Content warning: Religious themes
Professional photos from Aerial Addiction are in!
These pictures of my performance were taken by the amazingly talented Emily from EMC Photography, as were all the backstage pics. The professional video of my performance is coming soon.
Aerial Addiction 2019: Barbell Dancer
Song: 'Something in the Water' - Carrie Underwood
Costume: Alicia Joan Designs
Hair and Make-up: Y. Tacay
Choreography: My own, with input from my lyra coach, Risako.
Concept: My own
Backstage Antics at PADCS Aerial Addiction
Some close-ups, back and front, of my Aerial Addiction costume. The flower halo was designed by Alicia Joan Designs, and she also bedazzled my top and added roses and sparkles to my wings. Of all the performances I've done, this costume would have to have been my favourite.
Yesterday morning I awoke to a surprise: some of my #hashtags on Instagram had been shadow banned.
I was more than a little confused, as these are hashtags I have been using for over a year and all were very common in Instagram's pole dance community. From the system used to identify our tricks (e.g. #pdbutterfly) to popular apparel brands (e.g. #rarrdesigns) to even our fun on Sundays (#sundaybumday) the list of shadow-banned hashtags was long as my arm.
And I wasn't the only one affected. On many of the pole accounts I followed, they had encountered the same problems. There was a lot of anger, confusion and discord: why had we suddenly been banned?
As usual, Instagram (like most major tech companies) refused to elaborate beyond 'this content violates our user policies' and the general feeling among the Insta Pole community was that we'd been targeted.
Many in the pole community immediately swung into action, demanding the return of our popular #hashtags and going through Instagram's policies with a fine-toothed comb to prove that the majority of our community was not in violation of their community guidelines. A petition was even started on Change.org calling on Instagram to Please Stop Censoring Pole Dance.
But I haven't signed it.
Undoubtedly that will be a surprise to many of you, but what happened (literally) overnight is bigger than the pole community's Instagram #hashtags and I think the petition, while started with good intentions, misses a very valuable point and many of the actions online demanding the return of our #hashtags risk creating a very real division in our community, one that is already widening dangerously and needs to be checked.
I am speaking, of course, of the supposed "difference" between those who pole dance primarily for sport and fitness, and those who are employed as pole dancers and/or strippers in clubs.
Those of us who pole dance for sport come from a place of privilege when discussing pole dancing, why we do it and why we love it. It's a trap I fell into in my early days of pole, feeling the need to justify that 'I pole dance but don't strip', as if I was somehow better than the women who did. But it's a trap the pole-fitness community needs to find a way out of and start avoiding all together, because it's doing nothing good for pole dance as a whole.
As a sport, pole dance is relatively new (some even still consider it fringe) but dancers and strippers have been working as entertainers in clubs for decades longer than pole has been available mainstream. They paved the way for us! When we dismiss them, when we say 'I don't strip!' or try and draw a line between ourselves and the strippers and entertainers of the pole dance community, we are not only participating in sex-shaming, moralising and the policing of an already marginalised and stigmatised workforce, but we are dividing the very community we so love! We should be standing with our stripper sisters, demanding protections for them and others in the sex and adult entertainment industry, including sex workers. If they hadn't brought it out of the clubs and taught it to us, we wouldn't be here right now.
The pole-fitness community seems to have forgotten its roots and the Change.org petition to Instagram asking for the return of our #hashtags enforces this view, opening with the following paragraphs:
For hundreds of thousands of people worldwide, pole dance is a mainstream fitness activity. Pole athletes, dancers, performers, instructors, entrepreneurs and amateur enthusiasts use Instagram daily to connect, share expertise, train and inspire. We have uploaded millions of videos and pictures. We carefully hashtag our tricks, training and dance flows to learn and progress, and cheer each other on as a passionate, supportive and diverse community.
This is true, however it excludes a vast section of the pole community who also use Instagram, and a little digging would have yielded the 'explanation' (and it's a terrible one!) of why our hashtags were suddenly banned overnight.
