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  • Cally Crabtree

How to Choreograph an Exotic Pole Dance Routine

Updated: Jul 23, 2021

Whether you're dancing in a showcase or recital, pole competition, club, or the privacy of your home for a lucky someone, performing in front of an audience can be exciting and scary! This is especially true when your performance is of a sensual nature and requires little clothing and a lot of confidence to pull off. As terrifying as the prospect of performing is for many pole dancers, the rewards far outweigh any perceived risks. While some prefer to freestyle their performance, the majority of dancers have, at the very least, a framework of a routine in mind and/or a feeling, persona, message, story they want to convey. Here are some tips for choreographing an unforgettable exotic pole dance routine...

How to Choreograph a Pole Dance Routine

*Remember to ALWAYS warm up before you begin dancing.

1. Choose a song that inspires and speaks to you. Listen to it until you know every nuance. Choose a song that reflects the feeling, theme, story you want your performance to embody. Do you want a slow, driving beat, an energetic staccato, or a flowing melodic adagio? Look for a song that has contrasting elements. For example— a strong climactic chorus with melodic verses; a heavy beat that tapers off into the bridge; a soft intro with a crescendo-ing bridge. This gives you more to work with. It’s better your song is short and sweet, leaving your audience wanting more, than too long. Avoid boring, overly repetitive songs.

2. Envision what your performance will look like. Will it be seductive, sexy, playful, coy, dark, brooding, funny, innocent, angry, sad, restrained, unleashed. Will it tell a story or convey an emotion? Dance, like any form of art, begins in your imagination. If you can't imagine it, you will have a hard time doing it.

3. Freestyle to your song. This will allow you to begin translating the music into movement. You don’t have to choose moves at this point. Just feel the music in your body and flow with it. Try not to worry about how you look or whether your moves are executed perfectly.

4. Identify key moments in the music— climax, chorus, bridge, tension and release, where the beat drops, speeds up, slows down, and/or tapers off. On a piece of paper, chart the structure of the song in sections and note the mood of each section and some moves that you think would work well.

5. Select moves that you would like to include in your routine and create unique combos. Opt for moves that you can do. You want to spend your time choreographing and learning your routine rather than trying to master a move you’ve been struggling with. Don’t put every move you know in your routine. You don’t want to have to rush through moves in order to fit them all in. Instead select a few of your favorite moves, ones that work with the song you’ve selected and what you’re wishing to convey. Determine where each move originates in your body. For example, a leg peel should come from the hip, flow through the knee and dissipate through the toes. Choose your transitions based on these markers.

6. Fill in the empty spaces with transitions, poses, exotic pole moves, building around your combos. Fill every millimeter/millisecond of space with movement. If you have to change your grip, form or position around the pole between moves, make that transition a move of its own. This will make your routine flow seamlessly.

7. Run through your routine and identify areas of your choreography that need work. You may want to video record yourself so that you can get a better idea of what does and does not work.

8. Edit your routine until you are satisfied with it. If a move doesn’t work don’t be afraid to scrap it or work it in somewhere else. If you’re having trouble remembering a certain combo or section of your routine, it may be because that part doesn’t flow smoothly. Take a step back and look at it from a different perspective.

9. Add Flourishes to make your moves and choreography unique and interesting. Heel clacks, leg twirls, booty pops are all examples of flourishes that you can use to accent and punctuate your routine.

10. Practice, practice, practice! You want to be so comfortable with the song and your choreography that every move feels and looks natural and is committed to muscle memory. This can only be accomplished with practice. Even if you choose to freestyle, you want to practice, practice, and then practice some more.

Tips for Practicing for your Performance

Create your alter ego/stripper persona. This will allow you to escape into a character during your performance and not feel limited by your “real world” self and others’ perceptions of you. Close your eyes and envision the person you choreographed your routine for, someone for whom the moves you’ve chosen would come natural. Are they seductive, sultry, demure, playful, vampy, whimsical, enchanting, silly, a tomboy, a slut, a goddess, a warrior, a bitch? Focus on the details, make her/him/them 3-dimensional, multi-faceted and real. Be creatively meticulous, develop your character’s history, motivations, intentions, perspective, temperament, strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes then become this person when you dance.

Map out your song’s timing. This will help you choose combos and remember your choreography. Identify the 8 count in your song and write down the lyrics and accompanying choreography in 8 count sections.

Get inspired. Watch videos of other dancers or the music video for your song. Draw inspiration from nature, your everyday life or from experiences you’ve had. When you associate feelings with your choreography your routine and performance will have the passion it takes to achieve an unforgettable show.

Avoid pointless transitions, take advantage of the space you’re in. If you slide to the floor, do floor work rather than getting right back up.

Avoid putting all of the most physically demanding moves back to back in your routine. Space them out so that you have the strength and energy to safely and effectively execute them to the best of your ability.

Include a few repetitive moves (Serpentine, Hip Circles, Figure 8s, Leg Work) in your routine, preferably one a few moves in from the beginning, one in the middle, and one near the end. These moves will serve as markers to help you remember your routine and, if you forget your choreography while performing, will allow you the opportunity to catch up.

