Pole Dance Controversy Drives School Teacher to Leave Job
Marina entered a conference room to meet with both the principal and head pastor of the Catholic elementary school where she had been a teacher for the past eight years. She was asked to take a seat. Unsure of the reason behind this impromptu meeting, she knew it was not good. The head pastor quickly got to the point, “Parents, staff members, and parishioners have all approached me indicting that you pole dance.” She agreed with his statement yet defended her decision to do so, stating that she did it purely for fitness reasons. Her attempts at any further explanation were soon interjected with criticisms that she was “immoral” and “shooting herself in the foot.” She was ordered to remove herself from all social media and placed on probation watch until the end of the school year.
Marina found herself in a position many pole dancers dread. One where we are judged for decisions made in our personal lives. The thought is disconcerting. As an instructor I have very often been asked by students how they should reveal to family and friends that they pole dance. Some choose to keep their hobby a secret from professional colleagues. “My work isn’t incredibly conservative but I do work with a lot of males, some of whom I manage, so I feel more comfortable just not talking about it,” says one New York-based pole dancer. Those who perform or compete will occasionally use stage names to protect their identities. Many women choose to keep silent about their pole habit to potential dates as well. All these are methods used to self-protect against any negative ideas outsiders may have about what pole dancing is.
The obvious concern many have is being mistaken for a stripper. As popular as pole dancing has become, there are still those who are unaware that men and women pole dance for reasons completely unrelated to anything sexual. Pole dancing does have a sexy side, but it can of course be so much more than that. Pole dancers may do it for the fitness aspect, or maybe it is psychologically healing for them, or maybe they find it an artistic outlet of expression. The sexual association is still there though, and it is understandable that many do not want this involved in their professional lives, so rather than constantly fighting to defend their decision to pole dance, they hide it.
But is this something we should be working so hard to conceal? After all, pole dancing has so many variables. The context can be changed depending on the dancer performing and even the perspective of the audience viewing the dance. It can be overtly sexual, sensual, athletic, artistic, aggressive and so much more. To those who are informed, we know pole is as versatile as dance itself. Why should we feel ashamed about what we’re doing just because someone else is uncomfortable with it? Hiding our involvement may only reinforce the myth that there is anything wrong with pole dancing at all. Competitive pole dancer Samantha Star offered her opinion on the subject. “It’s unfortunate that people have to hide their (involvement with) pole. Circus arts are more acceptable… because wearing clothing is involved. If a professional was in a beach volleyball team would they hide that too? Because they wear way less clothing.”
Marina didn’t want to hide. She knew she was not doing anything wrong. The time for contract renewals for the following school year was approaching. “I thought two things could happen. One, I would not receive a contract. Or, two, I would receive a contract, but asked to teach a position that the principal knows I do not want, therefore forcing my hand in resignation.” She believes the latter ended up happening, as she was offered a position for an age group she had never taught before even though her preferential choices were still available. She handed her resignation in soon after. Marina is a mother of two boys and has been a teacher for seventeen years. She was shocked that something so harmless in her eyes could matter so much to anyone else.
Pole dancing is becoming more common every day. It recently appeared in a routine on the widely popular television show Dancing with the Stars. Organizations are aiming to get pole dancing into the Olympics. More traditional forms of vertical apparatus work such as Chinese pole and Mallakhamb are being incorporated into the styles of many pole stars today. These are all positive signs towards gaining exposure and respect for the art and sport.
The sexy side of pole dancing may never disappear and a growing number of people in the industry are OK with that. They believe if pole dancing becomes as popular as yoga, it will lose its alluring mystique. But what does that mean for people like Marina and pole sport committees with Olympic dreams who long to see the day pole becomes publicly legitimized? Is it possible for a sport or art form to have sexual elements and still be respected by the mainstream? Does it even matter if it is? The layers to these questions are complex and the answers are diverse. Maybe we as a community need a stronger sense of how we want to be perceived before we can expect the general public to come to a consensus.
For Marina, her future is uncertain at the moment. She has participated in two pole dancing competitions and signed release waivers granting that her photos and videos from the competitions be used publicly. Her involvement in the world of pole dancing is out there for the world to see. She believes that she doesn’t have anything to hide. “I’m not doing anything illicit, immoral, not illegal,” she says. Still, she admits to fears concerning her career as a teacher. She recently applied for a subbing position in the public school sector. Everything was going smoothly until the school’s principal indicated that the position could not be offered to her based on the fact that she was a pole dancer. “I’m going to keep applying and see what happens,” she told me in a phone interview. “It’s not going to stop me.”