When I was a kid, I saw/read/heard so many things that were inappropriate for someone my age. Like when I was nine years old and my friend Leticia’s mom, who was from Chile and didn’t speak much English, rented “Bachelor Party,” “Dreamscape” and “Barbarella” for us kids to watch at a slumber party. Or the time a babysitter let me watch a double feature of “The Birds” and “Rosemary’s Baby” because it was on TV.
Also see: reading Judy Blume’s “Forever” at a way-too-young-for-that age, and watching the video for Prince’s “When Doves Cry” where he’s making eyes at the camera as he’s crawling on the floor half-naked and wet.
None of this is surprising if you consider that I went through puberty early, and I had a lot of older friends, thanks to our living situation. See, my mom was in college during my elementary school years, and we lived in special student housing designed for adult students with families.
Imagine hundreds of townhomes in groups of four, arranged on a hilly, grassy property full of sandboxes, trees, and playgrounds, all connected by winding paths and parking lots. This was my neighborhood, and there were a ton of kids, of all ages. We used to ride our bikes around, climb trees, attempt to actually dig a hole to China , and make our Barbies and Kens make out.
Because many of my friends were at least a couple of years older than me, they knew stuff I didn’t know. Like how babies were made. And how to swear properly (though I must give credit to my mom, who has been known to drop an F-bomb or thousand in her life).
One of my good friends (who was a crazy genius kid and is now an oncologist whose medical pedigree includes Harvard and Johns Hopkins) was two years older than me. Our moms and their boyfriends were good friends. Some evenings they would gather at one of our townhouses and hang out together downstairs, doing grown up things like drinking and listening to Fleetwood Mac, while we hung out upstairs planning out elaborate skits with which to entertain the adults.
We would sneak down the stairs, quietly (we thought) and then surprise our parents with some sort of attention-seeking floorshow involving music, costumes and a boom box. One of these times, we put floppy lace bows in our hair and lip-synched to “Like A Virgin” while writhing around like Madonna. I was eight years old at the time.
I don’t remember much beyond that, but I can assume our parents were horrified by the sight of their young children fake singing about being “touched for the very first time” and trying to dance around all sexy. I’d like to say I was too young to understand what “virgin” meant, but I did know, thanks to my older friends.
In retrospect, this all seems pretty innocent, especially considering that now you can sign your child up for pole dancing classes. You heard me: pole dancing classes for children. Parent approved and paid for. Pole. Dancing. Classes.
Look, I’ve never taken a pole-dancing class. I must disclose here that I think they’re kind of silly. I think of these classes as belonging to the same area of ladyhood that includes those Skinnygirl margaritas, anal bleaching and weekly blowouts. Nothing wrong with those things, if that’s your thing, but it’s not mine. Those things belong to a mysterious and lovely form of womanhood I call “not me.”
And I live in Los Angeles, land of diligent personal maintenance and womanly hottttness. It’s also the place where some children are groomed from birth to become child stars. So this is the place I would fully expect to find a lil’ strippers class or whatever.
But no, our friendly neighbors in Canada* have set the bar (OR POLE in this case) for the inappropriate sexualization of children. Twisted Grip Dance and Fitness in Duncan, B.C. is offering pole dancing classes for kids of all ages. The studio is calling it “pole fitness” and seeks to separate it from that whole stripping thing, focusing instead on the fitness aspect of the movements. The owner says the focus of the class is “climbing and holding,” and that it’s not sexual.
I don’t want to discount the fact that there is a fair amount of athleticism involved in working a pole. All that climbing, flipping, and swinging requires strength, flexibility and training -- none of which I have. I have a lot of respect for strippers, exotic dancers and burlesque performers who are good at what they do. At its most elevated, it can be a true art form requiring years of skill building and a honing of talent. It’s hard work, and I also think it’s honest work. For an adult.
But to say that you can remove the sexual component of the pole and make it kid friendly -- I don’t buy it. While there is certainly athleticism involved, pole dancing is not a sport. The kids who are taking these classes are probably the children of women who take the adult version of the classes. Some of their mothers may even have had poles installed in their bedrooms, you know, to spice things up. And some of these kids may have even seen the adult class, if they tagged along with their moms. Kids aren’t stupid; they know what the pole is for.
And remember how kids as young as six years old now want to look sexy? I think about that, and then I think about sending my kid to a pole dancing class and I feel queasy. Not because I think stripping is bad or dirty as a profession for a grown-ass person, but because the sexualization of children should not be sanctioned by adults.
I’m assuming the children in the pole-dancing class are probably not looking to spice up their dying marriages. And these girls’ mothers probably are not looking to turn their 10 year olds into sex kittens. But people surprise me all the time, so I could be wrong.
I mean, in a world where 12 year olds are getting Brazilian waxed out of puberty, it’s not much of a stretch to imagine that they also might begin their stripper training before they even have the proper equipment -- fully developed brain, breasts -- to operate said pole.
Would you send your son or daughter to a pole dancing class? Are these “climbing and holding” classes grooming kids for a life of sex work? Am I just being An Old? Do I need to get with the times and stop being such an old-fashioned drag?
Somer's on Twitter @somersherwood