Pole-Dancing for Kids: Icky or Unethical?

The latest issue of “Pole Spin,” the “international pole dance and lifestyle magazine,” features “the world’s youngest pole dancer” and a proud family with four  pole-dancing teenagers.

Is this wrong? Child porn? Bad parenting? What the heck is it when something with sexual connotations is used by children in a non-sexual way?

A recent article in Salon notes that pole-dancing, which has long been relegated to strip clubs and adult entertainment, is becoming popular as an art form and exercise routine, though always with its sexual connotations lurking in the shadows, or sometimes not in the shadows at all. When pole-dancing is marketed to housewives as a weight loss-tone up method, the fact that it may arouse Dad is usually somewhere in the pitch as well. The sexual aspect makes it appealing—naughty, exotic, exciting, daring—as exercise, which is why poles are turning up in fitness clubs with increasing regularity. A pole fitness teacher in Miami told Mary Elizabeth Williams, the Salon article’s author, that while the pole provided a great way to move and get fit, “the ‘Girls, Girls Girls,’ ‘sex up your man,’ ‘for strippers only’ mentality is extremely difficulty to move away from.”

So does this mean pole-dancing, as exercise, is inappropriate for, say, a six-year old girl? And if that six-year-old girl continues to learn and perfect her pole-dancing technique over the years, does her routine suddenly become inappropriate when she hits puberty? Or, perhaps, are her parents simply training her to be an exotic dancer, whether or not that is their objective?

Williams seems to conclude that concerns about the ethics of young pole-dancers is an example of the “ick factor,” something strange that seems wrong just because it is shocking and hard to process, but that actually doesn’t involve wrong-doing at all. She writes:

“Any number of physical activities can be as chaste or as intimate or as raunchy as the individual performing them makes them. They can be done with a bored shake of the hips or true virtuosity and pride. They can be as uncontroversial as a gymnastic child swinging on a piece of metal, as empowering as a healthy workout in a studio, or something done for money in a club. It’s not the pole, it’s the person working it. Even if it’s your girl.”

I’m not certain that addresses the issue. A child could be introduced into nude posing for legitimate artists at a young age, but how that activity would affect the child’s psychological development and later vulnerability to exploitation  for sexual purposes is open to debate and speculation. Would Williams argue that a father who habitually dressed a young boy in a leather S and M suit, complete with the face mask and zipper across the mouth, for Halloween trick or treating would be acting responsibly, because his child just thinks it’s a cool outfit?

Eventually, a child who is introduced to pole-dancing early in life will learn of its adult associations, and will have to reconcile them with his or her conduct and self-image. I have no idea if a thirteen-year-old girl who had been training on a pole for eight years would feel shame when she learned about strip club pole-dancing, shrug it off as irrelevant, or decide that exotic dancing was her destiny. Frankly, I wouldn’t want to find out. By the time parents discover that training their little girl to pole-dance made her aspire to be the next Blaze Starr, Sally Rand, or Angel McEasy, it’s a little late.

There are so many effective, challenging, healthy sports and exercises for kids that don’t smack of child porn or risk putting a child on the road to life in a G-string. It is irresponsible, with so many better options, for any parent to put an innocent child on a pole.

The verdict on whether pole-dancing for children is unethical or icky is that it is both.

11 thoughts on “Pole-Dancing for Kids: Icky or Unethical?

  1. Jack,
    This isn’t to say that I necessarily disagree .. but the majority of workout programs/equipment marketed and sold to women contain at least some degree of sexual suggestion and innuendo. Would it be unethical or icky for a girl to use a “shake weight” just because it none-too-veiled sexual connotations .. what about the thigh master? I’m not defending ANY of these as good, mind you, only suggesting they’re no better than the recent pole-dancing craze, nor are they any less icky in my view.

    I think what it really comes down to is the attitude of the person actually doing the workout. There’s nothing inherently sexist about exercise, and if it’s being done solely for exercise, who am I (or anyone else) to criticize? What I’d really like to see is a fitness program geared to women which encouraged exercise and clean living instead of saying “sexy” every other word and emphasizing how much male attention she’ll get as a result.

    -Neil

    • You know, I didn’t see the sexual connotations of the shake-weight until they were explained to me—never made the connection. But don’t you think there’s a huge difference between exercise that can be connected to a sexual activity, and exercise explicitly based on it? I sure do. And for adults who know what they are doing—sure, pole-dance innocently or sexually: your call. Kids don’t knowingly consent, however. That’s part of the problem—they are engaging in sexually-related conduct without knowing it.

