Friday, November 23, 2012

Event Review: SuperShag’s Pole Fitness Invitational Championships and Showcase, Boston

I had originally written this for Vertical Art and Fitness Magazine, who I theoretically cover events for (I say "theoretically" because it's hard to cover events unless you're jetsetting around), but due to miscommunication it didn't make it in time for the issue. So I wanted to post it here so it didn't go to waste, and I'll be swinging by SuperShag's pole studio soon and wanted to get this out first.

SuperShag’s Pole Fitness Invitational Championships and Showcase, Boston

BOSTON - On Saturday, September 15, 2012, SuperShag Dance Studios in Boston hosted SuperShag's Pole Fitness Invitational Championships and Showcase for the first time. SuperShag, a world-renowned ballroom dance studio, has been presenting pole showcases ever since it first started offering pole classes in 2007—showcases which grew from tiny studio events into the New England Pole Dance Showcase. Last year the pole division of SuperShag made its first appearance at the Boston Ballroom Conference and Competition with a pole showcase, and this year returned reinforced by a national competition, instructor certification, and workshops by pole idol Marlo Fisken.

The performance was multi-tiered, featuring a non-competitive showcase; amateur, professional, and group competitions; as well as a performance by the pole-centric aerial group AERA, all back-to-back. Although the divisions varied, regional restrictions did not: all levels were open to national entrants, and all featured performers from outside of New England.

The judging panel was as professional as it was varied. Four judges scored the competitors: pole champion Marlo Fisken, obviously the crowd favorite; master aerialist Sacha Pavlata, who has decades of experience as a circus performer and now is an instructor at a local circus school; and two ballroom dances judges, Chuck Danza and Gary Edwards, who were chosen not only as a hat-tip to the ballroom aspect of the event and the studio that hosted it, but because of their vast experience in judging and scoring dancers, a quality often lacking in pole panels.

The event was held at the Sheraton Hotel in the heart of Boston, in a conference room that was overshadowed from the lobby by racks of dazzling gowns pedaled to ballroom participants. Nonetheless, the setup was swanky. A DJ pumped club music over the VIP tables that took up half the audience seating, while blue lighting shone from the same box truss that the poles were attached to. This caused some tense moments when hard spins (both poles spun) caused the entire rig to sway dramatically back and forth. No one involved seemed concerned, but this reporter was happy to be a good distance away from the infrastructure.

Both regional and visiting performers displayed a high level of skill, and advanced moves were busted out in each division. As is often the case in events where entrants must chose what level to submit to, talent was at times indistinguishable across divisions. Which raises the question: Why did dancers choose to enter the division they did?

For a local showcase performer with a charming Polish accent named Grace, it was her first performance. “[I performed] to fight with my fear,” she said. Grace had always wanted to perform, and had seized the opportunity.

Fairport, NY dancer Sheila Frank, on the other hand, is no stranger to performing. Frustrated by the difficulty of breaking into the competition circuit, submitting to the showcase was “the last straw” for her after a series of rejections. After a crowd-pleasing performance, naturally, she admitted that she was “kicking myself for not competing.” Notably, there were more showcase performers than competitors in any division, though whether this was due to greater interest by participants or more slots offered by the organizers is not clear. The word “invitational” in the title is a misnomer. While in previous events participation was invite-only, in this case, both showcase and competition were open to the public, and pre-screened by video.

The amateur solo division was won by Ashley Popoli of Stamford, Connecticut, with Kelly Palumbo and Juel Sheridan running up. The professional solo division title went to Danielle Romano of New York, followed up by Tracey Kafer and Jessica Mari. The winners of the group division were The Girls from Trumbull Connecticut.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Studio Review: North Shore Pole Fitness, Andover MA

For my first pole outing in the Boston area, I wanted to go to North Shore Pole Fitness. First of all, because I live on the North Shore. Second, because they do aerial-style pole in addition to gettin' your sexy on pole, which not everyone does. Thirdly, because the studio welcomes male students, which earns my respect.