The answer is two pieces of legislation signed into law in the United States yesterday: FOSTA and SESTA. FOSTA (Fight Online Sex Trafficking) and SESTA (Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act) sound great on paper. They provide a loophole for the "Safe Harbour" provision, which states that no website shall be responsible for content posted by its users, in regards to services which advertise sex trafficking or prostitution. These provisions, according to the bills proponents, will make it easier for law enforcement to police these sites and mean that victims of online trafficking who were prostituted over the internet will be able to sue the websites that were complicit in their victimisation.
There's just one problem with the legislation: it doesn't make a distinction between the heinous, inexcusable crime of human trafficking/sex-slavery and those sex-workers who use online platforms to run their business and offer their services.
Whatever your feelings are towards sex-work and sex-workers, it is a valid and legitimate industry that has been stigmatised, marginalised and, in many cases, criminalised, and subject to horrible stereotypes. Dancers in clubs are often characterised as desperate, single-mums who can't find other work, while sex-workers are assumed to be junkies selling their bodies for their next hit.
I'm not claiming that there isn't exploitation going on in the sex industry or that the internet hasn't been used to facilitate illegal sex-trafficking - both of these things are most certainly real, pressing issues! But FOSTA/SESTA is going to do nothing to stop sex-trafficking and, in the process, is going to make is harder and more dangerous for adult sex-workers to solicit clientele safely. The internet allows sex-workers to connect like never before, to share information and blacklists with each other, maintaining networks and working to keep each other safe from potential predators. Sex-workers face violence regularly, but unlike other industries where providers are at risk of assault (health-care, emergency services, customer service etc.) there is very little support for sex-workers who are assaulted, or to pursue justice against those who harm them. Reports of violence against sex-workers are often not taken seriously by law-enforcement or the courts, so it is left up to the workers to protect themselves and others from violent clients. In no other industry is that an acceptable norm!
Now, because of FOSTA/SESTA, those sites that adult sex-workers use are likely to be blocked or taken down, as the providers grapple with the risk of being sued or prosecuted for content posted by users. Now, I'm all for providers being accountable for allowing the solicitation of illegal activity or failing to remove broadcasts of violent events (Facebook's lack of response during the Christchurch massacre looms large in my mind) but these laws go further than that and target legal, consensual, adult activity under the same umbrella as the illegal and abhorrent practice of human trafficking and sex-slavery. Even in places where sex work is illegal (as it is in many states of the US), this bill will cause more hurt than help, as it will drive the industry even further underground.
So, what does FOSTA/SESTA have to do with Instagram's #hashtag ban? It's simple: because these acts don't distinguish between consensual sex-work, including stripping and adult entertainment, and non-consensual sex-slavery and trafficking, Instagram (like many other sites) has taken a blanket-ban approach to protect itself from possible litigation or prosecution. Those of us who pole dance for sport and fitness are simply collateral damage.
Now, that is of itself isn't right and I'm certainly not happy that Instagram has effectively banned one of the pole community's most popular ways of connecting with each other, but I'm equally disappointed that the community is focusing on a single symptom, rather than fighting the cause. If we are serious about destigmatising and legitimising pole dance, then we must include all pole dancers - those who dance for sport, those who dance for employment, and those who work within the sex and adult entertainment industry. In the current climate we must do away with the idea of 'us and them' because we are all affected by FOSTA/SESTA, which is nothing more than a cleverly disguised attempt for the men in power to keep doing what they have always done: police women's bodies, sex-shame women into compliance, and moralise the world according to their values.
AND IT'S WORKING!
Instagram's #hashtag ban is a mere symptom of a broader problem. Pole dancers angry about having their #hashtags shadow-banned should be putting their energies into fighting against FOSTA/SESTA; we should be demanding that sex-work be legalised and properly regulated, with avenues for workers to keep themselves safe at work and laws to protect them from harm and prosecute those who perpetrate it. We should be standing alongside our stripper sisters, who paved the way for our community for grow, and who work just as hard, train just as often and enjoy their dancing just as much as we do. Their work, and the work of consensual, adult sex-workers around the world, is legitimate and only by uniting as a whole community and fighting against the broader issue of the stigma and criminalisation of women's bodies can we truly move forward. If you fight the symptom of disease, you may experience temporary relief, but if you attack the cause, you will stay well. If we simply attack the one aspect of FOSTA/SESTA and the climate that it represents, we create a divided community, an us and them mentality, and any small gains will be outweighed by broader loss. But if we attack the cause, then all pole dancers, along sex-workers and others who opened the doors to our sport, will be able to stand proud, without censorship or shame.
