Gender InequalityOn The PulseSexualization

Trending with toddlers: pole dancing?

By February 21, 2012 43 Comments

Is this an appropriate activity for a 3-year-old?

Just when I thought parenting skills couldn’t become any more questionable, I come face-to-face with a new activity atrocity: pushing pole dancing for children, adolescents, and teens.

I almost choked on my morning cereal (Don’t worry, it wasn’t Cheerios – I still can’t get behind their marketing mishaps) when I read a June 2011 article from the British tabloid, The Daily Mirror, about a Northamptonshire dance studio offering a “kiddie pole dance” program, where 3-year-olds and up were schooled in the age-appropriate art of climbing and swirling on a stripper pole.

Dubbed “Little Spinners”, the class consisted of teaching girls how to lift and maneuver their bodies around the pole while “holding their legs in a V-shape.” Thankfully, a recent perusal of the studio’s web site shows that this class is no longer being offered.

While this is good news, the implications that there is a market for it are frightening. Comparable courses are being offered to an equally delicate age group: teens and preteens.

The Art of Dance, a Pole Dance and Burlesque School in Plymouth, Devon, England offers an “i-pole Pole Dancing Class” for 12- to 15-year-olds where this “exercise concept” is touted not only as a way to keep fit, but to socialize. While I was unable to find the course description on their actual web site, the school still offers the class, and a recent delve into their Facebook presence revealed a post from a women interested in having her 13-year-old niece attend an adult class with her.

Although the course offerings available for this age group require parental accompaniment for the initial visit and a signed and acknowledged consent and advice sheet, this posturing paperwork seems to only serve as liability padding.

The Internet is replete with indicators that this “activity” is readily available to youngsters. An entrepreneurial teen who taught herself pole dancing at the age of 16 with the assistance of web-purchased poles and DVDs, opened a controversial makeshift studio in her parents’ living room. Her business endeavor has since blossomed into two highly successful dance centers in England.

Many advocates believe this to be a physical regimen innocently on par with gymnastics. The UK has a lauded pole-dancing community complete with accreditation requirements for instructors and studios, as well as an explicit code of conduct. A British company is lobbying for pole dancing to become a test sport for the forthcoming Olympics, with dreams of it becoming an official part of the games by 2016.

The UK typically allows people ages 16 and older to participate in their classes (with parental consent), while the age cutoff in the U.S. is 18. But how young is too young to expose preteens and even teenagers to this “sport” almost inextricably linked to eroticism? Youth are being taught to contort their bodies into provocative poses: to not understand the sexually suggestive nature of these moves is dangerous.

What is showcased as innocent body bending in the comfort of a classroom sends alarming messages if performed in other environments. Many of the instructors and web sites boast such class offerings as ways to aid the development of self-esteem. This puts our youth at great risk and in some cases dangerously close to endorsing pedophilia. Many teens dealing with confusing feelings and the onset of puberty may see that such explicit dancing garners attention from their peers. It encourages the objectification of the body during a tender time of growth and transformation, when mentoring and a focus on overall healthy and body image are crucial.

The teacher is "helping to battle the stigma of pole dancing at an early age."

I’m a huge supporter of the expressive arts and firmly believe in teaching kids to connect with their bodies when they are young. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that this sort of activity aids in the fetishizing of youth and, in its extreme, could support the horrifying epidemic of child pornography.

To actively allow or encourage a child to be instructed on ways that sexually showcase her (or his) body borders on parental negligence. Undoubtedly, it puts a premium on certain body sizes and encourages conformity at a formative age when senses of self are blurry and bodies are burgeoning.

Plain and simple: Teens deserve the right to be raised in environments that support a healthy development of the self. As adults, our culture marginalizes and sexualizes women, which makes fostering and modeling positive body image for our youth all the more crucial.

Participation in such classes primes teens for the possibility of an antagonistic relationship with their bodies. Attempts to pass off pole dancing as physical fitness and “fun” further encourages the objectification of the body and can lead to lasting negative consequences. Does society have an obligation to limit the participation of teens in these adult-centric classes, or should this be a parent’s duty?

Heather is a blogger and yoga enthusiast who is passionate about body image, media literacy, and feminist activism. When not working at her corporate day job, her cultural commentary and other insights can be found at Ms. Mettle.