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What Does it Mean to be Pole-fessional?

By on July 16, 2017

Like many of us polers, I don’t just work in the pole industry. I have another industry that shares my time. This “other industry” is very corporate and involves supporting mostly defense and intelligence contractors as they attempt to win billions of U.S. Federal government dollars. It can be interesting work and it can also be very emotionally challenging work.

Years ago this industry made a huge push for its members and stakeholders to be seen as “professional.” Not that the members weren’t professional but the industry was seen as something “anyone” could do and often those at the heart of winning all these business weren’t treated like important members of the corporate team. This push at first was met with mixed results. Some people who had been in the industry a long time resented some efforts made by association leadership to formalize process and messaging, create certifications, and even update the dress code of the annual conference. Over time, those folks retired, moved on or otherwise changed their tunes and the association grew. The changes have caught on with the next generation entering the workforce.

Due to an interesting twist of fate, sometimes this industry’s big, annual conference is before PoleCon but this year, it was after. Even though I regularly straddle (there’s a flexibility pun there) both worlds, this year, I paid much more attention to how attendees interacted at both conferences and it made me wonder: What really makes someone “professional”?

On the surface, both conferences and industries  are very similar. PoleCon has about the same number of attendees, both events have workshops, a vendor room, sponsors that have “been there forever” and new companies trying to break into the market. So I am thinking that perhaps some of these professional concepts that ultimately helped my industry grow could be relevant to the pole industry, too? I’m a huge fan of taking good ideas from other places and leaving the stuff that doesn’t quite work to make a fusion of only the best stuff that helps the most number of people. So here are a few ideas!

Dress Code: In the proposal industry, dress code updates were seen as a huge step forward in professionalism particularly for the annual conference. The joke in the industry had always been that proposal folks were hidden away in a windowless basement so who cared what they looked like as long as they got the job done. Executives only respected people that looked like them and that meant suits and ties.

In pole, it doesn’t matter if you have blue hair or crazy leggings, you might be a bajillionaire. Or you might be a pauper. You might be an expert teacher or just a beginner student. By simply being in the industry, your voice is valuable and clothes do not make you “professional” or “unprofessional” to other people in the pole industry. Knowing that they might impact your ability to work with muggles though is important to recognize. Trying to get a loan to open your studio? Trade your “Dance like you f*ck” tee for something more basic when talking to the bank.

When I first started in the proposal industry, I was still in college. I started as an intern and my company (I later became part owner) was growing quickly so my at-the-time boss would send me to client sites even though I was less experienced. I was hungry to prove myself and we were almost always short staffed – the perfect crucible to learn a lot in a short amount of time. Growing up I wanted to be an artist and after spending my elementary and high school experience in a uniform (I went to conservative Catholic schools), I was super happy to express myself in my clothing and jewelry. I knew we worked for a very conservative industry even though we weren’t a conservative company so I didn’t go wild – I did wear a suit to any sales or first time client meetings – but there were little hints that I was “artsy.”

Young business woman outside on the phone by Milenko Đilas on 500px.com

 

I wore a brand new, brown herringbone pants suit with a baby blue button down shirt to one of my first, solo sales calls. My make up was natural except for a bold lip and I came prepared with samples, testimonials, an agenda, a great attitude and a smart pair of pumps. My potential client looked at my hands (at the time I wore four, silver rings on each hand) as I explained our process and pricing and said “You creative types! You never know what you’ll do next!” I somehow missed the connection between wearing more than the “average” or “appropriate” amount of jewelry and our reputation in industry and didn’t know what to say in response so I simply said nothing. I left without the contract and vowed to be less “me” in the future – at least visually — if I was to be more successful with these customers.

Don’t change who you are but do understand what outfits might help you achieve your goals faster inside the pole industry versus outside the industry.

Time served: In the proposal industry and in a lot of corporate environments there seems to be an even greater division between the existing workforce and the new folks entering the workforce than ever before. Everywhere you turn there are articles about “Millenials” and how different they are from the Boomer and Gen Xers already working in corporate America. Age can be a huge barrier in many different

industries. Many companies still value having lots of years of experience and also seem loathe to give people the chance to actually get that experience. Boomers retiring later mean there are less opportunities for Millenials who want to work in a traditional path and potentially creates a resistance to new ideas because of a perceived lack of experience, all of which can impact growth.