As far as I'm concerned, that seems something more worth fighting for than a few #hashtags.
You can read more about FOSTA/SESTA, what is was intended to do, what it will actually do and why it's a major problem by clicking here.
Yesterday I had the honour of competing in Pole and Aerial Divas Caroline Springs first ever Aerial Addiction. Aerial Divas has only been open at Caroline Springs for seven months and most of the competitors only started in January this year (although some had been hooping at other studios prior).
The show opened with an incredible performance by instructor Amelia, then I was the first student performer to walk out onto the stage. I actually can't complain about this, as it meant everything I did was new for the audience, they were all fresh in their seats, excited and I got lots of cheers and claps. I was also lucky enough to meet one of my hoop idols @rachokun, who had come to from Aerial Divas Richmond to see the Caroline Springs Divas compete. Also in the audience were my parents and my coach Risako, without whose ideas and support my Aerial Addiction routine would have never been born, was judging. A few friend who couldn't make the show were also watching the live stream at home on Facebook.
I won't go into great detail about my routine; I didn't win, but Wildcards for Airbourne (Aerial Unleashed) will be announced next Monday, so I do still have a chance of going to the big competition and, if I'm lucky enough to grace that stage, I don't want to give anything away. Also, I have got the professional photos from yesterday yet (although I got some great screengrabs for a video a friend took), but when I do I will certainly post those, along with the professional video.
What I will tell you is that I danced to a gospel song sung by Carrie Underwood and went all out with my costume, dressing up as a sparkly angel complete with wings and a flower halo. I have to give a massive shout-out to Alicia from Alicia Joan Designs who created my halo, and who also bedazzled my costume and added flowers and sparkles to my wings. My hair and make-up for the day was done by the fabulous Yeliz, who not only made me look incredible, but also stuck that crown hard on my head and, even when I accidentally banged into the hoop and hung upside down, it didn't come off.
Thank you Divas for making my first Aerial Addiction so special and congratulations to the winners! Best of luck to all others waiting for Wildcard announcements for Airbourne.
"Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will" - Suzy Kassem
Back in February, when I started lyra at Pole and Aerial Divas Caroline Springs, there was a little voice in the back of my head that said, 'Jewels, what are you doing?!'
The voice's problem: I am terrified of heights and don't like being in/on anything that moves fast, goes upside down, or spins.
Lyras are high, they spin, they bounce, they go pretty damn fast if you kick off too hard and, by necessity, to mount a lyra and do any tricks in the actual hoop, you have to go upside down.
Maybe that little voice had a point!
Nevertheless, I went to class.
Weeks one and two of Beginner Lyra were not so scary, all the tricks were spins done under the hoop, and the few upside down tricks we did were similar enough to pole tricks that I felt confident and able to do them, and I never had to let go with my hands.
Lyra and pole straddles side by side for comparison purposes. We do learn to straddle in Beginner Lyra, but it's not graded (it does from part of the graded syllabus for Intermediate Lyra); in pole, you need to be able to straddle without your feet touching the pole and slide all the way to the floor holding the position to be able to pass Beginner Static. The position is similar enough that I felt confident doing it in lyra, despite being upside down on a swinging, spinning apparatus.
Then along came week three! To everyone's excitement, our instructor announced that, from now on, we would be doing tricks in the hoop. I thought this sounded fun, although did wonder, with a little uneasy squirm of my stomach, how we were supposed to get up into the hoop, given how high it is off the ground. At least with a pole, you know that, to get to the top, you have to climb it, and most tricks can be done at ground level until you're ready to take them aerially. But I could see no way to climb the lyra and then the instructor said 'Watch here, this is how we mount'.
It consisted of hanging upside down and using pure momentum to kick yourself up into the lyra, briefly letting go with your hands on each kick to slide them higher.