  2. I’m going to agree with you, Jack: unethical and (unbearably) icky. My daughter takes gymnastics lessons once per week. She’s five, so she’s just learned some of the basics and it’s something she really enjoys. If a stripper pole was to be introduced into the mix as a “legitimate” form of strength training, I’d still yank her out of that school. There are enough exercise options out there that there’s no sane reason for children to be exposed to an apparatus that’s history (present and future) is largely associated with women taking their clothes off so men can stick money in their g-string (or whatever).

  3. It’s all in the context. Fill in the blank here:

    “Every woman does, or ought to, know that she cannot exhibit herself in the whirling and lascivious windings of a ____ without calling up in the minds of men feelings and associations unworthy of the dignity and purity of a delicate female. The lascivious motions—the upturned eyes, the dizzy endings, the twining arms and projecting front—all combine to waken in the bosom of the spectators analogies, associations, and passions, which no woman who values the respect of the world ought ever willfully challenge or excite.”

    The author was James Kirke Paulding, the year was 1828, and the object of this condemnation was that one-way ticket to the devil: the Viennese waltz.

    Times change. We just need to keep an eye on how fast they’re changing.

    • OK: you have three teen daughters. On this day in 2011, would you allow/encourage any of them to take up pole-dancing as exercise or recreation? What about before they were teens?

      [I wish you hadn’t filled in the blank: I was going to guess “The Nepalese Basket Romp”]

  4. The point remains that (unlike the Waltz!) pole dancing was invented for no other reason than for strippers to exhibit themselves to a masculine crowd. Thereby does it carry a deserved stigma and always will. To see any woman using this for whatever alleged reason is distasteful. To see little girls being taught in this is horrifying. It’s just another means by which our warped pop culture is sexualizing children at ever earlier ages.

  5. (I know this is an old post- I stumbled on it via google. I’d like to echo Neil’s point while adding some personal perspective as a dancer.)

    As someone who does pole dancing for fitness- at a club that offers a summer class for kids- I can honestly say that this is a case of perception.

    And believe me- it is so hard to change people’s perception of pole dancing! I do not disagree: it continues to be sexualized and associated with stripping. Most _local_ pole dance competitions are indeed in bars and strips clubs (big competitions- like world wide ones- are more on the scale of what one would see at a gymnastics competition- in a conference center usually). Indeed, professional pole dancers are petitioning to have it made an _Olympic Sport_ (google it)!

    I think this situation with children needs to be looked at objectively-many boys and girls take dancing classes from a young, young age- most do not become strippers, even though strippers do dance. Pole dancing for adults can be done as a class intended for women to feel sensual (think bachelorette parties) or, in my case and _thousands_ of others- done for pure love of dance and fitness. It is the only sport (yes, sport) that combines gymnastics and dance. I find it quite funny when a bunch of women take a class thinking it will be all gyrations and booty shaking only to realise that it’s an hour of hard core body weight exercises like pull ups! So, can children also learn to climb a pole? Learn to do tricks like handstands and such? Absolutely! And here’s the thing with kids- if you don’t make it sensual or sexual- _they_ don’t even think that way- they (as with many things) inherit our prejudices. As to the point about what will you do when they grow up and have to deal with the fact that it’s sexualized by many- how about teaching your child to be proud of their atheleticism and not ashamed just because some people remain ill-informed or judgmental? Years of such training increases flexibility, grace, and strength- and like many sports: inner discipline. Could they get this in another sport? Sure. But why keep a kid from having fun if they want to do it just because someone else sees it as sexual? Are monkey bars sexual? How about the fireman pole at the playground? (I’ve had my own kids ask me to teach them to climb the poles at the playground and it was a fun time for all of us!)

    So: is it icky? Sure, if you continue to choose to view it from one-side of an increadingly multidemionsional sport. Is it unethical? No. But you might think so if you decide to keep judgment on something with obvious evidence to the contrary.

    Why should we let our kids carry guilt over innocent fun? Remember- at one time, women were consider harlots for showing off their ankles! Last I checked it wasn’t unethical or icky for kids to wear shorts- even if they are something only burlesque dancers wore years ago (bloomers). 🙂

    (I’ve had this conversation numerous times. Inevitably, the person either ignores evidence to the contrary of their position or acknowledges such evidence but continues to hold a prejudiced, negative view on pole dancing in general. In my humble opinion: Oh well. The rest of us pole dancers are having a blast anyway! From age 3-83.)

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