The History of Pole Theatre

June 14, 2018

We are so excited to host Pole Theatre Sydney 2019 at the beautiful NIDA Parade Theatre on 28 September 2019. Be a part of the next chapter of Pole Theatre history. Get tickets at www.poletheatresydney.com!

 

The Birth of Pole Theatre

My name is Michelle Shimmy. With my sister Maddie Sparkle, I am the co-owner of Pole Theatre World. This is a short history of Pole Theatre, the world's largest and most exciting pole competition!

 

Pole Theatre began in Sydney, Australia, in 2013, from a conversation between Maddie Sparkle and me, over coffee one day. We never thought it would be anything other than a Sydney-based competition that we would run together.

 

But after the very first Pole Theatre, to our complete surprise, the concept of Pole Theatre spread like wildfire across the pole world, and today Pole Theatre is officially the world's largest pole competition, with over 20 countries participating. It's crazy to think that there is a Pole Theatre on every continent except Antarctica (we're working on it - don't worry!). 

 

But how did it all begin?

 

Well, it began with a pole dancing grandma, believe it or not. 

 

In 2011, the incomparable Carlie Hunter began performing her hilarious piece as a crotchety old grandma who finds her groove when she is overwhelmed by the power of pole. Everywhere she performed it, the audience would be in stitches, screaming and crying with laughter as they watched an elderly lady gyrate and flip around the pole on stage. 

 

 

 

The following year, the glorious Amber Ray performed a breath-taking routine at MPDA, stunning in its perfection and beauty, complete with snow white flowers cascading down from above. The audience was spellbound. It was beautiful. For me, it was a particularly memorable performance. 

 

 

After watching the evolution of pole performances, I began to wonder, how could judges possibly compare two performances, so different in style? Carlie's performance was hilarious, impressive and outrageous, but Amber was also incredible - so graceful, beautiful and moving. How do you compare the two? It was apples and oranges!

 

"Really," I said to Maddie one day over a coffee, "There should be a competition that separates performance styles by category, so that the judges are comparing like for like."

 

And so the seed for Pole Theatre was planted in our minds...

 

The Gluteal Fold Ban

By way of background, it's important to remember that all this happened in 2011/2012, in an era of pole dance where people were trying to "clean up" pole competitions. Around the world, sexy style pole was being banned from pole competitions, shoes were forbidden, and costume rules were becoming more prescriptive. There was even a ban in some competitions on the "gluteal fold" being exposed!

 

In case you have no idea what the "gluteal fold" is, it's the area where your butt meets your thigh, creating a crease or fold. For some people, like me, even if I wanted to cover my gluteal fold it would be next to impossible! Everything I wear rides up my butt. So I was horrified on a personal level at the body policing involved in "banning" the gluteal fold.

 

The Gluteal Fold Returns With a Vengeance!

Watching all of this happening in the pole world made us upset at the new direction that pole competitions were taking. We loved the sexy side of pole, because that was what attracted us both to pole in the first place. Personally, I loved that it was a little bit wild, a little bit naughty, and a place where you could shed the rules and regulations of normal life and feel free. So all these rules about how to dress and behave didn't really appeal to us at all!

 

I wanted a competition that celebrated the sexy side of pole, but more than that - a competition that elevated sexy pole and held it up as the art form that it is, alongside and equal to contemporary/lyrical pole dance. I wanted a competition that considered all styles of pole to be equal and worthy, one that would bring the focus back to entertainment and performance.

 

So Maddie and I got to work. We mapped out a new format for a new competition, with different categories, for Pole Art, Pole Drama, Pole Comedy and Pole Classique. We called it Pole Classique because I'd heard a few jokes online about strippers saying that they were "classically trained pole dancers", and I thought it was a perfect way to describe the style of Pole Classique. Competitors were allowed (and encouraged) to strip down to g-string and pasties, if they so desired. Turns out, a lot of them so desired!

 

For the first time (as far as we knew), doubles, groups and soloists would be competing against each other, and men and women would not be separated into different categories. At the time, this caused a stir. People couldn't understand how it would work in practice. It hadn't been done before. But because we wanted the focus of the competition to be on performance and entertainment, we knew it would work - still, we were relieved that others felt that way too after watching the show! 

