When people hear the words pole dancing, often thoughts of scantily dressed women sliding around on poles come to mind. While Vertical Fusion supplies that, there is so much more that no one would guess.
Melanie Piek is the founder and owner of Vertical Fusion. She is a second generation Longmont native. She fell in love with pole dancing seven years ago during a time when she was trying out all the ‘mainstream’ fitness programs. She has always had an interest in dance and pole dancing “was amazing to me.”
The name Vertical Fusion was created to allow people to decide what it meant to them. Melanie did not want the name itself to exclude anyone. When asked why she decided to establish a pole and aerial dance studio she replied, “I just knew I had to do it.” She went on to explain a bit about how her personal experience influenced her. “The experience I had was such a transformative way to not only express myself, but to take care of my body. I went through this process of rediscovering myself outside of being a mom, outside of being a wife, almost as if I was able to come back into being who I am truly. I knew that most women don’t have that in their lives and that this was a new big forum for that transformation.”
Melanie has worked very hard to build a positive community at Vertical Fusion that is inclusive of everyone, no matter age, gender, or body type. “It is an incredible community that we have, it’s like no other that I have experienced in my entire life. There is an environment to be vulnerable, it is okay to be vulnerable and we are vulnerable together, but we also build each other up which is why the community is so strong, because we are so supportive of one another,” stated Melanie.
This idea of community in Verical Fusion was repeated by many of its clients, who participated in Saturday night’s The Red Party. Anna Baker, a.k.a Anna Diamond, said that she, “has never been in a more close group of people. Never found a more accepting group and never felt more accepted.” Orian Bergin, a tom-cat for the evening and a student of the studio, commented that, “even if you are having a bad day and don’t feel like dancing, you go for the community.”
In addition to building a community based around everyone feeling welcomed for who they are, Vertical Fusion is also a venue for self-expression. The Red Party is just one avenue for that. Vertical Fusion puts on three shows every year at Dickens Opera House. The performers sign up with Melanie two month before the show and provide a plan for their performance.
Aside from making sure no lines are crossed and that the performance will be entertaining, Melanie views each show as a, “celebration of diversity. You will see a wide variety of genres and we have female and male dancers. It’s a diverse community and our shows are reflection of that. It is something that is inspiring about our shows, that we aren’t Cirque du Soleil trained performers, we are out there celebrating what we’ve done so far and the skills we have built. We are expressing our stories, whatever they may be.”
The community and the freedom to express oneself empowers people. Katie Nelson, one of the evening’s performers, shared her story while applying her makeup. “I got engaged and thought I would try pole dancing to do something sexy for my fiance. After trying it I decided that this was for me and for me only. It was mine. I gained confidence in who I am as a person, as a woman. I stopped caring what others think of me and started caring about how I felt. That confidence bled into all parts of my life. That confidence allowed me to believe in my abilities. It [pole dancing] allows us to express ourselves as we are now.”
Katie’s thoughts were repeated by Melanie as she spoke about the surprising benefits pole dancing has on people. “There is transformation in all aspects of life, healing, reclaiming yourself, reclaiming your body. I have seen people leave toxic relationships and change jobs to follow bigger dreams. Especially with pole, there is that stigma, and people are persecuted and scrutinized for doing it, but when you know that something is good for you, you have to defend it. So you do a lot of self exploration around why it is benefiting you, why you shouldn’t care what other people think so you change because of that.”
Melanie shared what she has learned through Vertical Fusion and pole dancing, “It started as fitness, a new and fun way to get fit. It is much more than that, it is the emotional and spiritual side that is more powerful than any other aspect. The spiritual, I feel, is feeling connected to yourself or another person, and that happens everyday, every single day. It also helps build community. And anytime you have community, you’re going to have a spiritual aspect, it lends itself to healing which is a spiritual journey itself.”
To begin The Red Show, Melanie, with tears in her eyes, thanked all the people who work hard in supporting and participating in the show. She announced that she, “couldn’t do any of it without them.” Among those people are the ones that support from behind the curtain or in the audience. One of whom is Melanie’s husband, Joe Piek. Joe arrives at 8 a.m. on show days and spends half the day assembling the tresses which support the poles and Lyra hoops. This is the most important job, if not done properly the safety of all the dancers and kittens is compromised.
One of the most important behind the scene groups is lovingly referred to as kittens. This group is lead by “Mama”. “Mama” declined to have her name used in the article and gave only the name used by her kittens. Throughout the evening “Mama” was also referred to as “a cougar,” or lead kitten.
Kittens are volunteers, usually fellow students who are not ready to take the stage for their own performance, but want to help with the show. Mama trains each kitten on the proper way to set up the stage to insure the safety of all performers. Mama says that it is the job of the kittens to be, “the wind beneath the wings” of all performers and to watch and help those performers so that they can “fly.” It is their job to do everything from staging props and cleaning equipment to providing moral support.
Ginger was the emcee of the evening. She kept the audience entertained with her witty commentary, jokes and cat-calling. Her sassy attitude was well received by the crowd and several audience members joined in on the witty banter. Ginger, herself, is a one-woman show and she dominates the stage between each dance.
From that audience’s point of view of the show on Saturday night, at Dicken Opera House, each of the performers, no matter gender, age, or body type, took the stage with confidence. The evening was filled with hoots and hollers while the dancers flaunted “what their mamas gave them.” Some of the dancers have had as little as seven months of experience while others have been dancing for several years and have even competed in several competitions.
The show was title, “The Red Party” in honor of Valentine’s Day and was a semi-formal event. Not only did several of the dancers, kittens and Ginger pull out their red costumes and fine dresses, but also many members of the audience adorned the color and dressed to meet the theme.
The theme for the evening was chosen by Melanie with the idea that the dancers show off a more burlesque style of dancing but she left the interpretation up to the dancers themselves.
Most of the performances were sexy and sensual. Novice dancers stayed close to the floor or used chairs, only using the pole for small parts of their routines. That being said, it did not detract from a well performed piece. These novices used the skills that they have learned so far to show their sexy side. Many of these dancers were performing for the first time on stage.
More experienced dancers made full use of the poles and Lyra hoop. Several of the pole dancers had the crowd’s heart stopping as they dropped down the pole only to catch themselves a few feet later. These dancers performed acrobatic feats that were not only jaw dropping but sexy at the same time.
One of the most well received dances was done by none other than “D,” a woman dressed as Donald Trump. “He” began his performance with a newspaper titled, “Fake News.” The choreography of “D” was entertaining and had the crowd laughing as he shook his rump around the stage and striped off his business suit. The dancer went above and beyond with the Trump mask and even stripping down to “his” hairy chest, which was a tank top with chest hair drawn on it. At one point “he” walked into the audience tossing paper with the Twitter logo on them. The performance left the audience red faced and laughing in their seats. Perhaps this was this dancer’s interpretation of red.
This February marks the sixth anniversary of Vertical Fusion. All of their shows are performed at Dickens Opera House, located at 300 Main St., Longmont. The next Vertical Fusion show is scheduled for June 23. If you are interested in attending a show visit http://www.dickensoperahouse.com/ to find tickets. It is definitely a show that will have you talking.