From Cirque to Pole: The Pole Journey of Cirque Du Soleil Performer Allison Ulrich

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At a very young age, I was already flipping and dancing throughout our house in Southern California. My mother knew it was time to enroll me in some activities. So at the age of 3, I started training in gymnastics and dance. Gymnastics pretty much took up all my time when I started competing nationally, so dance became more of a secondary activity- providing an advantage over others on elements like beam and floor. However, some childhood ambitions do not last forever. After being asked to quit school and start training full time in gymnastics, I decided it was not my passion in life and I needed to move forward. After signing up for sports like ice skating and diving, I knew dance was it. I wanted to be a dancer! But my love for flipping and being upside down never fully left me!

Knowing I wanted to dance, I attended Orange County School of the Arts where I trained in commercial dance and then graduated from The Juilliard School with a BFA. I really had no time to train in anything more than dance during those years, but I continued to utilize my gymnastics skills in the dances that allowed it.

While finishing up my senior year at Juilliard, I had the opportunity to audition for Cirque Du Soleil. I had seen their shows a few times with my family, and knew I wanted to work for them in the future. A few months before graduation, I signed my contract with Cirque Du Soleil as a dancer in a new creation, “VIVA Elvis”.

This was the start of something new for me. While creating the show at the Cirque headquarters in Montreal, Canada, I was immersed into a world of talents. There were dancers, olympic acrobats, world class aerialists, actors, magicians, musicians, singers and the list goes on. It was one of the most amazing things to be surrounded by. But what I was most curious about was the aerialists. I had never thought of this being an option for me, and here I was, at the headquarters where some of the top notch aerialists train, and I was hooked. I knew it was something I wanted to at least try.

Within the first few weeks of creation, we were told that some of the dancers would be training on the pole. The opportunity to try something new was handed to me…. And WOW, was it hard!! I had no idea pole required so much strength and flexibility. Thank god for our required workouts! We learned the basics of pole and were allowed to continue training on our own once the show was opened and we had our set tracks.

While continuing to train basically on pole, I was also getting involved in other aerial apparatuses. I became backup for a harnessed duet in the air and trained weekly for the duet hoop act. I had found something new that I loved and was finally being able to blend my dance and gymnastics training. To me, any kind of aerial work requires both. My dance training allowed me to make the movements and transitions graceful and have lines that are gained through years of ballet. My gymnastics training allowed me to be fearless, which is important when you are suspended in the air flipping or holding onto a pole with only one leg lock. During this time, I became aware of how lucky I was to have had the opportunity to train the way I did.

I am now back in NYC and working as a freelance artist. I am definitely enjoying my life in a new way and meeting people that inspire me every day. Thanks to my experience at Cirque, I am happy to say that I have continued to train on the pole, silks and lyra. The most exciting is that I am now performing my own pole routine every night with Company XIV (@companyxiv) (www.companyxiv.com) Nutcracker Rouge!

Here is what the NY Times said: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/06/arts/dance/nutcracker-rouge-at-the-minetta-lane-theater.html?_r=0

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Austin McCormick, Juilliard graduate and artistic director of Company XIV, is inspired by Baroque dance and Burlesque which is why his work stands out. No one does what he does. He has blended the two forms into his own movement along with his ability to incorporate acrobatics into his shows. I was extremely honored when he asked if I would be interested in dancing and doing pole for the show. It had been a while since I had trained rigorously on pole and had never performed my own routine, but I wanted to do it! It was going to be a great challenge for me that I wanted to take on. I immediately started taking classes and building strength.

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I had my work cut out for me. I am a strong woman, but the strength needed to perform a 3 minute pole solo was something I did not realize would be so hard. I had the challenge of creating an impressive routine but also being realistic to the fact that I would be doing it 6 times a week on top of a whole dance track. So, knowing all this, I decided to train as often as I could before the show opened. I took at least 1 class a week, worked on strengthening my arm muscles and abdominals and rented studio space of my own to play around and create ways to incorporate dance into the routine. It took me about a month to feel comfortable and strong enough to say I was ready for Austin to see it. I was thankful for his encouragement throughout the process. It was no piece of cake, but it was the most fun and liberating experience to watch my body change and to see my strength grow. For me, pole is the best form of getting a defined body and doing it in a fun and sexy way! I loved every minute of working on my routine and watching it grow into what it is today. The options are limitless on the pole and that’s what makes it so exciting!

Having this experience has made it even more clear to me that I love being a dancer with acrobatic abilities. From here, I will continue to train on pole, not just for the hopes of getting another job that will let me perform on it, but because of how hard and beautiful it is. My strength is back to where it was when I worked for Cirque Du Soleil and I hope to keep it this way. To all the readers, I recommend pole as a form of workout and creative outlet! It is far from boring and makes you feel amazing about yourself!

