The Power of the Pole Pavilion at Bumbershoot

Written by TeenTix Writer Xandra Yugto

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This Labor Day weekend, Bumbershoot is back with a wide variety of unconventional arts, like a cat circus and roller skating. Among those peculiar programs is pole dancing, a nontraditional yet empowering art. As a pole dancer myself, I was ready to take a spin and talk to the curators and performers of the show. The Pole Pavillion was a collaborative program created by Aero Space Studios in Oregon and Ascendance Pole & Aerial Arts, right here in Washington.

On Day 1 of Bumbershoot, I got to talk to Ashley Madison, one of the curators of the Pole Pavillion, and co-owner of Aero Space Studios where they encourage the art of pole dancing in Portland. The theme of the program was, “What does pole dance mean to you?” After asking Madison about the theme of the program, she mentioned that, “One of the beautiful things about pole dance is that you can go so many directions with it, and everybody has their own unique style and everybody chooses their path on pole which can be all over the place so we tried to pick a diverse program that showed different styles of pole.” As I watched the performers I could clearly see the diversity of their dance styles.

I talked with one performer named Gemma Bessey, who decided to freestyle for all of her performances instead of crafting out a specific routine that she would perform every time. When discussing the significance of being a part of Bumbershoot she said, “To be invited to show everyone what pole dancing is—there is definitely a stigma behind it, but bringing it out here, and considering it art really does help take away that stigma and give us more opportunities as well.”

On Day 2 of Bumbershoot, I talked with the Program Director of Ascendance Pole & Aerial Arts, Tara Steed, who was a curator of the Pole Pavilion. She mentioned, “It's been really exciting to be a part of Bumbershoot this year, especially its 50th anniversary. Artists are at the forefront and are being celebrated in this new rebirth of Bumbershoot.” With the new leadership in Bumbershoot, it definitely felt like a wonderful rebirth of the festival. Celebrating local artists, especially the ones that can get overlooked for being considered niche or having a stigma surrounding it, is what really made Bumbershoot a special experience.

After watching the wonderful performances, I talked to dancer Mary Elizabeth about how she incorporated the theme into her routine. She said, “This piece is really just embracing my own movement, my body, my ability to feel comfortable taking up space as I am.” I think this is a significant part of pole dancing that gets overshadowed by the stigma of it, how we can connect with our body and gain confidence with the being that we are. Additionally, these performers had to run through their routines four times in one day. The amount of inversions (going upside down on the pole), spins, splits, and strength that they put into their routines was truly astonishing. This demonstrates the strength behind pole dancers, and having these routines at Bumbershoot shines light on the power of it.

Angela Nguyen, another performer, had thought that “it was really cool being able to be a part of the schedule with wrestlers and fashion folks and nail artists and everyone on the lineup.” She even mentioned this was her most exciting Bumbershoot year yet. When asked what pole means to her, she said, “Pole to me means self expression, it can mean just dancing out however you are feeling. I see pole and movement as a form of therapy and a form of just getting out whatever is on your brain. And getting it connected through your body.”

It was beautiful to see the accomplishment of the final program created by two studios in different states. Both Madison and Steed mentioned the joy they had creating this program with one another. By bouncing ideas off of each other, they realized they were on the same wavelength about how they envisioned these geodome pole performances to be. Madison specifically said, “Everybody’s been so wonderful to work with, and I will always be so proud of this.” It’s quite beautiful that the pole pavilion was brought to life to be something powerful for the pole community, and something we can always be proud of. It is a program that I strongly believe should be a part of Bumbershoot every year.” The power of the pole pavilion is that these performers go through so many pole bruises, falls, errors and trials before figuring it all out. It's so important and meaningful to myself and others in the pole community to have this be represented in a big festival like Bumbershoot.

Lead Photo Credit: Dancer Gemma Bessey at Bumbershoot 2023. Photo by Xandra Yugto

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