Friday, May 11, 2012

PoleArt 2012 is back in Sweden this summer!

PoleArt is the creation of Nelle Swan of North Pole Studio (Sweden) and Tanja Suni of Aerial Dancing (Finland).  This year's event will be held on August 25, 2012 in Stockholm, Sweden.  Today we sit down with Nelle and Tanja to talk about PoleArt 2012.

How did each of you get into pole dancing in the first place?

Nelle:  We both started fairly early, before there was much going on in our respective countries, Sweden and Finland. So traveling internationally for workshops and such, hanging out on the internet and doing a lot of self teaching in 2006/2007 we found each other as some of the few early Scandinavians active in pole. As things progressed I opened the first pole studio in Sweden, diving into it head first.

What drew me to pole initially was the same thing that had drawn me to martial art, ballet or any of the other forms of training I've ventured into: the combination of unusual and difficult! I love challenges and I love exploring.

Tanja:  I went to Australia to work in a research organization back in 2004. I had always done some sort of dancing and I wanted to try something new. Pole dance was really big in Australia and I went to a class, quite prejudiced, actually…but I got hooked in the first ten minutes! I took all the classes I could for the next couple of years, practiced by myself, and when I returned to Finland in 2007, I joined Finland’s first pole dance school Rock the Pole and started teaching there. But I wanted more than just classes; I wanted to bring the easy and fun atmosphere I had experienced in Australia to Finnish pole dancing as well and started organizing pole jams and workshops and inviting international teachers to come and give classes. The first one was Lu Nagata that I met at Nelle’s studio in Stockholm.

This is PoleArt's fourth year.  You have had some amazing talent -- both in judges and participants -- pass through your doors.  What made you decide to start your own showcase and competition?  Then let's talk about how you have been able to put together such a great group of people for an event this large each year.

Nelle:  Firstly I'd like Tanja to be credited as the creator and me as the co-organizer. Pole Art was her brain child to begin with and the way I remember it was born during a wild discussion in her car one morning in Helsinki. We were both complaining that we weren't seeing, on stage, the consequent talent we knew to be out there. We had experience with competitions being quite mixed ability and/or extremely trick-focused. "Stylistically scattered" also seemed to be comme il faut. A little like break dance battles, at the time - who can make the audience shout the loudest?

Given the potential we saw in pole as a stage art we wished for a forum where performance, choreography and "the whole" would weigh more than sensational individual tricks.
So that's where the take off point was. However, how we ended up with all these amazing people in our event I can't say... It still baffles us. Maybe it shows that there was a need for an alternative?

And just as we wish for performers to put effort into creating a whole where all the pieces come together (choreo/music/performance/originality/flexibility/strength/lines/costume/idea/light production/etc, etc) we are working OUR tushes off to make sure nothing during the event is left to chance. From website and graphic material to judges work stations and food backstage, we control everything obsessively and go out of our way to keep it to a standard that we can be proud of.

Tanja:  After a couple of years of pole jams and workshops, I started wondering if a competition that emphasized the artistry and creativity in pole dance – not just tricks - would be well received. The enthusiasm was really overwhelming and so I founded Pole Art in 2009. The showcase was an integral part of the event right from the start because I did not want to limit the participants to only those who wanted to compete; I wanted to see a wide variety of talent and also beginners and groups on stage. Now there are more opportunities for beginners to perform and Pole Art has moved on to being a professional-level event. Nelle became my Pole Art partner right after the first Pole Art and took the event on a completely new level artistically and professionally. We both treat Pole Art as a sort of an experimental laboratory of new movement and constantly get new ideas that we want to try out on stage. Last year it was contemporary choreographies and video art – let’s see what Nelle thinks of this year!

Regarding the great talent both on stage and in the judging booth – I think a competition emphasizing pole dance as an artform was just so interesting from the start that we didn’t even have to do much to get the attention. The news of a competition focusing on emotional, artistic aspects instead of mere tricks just spread and of course we sent information about our event to great dancers and encouraged them to apply.  Similarly, we approached people we respected as dancers and teachers and asked them to join our evaluation panel. I don’t remember anyone turning us down!

It looks like there are two parts -- the competition and the showcase.  Maybe you can each tell me why you think each part is important to the show, and also why this event is different from others.

Nelle:  For me personally, the showcase is my favorite part. It's very dear and a top priority because it fully allows you to realize your creative idea without being limited by scores or individual taste. We encourage participants to go all out in the showcase: practically anything is possible! You can do solos or group pieces, you can mix disciplines and genres, bring props and musicians on stage, use special effects, projection, lighting, you name it. Anything a showcase performer pitches to us we'll try to arrange. In 2010 we were excited to be working with smoke, fire and explosions. Even if that final routine didn't make it into the event.

The competition, then?  Certainly has limitations as a creative forum but it's value for propelling the pole community info constant elevation can't be underestimated.