For more about our guest blogger Allison Ulrich, Follow her:

youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ya-wmykj7DM

Instagram: @allisoneulrich

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/allison.ulrich.3

Marlo’s Retrospective- IPC 2013

For the third year in a row I was privileged to sit in the audience during the International Pole Championship. After I convinced the security guard that my cheesecake and bottled water were not a hazard to anyone, I settled into my seat in Singapore University’s cultural center, and my stomach dropped. In a moment of anticipation, I was aflutter. I knew just how much time, energy and emotion was put into what was about to happen. I’ve been on both sides of the stage many times- in four minutes your creation is over. Your work comes to life and is finished in a flash.

I noted in my review of last year’s competition that it appeared to be the year of the warrior; many of the competitors’ music, costume and movements adhered to this theme. This year’s trends were minimal and glitch electronic music with well composed routines featuring static pole precision sequences. Distortion, solitude, and clown-like characters stand out in my memory.

For the first time, IPC included a Masters Division. Australian pole champion Joanna Littlewood dominated with complexity, great lines and a rocking body. On this night, Littlewood took the Masters Ultimate Champion title. I realized after the event that all of the masters competitors I have ever seen have been women.  When we will start to see men’s masters divisions? I look forward to that.

Derick Pierson won the Men’s title by easily flipping his contortion Janeiro directly into a Rainbow Marchenko among other amazing feats of flexibility. Derick has managed to outscore men of power with his refined routines, clear concepts and crispy execution. Alex Shchukin dropped some seriously impressive acrobatics on that stage.  He combined big moves with big character. He was a writhing modern jester of sorts who back flipped off the pole from near the top. He won the Pole Fit title (which he could have won with his physique alone).

If there was an award for best use of stage, best projection and ability to harness the energy of the room, it would go to Steven Retchless. This award does not exist, so the judges bestowed the Pole Art title on him.

Pink Puma (Polina Volcheck) won the women’s Pole Fit title. She was a rock and roll wrecking ball (in the best possible way). Her waist-length neon pink hair took on a life of its own as she went into attack mode and dare devilishly threw herself into the fastest, most banana-like Russian split I’ve ever seen. It takes a high level of skill to be able to throw away caution and still execute — and that is exactly what Ms. Volcheck did.

Brazil’s Rafaela Montanaro was solid from the start, but she completely won my respect in her final pole pass. The emotion, strength, flow and control she had during the first half of her routine accelerated into a passionate frenzy of transitions. She was at her best, and was awarded with the Pole Art title.

Natasha Wang, the female ultimate champion performed a deceivingly smooth routine inspired by modern adaptations of the ancient Chinese tale of Lady White Snake. It has been modified and updated many times, but remains a timeless tale of immortality, love, deception and desire. Ultimately, the myth questions what it means to be human and speaks deeply to those who dare to dream.

Natasha is a fine example what can happen when you relentlessly pursue your dreams against the odds. She is one of the few competitors who did not have extensive movement training before pole. She actually had none when she started pole at age 29. She did not know when she started that this would be her path, but she is built for it and she has worked incessantly for it. Congratulations to Natasha for not just the title, but for being an inspiration.

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Even with remarkable routines, a few of the females went unrecognized. The competition was the steepest in this category, but I couldn’t help feeling disappointed that some of the talents from that stage went unrecognized.

Alessandra Marchetti gave a beautiful show of lightness and breath. There was a serenity behind her power. The remaining female competitors, Marina Bogomolova, Alisa Pleskova, Marion Crampe, Laura Martin, Carlie Hunter and Nataliia Tartarintseva are all chock-full of skills and impeccable lines. They are innovators: impressive, innovative and refined. I am proud to know these women as friends.

Sure, some of the females needed to connect to the audience more, some needed to work on flow, some did not develop their choreography enough or find their character. However, Oona Kivelä did all of these things. I was shocked not to see her in the top three.

Historically, the skill set and choreographic development of doubles routines has always been behind solo competitors. Primarily because getting two bodies to perform acrobatics in sync is harder than one. Two of the pairs who were meant to compete had to pull out for various reasons, but the three pairs that took home medals in the doubles category performed the cleanest, most entertaining and most complex doubles routines I have ever seen.

Suzi Q and Toby J stood out as refined veteran entertainers. Suzi suffered a bad knee injury not long before performing but together with Toby, they were brilliant onstage. They used the entire stage. They danced, they smiled. They did HARD stuff. I think Toby hung with straight arms at the top of the spin pole for about 30 seconds while Suzi pulled tricks off of his feet. I was impressed, and so were the break dancers in front of me…and b-boys are often a tough crowd.

