer leading team discovers that their previous head cheerleader has been stealing routines from a local inner-city squad. After qualifying for a big competition they need to work on a new routine to try and win on their own grounds and from their own talent. At one point during the film, in desperation, they hire a famous cheer choreographer, which of course doesn’t go very well. In the film having a cheer-leading choreographer is also seen as taboo, and the team making their own choreography is held in higher esteem. The inner-city squad can’t afford to even get to the competition, let alone hire a choreographer. However, what they have that the other team lack, is more of their own creativity and resourcefulness. Spoiler Alert: (I mean this film is almost 17 years old get over it!) the inner-city team win fair and square, and all is right in the world. They do this from their own work and determination, and from a routine that isn’t professionally choreographed for them.
Maybe it is exactly the same in pole? Having a professional choreographer doesn’t make you an amazing performer – an interesting routine needs an amazing dancer to bring it to life on stage! What really makes a performance is the drive, passion and determination, and that cannot be bought with money. Of course, it does give you an edge if it is the small extra push you need, but with competitions nothing is ever a completely even playing field. Someone will always have more money to buy costumes and props, more hours to train, more people supporting them, or more natural abilities that make their pole a bit stronger / more flexible / more fluid. You just have to work with what you have! If someone needs or wants a choreographer then that is their prerogative. After all, when you are training you should be focused on YOU and what you are doing, not on what others are working on.
Let people have their professional choreographers if they want them. For many of our most beloved pole dancers having a choreographer gives them an opportunity to enhance their creativity and push themselves out of their comfort zones. For amateur and semi-pro dancers who find choreography difficult, a coach is the helping hand they need to bring their best performance onto the stage. And, who doesn’t need help with their first few routines when they start out? I don’t think I know anyone who has never had part of their routines choreographed by an instructor or coach!
So… what are your thoughts?
- Do you think it is OK for pole stars to use choreographers?
- Do you think they should be allowed in competitions? Or have a separate competition for professionally choreographed routines?
- Should competitors be obligated to credit choreographers?
Please share your thoughts in the comments, I want to know what you think!
Pole Parlour, on the back of my Facebook discussion, has featured a pole creative and coach on her podcast recently. They discuss the use of choreographers in the industry, and Veronica makes plenty of interesting points to add to the discussion.
You can watch the full interview HERE or find it below.