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We survived the tidal wave of talent!

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Pacific Pole Championships 2014. About 30 hours of shooting. Done. Boom. We survived the tidal wave of talent!

Just to get it out of the way - Things I'm really tired of seeing: Extended Butterfly into Dead Angel/Flatline Scorpio into Superman. Can we officially retire this combo, please?

Things I'll never get tired of seeing: First time competitors stepping onstage with massive jitters, and exiting three minutes later with massive smiles. Audience members cheering even LOUDER after a performer stumbles, encouraging them to push on. Level one competitors dancing with so much graceful confidence that I wish we had a "Professional Level One" category so the world could see and obsess over their brilliance. Dancers who have never before met randomly hugging and gushing about each others' performances. First time winners gleefully skipping onstage to pick up their gold medal, then ducking out to find a quiet spot alone where they can call a loved one, stare disbelieving at their shiny prize, and just BEAM (I'm looking at you, Candace Cane).

After three years perched at the back of the room, overlooking the crowd and watching hundreds of performers bare their souls on that bright stage, it is amazing to see each person evolve. Shoutout to dancers like Laurie Cary, a competitor who entered for the first time ever in PPC 2013 in the Entertainment Level 2 Master's category. A dirtbike instructor and teacher at Embody Pole Fitness, Joe bonded with her backstage that year over their love of motorcycles. She confessed to absolutely, totally, completely freaking out about getting onstage for her first competition. After her sassy and sweet performance, starting in a men's dress shirt and red heels, then stripping it off to reveal her sparkly red fringed costume,  she came back to our booth and asked what we had thought, and if we got ANY good pictures. As if we had to struggle to get a decent shot of her. As if she wasn't totally amazing.

We saw her again at USNPC 2013, in Vegas, showing off a rockstar performance complete with big hair, vinyl boots and aviator sunglasses. Just a guess, but it seemed like she was feeling a little more confident onstage.

Then, in the middle of this year's competition, right about the time I was feeling like I might go crazy from the long day of shooting nonstop performances, I heard the announcer say her name over the speakers during the Championship Level 4 Master's category - and suddenly there she was, all badass pole pro, hair flips and pointed toes, literally ON FIRE onstage. Well, literally in that her costume was streaming red and orange flames. I was blown away.

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This is why we love PSO. This is why, despite the madcap, endurance-testing, sleep-depriving, coffee-fueled insanity of shooting so many dancers in such a short time, it's absolutely worth it. There's nothing else quite so inspiring as seeing performers come back year after year, break through their own boundaries and really begin to thrive as dancers.

Ideally, this event is a safe space for that growth, a nest from which the pole world's rising stars can take their first flights. When PSO launched, we were so enthusiastic because there's a real community-based team and sense of shared purpose behind the competition. PSO aims to make it a seamless experience for competitors from signing up to the stage. But that necessarily means that you all miss out on the behind the scenes work, and you don't get to meet the team members. So in case you didn't meet them this weekend, give these guys a thanks next time you see them.

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Amy and Bayleigh - this is their baby. They willingly let this little idea for one competition, put on by pole dancers, for pole dancers, take over their entire lives. They travel across the country hosting info sessions so competitors can ask zillions of questions in person, they email and talk endlessly with us (er, Joe) at all hours of the day and night for months before each competition, and they do everything from getting rad competitor swag like grip aid samples and sweet coupons, to booking killer pre-show acts (Mental Head Circus!? Womack and Bowman!? Amiright!?) to securing beautiful stage flooring (did you notice the fabulous black floor this year?) to making sure everyone gets paid. Because a crew that gets paid, even a little, is going to feel some responsibility for making the event successful. And because we all have bills to pay, and we all want to support each other. Which is awesome.

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Speaking of taking responsibility for the success of the event - meet your rigger, Chobi, and your DJ, Cade. Chobi comes to every PSO competition that he rigs and stays the entire time. He sits next to the stage and helps each performer walk on and off, like the old-school circus-world gentleman that he is (ask Chobi about his circus past. It's ridiculous. Man of Many Talents.) He watches the rigging like a hawk for any movement. And then after that long day, he takes it all down in about eight minutes and he's still smiling at midnight. He even remembers performers from year to year and encourages them each time. I don't even have words for that kind of commitment to the community.

Cade, your music man, works just as hard, fueled by gallons of orange juice (I don't know either). He's so slick that he can overcome a music glitch, switch out a bad cable, pull up a song from backup CD or find a new announcer mike in 30 seconds flat. I've seen it. The competitors' experience takes precedence over anything else for him. If you stay long enough after the event, you might catch him doing handstands and backflips backstage.

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This year we brought on another component to the PPC team, Sohail and his team at Najafi Design Group, to do magical things with photons. Since the first PPC, Joe and I had been designing the lighting plan and doing all the rental and setup. But as the competition grows, we all want the quality to improve too. Sohail is rapidly becoming the vertical dance world's go-to lighting man. He was able to take our basic design and add rainbow sprinkles (or something) for gorgeous lighting that was plug-and-play fabulous. Next time we'll have to get a picture of him with his work, but in the meantime you can see that he's a very cheerful fellow.

As with any other event in this community, there's a giant web spiraling outward from this little team, composed of volunteers, assistants, food-finders, deep-breathing coaches and cheerleaders that work with us to make it successful for you guys. So clearly you should just thank everyone that you see at a PSO event and just give them cupcakes. Full disclosure: I also like cupcakes.

New tank tops, wooooooo! Want one? Click the photo :)

New tank tops, wooooooo! Want one? Click the photo :)

Thank you, pole world, for being such a rad place to work. You guys let us do such cool things and still pay our bills. Every year we bring newer, better equipment to use when we shoot this event, and we can deliver a better product, faster, because you spend your hard-earned money on our digital goodies instead of spending it on more Black Milk and Glitter Heels (it's kind of unbelievable, honestly). For instance, this year we had bigger, faster memory cards in the cameras, cool tank tops at our booth, and pretty photo books too! We're growing right along with this community. It's enough to make a girl tear up a little. Scratch that bring-me-a-cupcake thing. YOU deserve cupcakes. All of you. Thank you.

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