Mina and Nadia showed their mastery of unison and concept with an incredibly clean, highly entertaining and futuristic routine. At the culmination of their performance, the audience was noticeably louder than for other acts. Enchanted, comprised of Brisbane based pole instructors Tiffany and Ruth, have been innovators in doubles performance for years. On this night, they really left an impression. They were jungle lizards of sorts, with entirely new transitions. The way they spun into entwined holds on static pole was particularly skillful.

Jennifer Kim and Sergia Louise Andersen did not place but deserve mention for the sweetness, storytelling and synchrony they brought to the stage.

The host, Kristin Boesenberg of Australia put aside the jokes and did something really special before Eri Kamimoto the champion of the disabled category took to the stage. He taught the audience how to applaud in Japanese sign language. He showed us how to raise both hands high and quickly shake your palms side to side.  The sign is the same in ASL, it represents cheering, enthusiasm, “Yay!”.

When Eri finished her performance, the entire auditorium had their hands in the air. In this heart-warming moment, she smiled, bowed and quickly gave a little “applause” back. She may not be able to hear the music but certainly felt the spirit of the Kodo drums she danced to.

Deb Roach, who pole dances with one arm, and Eri Kamimoto, the only two competitors in the disabled category were both a joy to watch. They inspire us all and are pure representations of the beauty of determination. I am so happy that the IPDFA brings all of the competitors together for one night, on one stage so that everyone can shine, together.

To the organizers of IPC: Ania Przeplasko, Natalie Tekanawa and your entire team, congratulations on another great event. From the venue, to the program, industry awards and press coverage, you are bringing the industry to new heights every year.

Marlo Fisken

Creator of Flow Movement

www.flowmovement.net

To see videos, photos and for information on IPC 2013, please visit:

http://polechampionship.com/

Official Photos of IPC 2013 https://www.facebook.com/mindipicsofficial


Something New: Aerial Astrology May 2013

-What the May 10th 2013 New Moon and Solar Eclipse means for your pole and aerial journey-

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A New moon is a reminder of something new- a shift, a rebirth, rejuvenation, a new day, renewal- and a reminder to breathe this newness into our work. A reminder that we can reset our intentions,  and if  we’ve felt discouraged, frustrated,  or ready for change, we can redefine our goals and practice, and start again.

Mark the 9th and 10th of May and the days to follow as a reset period. Take some time in your practice for yourself to remind yourself why you are doing what you are doing. Ask yourself those questions and dig deep. Why do you pole? What is it that gives you joy and freedom about your practice? What does your practice say about your life? What you bring to your practice you can bring to everyday life, and vice versa.

Now is a time to gather courage and conquer  your fears: What is blocking you? Do you doubt yourself? What is holding you back? Confidence?  Lack of Discipline?  Self-love?  Focus? Acknowledge the presence of any fears, and determine to face them one by one.  Accept where you are and know that you can grow. Remove and let go of whatever is getting in the way of you.  Believe in yourself.  Let the energy shift and flow.

Reset your intentions-Meditate on what it is you desire most in your practice. What are your goals? Is it a new move- a new apparatus-dance- a new attitude? Reaffirm your goals and renew your dedication to them.  Visualize what you want to accomplish. Breathe it out. Gather the courage to try something new. Overcome.

Lastly, remember to thank your body, be grateful for all that you can do and all you have accomplished. Reconnect your mind and body. What you do together is stronger than what you can do apart.

Put a positive energy shift into your practice. When you bring this love, intention, and courage, to your practice, you will become fearless, and you will bring it to all aspects of life. This is how you create magic. You are the mystic behind the new moon. The solar eclipse is a reminder of your own power and light, as you break free of unhealthy patterns.  Honor the talents you have. Now is the time to press reset, and use this new energy to soar.

Food for thought:

Eclipses mark times of cosmic redirection and energy shifts…Something we’ve imagined and dreamed about begins to manifest at a solar eclipse.”

“This Taurus solar eclipse on May 9-10th marks a new beginning, an especially fertile new beginning as it takes place in the astrological sign of manifestation. Taurus is the most earthy of earth signs, marking a season of fertility and growth, of beauty and sensuality. It is the energy of building and making, of new possibilities and passions. “

-From Cathy Pagano and her Wisdom of Astrology

links:

http://www.mysticmamma.com/new-moon-solar-eclipse-in-taurus-may-9th-10th-2013/

http://www.xpoleus.com

 

It’s Pole not Disney! – an insider view of the FPFC 2013

To my surprise Orlando was extremely cold and windy. As I stepped outside the airport with my flipflops and tank top, all I could think was, “Winter in Orlando?” To warm up, Karol took me to the Pharmacy where we had dinner with Allison Sipes and her sister Rachel– who had been working for months to get the Florida Pole Fitness Championships ready. The Pharmacy is an intimate, Prohibition style Speakeasy with a secret doorway and the most amazing burger and homemade fizz! Pre-Show nerves were not apparent as Allie discussed the next day’s event.