Tanja:  The showcase is a series where there are no rules or limits to the performer’s creativity and no trick requirements either. It is where theatrics, dance, any type of performing arts, props, and pole come together and where the only limiting factor is the performer’s own imagination. The showcase aims to move the audience emotionally even more than the competitive series. The competitive series has a strong technical component but does emphasise artistry and originality just like the showcase: 25% of the points come from originality and only 25% from technical difficulty. The beauty of the showcase from an organiser’s point of view is that we can sponsor/produce 1-2 performances of our own and show the world what we think pole dance can do: last year I hired Katja-Maria Taavitsainen, a contemporary choreographer, to create a doubles piece, and a Latin dancer/choreographer to dance in another doubles piece with one of the judges, Laura Gröhn. Both performances had a video background as well.  We organisers cannot influence the competitive performances in any way but in the showcase, we can help bring to the stage our own vision of pole dance as an artform.

It feels like the pro/competition pole dancers are all going the route of contortion and extreme tricks.  Do you feel like something is lost from pole dancing when it is all tricks and no dance?

Nelle:  I don't think that you have to chose. That it needs to be one OR the other. You can be absolutely dazzling physically and technically, but not necessarily work that card 100% of your routine time. For our taste: the context, the artistic idea and execution of the idea are just as (or more) important than which body part can go where. For instance, there is some fantastic up and coming contemporary circus out there that fuses hard core tricks of each discipline with amazing dancing and acting. AND surfacing "conventional" dance companies that take the acrobatic dimension and fuse it seamlessly into their pieces. So we all know it can be done.

What we do on our behalf is tell the participants that technicality only makes up 25% of their score. And already at that stage you take some pressure off of the needing to wow the judges with your entire trick catalogue.

Tanja:  Of course, the essential in pole dance would be lost if this was the case. Fortunately, it isn’t. Professional dancers do have to train hard and achieve a strong background in both flexibility and extreme tricks, but then they have to create a piece of art on top of that highly technical background. Plain tricks are not interesting. They have to be woven into a story and emphasise the turns in that story with music. Then, and only then, do you create an emotionally moving piece. The tricks and flexibility are an important part of the “wow” factor in pole dance so they need to be there in many performances – but not all, and that’s why we have the Showcase!

I know you work hard to make each and every year a little more spectacular than the previous year.  What can we expect to see this year that will dazzle us?

Tanja:  This year Nelle is the local organizer and she is probably bursting with new and exiting ideas! I do not yet know what she has up her sleeve, but my guess would be something visual and breathtaking.

Nelle:  It can't be explained, it has to be seen! The entire experience from entering the theater, though the surprising intro performance, showcase, competition, intermission, foyer art exhibition, closing ceremony - we are actively producing each bit. Come see for yourself, you won't regret it! And Stockholm is beautiful in August...

I can't even imagine how much time and effort an event like this must take.  What will you both do for downtime to celebrate the success of PoleArt2012 when it is all over?

Tanja:  Last year, it took me a whole month to wind down from the exhaustion, and then I simply relaxed and relished the memories of the great event. But when the evening was over, a few glasses of sparkling were in order, of course!

Nelle:  It might sound corny if I say we are a match made in heaven but I really feel that our personalities complete each other in the best way possible. It IS a lot of work and we prepare for the larger part of a year prior to the event. What makes it doable is that Tanja and I trust each other with the main responsibility of the event every other year. So in 2010 I hosted the event in my city (Stockholm) and in 2011 she took the load off and did it in hers (Helsinki). So that's how we roll and rest every other year. Doing it constantly WOULD drive us crazy, though ;)

What else do you have coming up this year?

Tanja:  I will most likely organize the Finnish national showcase event, PoleVibes, in late October in Helsinki. This will be my third year doing that. PoleVibes is much like the Pole Art showcase but of course it is more of a small-scale, community event because most of the performers are active members in the Finnish pole dance community and bring their friends and relatives to see the show. We usually get approximately 250-300 viewers. It is a really nice and fun event with a great atmosphere - exactly as I dreamed of when I returned from Australia back in 2007!

Thank you so much for being part of my blog.  I am trying really hard to win the lottery so I can start traveling the world and attending events like this!  I hope to meet you someday very soon!

Tanja:  Thank you for writing such a great blog, and you are very welcome to Pole Art!


  1. Fabulous article! (And perfect timing for me.) First I'd like to say your interview questions were great. Secondly, it was super interesting to get more behind-the-scenes info on how this started and what they're mission it. I'm absolutely enthralled with this event and purpose.

  2. Awesome post. I actually had the good fortune of meeting Tanja personally when she traveled to San Francisco. I am proud to say that she took my class which was very dance focused-she is a really good dancer. I loved hearing about her vision for this competition.

    1. That's so cool. We need to get something started up here. I have a vision of live bands and pole dancers. Just need a venue and some money. Simple, right? lol