Kids who pole don’t need your approval. Just their parent’s.
Children look at a pole and want to play. And that’s just natural, not sexual.
-by Clarise Amala
“It’s just fun,” my 8-year-old daughter replied. An extremely simple response to a question that gets unnecessarily complicated and controversial for many adults, “Why do children pole?” It really is that simple. And it really can be that regular. In Russia, children pole for sport and go to classes just like ballet or gymnastics. They even compete in youth pole dance competitions and some schools even teach pole. It’s completely normalized. But in America, the stigmatization of women’s bodies creates a culture of disrespect against the powerful and resilient women who dance and engage in sex work for a living. And because of that stigma, to some, pole dance is shameful no matter who is doing it or what they’re doing it for.
There’s an entire community of people of all genders who engage with pole dance simply because they love it. Pole dance is expansive and iterative, and not bound to society’s limited ideas on it. And children, who are completely unaware of these limits and know no constraints in their creativity, have found joy and pride in pole, including my daughter.
When I bought my very first pole for my home, my husband helped me put it up in our living room. We went back and forth between whether it should be in the bedroom instead. Typically, that’s where people put poles in their homes and they use them for sexual foreplay, to do a little dance for their lover, and keep it away from the eyes of visitors who might judge. But one thing we were both clear on was: this pole was not for my husband, it was for me.
Pole is my expressive outlet, workout, and a meditation on my divine femininity all in one. Ultimately, the living room had more space, a higher ceiling, and better lighting if we’re being real. The choice was easy after we got past the initial question we were conditioned to ask “what will people think when they come over?” Our decision of where to put the pole was a choice that set the tone for normalizing it in our household and in our family.
As soon as we got it up, my daughter was immediately drawn to it and started hopping up and trying to climb it. It was like we brought a playground home and erected it in our living room. Mostly in an effort to prevent her from hurting herself--and my new pole--I taught her the proper technique for a basic climb. And at that moment, I could see the sparkle in her eye and could tell she had fallen in love.
She quickly climbed to the top of the pole and exclaimed “Mommy! I’m on top of the world!” I smiled up at her, happy that she was happy, and replied, “Yes you are, baby.” Since then, pole has become a regular part of our everyday life as a family. And it’s become a joy that we share as mother and daughter.
Every day when she comes home from school she hops up on the pole and lets loose all of her supercharged energy to take flight. She learns new tricks, makes up her own, skates around the pole, listens to her favorite songs from the cartoon Steven Universe, and just has fun. So much fun that I have to pull her off and make her take breaks to eat and get her homework done. “Pole makes me feel proud and like I can fly,” she said when I asked what she likes so much about it. And she shares that joy with her friends when they come over and she teaches them how to play on the pole without hurting themselves.
One day, I captured an adorably cute video of her showing a friend how to invert on the pole and giving her the advice every poler holds close like a jewel, “Go from the side or else you’ll hit your vagina!” It was so cute and funny that I shared it on my Instagram page. The thought crossed my mind that people might judge, but it truly was an innocent and precious moment. Shortly after, I’d come to see just how limited society’s perspectives on poling truly are.
The video got shared a lot within the pole community and most people thought it was cute and funny like I did. But there was a very angry bunch of people who questioned my judgment as a mother, said my daughter would grow up to be a whore and told me this was wrong and dirty. It initially angered me that someone could look at children having fun and listening to Steven Universe songs and think “dirty, sex, wrong.” But I remembered all of the times I, as a child, did normal, non-sexual things and got shamed and scolded with those same harmful words.
And I, ironically, felt empathy. We’ve all been shamed for doing things perceived as sexual and things that actually are sexual. And the shame that people are carrying with them from being told they were “dirty” and “wrong” as a child is what they project when they see something as innocent as other children having fun on a pole. It’s a vicious cycle that I don’t intend to pass on to my daughter.
Because here’s the thing: children only know what we teach them.
When we teach children that hopping on a pole is dirty and shameful, that is what they know. When we teach children that pole is just as normal as yoga or gymnastics, that is what they know. And when we show through both our words and actions that children can express themselves freely, even on a pole, and their joy will be celebrated, it ensures that they have a strong sense of self and feel loved--rather than ashamed and guilty for something they aren’t even old enough to understand or be aware of.
When the time does come to teach children about sex, we have to keep that same energy in making sure they’re aware and self-assured about how to be healthy, consensual, and safe, rather than shaming them into ignorance.
As of right now, my daughter just likes pole dancing. And that’s it. “Pole is just pole,” she often says in confusion when I tell her that some people think children shouldn’t be poling.
I wonder how different her outlook might be if my husband and I made a different choice to place the pole in our bedroom--constraining the possibilities of what pole can be to purely sexual terms. Maybe she would be ashamed to have it in the house. Maybe she would have never discovered the joy and self-confidence she treasures now. Or maybe she would see through the bullshit and just have fun as kids do.