Amanda Chown is an international pole and fitness competitor who is also a PhD student with a focus in inorganic chemistry at Auburn University, Alabama. From this, you already get a sense of how hard working this lady is and she clearly demonstrates this work ethic in her choreography too. Her Pole America work (below), which is thought provoking and authentic, allows us to consider the standards of today’s society and how we may or may not strive to match up to them. If we do aim to match up to them, does that mean we lose sight of our own aspirations and goals? Throughout this interview, Amanda gives insight into her inspirations, her creative process and the training that goes with it.
Tell us a bit about yourself. How did you get in to dancing?
I was born and raised in Tallahassee, Florida. I have always been the creative type; I was involved in gymnastics and dance since I was 5 years old. Once I started college, I stopped attending dance at my academy because they did not offer classes for adults. I heard of a pole fitness studio called “Art of the Catwalk” and decided to try pole dancing because it incorporates elements of dance and strength, and the sport in itself was mesmerizing to me.
When did you choreograph your first piece of work?
I choreographed my first pole routine within a few months of taking pole fitness lessons. In order to advance to the more intermediate and advanced classes, students were required to choreograph their own routines using tricks and floorwork that was learned. My extensive dance background helped me choreograph my routine, but my instructor and other students at the studio were very willing to assist me when I needed help. Choreographing my own routines at such an early stage in my pole fitness career was a blessing because it helped me advance my skills in developing new combos and to master fluidity transitioning from trick to trick.
What tends to stimulate your creative thoughts?
Inspiration from other pole dancers and competitors stimulates my creativity. Ever since I was a beginner, I would watch videos for hours of pole competitors; to see what other people could come up with and to see others push their physical capabilities inspired me to push my own. Music also facilitates the creative process; I love listening to my personalized pole playlist and my Zhu station on Pandora while I am choreographing new routines.
How do you think your experience as a dancer/choreographer has informed your pole practice?
I was able to develop habits early on that made my pole tricks and transitions look more conditioned. For example, I was always taught in dance class to point my toes in everything that I do and to not microbend my knees, but rather extend fully through my limbs to create visually pleasing lines with my body. Small conditioning tricks such as those have allowed me to make my routines look graceful and fluid. I have also been a pole fitness instructor for 3 years at “Queen of Hearts Fitness,” and to teach others, to explain how to execute tricks and condition them, and to choreograph routines and combos each week allowed my own pole practice to advance at a quick rate because I was constantly studying the sport.
My favourite part of the creative process is being able to tell a story through my performances. To connect with the audience on a deep emotional level through dance and piecing together elements of my routine is the greatest feeling.
What do you find most difficult about choreography and how do you overcome this?
The most difficult thing I have to overcome when developing a performance is definitely coming up with a concept/theme and then developing a way to express that theme clearly to the audience. I don’t come up with my concept/theme by sitting down and brainstorming over a few hours. Rather, I allow myself time to think about multiple ideas and I continue to feed my inspiration by watching other routines to get an idea of what elements of each performance I like and what elements I don’t. The development of my theme can take weeks, or even months, but I always eventually piece together small ideas I come up with to create a bigger picture.
Who is your biggest inspiration and why?
My biggest inspirations are Dimitry Politov and Oona Kivelä. I have watched their performances and followed their pole journeys as I was going through my own, and their remarkable strength and ability to create new challenging tricks and combos has always inspired me. They break the barriers of what I ever thought possible and it shows there are no limitations to what the human mind and body can do.
What, if any, do you think are the psychological benefits of creating your own work?
I find that I have developed a greater sense of confidence and comfort in my own body. I am able to express myself in a sensual yet powerful way through pole dancing. That sense of accomplishment and confidence has translated to other aspects of my life; I am overall a more positive and independent person because I feel comfortable in my own skin and with who I am.
You sent us the video above as a favourite performance of yours; can you tell us how you prepared for this work and what your process was like?
My favourite performance was Pole Art America where I qualified to compete at Pole Art World Championship 2018 in Turin, Italy. I began preparing for this performance months in advance by creating new combos and learning how to execute challenging, risky tricks. Once I had a general idea of what tricks and combos I wanted to use, I came up with my theme and I developed my music track over the course of a couple weeks. I then choreographed and fine-tuned my routine and I conditioned by practicing non-stop. 2 weeks before the competition, I would go to my studio early before they opened and I would run through my routine 2 times every day to ensure my cardio was optimal. I also recorded each practice so I could study my routine and make adjustments as needed.
Part of the fun in the creative process is that there isn’t a definitive method I work off of. I like having the freedom and flexibility to do what I want in the moment. Some days I get a lot done choreographing, while other days I may search for costume ideas on the internet. The creative process for me is very messy and disorganized but it always comes together in the end. Seeing all of my ideas and creativity coincide on stage to express myself to the world is the ultimate reward.
What comes first during your process, the pole or the floor movement?
I generally construct floor movement first so I know how much time I ideally would like to spend on each pole during my routine. I consider floor movement an “outline” for me to base the rest of the content of my routine on.
Since creating your first solo, how do you think you have grown as a choreographer?
I have definitely been able to think outside of the box more in terms of developing new choreography and transitions in and out of tricks. With practice, choreography tends to mature over time.
If you could give readers a piece of advice for creating their dance, what would it be?
Don’t be afraid to take risks. Whether it is incorporating a difficult trick into your routine or choosing a theme that is very deep and personal, take risks and be daring in what you create. People love to see things that are different than what they have ever seen before because it stimulates the mind and challenges people to interpret things in ways they may not have otherwise. Dare to be different and develop an element of your routine that is out of the ordinary.
I would look for someone who was dedicated and committed to the performance, but more importantly, I would look for someone with a positive attitude who supported their fellow dancers. When you have a group of people who support one another, ideas tend to develop much faster and challenges are overcome that an individual may have a difficult time overcoming alone. I would also look for someone who understands the theme behind my routine so they can express themselves genuinely during their performance and even incorporate their own ideas into the routine.
What sort of time frame do you give yourself to create a new piece of work?
I generally give myself a month to come up with a theme, followed by a month to develop the tricks and combos I want to incorporate, followed by a month of choreographing and fine-tuning the routine. I like to leave the last month to condition the routine and to rehearse multiple times before the final performance. I spend a lot of time preparing, but by leaving a lot of time to prepare I am able to develop my work at a pace I am comfortable with and with minimal stress.
Finally, what does pole dance do for you?
Pole dance has given me confidence in myself and has allowed me to feel comfortable in my own skin. It has allowed me to develop strength and grace that I wouldn’t have known possible otherwise. I am scared of heights, and I have always grown up being very modest. By pole dancing, I have been granted an opportunity to come out of my shell and prove to myself that with discipline and consistency, I can do anything I set my mind to. Having that level of confidence and assurance in myself is something I wouldn’t trade for anything.
If you would like to learn more about Amanda you can follow her on Instagram or visit her newly founded studio “Aerial Arts of Auburn”. I will look forward to watching her new creation for Pole Art Italy 2018.
Don’t forget to check out Choreography Cards for tons of creative pole fun.