 

 

The First Pole Theatre

We had the first Pole Theatre Sydney in 2013 at a venue in Taylor Square called the Standard (which no longer exists). It was a very "rustic" venue, to say the least. I had rung a number of fancier venues around town, but none of them were interested in hosting a pole dance competition. They are at best condescending towards me, and at worst, downright rude! It was infuriating to me, but I had no choice at the time. 

 

I remember I rang my ultimate fantasy venue, NIDA (the National Institute of Dramatic Arts). Nervously, I explained to the lady on the phone that Pole Theatre was going to be an incredible evening of amazing performances. She told me firmly, and in no uncertain terms, that pole dance was not the type of performance they were interested in hosting at NIDA. I felt crushed. 

 

So we held it at the Standard. The floor by the bar smelled like spilled beer, but they were happy to have us, and we were happy to be there. It was the first big competition we had run, and we were terrified. But it turned out so well, and it was a huge success. We sold out. All the performers were amazing.

 

Incidentally, it was the first time I ever performed in pasties and gstring. Also, coincidentally, my dad decided at the last minute to come along with his wife to watch our show. Awkward!! Sorry dad!!

 

 

Maddie and I breathed a sigh of relief once it was all over, and began making plans for the following year. 
 

Pole Theatre Worldwide!

Then something unexpected happened. Stacey Snedden, from the UK, messaged me to ask if we would let her bring Pole Theatre to the UK. We were surprised, but excited at the idea. We said yes. The following year, we packed our bags for London and set off for the first ever Pole Theatre UK, pinching ourselves all the while. 

 

Shortly after, Lolo Hilsum reached out to us to bring Pole Theatre to Paris. We said yes, of course. 

 

Then Nina Reed from Boulder, Colorado, in the USA. Then South Africa, Ireland, Greece, Hong Kong... and the list kept growing. We couldn't believe it! The emails kept coming in. It seemed like people were really excited about the idea of a competition that allowed them to perform the way they wanted to, with the fewest numbers of rules and regulations possible. 

 

In 2016, we worked with Stacey Snedden of Pole Theatre UK, to put together our first ever Pole Theatre World, in Prague. Steven Retchless, from the USA, took the title of the first Pole Theatre World Overall Champion. 

 

 

 

Pole Theatre Today

Fast forward to 2019. We are in our 7th year of Pole Theatre. Pole Theatre has made its mark in over 20 countries around the world. 

 

Last year, in 2018, in our hunt for a perfect venue, Leisha (our right hand woman in all things Pole Theatre) casually mentioned that she had rung NIDA, they would be happy to have us, and they were sending us a quote. I did a double take. I couldn't believe it! Finally, we had reached a point where pole dance, and more specifically Pole Theatre, had a place on stage at the National Institute of Dramatic Arts. I had a quiet moment to myself. 

 

I have always believed that pole dance is an art form, and that whether you are a pole comedian, a pole artist, a pole actor of dramatic pieces, or a sizzlingly hot classically trained pole dancer: your art is worthy of recognition, and worthy of a big, beautiful stage. 

 

We have so many incredible artists in our pole community. I'm so honoured that my team and I have been able to create a platform for these artists to showcase their work, and to launch their careers.

 

Below is a selection of some truly breathtaking performances at Pole Theatres around the world. There are so many more! Every single Pole Theatre I have attended has blown me away with the sheer talent of the performers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Pole Theatre Dream Team

Pole Theatre has grown to what it is today thanks to the hard work and dedication of all the National Organisers of Pole Theatre around the world. It's a lot of hard work, and the organisers do it for the love of pole and to give a spotlight and a stage to the incredible finalists. Thank you so much to all the National Organisers. And a HUGE thank you to Leisha Perry, who works so tirelessly on all things Pole Theatre related to make it run smoothly and seamlessly, Stacey Snedden, organiser of Pole Theatre UK and co-organiser of Pole Theatre World, and Maddie Sparkle, who co-founded and organised Pole Theatre with me from the very beginning.

 

And from the bottom of my heart, a massive thank you to everyone who has been with us so far on this Pole Theatre journey - everyone who has entered, competed, and most importantly, attended as an audience member. We literally could not do it without you guys in the audience, organising your friends and buying tickets to come and support the amazing pole artists on stage. Thank you for all your support!

 

We are so excited to host Pole Theatre Sydney on 28 September 2019 at NIDA this year. Come be a part of the next chapter of Pole Theatre history - get your tickets at www.poletheatresydney.com!

 

 

 

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