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Public Pole Dancing: Smut or Art?

Public Pole Dancing: Smut or Art?

Public Pole Dancing: Smut or Art?

Comments Off on Public Pole Dancing: Smut or Art?

Two different stories surfaced in the news this week regarding public pole dancing. Both consisted of dancers utilizing the vertical apparatus of a pole in their displays of entertainment and both performing for crowds of strangers in the hopes of attracting tips.  
The first story from The New York Times discussed subway pole performers. Author Gia Kourlas marveled over the performers’ skill and tenacity. “Subway dances, which pull the everyday into art and the art into the everyday, blur that delicate line with bravura,” she gushed. This is not the first time The New York Times has applauded the art of subway pole dancing. They seem to have a fascination with the beauty of urban pole dancing as well as the skill it requires. 
story from a different media outlet covered Chelsea Plymale, a dancer who recently set out with her pole to perform in front of crowds on the Ocean City boardwalk and was received in a completely different manner. Many spectators complained to City Hall regarding Plymale’s performances and there is even a photo posted on the “People of the Ocean City Boardwalk” Facebook page with a disapproving caption underneath it as well as many comments calling for her to stop. Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan has stated that while he doesn’t condone public pole dancing, Ms. Plymale is well within her First Amendment rights to do so. 


So what is the difference between these performers? What separates art from smut? What makes something a “wonder of grit and grace” or lacking in “respect for human dignity and decency?” The Ocean City boardwalk is a “family-friendly” destination. But don’t families ride the New York City subway together? Subway pole dancing is seen as a magnificent display of artistry where the subject of stripping is not even broached. The boardwalk pole dancer is mocked and demonized. 
I have some theories as to why these two scenarios so similar in nature have been so disproportionately received. First of all, Chelsea wears a bikini when she performs. This automatically makes more people associate what she does with stripping. Disregard the fact that she is at the beach where many other women are dressed similarly. The fact that she is dancing on a pole overpowers that. Chelsea is also a woman so naturally most of what she does will be sexualized. Her performance on a pole will hold a strong association with the sex industry for the average spectator. They will refuse to take her performance at face value. They will instead relate it to previous judgments they may have about pole dancing and stripping. 
Apparently Chelsea is a stripper by profession. This may not come as a shock to some, and may reenforce the logic behind those aiming to stop her from performing in public with so many children present. Before you make bold judgments though, I would like you to ask yourself if you ever considered what the B-boys did during their time off from pole dancing in the subway. Most likely you have not. You have probably only noticed the strength, grace and dexterity they display in the moment of their performances. Or maybe you just found them annoying. You most certainly never thought of them as immoral public displays soiling an otherwise wholesome commute. 
I have neither vehement objection nor resounding approval for either case. I do support artistic expression though. And I definitely support pole dancing being displayed to an audience that most likely would have never seen it otherwise. The funny thing is, one of these performances is legal and the other is not. And the performer with the law on her side is also the one with the pitchforks after her. 
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