‘We are enrolling them into a billion-dollar global industry that objectifies, oppresses and conditions women to believe they are created for sex’
The studio is dim. Neon lights flash around the room in a club-esque fashion. A swarm of what appears to be 6-year-old girls climb, twist and twirl around the floor-to-ceiling iconic poles that will be used for much more than monkey’s business once it’s past their bedtime. Dance attire for sale at this Bendigo, Victoria, pole dance studio include booty shorts with ‘Flirty’ plastered across the bottom.
“We didn’t want to get it mixed up with the concept of adult pole dancing,” says Saari Frochot-Ryan, owner and manager of Z Fit Studios, which hosts the ‘Monkey Kids’ pole program for children aged 3-11.
“The classes are completely child appropriate,” says Frochot-Ryan.
Z Fit Studios also offer ‘Teen Pole’ lessons, as well as a range of ‘naughty’, ‘sexy’ and ‘provocative’ adult classes. On the company’s website, this ad appears below the ‘Monkey Kids’ information:
According to The Project, in an episode last month, pole dancing is the booming new exercise fad for Australian children. Promoted as innocent child’s play, instructors promise a fun fitness experience with significant health benefits.
Welcome to the 21st Century: where we create a child-friendly replica of the most prevalent symbol of the adult entertainment industry and label it ‘fun’.
This is pornified culture disguised as a shiny after-school sport. It may be pole dancing training wheels now with upbeat music, neon colours, kindergarten giggles and games; but in a few years a riskier game begins.
Pole dancing has a long-standing association with the sex industry. It was hailed an icon in the burlesque scene throughout the 1950s, and by the 1960s was established worldwide in gentlemen’s clubs, strip joints and red light districts. Pole companies argue that its origins trace further back to the traditional Indian sport ‘Mallakhamb’: a strength training method executed on a vertical wooden pole.
What they fail to mention however, is that the sport was developed for male wrestlers and women were banned from participation. The sport was deemed culturally inappropriate for women due to the pole’s symbolism: a phallus, or spiritual representation of the male genitalia.
The pole permeates time and culture with the sinister notion that women are decorative objects to be twirled, twisted and tangled around; a global denotation of the way we reduce women to mere titillating instruments. The pole teases out the approval, gratification and sexual advances of a male audience who pay for this ‘entertainment’ around the globe; the exchange of cash for voyeuristic pleasure.
This history is now prettily packaged as a fun fitness opportunity for your child to achieve optimum strength, flexibility and coordination. Let’s take a look at what will be available for your daughter in a few short years.
At Pole Princess in Victoria, there are six class options available for teenage girls. They must have the written consent of parents to attend, and fathers are not permitted inside the studio. Aside from the ‘Sexy Legs’ and ‘Princess Workout’ classes, there is the ‘Booti-Funk’ option that, as stated on their site engages “sexy exotic movement.” Or your daughter could enrol in the ‘Burlesque’ lesson, which uses traditional burlesque choreography combined with “the sexy dancers of today, like the Pussy Cat Dolls.”
At Poleates in Blacktown NSW, girls as young as 15 are invited to participate as ‘pole virgins’ in the ‘Virgin’ class for beginner dancers.
Desert Pole Fit state in their ‘Pole Fit for Kids’ advertisement that “in order to become a professional pole dancer, it is never too early to start.” Directly below this, a video plays of a dancer on her knees, seductively removing her skirt to reveal an underwear and stiletto combination, before launching onto the pole.
And over in Sydney’s north, teenage girls aged 13-16 can attend classes at Pol-arise. According to their website, girls will find themselves “developing washboard abs, tight toosh and a long, lean, sexy physique”, whilst simultaneously resolving “self-confidence and body confidence issues.” This is the image the company uses for self-promotion:
In contrast to the claims made by Pol-arise, the pressure to achieve a ‘sexy physique’ holds no resolution for body image issues. Sexualisation is a proven, direct causal link to body dissatisfaction, eating disorders and the rapid decline in girls’ psychological health.
The American Psychological Association’s Task Force on the Sexualisation of Girls found that self-esteem and depression in girls is inextricably linked to the exposure of the sexualised female ideal, and the pressure to achieve this.
Kids pole programs are an embodiment of the way culture distorts girlhood to fit an adultified mould. As Linda Papadopoulos writes in her review commissioned by the UK Home Office, The Sexualisation of Young People, we are “legitimising the notion that children can be related to as sexual objects” through engaging children with hyper-sexualised behaviours.
“We are raising a generation of girls aspiring to careers requiring a ‘sexy’ image”
We are raising a generation of girls aspiring to careers requiring a ‘sexy’ image. A UK online survey asked 1,000 teenage girls their dream profession. Out of the available choices including teaching and medicine, 63% selected ‘glamour modelling’ and a quarter of girls placed ‘lap dancing’ as a preferred choice.
The aspirational connotations associated with sex trade and pornographic practices, according to Papadopoulos, are reflective of our pornified culture.
This deeply ingrained cultural mindset has led us to believe that girls’ engagement in pole dancing is a harmless practice. I disagree.
Search ‘pole dance kids’, and the fifth result is of a primary school-aged child imitating mainstream pole movement to a sultry soundtrack in her home: complete with hair flicks, back arches, knee spreads and a delighted online troll who says: ‘She’d look even better wrapped around my pole.’
Search ‘pole dance teens’ and the inappropriate content warnings issued by YouTube are indicative of what kids pole programs are setting little girls up for: grinding, twerking, thrusting, leg spreads, body rolls, sliding and crawling along the floor in padded bras, g-strings, lingerie and ‘naughty school girl’ costumes. And this is all before turning 18, where girls may then transition into adult lessons around the country ranging from beginner, to advanced ‘strip and lap’ classes.
Encouraging our girls to partake in a key income-generator of the sex industry is a mistake.
We are enrolling them into a billion-dollar global industry that objectifies, oppresses and conditions women to believe they are created for sex. We are enrolling them into an economic and cultural landscape that proliferates the commodification of the bodies of women and girls; a culture that screams body before brains.
Let girls run, kick a ball, surf, dance, hike, indoor rock climb, balance the beam at their local gymnastics club. There are many fitness avenues that are not founded on the premise of gratifying male sexual demand.
Jemma Nicoll is a UTS Journalism graduate and freelance writer. She is the founding director of Inspire Creative Arts in Sydney, and facilitates self-esteem development programs for girls.
‘The sexification of young dancers: Inside Australia’s booming dance studio scene’, Jemma Nicoll, MTR