The problem is, there was NO way to get to Andover from Salem without a car. I mean, it would have been an all-day affair of commuting into Boston and back up on a different train line. No buses or anything that go straight from here to there. So I mentioned to co-manager (or something--not sure of job title) Philip Deal on Facebook that I was interested in his studio but wasn't able to make it due to the transportation issue. So he offered to pick me up and drive me there. !!

Sunday I finally had time to come down for open pole, and true to his word, Philip went out of his way to come to my apartment and bring me to the studio. How's that for service? Especially cool because it gave us a chance to get acquainted. I'm a self-taught poler, so when I go on expeditions to studios it's for social purposes (and to have more reviews to write for you guys!).

North Shore Pole Fitness is a no-frills, down-to-business type of studio. It's a lot like Pole Chicks in Rockford, which I reviewed over the summer (and where I had the honor of teaching a workshop in the fall). No pink chandeliers or painted silhouettes, no nightclub sound system, no merch center selling stilettos and branded booty shorts. It's a pole room and a general fitness room (yoga, chair dance, etc), painted orange (THANK YOU FOR NO HOT PINK).

One thing I have to give them props for is temperature control. The studio was freezing when I got there, and by the time I finished getting dressed and paying, there was a beautiful sticky heat in the room, perfect for stretching out and gripping the pole. I don't know how they did it, but the room remained the perfect temperature the entire 2-hour session. Warm enough to keep the poles sticky and not to get cold in skimpy pole wear, while never making me lose grip through sweating.

The studio only opened in July, and while classes (from what I've heard) are going strong, open pole is usually sparse. So it ended up being just Philip and I having a pole jam, with owner Dorian occasionally sticking her head in to hang out.

I'm estimating the poles at about 11 feet--about 3-4 shoulder inversion climbs for me to get up to the top and into a ceiling lay. So they were high enough for most drops and stuff, but not exhausting to climb. They use a specialty product to clean the poles (I forget which it was--the iTac Pole Cleaner I think?), so they were nice and grippy,

As is usually the case, I didn't take an actual class, so I can't speak much to instructor style. Philip and I exchanged a lot of pointers, and he was very complimentary when he saw something he liked, so that's a good quality to have in a teacher. I didn't do any poling with Dorian, but she is super fun and adorable. I had to hug her when I met her because, I dunno, she just looked so squeezable!

The open pole time was 2 hours, which I think is the Right Length. A lot of places offer 1 hour, which isn't really enough for a full workout, if you want to do it right with warming up, stretching, climbing, tricking out, conditioning, cooling down, taking snack and water breaks, and the obligatory taking pictures of each other. 1 hour can be a good workout, but it has to be pretty rushed, which is good for your endurance but causes you to gloss over important things like stretching and staying nourished.

My only complaint is that they didn't have crash mats (yet?), which I was really looking forward to using. I haven't got one at my new place yet, and I wanna practice scary moves!

I think North Shore Pole Fitness is the perfect place to check out if you want your poling experience to be both sexy and athletic. Most places tend to emphasize one side or the other, but North Shore makes a point of giving both equal footing. You do have to be comfortable dancing/working out around men, because they welcome male students to ALL classes, including stiletto and chair workouts. No discrimination here! But if the other guys are anything like Philip, you'll find them completely non-threatening to work around and a lot of fun.

I forgot to take a picture of the studio, but Philip took the above pic of me, and I took pics of him trying out some new moves I showed him. (He got everything on the first try--don't you hate people like that???)

North Shore Pole Fitness
Equipment: 8 11' stainless steel Platinum Stages poles, spinning-static convertible. 4 50mm, 4 45mm.
Amenities: Dressing rooms, bathrooms, fitness room in addition to pole room
Drop-in price: $30 ($25 for first-time students)

Photo (of me!) by Philip Deal. Photos of him by me.