Pole dancing: A "clean, fun, social activity"

Mainstream Chinese women are catching on to strip aerobics.

Published July 28, 2008 12:45PM (EDT)

The U.S. and China compete fiercely in many arenas, but the New York Times reported Friday that we've at least got them beat when it comes to repurposing sexual seduction as fitness. (Pssh, forget the new space race!) We long ago outfitted our family gyms with stripper poles and it has been five years since Carmen Electra released her hit educational DVD series "Aerobic Striptease." But, finally, China is following in America's platform footsteps and enjoying erotic dance as sport. (Hope you enjoy the view from the bottom of the ladder stripper pole!)

The Times interviewed 39-year-old Luo Lan, the first person to successfully introduce pole dancing to mainstream Chinese women. The key -- just as in the U.S. -- was scrubbing it of shame. "People here have never seen a pole dance, and for that reason they don't associate it with stripping or women of ill repute," she told the Times. Make no mistake, though, this isn't the family-friendly pole acrobatics that are seen in Cirque du Soleil; Luo's students wear knee-high boots and spandex shorts, and there is, of course, the requisite quote from a student saying the class made her feel sexy. I don't buy for a minute that a large part of the sexual charge students get from the class doesn't come directly from the taboo of sex work and stripping. However, Luo explains that it's simply "a clean, fun, social activity." How, you might ask, are "clean, fun" ladies who socialize while doing upside-down splits different from "women of ill repute"? They don't take off their clothes and, most important, cash isn't tucked into their cleavage.

That is where I'm reminded why I've always been personally torn over the popularity of these classes (which I've tried myself). They remove the aspect of commerce from stripping while, ironically, commercializing and mass-producing it. As Mary Elizabeth Williams perfectly put it in a Salon essay, the aim of these classes isn't to transform you into a sex object but a Happy Meal. Now, I quite enjoy the occasional meal packed with trans fats -- literally and otherwise -- but I just can't stomach this variation on the familiar virgin-whore dichotomy: It's sexy to play the part of a stripper, but shameful to be one. I would like to think that the global growth of these classes shows that it's becoming more acceptable for women to freely explore and push the limits of their sexuality, but we're still revolving around that same point of sexual shame.

Clearly, we haven't shaken the whole Madonna-whore complex. Only now, who actually needs a whore when a wife can be taught to pretend to be one?

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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