3:16 AM – Jhene Aiko

This isn’t the first time I’ve  choreographed to this song: I actually first used it for Pole Theatre USA back in 2015! I LOVE this song, so I was more than happy to listen to it many more times as I put together this routine.

This is a pretty simple routine, which was nice to have so I could dance a little more instead of spending my energy thinking about what was coming next. I’m really in a song rut right now, both personally and for class routines, so I’m open to suggestions!

Eyes on Fire (Zeds Dead Remix) – Blue Foundation

It took us several weeks to get to this routine because it’s the beginning of the school year and people are busy, then I was out of town for Pole Expo! We finally got to it this week, and while it’s not my favorite routine ever, I do like it (well, I like all of my routines: why else would I do them?) While there aren’t any really tricky movements in here, it was a little harder because not every move is on a beat, and it’s not a very consistently beat-y song. This made it a little tricky for everyone to be together.

I do love my leggings though – they’re new from Bad Kitty! I will probably write a post about Pole Expo, though I didn’t get to do as much pole-related activities as I’d like (I know, that doesn’t sound right, but it is). Things are a little crazy busy right now, but once life slows down a bit, I’ll regroup and try to write some more on here. Any topic requests? I’d love to include some more useful posts in here rather than just class routines.

How to Choreograph a Pole Routine

I’ve competed in 10 (!) competitions over the past 5 years and performed in many showcases and shows: my best guess is that I’ve choreographed 17 entire routines just for myself. I also choreograph a new group routine (around 2 minutes) every week (obviously, since that’s the vast majority of this blog!), so I think it’s fair to say that I have experience with creating a pole routine. Bittersweet Studios is having our 4 year anniversary showcase in a few months and I have students working on a pole routine for the first time who have asked me how to choreograph a routine.

I won’t lie: it’s hard! But the good news is, you don’t have to start from scratch. Everyone has a different style and process for creating a routine, but here are 9 steps that seem to work best for me.

 

1. Know the requirements.

If you’re choreographing for a showcase or performance, it will likely look different than choreographing for a competition. If your showcase has a theme – Bittersweet’s coming up is 70s! – then consider that when following step 2. If you’re working on a competition piece, be aware of song minimums and limits as well as profanity or lyric rules. I’ve seen competitions that have strict time requirements with only 10 seconds of wiggle room, while others may have a whole minute range. Some competitions state that the songs must be radio edits – no profanity – while others require music without lyrics at all. Make sure you know what the rules are because you don’t want to fall in love with a piece of music and start working on it, only to find out that you can’t use it!

fpfcrules
The requirements for the Florida Pole Fitness Championship. Pay attention to time limits and compulsory moves!

 

2.  Find your music.

This is BY FAR the hardest part for me. I usually spend around 2 months listening to everything until I find that perfect song. Every now and then I’ll find a song I love when I don’t have something coming up, so I’ll save it for when I do but that’s pretty rare. Make sure it fits the time restrictions (or can be cut to fit, which is much easier than adding music!) I love Pandora for finding new music, but I’ve heard that Spotify is great too. Good pole music generally (but not always!) has some tempo changes, beats, and depending on the routine you’re putting together, a story. Everyone moves and interprets music differently though, so one person’s perfect song could make someone else immediately say “no way!” Whatever it is, make sure you love it, because you’ll be listening to it for hours on end!

uspsf

fpfcpsospc

These play counts are wildly inaccurate since this is just from the iTunes on my computer. I played the songs MANY more times from my phone while I was practicing (and driving. I always have my competition music on repeat while driving!). The “FPFC edit” version had the language edited out since it had a few inappropriate words.

 

3. Chunk it.

Listen to your song approximately eleventy thousand times with a notebook handy. Listen for changes in music: choruses, verses, bridges, tempo changes, etc. These are good places to move from pole to pole. Are there any hard-hitting beats that you want to a cool drop on, or moments of silence that you want to hit a certain pose in? Write it all down. Most competitions have minimum requirements for length of time spent on each pole and some have time requirements or limits for floorwork or dancing away from the pole. Make sure you know the rules! Chunking makes choreographing SO much more manageable: instead of a 3:30 routine, you just have to come up with several shorter pieces and connect them!

Here’s what my two most recent routines looked like when I did this:

routinechunk1
How I began working on my routine for the 2016 Florida Pole Fitness Championship
routinechunk2
You can see where I changed chunking times as I worked on my combos for PSO’s 2016 Southern Pole Championships.

 

4. Think about moves and combos.

I usually have a couple of moves that I know I want to include in any given performance, often cool new moves I’ve learned since the last performance. Try to think of combos with those moves: can you put any of them together, or do you want to space them out? Will some only work on spin pole, while a few others should be done on static? I much prefer spin pole and could come up with 20 combos I love there, so I try to focus on static combos first since I’m much more limited with those moves.