I was quite ready to nope on out of there!
Single Knee Mount example. I can now execute this move confidently (but still working on keeping my legs straight and toes pointed), although it terrified the hell out of me when I first learned it! Video: My own.
For pretty much my entire first term of lyra I did all the tricks, every single one of them, in a lowered hoop that I could step into, unless we were spinning underneath the hoop. I was too afraid to mount, and the rare occasions I did try and managed to get into the hoop, I tended to freeze once I was up there and it would take my instructor several minutes to coax me down, and assure me that I was very unlikely to fall, because all my grips were correct and, as long as I didn't let go (which was not going to happen in a million years, I tell you!), I would be fine.
By the end of term one I could mount, but my fear had progressed by then to a trick called 'Lady in the Moon' (ironically, this is now one of my favourite tricks from Beginners and I think it just looks so pretty - I'm doing it in the picture on the page header). What terrified me about Lady in the Moon was two things: 1) you have to hook one leg around the hoop, which means lifting and turning your body slightly to get your leg through to the other side, and 2) to do it properly you have to take your hands off! You hook with one elbow and let the other hand hang down. It was this trick that held me back in Beginners, as I could not confidently transition into it without my instructor talking me through it step by step, although the rest of the combo was fun and I could move through the tricks easily.
Due to the demands of Pole Addiction, I couldn't do lyra in Term 2, however I came back in Term 3 with the hope of passing Beginners by the end of the year.
And then, within the eight week term, I had done it.
Nothing had changed: the course syllabus was still the same, the tricks were still the same, the hoops were still (terrifyingly) high, and yet I felt like a new woman.
However, despite loving Term 3 and accepting that I had passed, I really, really, really did not want to go up to Intermediate.
My reason: I remembered what it felt like to go from Beginner to Intermediate in pole and I didn't like the thought of making that massive jump (think leaping over a 50-foot-wide chasm filled with lava and inhabited by lava-resistant, man-eating piranhas) in hoop. It wasn't so much the thought of learning new tricks that frightened me, but the fact that many of these tricks would involve position in the hoop that were not conducive to hanging on with my hands and, despite all my success in Beginners, I still don't like positions where I'm expected to go 'hands off' in a hoop.
On a pole? Sure, I'll hang upside down by my legs with my arms, I'll even hang with just one leg: Ballerina is one of my favourite shapes on a pole. But there is something about not holding on in hoop that just makes it terrifying for me.
'Man in the Moon', as shown in the photo above, is a trick from the intermediate lyra syllabus at Aerial Divas, and involves not only letting go with the hands (although I was not able to do that bar for a few seconds in the low hoop last night), but also relies on gripping with the soles of the feet and pressing the shoulder blades into the back of the hoop for dear life. It terrified me the way 'Lady in the Moon' did during Beginners, yet something must have changed, because instead of refusing to try it (like I did initially with Lady in the Moon and other tricks from Beginners I was afraid of), I just hopped out of my high hoop, went over to the low hoop and took my time with it, moving at my own pace.
Perhaps I'm getting braver, perhaps I'm getting stronger, or perhaps I'm just more aware that there is a difference between something I actually, physically can't do, something I can learn to do, and something I am afraid to do. I am afraid of heights, and afraid of falling out of the hoop, but there's no trick in the syllabus that I can't do - I just have to learn them first.
This quote really sums it up for me. If I continue to water my fear, I will keep being afraid; if I water my desire to learn, I will surpass the fear.
Videography by EMC Photography.
Music: 'This Feeling' by the Chainsmokers feat. Kelsea Bellerini
Click here to read about why this dance was so special and what it meant to me.
Tricks (Technique): 21/30
Tricks (Level of Difficulty): 22/30
TOTAL SCORE: 131/180
Judge One: Clean tricks, well done! Great energy throughout. Smile more throughout the routine and watch feet in transitions. Great job!
Judge Two: Great show and commitment. Watch your toes in pole trick transitions, awesome spin combo, you look so joyful.
Judge Three: Great use of your prop.
If you're afraid to fall it means you're prepared to brave the heights from which you might fly.
Me With No Apologies.