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.

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