How do you think of combos? This is where I am super thankful for Instagram: I look back at what I’ve posted, and usually I’ve forgotten some moves I’ve done! I also like watching videos of different moves in quick succession, because I’ll see transitions and ways to combine them that I don’t when I’m doing those moves days or weeks apart. If you don’t have videos of yourself to look at, you can always look at other people on your same skill level. Again, Instagram is incredibly helpful for this: search for any pole move with the hashtag prefix #pd______. Depending on the move, there could be hundreds or thousands of people posting videos of it, and some will have some great transitions or combos. For example, #pdayesha has close to 4,000 posts! I often see something another poler does and get inspired: “Ooh, if I put my foot under my hand instead of over, I wonder if I could go into a pegasus from there?”

instagram

Class is another good place to develop combos. Even if your instructor doesn’t explicitly teach combining moves, think about how you could put two or more of them together. If you learned a cool combination in class, feel free to use it in your routine! I don’t know any instructor who wouldn’t be excited to see something they taught you end up in a performance.

Don’t forget to write down everything you think of! I can’t tell you how many times I come up with something awesome in the car, think I’ll remember it, and then have no idea what it was the next day at the studio.

 

5. Organize your moves and combos.

Where will they all go? Does your ayesha require hand grip that you won’t have at the end of a routine? Do you want to get your strength moves out of the way at the beginning, and end with prettier poses that are easier to hold? Is there the perfect moment in the music for you to hit your jade split? Once you have an idea of what moves you want to include, try to fit them into the music chunking that you did in step 3. Your chunking might adjust some here – that’s ok! This might involve a lot of trial and error as you try combos with your music.

uspsfnotes
Notes I kept on my phone when I was working on my USPSF routine. I had a lot of combos for that 4:00 piece!

 

6. Connect your combos and chunks.

Ok, so you’re spending the first 35 seconds on the static pole with a great strength pass, then you have 10 seconds to move to the spin pole to start climbing on the chorus. How are you going to get there? How do you finish your static pass? If you’re on the floor, you might want to stay there as you move to the spin pole. Maybe you’re a dancer and you want to leap and twirl your way to the other pole.  Do you have two passes in a row on spin pole? How will you connect them without just coming down and going right back up? This is the second most difficult part for me, so don’t get frustrated! I find that this is a good place to get input from other people: they can watch you and tell you what might work or offer some suggestions for movement.

 

7. Clean it up.

Ok, you have your music, your combos, and how you’re getting everywhere. Now’s the time to add the special little stuff: a reach with a hand here, a head roll there, a purposely flexed foot here, a shoulder shrug there. Make it your routine and make it entertaining: it doesn’t matter if your routine is for a studio showcase, a stage performance, or a competition, the audience wants to be entertained! Look for places where you can add emotion: will a little sink into the pole with closed eyes at a particular moment have a big impact? What about a hand running through your hair instead of just at your side? Those little things often have the biggest effect!

littlethings
Some of the little things at FPFC and PSO. That hand reach was Sergia’s idea and it really made a big difference. I blew the kiss randomly in this performance: prior run-throughs didn’t have it!

 

8. Run it.

Everyone is different when it comes to how many full run-throughs they do. I aim to do as many as possible, with my routine fully complete 2-4 weeks before the actual event. Once it’s done, run it with your music to make sure everything works timing-wise (though you should be trying your combos with music in steps 5 and 6). I try to run my entire routine at least once every day I’m in the studio (about 6 days a week) the 2 weeks before the event (especially if it’s a competition. For shows I do it less). I want my muscle memory to kick in if I get on stage and my brain totally blanks. I feel like almost every time I step on stage I completely black out and I never remember what I did, so I’m very thankful for muscle memory! Every time I watch a video of a performance for the first time, I see things that I had no idea I did. It’s kind of fun, but your body will only do what you’ve been training it to do. That means you need to be practicing how you’ll perform: don’t invert with bent legs and tell yourself you’re just practicing and they’ll be straight the day of. I know from experience that that doesn’t happen!

exhausted
Running it through multiple times doesn’t only help with muscle memory, but stamina, my biggest weakness.

 

9. Relax, and perform!

You’ve prepared for your performance, and you’ve got it. Make sure you’ve had at least one run-through in full costume so you know if anything needs to be adjusted, like a skirt that’s slightly too long, a tie that comes undone, or a decoration that dangles annoyingly. The day of you’ll be confident that you know what’s going to happen on that stage and you’ll have put your best work out there. Enjoy it!

poletheatre
I had to practice with this shirt a LOT to make sure I didn’t slide out of this shoulder dismount, but I nailed it the day of!