"Unsteady" Pole Dance by Kaitlin K. Walsh
Dancer and Choreographer: Kaitlin K. Walsh
Song: Unsteady by X Ambassadors
I first met Kaitlin while teaching at Jordin's Paradise in Washington, DC. I loved seeing that she was signed up for my poleography classes because I knew she would infuse life into my movement. The part where she catches herself with her flexed foot on the pole has stuck in my mind since this performance. There's just something I really love about that small movement- simple, yet evocative. I was so excited to talk to her about this piece! For non-pole dancers, I have included hyperlinks to a photo example of moves that are mentioned in the text. I wrote this in her voice based on our interview:
Pages + Poles was a literary themed pole show, where each piece was inspired by a book the performer loved. I went backwards though- I loved the song “Unsteady” by X Ambassadors and I asked two friends what book I could use for it. They both suggested Outlander, a book I loved, so it was perfect.
Before my performance, the emcee read this excerpt to help put the audience in the right frame of mind:
It’s about being separated from someone you love. I wanted people to feel that longing in my dance. The music is somber in a way- it draws out a sense of yearning. The song and excerpt combine to show the audience where I am performing from. At the time of this piece, my emotional connection with the dance was pulling from this place of uncertainty I occupied in my romantic life. I had just started dating someone, but then it didn’t really happen and I was left wondering where the other person was. I wasn’t sure what was going on and it made me think about the general uncertainty of relationships.
When I started choreographing this dance, I wanted to play up the lyrics. They revolve around being unsteady, so I wanted my movement to be off kilter, to make it seem like I was falling in some manner. Re-watching this dance two years later, there were some things I felt I could have made more unsteady. For example, I love drops- when you are higher up on the pole and release so that you fall, but catch yourself before you hit the floor- they’re really fun and they always scare the audience. I’m really surprised that I didn’t do one because it would have accentuated the falling quality I was going for.
There’s a part in the lyrics about flying, and I knew I had to do a move called the superman. That was the first thing I started choreographing around, so I began in the middle of the song and had to figure out how to get there. My choreography process involves listening to the song on repeat and visualizing things as much as I can. If there is something that isn’t working, I will lie on the ground with my eyes closed and continuously listen to the song while picturing what I can do with that section. I didn’t have a pole at home, so I had to wait til I got to the studio to try what I’d planned in my head. Sometimes it didn’t work how I thought it would. In those cases, I would improvise and freestyle to the music to see what else might fit.
There’s a lot of reaching in this dance, and I think instead of pouring my emotions into my movement, the movement was pulling the emotions out of me. At the end of each reaching motion, I felt an unspecific longing. I can see it in the reaching motion right before the superman. Unintentionally, I think that motion was evoking a desire for something more. It’s funny to think about now because I am currently packing all of my stuff into storage to travel for a year. It’s like in my movement I was looking for other things than what DC had to offer- longing for something different, something more- and now I’m about to embark on that journey.
I hadn’t realized that I wasn’t being challenged until I started pole dancing. I have a very strong dance background, so the quality of movement came easily to me, but I didn’t have the strength when I began. I was surprised by how challenging it was and having this uncomfortableness about using these new ways of moving to express myself. Pole dancing was very humbling.
For this piece, I wanted to tell a story instead of show off my tricks, so there is a lot of floorwork, where I stay on the ground instead of climbing up the pole. It was a challenge to limit myself to a few tricks. You have so many different options with pole- you have elevation, and spin, and all these different planes of movement. It’s very tempting to perform all of the cool things at once. When choosing tricks to incorporate, I wanted to make sure there was a reason for it, that it fit with my theme. I made a list of different moves that fell under my category of falling/unsteady. Then, I would try to make it fit into an appropriate place in the music. After that, I focused on finding smooth transitions in and out of each move so that everything flowed together. The technical stuff should look effortless, and not technical.
This goes for performing as well. When performing, you can’t think about it too much. You just have to know you are ready and trust that you have done a good job preparing yourself. The technical part of your brain goes off when you are performing, and you’re just dancing, embodying each moment in time and space. You go into a kind of trance, and you wake up when you bow.
I was generally happy with the performance, but I did have this weird thing where my legs came out from under me when I was side climbing. They just slipped out, which had never happened before, so I’m not as secure as I would have liked in the cupid. Instead, I’m sliding down and reaching. Luckily, I was still was able to do the Russian Split, but I’ve done it so much better so many times before. When you’re looking at your own work, it’s easy to see critiques. I felt bummed. It was this unsteady slip up, which I guess fit with the theme, so maybe it was supposed to work like that.
When you’re pole dancing, it’s not just you, it’s all these other layers that you have to be aware of- the temperature of the room, making sure the pole is prepped and that your hands and the back of your knees aren’t too sweaty, and all these things you don’t normally worry about with other dance styles. The energy from the audience was also different from what I expected. Most people in this audience hadn’t seen a pole performance before, so any time you do a trick everyone is clapping. It’s great to have that positive feedback, but it brought people’s emotions up- to be celebratory, rather than the more somber context I had set. In that way, they aren’t being immersed in the piece, they are just viewing it. In another setting, the reaction might have been more emotional. I don’t mind either way, but it was interesting to observe it that way.
Pole dancing has been a great personal journey- you find out what you can do and that it is so much more than you think. You think it’s impossible and then you end up being able to do it and it’s rewarding. You become impressed with yourself. It builds your mental strength, and you feel energized and can function better in your real life. You can be a whole human.
Kaitlin is a Cleveland native who has been living in DC for the past 4 years. With a degree in Film Production and Photography from Emerson College, she is professional photographer making the transition into documentary photography and photojournalism. In 2018 she will be spending the year a nomad, traveling and photographing. You can see her amazing work here and follow her travels on instagram here.