Verity Johnson: Tweens' pole dancing doesn't make them strippers - you do

OPINION: Once a day the internet develops a throbbing boil of moral outrage. Today’s pustule is growing over an advertisement for Gym Pole, a pole fitness company, where tween girls twirl around a pole in their garden. 

Facebook has a problem with the ad because it’s supposedly sexualising children and they’re acting like strippers. 

Nope. These girls are not tween strippers. They are kids doing acrobatics on a pole in a garden. 

This is a classic example of “it’s not you, it’s me”. They’re not the ones with the problem here. We are. 

We think of pole dancing as inherently sexual. But it’s not just sexual any more.

In outdated mainstream culture, pole dance was inherently connected to the 1980s and 1990s when poles appeared in strip clubs. But it actually has its non-sexual roots in the form of male-dominated gymnastics sport Mallakhamba, which was popular in 13th century India and China. 

Malkhamb act in the Sewadal Rally at 45th Statelevel Nirankari Sant Samagam of Maharashtra.
Malkhamb act in the Sewadal Rally at 45th Statelevel Nirankari Sant Samagam of Maharashtra. Photo credit: Adarsh Upadhyay, Wikipedia

In the last decade, pole dancing has developed into a mainstream acrobatic sport. It’s run in brightly lit dance studios with brightly smiling women as a form of female friendly, feel good gym class that makes you really really fit. 

It’s just like belly dancing, which evolved from something that was once solely erotic into a sport so mainstream that under-12s now do it in droves. 

And it can do this because it’s not inherently sexual. It can be both a K Rd staple and a mainstream sport. It all depends on your context and your intent. Yeah, pole dancing for men in a strip club is sexual. You’re doing it to shitty ‘70s rock to sell sex to men and get lap dances. But in a dance studio you’re doing it for yourself, to test the limits of your flexibility and femininity. 

When I decided to jazz up my exercise routine with a couple of pole classes, I didn’t take to the pole thinking, “I’m gonna seduce the shit out of that bored receptionist playing Candy Crush.” I just thought it would give me abs. Admittedly it didn’t, but that’s because I quit after realising I had the upper body strength of a drunk T-rex.

So when there’s an advert showing tweens doing pole, it’s not making them into tween strippers. To those kids, they’re just doing acrobatics. We’re the ones projecting a sexual image onto them. And it’s our problem for seeing sex when it’s just not there.

Verity Johnson is a Newshub columnist.