The pole industry is still new and developing and while we have our “OGs,” new ideas and new people with very little “time served” in industry are still welcome. Of course, everyone has stories of how hard it is to be the new person on the block as a studio owner, a pole star, or any number of other pole-prenuerial pursuits, but generally speaking it is easier in the pole industry to rise in the ranks, be noticed, and have opportunities than almost any other industry.

When I first started in the proposal industry I was 17 years old interacting with people who had 20, 30, 40 years of experience. I wanted to both learn from them AND prove that even though I only had a year or less of “time served” that my opinions and ability were still valid. Good ideas didn’t need decades to “mature.” For the first 10 years of working in proposals I regularly got asked my age (which technically isn’t legal from a Human Resource perspective), how many years of experience I had, and what I did before proposals (a sneaky way to suss out answers to the first two questions). Typically when you hire a company to consult or do a project for you, you hire the company and presume they have trained their people well enough to do the job. You don’t ask a plumber how many years experience he or she has, do you? You just want to know if they can fix your problem.

Working with the outside-of-pole work, know that even though you are an amazing dancer or popular in the pole circles, many muggles will still see you as “just” a kid because of your age or may not be able to translate how your experience in the pole industry regardless of your age is relevant to their corporate world (even though it totally is). Amassing awards/accolades, certifications, and metrics (tracking your success in as many ways as you can measure it) can help combat these issues. Even if you don’t value certifications personally it can act as a benchmark for people outside the pole industry to understand your level of knowledge and commitment.

Respect: respect comes in many forms. It can be as simple as being on time to meetings or keeping commitments you make. It can also be biting your tongue in public and gently correcting someone in private. Conversely, it can also be “making a scene” to set the record straight about an egregious or simply frustrating injustice. Respect is listening to someone – really listening to someone – to understand their opinion because you want them to show you the same respect and listen to what you have to say. Respect is making sure you are doing the best job you possibly can all the time. Respect is treating everyone, regardless of appearance, experience level or age, gender, style of work, or any other way in which they are different or similar to you, the same.

Respect in the corporate world is not unilaterally applied. There are stand out horror stories just as there are stand out success stories. Some companies and some industries are clearer about what actions constitute “respect” than others in their particular environment.

Creative industries – pole or otherwise – often have notorious reputations. Artists are never on time, artists are too creative/different. Artists don’t work hard. Artists are finicky. Artists are temperamental. Artists aren’t professional.

Personally, I can’t be two different people in two different industries so I set personal ethical code that I universally apply to every interaction regardless of industry or situation.

  • Be clear about timelines, set expectations, and then keep them.
  • Listen to everyone, even when I disagree.
  • Be nice/pleasant/courteous, even to folks I wouldn’t consider to be a personal friend.
  • Give everyone the same chance to succeed.
  • Always start from a win-win mentality: how can we all benefit?

Final Thoughts

Through pole, I’ve learned that “being professional” isn’t just a dress code or level of experience. Being professional is treating everyone’s time and efforts with equal respect regardless of your ability to benefit from those things AND regardless of how you compare yourself to those things. Does that mean that everyone in pole is super supportive, not jealous of your appearance/achievements all time? Of course not.

Working in the corporate world, whether as our primary employment or just popping in occasionally, can be tough however the lessons we learn there can benefit our pole lives and vice versa. Try bringing the same level of joy and camaraderie you feel in the studio to your office. And try bringing the same obsession with deadlines and email responsiveness at your office to the studio.

Participating in two very specialized conventions back-to-back this year made me appreciate our similarities as human beings much more than our differences. Those that are passionate about their work – even if that work is “just” a hobby – are invigorating to be around. Everyone everywhere ultimately is looking to find their community, to find a bit of bliss and, and to have their work appreciated.

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Colleen Jolly
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Colleen Jolly

is AFAA and elevatED certified pole dance enthusiast and entrepreneur. She has been poling for six years, runs and owns the International Pole Convention (PoleCon), teaches pole and lyra in the DC metro area at FIT4Polers and MyBodyShop, and is a partner and instructor with 123Poling.com. She loves performing, regularly competes, and lives in Washington, DC with her husband and two kitties.
Colleen Jolly
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