January 31st, 2009
Earlier in the week I heard on the evening news how a UK school had been giving its fourteen year old female pupils pole dancing lessons.
I was glued to the TV, waiting to see whether this could really be true.
And of course, it wasn’t. But that didn’t stop the UK press going crazy over this story.
The actual story is nowhere near as shocking. As far as I can work out from coverage, what seemed to happen is this. A FE college (as opposed to a school) invited a female pole dance teacher (Sam Remmer) to come and give a demonstration of pole skills as part of a healthy living week. Pupils watching the display were male and female, aged between 14-19. During the display some pupils recorded it on their mobile phones.
It isn’t clear if parents were told about the event before it happened, who at the college booked the demonstration (and how they’d negotiated how it would appear), and whether pupils knew what they were going to see and had the option to not be in the audience if they didn’t wish.
The demonstration seemingly went successfully, but afterwards someone from the college appeared annoyed the dance instructor who gave the demonstration had posted a clip of the performance on youtube. In the dispute that followed the dancer was asked to remove the clip and then it seemed the media got hold of the story.
This morphed from a story about a demonstration of pole skills to a more seedy story about teenage girls being corrupted in the classroom. This was further spun into numerous debates about whether it was okay or not to teach your teenage daughter to pole dance. Dire warnings were given from various quarters about how teenage girls were being groomed for the seedy world of stripping – and it seemed those behind this practice targeted schools to find their next hapless victim.
All of which was complete nonsense and it was a shame to see the usual sloppy standards of journalism applied as nobody seemed to really look at what was performed for the teens, and how it was presented to them.
If you want to see the demonstration, it’s here:
You may also be interested in Sam Remmer’s blog which provides her account of the story.
I’m sure different people will have different takes on this dance demonstration. Perhaps if it had been described as a demonstration in agility or gymnastics (which would equally fit) then we wouldn’t have had such a media fuss.
Pole dancing can be a real display of poise and strength. It can be an erotic performance, a display of flexibility and skill, or both. That’s not to say all pole dancing is like this, certainly a lot of dancing that goes on in clubs is little more than grinding up against a pole with little skill or enthusiasm involved. Pole dancing has a pretty bad reputation, which is a shame for those who really are gifted on pole tricks. In fact when you see someone who really can perform on the pole you can see why some performers are arguing it ought to be made into an Olympic sport.
Returning to the case in hand it’s clear the media hyped up this story and used it as a talking point about teen girls and pole dancing that wasn’t based on fact. It doesn’t mean we can’t ask any critical questions though, since the FE college concerned should have clearly set out the ground rules about this performance before it started. For example, ensuring those in the audience did not film the performance, were aware it was a gymnastic display that involved pole dancing, and where those under 16 had parental permission to attend.
I think most of us would agree, having watched the actual performance, that it is not something that is seedy, shameful or overtly sexual. We’d probably also agree that signing up for pole dance classes is appropriate for over 18s. There needs to be a balance between giving a performance and advertising additional classes.
Sadly there’s a lot of hype about pole dancing, and we do need more attention paid to working conditions of girls in pole dancing clubs, the skills and qualifications of those providing lessons, and the way pole dancing is often presented as a panacea for all sexual problems (so we’re spun the line if you learn to dance you’ll have great sex and your partner will never leave you). We also need to look at the quality of a lot of academic research in this area which is often more about rhetoric than balanced, ethical research.
Those are the discussions we need to be having. And if fourteen year old girls really were being taught to pole dance in a sexual way within a school setting then we certainly ought to be asking questions about that. But if someone is demonstrating skill, ability and poise – and in the process could show girls that being strong can also be beautiful – then we’re picking on the wrong issue and the wrong target.Tweet