Pole Sport Organization is the world’s largest professional and amateur pole dance competition series, and the brains behind the business is Amy Guion. Amy’s pole journey started in 2008. She’s been an instructor, studio manager, competitor, XPERT teacher trainer, and touring workshop leader, all leading up to founding Pole Sport Organization in 2012. Based in sunny Los Angeles, PSO has 30 in-person events in 10 countries, not to mention the virtual options they offer.
I’ve competed at Pole Sport Organization’s regional amateur events 8 times since starting pole in 2013, and I fully support what they are all about. Their current slogan is “Have Your Moment.” Think about that; how many grown ass adults get to have a moment on a real stage with professional lighting? PSO gives everyone that chance, regardless of age and ability. There are no required moves or submission videos, which means everyone pays to play. It’s great! Without PSO, I wouldn’t have ever had my moment.
To Amy, the "moment" is what theater refers to as catharsis. “It's the moment when you've finished your routine and right before the audience claps,” she explains, “You can't believe that it's over, but it's also very exciting and fulfilling. I find those moments to be special and precious when I have had them myself.” Her aim with PSO is to give every competitor that cathartic moment.
Competitors spend months preparing for their moment. It takes time, energy, commitment, creativity, strength, and yes, money. But I got to thinking, how much time, energy, commitment, creativity, strength, and money does it take to RUN a competition like Pole Sport Organization? Amy must be crazy! Turns out, no. She’s just a woman with a vision. I asked her a dozen questions, pole dance business owner to pole dance business owner, and here’s what she had to say:
What made you want to start a pole competition?
Amy: At that time that we started the competitions, the two main reasons were to give a more inclusive platform for competing and to run events that prioritize the needs of the competitors.
PSO has an inclusive platform. I believe that competing or performing is a skill that improves with practice and repetition. One needs to have lots of opportunities to try and learn. We let anyone of any level compete in our events. It's amazing to watch people get better and better over the years. Before PSO, you would have had to submit a video and be accepted into a competition in order to get onstage.
PSO prioritizes the needs of competitors. We provide consistency and quality with our events. This means starting on time, standardizing pole setups, answering emails within a reasonable time period, and making our rules clear and enforcing them. This just didn't happen at most of the events that I competed in back in 2009-2011.
Was it difficult at first to find venues that would host a pole dancing competition?
Amy: It's difficult to find venues that are reasonably priced and have large enough stages to hold our truss structure. We did get some raised eyebrows when we started producing events in 2012, but that's pretty much gone away now.
Does the PSO that exists today resemble a vision that you had from the beginning or did a vision evolve over time?
Amy: Like anything that has been around for a decade, we have definitely evolved. We've added rules, categories, levels, lots and lots of process improvements, a custom Portal system to manage competitors, and a van to drive our equipment around the country. But the overall vision of having a platform where anyone can compete, and bringing that domestically in the US and internationally as well, hasn't changed.
The categories are so different now than they were even just a few years ago; how do PSO’s categories evolve? What tells you it’s time to create a category or retire one?
Amy: Many of our staff are pole dancers, and we try to keep up with trends and predict what is going to be popular. That's why we more recently added the After Dark categories. Categories are up for retirement when we get fewer entries over time.
How hands on are you at this point with each individual PSO event? Do you attend each one in person?
Amy: We had 24 events this past year, and I went to 5. I am involved on a daily basis with the administrative work though. Right now my roles are mainly around finance, keeping us going since COVID created a lot of financial changes, and project managing our development team to continue improving the Portal.
What’s something you thought was going to work for sure that didn’t?
Amy: We used to try and host workshops and other activities at the competitions like a guided warm up, seminars, or guest performances. We found that people who attend our events really just want to focus on the competition. So, we just focused on the competitions and making those great.
What’s something you were surprised actually took off?
Amy: We thought that virtual events would phase out after COVID lockdowns ended, but we have an awesome group of people still very dedicated to doing those. We are going to continue hosting them once a quarter. They're a cool way to try competing without the pressure of being in front of a live audience. The production value of the videos has been steadily increasing. I personally love seeing the inside of all of the studios and people's pole setups at home. There are some really fun ones.
What’s been the hardest thing to educate people about PSO?
Amy: We get the most questions about contact points and what moves are allowed in what levels. We had thought about doing a big guide of moves so that people would have a dictionary to refer to. It's been difficult to come up with that because of the variety of moves, variations of moves, and that there's no consistent naming convention for pole moves. Maybe one day! I would enjoy putting that together and standardizing names.
How do the regions across the USA differ from each other? I would imagine a Northeast competition is very different from a Southern, which is very different from a Pacific, and so on.
Amy: They do differ! I think that one of my favorite things about visiting the different regions is seeing which moves are popular in a region and which songs. Myself and the other staff are always Shazaming songs to add to our personal playlists. It's also fun to visit different regions to meet different groups of people, or reconnect with old friends.
Do you consider yourself a pole dancer first or a business owner first? Do your pole dancer side and your business owner side ever conflict?
When I started PSO I was a pole dancer first, but I've evolved into primarily a business owner since then. I've been dancing for 15 years. I still love it, but it's much more of a recreational activity and hobby than a career path. I worked very hard physically as a dancer for many years and morphing into a business owner and exercising my brain and problem solving has been an enjoyable challenge and change.
What kind of business acumen did you have before launching PSO? In other words, how did you learn the business side of PSO?
Amy: I read a LOT of books when I started to give me ideas. Probably the most influential were the 4 Hour Work Week, Profit First, and Traction. I joined an entrepreneurial group called Entrepreneur's Organization and completed their Accelerator program. My boyfriend was generous enough to spend many hours teaching me bookkeeping and accounting. So, I had a lot of help along the way.
What’s in store for PSO for the future?
Amy: We're spending 2023 streamlining processes and making everything even more efficient on the back end. We want to start playing with lighting and making improvements in the photo/video department. Now that we have our van, which travels with us everywhere, we'd also like to make some upgrades to signage, packing, and processes. In Europe, we will be promoting our Heels Edition events, which are similar to the After Dark events in the US. We have actual physical pro cards now for anyone going to Nationals, which are fun.
Running the world's largest professional and amateur pole dance competition series takes vision; Amy and her dedicated team clearly have it. I always joke that, much like the British Empire during the Age of Imperialism, the sun never sets on a PSO comp. If you are considering competing, check out Pole Sport Organization’s many offerings and have your moment.