Saturday, March 26, 2011

Pole Dancing for J.C.

Several people have taken issue with how Crystal Deans has chosen to market her pole-dancing studio Best Shape of Your Life. The Texas-based facility offers beginning, intermediate and advanced pole dancing classes starting at $20 per person and markets the activity as a “fun and exhilarating” way to “build muscle and take inches off your waistline.”

Hoping to access an untapped market, Crystal began advertising “Pole Fitness for Jesus,” a monthly Sunday class that is offered at no cost to the first 11 women that show up with a current church bulletin. On these designated Sundays, all of the routines are accompanied by contemporary Christian music and the dancing is portrayed as a continuation of “the whole worship thing.” 

Crystal Deans

The story was soon picked up by a local Houston news station and went national shortly thereafter prompting strong public reactions. While some were encouraging of such an inventive fitness program, others felt the class was sacrilegious and offensive. To get a sense of the local consensus on the studio’s offering, I read over the user comments on the Houston news station that originally broke the story. A sampling:

Ian (whose profile picture is the outline of what appears to be two sea turtles fornicating) insists:“If I were Jesus, I would encourage more titty bars and less churchs [sic]. Church is boring, but everyone likes titties. Even Jesus.”

Paul posted: “I am sure there will be pole dancing in Hell. You do NOT mix Jesus with ANYTHING that is associated with FILTH!”

Michelle writes: “The higher the heels the closer to God.”

TstAccount1 felt that “this is by far the greatest insult to Jesus I've seen in a while....”

Faifai was upset by the article’s “noticeable lack of punctuation.”

The commentary continued to digress until a user named JamesB announced that he wished to procure the corpse of Jesus so that he could “dress him up in a silly hat” like “Weekend at Bernie’s.” While I did not agree with all of the comments (a Weekend at Bernie’s reference is obviously a much bigger insult to J.C. than pole dancing) they did bring up some interesting points.

Owner/instructor Crystal Deans, who spent several years as an exotic dancer before becoming a Christian, insists that just because an activity has an immoral stigma does not mean it is inherently immoral. She highlights the fact that the classes are held for women only in the privacy of her studio and have nothing in common with strip clubs other than the apparatus.

Her comment about the apparatus got me wondering, “What makes the idea of dancing on a pole so divisive?” Health clubs, community centers and even churches all across the country are hosting Zumba classes that feature women in the exact same attire gyrating to the same style of music. My wife is a Zumba enthusiast and some of the moves she learns are more likely to have me reaching for a roll of singles than my prayer journal.

So if it isn’t the clothing or the music, we are left with only the pole itself. But why is it even necessary? At what point in human history did some guy observe a shapely naked women dancing on an elevated stage and comment “I like the concept, but it’s still missing something….” After doing some research, it appears that the idea of people dancing around a metal pole probably originated with Chinese acrobats who used them as props in the 19th century. Then, at some point in the 1950’s, the pole began appearing in American burlesque shows. The reason for its inclusion is still the subject of speculation. Some have pointed to its basic form suggesting phallic overtones, others insist that it is simply easier to disinfect than a chair. Whatever the reason, it has since become synonymous with erotic dancers, adult entertainment and every Kid Rock birthday party since 1997.

So from a historical perspective, it appears that men were paying to see naked dancing women long before anyone thought to incorporate a pole. In my mind this lends some credibility to Dean’s claim that dancing on a pole does not constitute an ethical statement or immoral action. By the same token, I am not sure a group of women swinging around a tether-ball kit to a Michael W. Smith CD constitutes an act of worship.

One thing that I am sure of is that Crystal Deans is a marketing genius. By simply giving a few free pole dancing lessons to any Protestant in possession of a church bulletin, she has acquired the kind of nationwide publicity normally unobtainable by a small dance studio with meager operating capital. Say what you will about her career choices, but her ingenuity is beyond question.

This got me wondering if this clever juxtaposition between the sacred and taboo would work for other fringe activities. We might only be months away from “Holy Ghost Insider Trading” or “Crips for Christ.” If the trend of pole dancing to Christian music catches on, it is only a matter of time before an official “Pole Dancing for Jesus” soundtrack is released:

  • How Great is Our God (but how much better is my fireman spin?)
  • Amazing Grace (my inhibition is gone)
  • Lord, I Lift Your Name (and my heels) On High
  • Better is One Day (on my stripper-pole)
  • I Can Only Imagine (what my grandmother would think)
  • I Could Sing of Your Love Forever (but it would be faster to just show you mine)
  • Shout to the Lord (and grip with your thighs)
  • Mighty to Save (and slow to judge)
  • Great Is Thy Faithfulness (and generous is thy tipping)
  • Because He Lives (I can face my B.M.I.)
  • Worthy is the Lamb (and difficult is inversion)
  • Jesus Paid it All (except for the cover charge)

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