Practice like you’re performing. When we perform under pressure, we tend to switch to autopilot, our bodies relying on muscle memory and familiarity. Each time you practice, pretend you’re performing for an audience. Stay “in character”, pretend it’s your one and only performance and when it comes time to actually perform, your body will do what feels natural.

Video record your practice. This is something I suggest everyone do. It helps you to identify any bad habits you may have developed and see your performance from an outside perspective. Try to wait until the next day or take a little break between recording yourself and watching the video. Taking that time will allow you to view your performance more objectively and see it as a whole rather than a collection of individual moves.

Tips for Performing

Know your intentions. Dancing is an expression so it is important to know what it is that you are wanting to express to your audience. Why did you choose the moves you did? How do these moves make you feel? Why are you performing? Why did you select the song you did? If you closely examine your intentions, you’ll eventually discover what is really driving you and your performance will have more meaning for both you and your audience.

Create silhouettes. Pole Dancing is about creating interesting, beautiful, graceful, and/or powerful silhouettes. Engage your muscles and exaggerate your back arch, spinal articulations, hip and leg movements to accentuate your curves. Identify where the audience will be in relation to the pole and the stage and position a mirror or your camera in that location so that you are able to see yourself from their perspective. Make sure that your moves and poses are executed in a way that allows the audience to fully appreciate your silhouettes.

Know the purpose of each move and it’s intended featured body part. Make sure this is what the audience will see.

Make every move bigger than life. The majority of exotic pole dance moves are elaborate displays of feminine sensual movement— hip circles, spinal articulations, chest rolls, leggy silhouettes, ass jiggling— and I have yet to find a move that doesn’t look better when exaggerated beyond what feels natural. Don’t be afraid to look ridiculous because you won’t. Use your full range of motion so that each movement feels like a stretch. Push each move beyond the limits of your body, isolating and engaging your muscles at the same time to support your body’s movements.

Engage your audience. Make eye contact, smile, eye-fuck, tease— whatever is consistent with the alter ego you’ve created. If the audience will be viewing your performance remotely, the lens of the camera is your audience. Eye contact conveys confidence and captures your audience's attention.

Show your audience where to look. Now that you have their attention, you are in control. Use your hands and/or your gaze to direct your viewers’ eyes to where you want them to look.

Give them what they want. What is your audience there to see? What will keep them entertained? If you are performing for others, you want to connect and effectively convey your story.

Execute each and every move with unapologetic confidence and conviction. Even if you make a mistake, own it. In most cases, you’ll be the only one who knows you screwed up. Stay in character and keep moving.

Don’t rush through moves. Take your time with each move, following through to the tips of your fingers/toes. Don’t rush through transitions to get to a move you are excited/ nervous to perform. If you are doing a repetitive move like serpentine or hip circles, don’t half-ass or rush through the last one to get to the next move. Change the tempo or alternate the direction to make it more interesting. Give each and every move the attention it deserves. Make every move count. Allow yourself to linger for dramatic effect and feel the music. Be present in your body and try not to think too much about the choreography.

Strive for precision, even if your performance is intended to look “messy” or “raw” every move should feel controlled and deliberate. Not only will your performance be more fun to watch, it will also be safer for your body to perform.

Pretend the spotlight is always on you. Even if you are on a back corner pole for a group routine, you are the star of the show.

Feel the music. Don’t become so preoccupied with remembering your choreography and doing it right that your performance loses its soul. If you choreographed your routine for the song you are performing to, it’s likely that many of the moves punctuate a beat, flow with the melody, accent the nuances of the music. Allow your body to translate the music into movement.

HAVE FUN! I mean, that's why we're doing this in the first place, Right?

If you make a mistake while performing:

If you forget your choreography, transition into a repetitive move (Serpentine, Hip Circles, figure 8s, Body Wave, etc.) to allow yourself to catch up. Resume your choreography wherever it should be at that point in the song rather than trying to rush through the moves you missed. It's more than likely that you'll be the only person who knows you made a mistake.

Have a backup plan if you end up unable to execute a tricky move or you forget your choreography. Give yourself permission to freestyle and be ready with a repertoire of moves and combos.

Stay in character. Remember— the audience doesn’t know your choreography and won’t know if you mess up unless you tell them. Try not to make a face, say “Oops!” or look embarrassed. Just wing it or carry on as if you meant to do that. Unless...

If you slip, fall, lose your grip, have a wardrobe malfunction or any other noticeable issue during your performance, it’s best to smile coyly and try to work it in to your act. Think burlesque style— the innocent, exaggerated “oh my!” look, a wink and a smile, feigning modesty. This invites your audience to laugh with you rather than feel bad for you. You never know, it may work out in your favor!

*If you injure yourself while performing, do not attempt to dance through the pain. Exit the stage and let your instructor know.

And there you have it! This is by no means the only way to choreograph or perform. These are simply tips that I have found work for my students and myself. Performing is one of the most rewarding and empowering things you will do and so enjoy yourself and create memories that you will one day share with your grandkids (or maybe not;-).

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