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The Plaza Live Theatre is a hip theatre with a cult like atmosphere- a perfect setting for the FPFC. With anticipation we all watched and waited as Cirque rigger Ben did his thing with an amazing crew to ensure the safety of the competitors and performers on stage. The poles went up solid alongside a hoop and silks.

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Most people don’t realize the amount of effort and planning that goes into organizing a pole championship. From rigging, insurance, venue, competitor schedule, programs, lighting, sound,  judging, photography, and MCing, there are a myriad of things to remember that would drive even the most organized person crazy. The devil is in the details, and things never go according to plan- it is inevitable that time will run short, and even with the best planning, unexpected things can happen. The rigging is the most important aspect of Pole and aerial safety, and inevitably, the rigging always runs overtime. At the end of the day, you have to trust the people around you to do their job, and stay calm, carry on. Once the curtains open and the lights go up, there’s no turning back!  SONY DSC

Backstage, the excitement battled nerves, as the competitors warmed up and got into character. As a competitor, you have to remember that no matter how talented you are, you must bring a positive attitude and energy to the stage- a bad energy or attitude can trump skill in a heartbeat. NO matter how much you rehearse, or how perfect your routine is, anything can happen the moment you get on stage, and it’s a fair game for everyone.

Judges Michelle Stanek, Karol Helms, Derek Pierson, and Rebecca Starr had a tough time. In case you were wondering, judging is no piece of cake- even with very specific criteria it can be a challenge to choose a winner. Their performances were inspirational, and we loved Rebecca Starr’s Pole and Lyra piece- the girl can fly on a string and make it look incredible.

photo(8)SONY DSC                                                                    SONY DSC Florida has a lot of talent! Michelle Meneses took first in the Amateur division with her amazing flexibility and creative movement. The Men’s division never fails to please and impress-and Ravan took first with the right combination of strength and emotion. The Pro Division exploded with emotion, creative sequences, and extreme flexibility! Congratulations to Sarah Jade- Most Athletic, and Cali DeArmas – Most Artistic. Nicole Landkas took the win and became the first finalist in the PCS series. Who will take her on? Stay posted on the PCS series at www.polechampionshipseries.comSONY DSCSONY DSC

Forget Disney, bring on the PCS! The 2013 Florida Pole Championships is the first event of the Pole Championship Series, or PCS. The winner of the Pro Division will be a finalist in the PCS 2014, making history in taking part in the first ever event of its kind.

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The princesses of pole are real women who are dedicated, passionate, and driven. What makes an event successful is not perfection but achieving a more profound goal: reaching people and bringing them into a new experience. In this case, sharing passion and skill, bringing pole to people -and people to pole in a new light- the FPFC did just that. Through it all- Allie stayed calm and cool with a soft smile and warm glow, and the night was an absolute success.

THINGS TO TRY IN ORLANDO BESIDES DISNEY:

Stigma Tattoo Bar: Tattoos, Booze, and Poles!!! http://www.stigmatattoos.com/

Pharmacy: A Speakeasy style Restaurant and Bar

Dr. Alvin Green: He will make you believe http://greenhealthchiropractic.com/

Vixen Fitness: http://vixenfitnessonline.com/

Foxy Kleen: Clean up with delicious scents like candy cane and cupcake!! http://foxykleen.com/

Pole Bag Essentials

Marlo shared with us her Top 5 Pole Bag Essentials:
“1. Grip aid assortment with microfiber towel (anti-sweat [Dry Hands], moisture [Dew Point and Aloe gel], tack [Itac], and spray alcohol)
2. Electrical Tape and athletic tape (to cover boo-boos, repair shoes, and make bad ass arm bands)
3. Safety pins, bobby pins, hair ties, body tape (For hair and costume emergencies)
4. 2″ diameter rubber bouncy ball, Lacrosse Ball, Arnica Gel and Trigger Point foam roller (To fix aching feet, calves, shoulders…and everything)
5. Bloch foot gloves (for barefoot turns, and burn-free floorwork)
…and then I always carry dental floss. Clean teeth lead to better smiles on stage : D”
Thanks Marlo!
So its hard to limit to 5…but all true essentials for a pole gal on the go!polebag