(Every year around the country, Christians gather at the flagpoles of public schools to pray for students. The event is called “See You at the Pole.” This is a different kind of event, and a different kind of pole.)
Despite the warnings from Mars Hill Pastor Mark Driscoll and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler about yoga and its slippery slope toward Satan, I have signed up for my first yoga class this spring. I even bought some new yoga duds at a Fred Meyer after-Christmas sale, so I’m set. Yes, I know I have plenty of workout clothes, but somehow felt like I needed yoga-specific clothes. Of course, because the class is being offered by the evangelical university where I teach, and because of what Driscoll et al. have said about yoga, the course isn’t called yoga per se: It’s called “Core Strength and Flexibility.” Fred Meyer did not have a core strength and flexibility clothing section, though, so I went with the yoga pants.
There’s another exercise trend gaining some momentum among Christians, and the slide toward Satan seems far more slippery and more direct than any yoga class. Turns out, women in Texas have taken up Christian pole dancing. (Perhaps their parents purchased the pole dancing doll when they were young.) The pole dancing classes are held one Sunday a month at the Best Shape of Your Life fitness club, where women gather to gyrate around poles to Christian music. Entry into the class requires a church bulletin from that day’s service, which I suppose certifies that each member is indeed Christian.
I’m not sure what type of music they dance to—old-time hymns? Praise choruses?—but it’s hard imagining doing a bump or grind around a steel pole to something like“Come and Dine” or “As the Deer Panteth.” (Come to think of it, the possibilities seem endless . . . ) I suppose this is just one more instance when Christians take something that’s trending in popular culture and provide it with a Christian overlay to somehow sanctify it. But I don’t get it.
Pole dancing classes have indeed become mainstream across the country, so much so that one website offers a finder for pole dancing classes in your community. With class names like “Fit 2 Tease,” the classes offer patrons—women, I’m assuming—the opportunity to hone their bodies, toning abs, legs, and arms; to develop a stronger sense of self; and to get into touch with their bodies. The fitness trend has become popular enough that now women can buy poles for their own home gyms, so they can climb, spin, and rub their torsos without any kind of audience. I guess.In Britain, at least, fitness clubs have even offered pole dancing for kids, allowing girls as young as seven to use the pole as a “gymnastic apparatus,” thereby attempting to disconnect the connotations of the pole from its lap-dancing, striptease past.
I’ll have to admit, the thought of setting up a pole next to my stationary bike is laughable to me, and I can’t imagine working up a sweat in my TV room by sliding around a pole, even if I was wearing my new yoga clothes rather than the ratty running shirt and years-old sweats I work out in. I also can’t imagine letting my kids go to a pole dancing class, any more than I can fathom a pole dancing class for Christians, where women swing and stretch around an apparatus while Keith Green croons love songs to Jesus in the background.
To be honest, though, this is one of those things that leaves me perplexed about what I should think. It’s hard to divorce pole dancing from its cultural baggage, and from what the pole itself symbolizes: the objectification of women and their bodies; the ways in which the female form has been used and misused to fulfill “men’s needs”; even the likelihood that pole dancing is predominantly the domain of low-income women, looking for some way to make ends meet but without the resources to do so. But like the “slut walks” that have emerged across the world, challenging women to take back and refigure the name “slut,” perhaps Christian pole dancers are also trying to reclaim the pole, making it—and so, themselves—into something more than sex objects.
I just don’t know. My gut reaction is to think Christian pole dancing creepy and sexist and deeply hypocritical, but maybe I’m just not seeing this right.Maybe, when George Fox University offers its own pole dancing class—titled something like “toning with metal apparatus”—I will know that pole dancing has been truly transformed from its sexist roots into something more.