The first time someone warned me about The Pole I was pregnant. During those 9 months everyone wants to give you parenting advice. By now it was more than a year ago and I had just finished sitting on a panel that was generally about the state of black America, which the crowd of mostly young black head-shaking professionals was convinced wasn’t too good. Mingling afterwards a father from the audience introduced himself. I am embarrassed to say that I don’t recall much about him nor the pleasantries that we exchanged, except, of course his sincere warning, offered from the heart of one parent to that of a parent-to-be. “Just keep her off the pole,” he advised, not even knowing if my unborn child in question was going to be a she. That was how he was raising his own daughter, he assured me, who I do recall was in the tumultuous middle school years. Everyone within earshot nodded. Being one of those head-shaking black professionals myself, I nodded too, because unfortunately I understood what his warning was all about.
For many parents fed up with the barrage of Hip Hop videos dripping with overally sexual images that are often lifted from the world of strip clubs, porn, and adult erotica, The Pole is shorthand for ghetto — a mindset that embraces our worst behavior. These days — in a society where a form of stripping is hailed by celebrities including, Kate Hudson, Natalie Portman and Teri Hatcher (who showed off her moves on Oprah), as empowering exercise — ghetto no longer refers to where you live, but to how you live. According to a story in the New York Times (No Longer Taboo, Pole Dancing Catches on in Book Club Country) it seems that pole dancing is embraced not only by rappers and the Hollywood elite and, of course, erotic dancers but has now spread to the mommy set of tony suburbs and affluent enclaves. It is proof of how mainstream ghetto has become. How else would you explain Times reporter Tina Kelley’s sightings of mini-poles at over-the-top suburban bat mitzvah parties. When did topless dancers become acceptable to imitate for 13-year-olds? Or for their moms?
In its annual roundup of the 101 Dumbest Moments in Business, Business 2.0 Magazine (which itself has been called by some as one of Time Inc.’s dunce hat worthy slips) the pole phenomenon made an appearance wedged somewhere between News Corp’s “If I Did It” OJ scandal and those pesky kid tattoos. It seems Tesco, a leading British retailer that sells the popular Peekaboo Pole Dancing Kit — which for $100 bucks you too can have your very own portable 8.5-foot chrome pole, a “sexy dance garter”, and play money for stuffing into your garter – originally pushed the Pole Kit on the Toys & Games section of its website. Yes, the Brits, who reportedly favor pole dancing in stretch limos, can be ghetto too — a mindset has no boarders. The company moved the Pole to its Fitness section after some parents, thankfully, complained.
Pole dancing supporters hail it as sexually empowering and great exercise. Carmen Electra’s line of exercise videos (with names like Aerobic Striptease, Fit to Strip, and The Lap Dance) have all hit No. 1 on Amazon’s fitness DVD section. Granted, as a member of the couch potato club I am probably missing something about the value of a good exercise routine. But an old fashioned police foot chase can be good exercise too and I don’t hear anyone advocating that we start imitating the behavior we see on Fox’s COPS.
Personally, I don’t know any pole dancers –the strip club not the book club kind – but in my mind it can’t get much worse than writhing on a pole in a state of undress for men for money. The unfortunate violence that occurred during NBA’s recent All Star Weekend in
Las Vegas at a local strip club allegedly involving Tennessee Titans NFL cornerback Pacman Jones, is a reminder of just how bad things for pole dancers can get. During a melee at the club three people were shot and a female dancer was allegedly beaten – her head slammed into the very pole adorned stage that she was dancing on – after she reportedly made the mistake of picking up one of the hundreds of bills being thrown in the air by Jones in what was intended to be a “visual effect” that he likes to call “Make it Rain”, according to a Vegas search warrant. Vegas police later recovered $81,000 in singles that reportedly belongs to the football player who we can only assumed intended to make it pour.
Fifteen months ago I did in fact give birth to a little girl. Even before she could walk she already loved to dance, rocking back and forth in her crib whenever a beat was in ear shot. Her dancing has always attracted oohs and aahs from strangers and friends who seem to enjoy the site of baby with rhythm. Her tastes are eclectic ranging from the Itsy Bitsy Spider to 50 Cent. (Yes, I am ghetto too.) Watching her toddler silhouette bounce to the beat I can’t help but be reminded of that warning that I got when I was pregnant. I will do my best to keep her off The Pole, literally and figuratively. And when I get together with other mothers, I hope that she and her friends will do the same for us.