Why I am competing in a pole dancing competition

arlene caffrey pole dancing at irish pole dance academy in dublin

On Sunday May 1st I’ll be taking part in my first pole competition in 4 years. I wanted to share some words of wisdom as an OG poler who has honestly taken part in more competitions than she can count.

What I’m about to say is very much not intended as a humblebrag or a display of ego! I speak purely of my own experience; I do not attempt to speak for all competitive pole dancers. Even if you chose to never compete and to dance only for you, my hope is that you’ll still find some nuggets of inspiration here.

A photo from my winning performance at the Irish Pole Championships 2008 at Fusion Nightclub in Drogheda. That brass monkey was the ‘centrepiece’ of the choreography.
Wee bit of history:

When I was a beginner pole dancer in 2006, the only ways that you could perform your pole skills to an audience in Ireland were by taking part in pole dancing competitions, or by becoming a stripper. The latter wasn’t an option for those of us who didn’t live near a club or who didn’t have the confidence to set foot in one. Remember, these were the days when the ‘hashtag not a stripper’ rhetoric was rife, and there were no showcases (at least not in my locality anyway).

So I started out with pole dancing competitions, in my humble hometown of Drogheda.  I did a load of competitions between ’07 – ’16. I won a LOT of gold medals and lovely titles that I’m still proud of (you can read the list at the bottom of my About page).

I haven’t done much competing since then, sticking mainly to performing in shows and personal artistic endeavours.

So, why am I now back competing?

Having something to ‘train for’ is just great. I love a good deadline and I love the challenge of problem solving and being creative within the parameters that a competition brief brings.

Competitions tend to have rules and criteria that you must abide by. And thankfully nowadays there is a greater choice of competitions (thank you Eden Pole Competition for creating a category that welcomes pole OGs like me!). I find the challenge of working within boundaries to be fun, as well as to be assessed by my peers so that I can gain new insights for bettering my skill.

I also know what I’m good at now and what my body is capable of; I know I’m not the strongest or most flexible and I’m honestly ok with that. I know what makes me unique and I have invested a lot of time in my performance style. This allows me to have fun during the act creation process, as well as on stage!

However, the shadow side of this is that part of me is nervous as I’m older, more injury prone and not as daring as I used to be. There are so many other polers who can wipe the floor with me when it comes to mental tricks and mad flips etc. Back in my day, a Butterfly (a basic one, not even Extended mind you) was enough to win me the title of ‘Miss Pole Dance Ireland’ in ’07 (below is one of the only photos I have from that performance). However, I’ve learned over the years that comparison to others or even to myself does nowt but drain my energy. If this applies to you, be kind to yourself and save that headspace for your dancing.

A photo from my winning performance at ‘Miss Pole Dance Ireland 2007’ at McHugh’s pub in Drogheda. I was wearing kitten heels from New Look as I didn’t own a pair of Pleasers yet.

Another shadow aspect that prevented me from competing as intensely for many years was that a part of me was afraid of failure or not placing high on the scoreboard. I put expectation on myself to do well, having won consistently back in the early days. That was definitely my ego talking; I wouldn’t tell my students that they must win so why would I speak to myself that way? If you are in the same position, it’s time to stop beating yourself with that stick.

After almost 16 years I still have a hunger for being the best dancer that I can be. I am curious about how I can further deepen my craft and hone my style. I am focused on training for longevity; now I have all the strength, control and flexibility that I dreamed of as a baby poler. I still feel that I have more to learn and the best is yet to come!

Having said that, I’ve also let go of trying to be perfect; it simply doesn’t exist in my own experience. In each big performance, I have always found something to fixate on that I ‘messed up’ or didn’t like.

Now I just try to be the best that I can be on the given day and to remember that being on stage is FUN. It really is a privilege to get to dance on stage in front of an audience. If you are also guilty of perfectionism, please stop holding yourself to impossible standards that allow no margin of error. As Blindboy Boatclub says ‘Nobody is better than me, and I am better than nobody’.

Another photo from my winning performance at ‘Miss Pole Dance Ireland 2007’ at McHugh’s pub in Drogheda. I danced to ‘The Lovecats’ by The Cure, which hopefully explains the cat ears.
The main lessons here:
  • There will always be someone stronger, more flexible, more trickster than you, whether it’s in a competition or in the studio.
  • Know what you’re good at and respect the capabilities and limitations of your own body.
  • You can always learn more and be better. Stay curious and dedicated to your own art.
  • You are never going to have a perfect performance.

So, from an OG poler who is still not the strongest or most flexible, take heart that there is still space for you in the pole competition scene, if you want it. And if you don’t, it’s perfectly grand to hang up your competitive heels; you don’t owe it to yourself or anyone or win medals.

Arlene xx

Photo credits:

  • Patrick Gouliev who took some gorgeous photos recently at IPDA.
  • My friend from secondary school MK who was there at all of my early pole dance competitions with her wee digital camera.

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