Sunday, September 30, 2012

Pole Dance Athletes Look for Credibility at the USPDF Championships

Amateur USPDF Competitor Tracee Kafer
Yesterday afternoon and evening, 20 women competed in the fourth annual US Pole Dancing Federation Championships, Amateur and Pro Divisions, held in NYC at Symphony Space. Don't you dare confuse these women with strippers or exotic dancers (despite the sparkly, revealing outfits, and high heels). They may be beauty bombshells, but they are seasoned athletes, gymnasts, dancers, and performers, and they are full of creative talent. Pole dancing is a sport that has only recently begun to gain popularity, both internationally and within the US, while also taking the city by storm as the latest fitness craze. Currently, there is even a controversial discussion going on about whether or not pole dancing should be accepted as an official Olympic sport.

The USPDF Championship event offered just one more place where these athletes can demonstrate the art they have worked hard to master, and gain some credibility for themselves in the process. Challenging moves, tricks and combinations on the pole require flexibility, stamina and endurance, not to mention some kick-ass arm strength. Just like in yoga, every move has a name -- such as the "Peter Pan Spin" or the "Firefly Spin." Enter "pole dancing" into the search box on You Tube to find these and other examples. Experienced pole dancers, such as USPDF judge and guest performer, Jenyne Butterfly, admittedly have You Tube to thank, in part, for the recent rise in popularity and acceptance of their sport. Butterfly, a pioneer in pole dancing for sport, won the first USPDF Championship, in 2009, and has performed as an aerialist, dancer and actress in the recent movie musical adaptation of "Rock of Ages," as well as on tour with Cirque du Soleil.

Both divisions of the 2012 USPDF Championships featured a compulsory round and an "optional" round. During compulsory rounds, athletes had 90 seconds to perform a routine incorporating both pole and floor work, and were judged based on factors such as flexibility and extension, difficulty of routine, and overall performance. During the optional rounds, judges placed more emphasis on difficulty, and looked for performers to really let their personal style shine with their respective choreography. Many of the women performed the optional rounds barefoot, forgoing customary stilettos.

During the Amateur Division, serious spinning gave way to graceful movements that played out like a ballet. Sarah Jade, owner and lead instructor of Buttercup Pole Dance Fitness Studio in Tampa, Florida, owned the pole with original, challenging moves that kept the audience completely fixated on her, and she won overall second place in the competition. The overall first place winner, who also won the Amateur optional round, was Sergia Louise Anderson. Anderson, an NYU-trained actress when she's not pole dancing, and currently a principal cast member on The Girl Next Door, was captivating and fluid on the pole. She certainly earned her titles, which will be her ticket to the Pro Division next year, should she choose to compete again (performers must place in the Amateur Division before they can enter the competition as a "Pro").

Surprisingly, no Amateur awards went to Los Angeles pole instructor, Jennifer Kim, whose creative routines were sexy, thrilling, and breathtaking. During the compulsory round, Kim emerged in red stilettos, and spun around to a French version of "These Boots are Made for Walking," demonstrating highly difficult combinations that demanded attention.

WGINY was unable to attend the Pro Division competitions, so you'll have to follow USPDF for updates on the final winners of the Championship this year. Keep an eye on these athletes as pole dancers continue to rise up in revolution (pun intended) as aerial performers.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Feed Your Sweet Tooth at Swedish Sensation, Sockerbit.

If you crave candy, and you haven't stopped by Sockerbit yet, then you are missing out. With a tagline like "Sweet and Swedish," how you can resist stopping in this West Village candy shop, the only one of its kind in the city? Every single sweet piece at Sockerbit is imported directly from Sweden, and there are no additives of any kind allowed. This is just about as natural as candy can be, and yet, it is quite addictive!

"Sockrade hjärtan" (aka sugar-coated raspberry hearts) may melt your heart, while "icemint toppar"  (sugary mint jellies) remain cooly refreshing. Mix and match these and other candy combinations ranging from sour to sweet, chocolate to marshmallow (or chocolate and marshmallow), hard candies, and licorice, and all for only $3.25 per 1/4 pound.

Perhaps the greatest find at Sockerbit, and one of my all-time favorite sweets, is the "chokladnallar." Described as vanilla marshmallows dipped in milk chocolate, but more recognizable as chocolate-covered gummy bears, this hard-to-find delicacy blends the perfect proportion of chewy and chocolate, and just one small teddy bear morsel sends sweet chills down my spine.

Sockerbit, located at 89 Christopher Street (just East of Bleecker St), and open until 8pm on weekdays, and 9pm on Fridays and Saturdays, is a must-visit for any West Village outing. Don't have time to get to the store? Order online here.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Richard Sandoval's FOUR at YOTEL Redefines Boozy Brunch.

The Terrace at FOUR
For over a year now, chic hotel, YOTEL, has been redefining boozy brunch at its restaurant, FOUR, a brainchild of celebrity chef, Richard Sandoval. On Saturdays and Sundays, between 11am and 3pm, FOUR draws a vibrant crowd for its $40, all you can eat, all you can drink, brunch. A live DJ pumps out hip tunes on the large rooftop terrace, where young professionals, hipsters and fashionistas gather to enjoy good food, good company, and great views of NYC.

Unlike your run of the mill weekend brunch, where some pancake or waffle dish might be the main event, Sandoval's FOUR expands the notion of brunch into an all day affair (even though groups are technically only allowed to place their unlimited food and drink orders for two hours). With a menu that includes sliders, salads, sushi, meatballs, fried rice, general tso's chicken, and even Mexican chilaquiles, served with nachos, in addition to four different types of scrambled eggs, pineapple french toast, and three different bacon-infused dishes, Sandoval draws on Latin, Pan-Asian, and American flavors to create dishes that can be enjoyed throughout the morning or afternoon. All groups dining during brunch hours must participate in the $40 deal, but the "free-flowing cocktails" and unlimited small plates are sure to fill happy customers' bellies, and chances are you won't want to eat another meal all day.

Choose from unlimited bloody marys, mimosas, or sangria. Mix and match cocktails during your meal, or, if you have a large group, ask the waiter to leave a pitcher or two. Unsurprisingly, it's easy to over order at FOUR, so parties are asked not to request more than one dish per person at a time, though all plates are served to share, and it's impossible to leave hungry. Make sure to also keep your waiter on his or her toes when ordering small plates, as service can get slow during the busy brunch hours. WGINY recommends starting light with some eggs and salad plates, before moving onto the meatier hot plates. Skip the bland, underdone cod sliders, but don't miss the herbed house-ground meatballs or the addictive bacon rosemary french fries.

YOTEL is located just two blocks from Times Square, at 570 Tenth Avenue, off of W. 42nd Street. Reservations can't be made for terrace dining, but you're still better off having one than not.