The NY Times has one of those Sunday Styles “trend” pieces that not only probably doesn’t describe an actual trend, but is rather too late for any sort of “trend” anyhow: Pole Dancing Parties Catch On in Book Club Country.
When your mom has moved on from the Pampered Chef to pole dancing parties, pole dancing is over. Sort of like the key party in The Ice Storm.
Pole dancing, once exclusively the province of exotic dancers, has flared up as a much-hyped Hollywood exercise craze, and has seeped into the collective unconscious through shows like “The Sopranos” and “Desperate Housewives.” A variant called motorized pole dancing, which occurs in stretch limos, has raised eyebrows as far away as Britain, where some female university students pole-danced as a fund-raiser for testicular cancer. And mini-poles have even been spotted as dance props at over-the-top bat mitzvah parties in suburban precincts.
Now the pole — think ballet barre turned vertical — is the new star at racier versions of Tupperware parties in well-heeled (if high-heeled) areas like this one in the northwest hills of Morris County, about 33 miles from Manhattan. Billed as “femme empowerment,” such at-home pole dancing lessons are taking place in the realm of book clubs, with mothers — and grandmothers — learning slinky moves for girls’ nights in, bachelorette send-offs, even the occasional 60th birthday celebration.
Yay. Stripper poles for 13-year-olds. Train ‘em young for their proper role in society.
Look, stripperobics have been a big thing for many years, in fact for the entire 21st century. It’s part of that whole Girls Gone Wild, girls-kissing-girls-in-front-of-boys performative sexuality that’s been so prevalent in recent years. Though the ultimate beneficiary is the audience (a man or men), and the actual pleasure for the performer isn’t taken into account, the experience is sold as empowerment for the woman. In this case, literally:
“I want the women to feel strong within themselves,” explained Ms. Cottam, 29, who teaches pole dancing at a local gym as well as at home parties. Noting that some middle-aged suburban women lose themselves and their sense of sexuality as they are consumed by the responsibilities of motherhood, she added: “When you come to my class you are beautiful, you are. I want to show them that strength inside, and unleash that sexual kitten.” . . .
This intimate Friday-night soiree, where spinach dip and crudités were served and Ms. Cottam sent guests home with homemade banana muffins for their families, was for no particular occasion. She did not charge for the lesson, but had poles — spring-loaded and adjustable from 8 to 10 feet — for sale ($450), as well as a variety of feathered or rhinestone platform shoes ($19.99 and up).
Though Ms. Cottam operates independently, more than 350 pole-dance instructors in 34 states and Canada have signed up since August 2006 with an international company, EPM EmpowerNet, to run their own businesses in the model of Tupperware or Avon sales. The company provides DVDs that teach the instructors dance moves, pole safety and party etiquette, and sells them the equipment; they keep the fees they charge each participant — $25 to $30 in this area — plus any margin on the poles.
Not quite as expensive as Laser Vaginal Rejuvenation, which will run you $20K. But it’s an example of yet another business using women’s insecurities to separate them from their money.
I was a bit disappointed to see this, though:
Rachel Shteir, author of the 2004 book “Striptease: The Untold History of the Girlie Show,” says pole dancing can provide “a welcome release” for suburban stay-at-home mothers.
“Their entire world is reduced to caretaking, and this is sort of the opposite of that,” she said. “It taps into this kind of exhibitionism, or show-womanship, among younger women who did not grow up with the gender politics of the sexual revolution.”
Disappointing because I read her book, and loved it. And one of the things she pointed out in the book was that, whenever there were morals police trying to shut down burlesque theaters and strip shows for the sake of the morals of the performers, they never bothered to survey the performers — who enjoyed what they did, but also knew that they could make far more money with less wear and tear on their bodies than working in a sweatshop. Which is not really a choice that suburban stay-at-home moms in “well-appointed” homes really have to make.
Still, she has a point about the subsuming of one’s identity and sexuality into the “Mom” role. And also about latent exhibitionism, which can be personally thrilling, especially if nobody thinks you’re that way. But I’d rather see these women having sex toy parties, where the end product is designed for their own pleasure and sold as such without having to dress it up in empowerment and aerobic benefits.
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