Inside one Catholic community's war on pole dance fitness
This past week, a priest delivered a letter to his local pole dance fitness studio. Pole dance fitness, he writes, inspires prostitution, money laundering, sex trafficking and drug addiction. He wants the city government to shut the studio down.
Tiffany McDaniels, the owner of Studio Paramour in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, was stunned when she opened the letter. Instantly, she knew this battle was much bigger than a small-town church against a small business owner.
“This is the church against sin,” McDaniels tells Rooster Magazine. “We are sinners. We are women who don’t have faith. And once again, they’re telling us what we can and can’t do with our bodies.”
Reverend Mike, as the locals call him, didn’t only send his letter to McDaniels. He sent copies to the mayor and city attorney. He laments how strip clubs in the area have been cesspools of abuse and exploitation. He insists the dance studio is a slippery slope to burlesque shows, strip clubs, and other utter depravity. He threatens to move his church out of the city if McDaniels' business isn’t shut down.
The reverend writes, “Our church is making millions of dollars of commitment to stay in downtown Beaver Dam; the question developing in our minds is if we will regret doing so?”
McDaniels has heard from church members that the reverend uses his sermons to warn others not to go to her dance studio. “He’s been summoning people to gather against me without my even knowing there was a problem,” she says.
[Letter from Reverend Michael Erwin]
Now, McDaniels is fighting back. She plans on pressing charges for slander and defamation of character. She’s seen the church successfully run businesses out of town before — like the tattoo parlor they swore was unsanitary.
“I know he wants me closed, and if that happens, I won't be the last one,” McDaniels says. “He’s not only going after me. He’s going after pole fitness as a whole.”
Of course, pole fitness isn’t limited to ladies working the late shift at the Cheetah Cabaret. Both men and women use pole dancing lessons as a fun form of exercise. Students say it’s a killer core workout that instills self-confidence, creates a sense of accomplishment and fosters a feeling of community among classmates.
Even still, stripping is a perfectly legal profession whether or not the church approves of it. If McDaniels is approached by students who double as exotic dancers, she welcomes them all the same.
“The church thinks that we can be beaten into submission,” McDaniels says. “If we let it go, and decide to just open up shop in another city, it’s showing that if you push hard enough, you can take away what someone else worked so hard to get.”
Is America's puritanical history reaching new heights of sexual repression? Porn stars, cam girls, strippers, prostitutes, dominatrixes and nude models are endlessly shamed, silenced, and deprived of their rights. When there is no respect for a woman’s bodily autonomy, perhaps the next step is only natural: repress women by dictating what’s a proper way to exercise.
“We think its not that bad anymore — that the stigma is going away. But we are always going to be fighting over this,” McDaniels says. “Someone is always going to be pointing that high-and-mighty finger.”