Barry Saunders

A holiday parade. A float with pole dancers. And an instant uproar – Saunders

Is Brianna Owens perplexed by the pearl-clutching prompted by her pole-dancing holiday parade float?

Not a bit.

“We expected it,” she told me when I called to ask how she was weathering the criticism directed at Studio 360 Pole Fitness, Dance and Gym for entering a float with pole-dancing women and girls on it in the Jacksonville, N.C., Christmas parade on Nov. 19. “We were prepared for it.”

There were no objections to the float prior to the parade, Owens said, but since then?

“Oh my,” she exclaimed. “We’re hearing everything you can think of, from how great we are to how terrible we are. We’re getting praised, we’re being called names.”

One gets the feeling that were it just her, Owens would bask unabashedly in the tanning lamp rays of praise and criticism her float provoked. It’s not until she mentions what she feels is the undeserved negative spotlight aimed at her students that she bristles.

“You’re always going to offend somebody, and I’m OK with that,” she said. She doesn’t like, though, that her underage students are “being called names.”

For instance, I asked her about the youth minister who told Jacksonville’s newspaper that he was so flummoxed by the float that he’d had to grab his tots and turn them from the parade lest they look upon the twirling dancers and turn to salt. (OK, I added the salt part.)

Pole-dancing has gotten a dirty name, with its automatic but unfair association with seedy, dangerous strip clubs which, if you ask some men, are the best kind.

“I don’t know this gentleman,” Owens said. “I haven’t had a chance to talk to him, but it goes back to education. If you were to educate your child that pole-dancing is about fitness, then they’d have no different view on it than that. If you’re sitting there telling your underage child that those young girls are strippers, we aren’t the problem.

“What kind of parent,” she asked, “is going to tell their children that a fully dressed 16-year-old is a stripper in the middle of a parade?”

Halleluyer!

Pole-dancing has gotten a dirty name, with its automatic but unfair association with seedy, dangerous strip clubs which, if you ask some men, are the best kind. I asked if some of the women who come to train at her studio are really professionals who go by names such Bubblicious, Cinnabuns and Diamond?

“Sure, actually, and I encourage it,” she said. “In my day and age when I was a dancer, we did entertainment, we had shows, costumes. We had skits. It wasn’t just people taking their clothes off. ... Nowadays, strippers have become lazy, but since word has gotten out that we’re here, it’s amazing the number of dancers who want to make their routines an actual routine and not where they just walk up and start stripping.

“That’s great, because a lot of the girls out here need that help,” she said.

For every Kandi, Misty and Desire working the poles, there are clients who answer to more traditional names – like “mom” and “wife,” she said.

“We have people from all walks of life.” She said she is even preparing to offer a “mommy & me” class, which is exactly what you think it is.

“Our youngest is six and our oldest is 74,” she said. “Included in that are children, pregnant women, Marines, men. You name it, we’ve got ’em ...”

This is a global sport,” she said. “They have an International Pole Sports Federation. There are people petitioning to put this in the Olympics as a sport. But in our country – yes,

Brianna Owens, owner of Studio 360 Pole Fitness, Dance and Gym in Jacksonville

Wait a minute: Did you say “men”?

“Yessir. I trained the Pole Dance American champion for 2013, who was a male,” she said.

Owens said her ultimate desire is to someday see pole dancing as respected in America as it is in other parts of the world. “This is a global sport,” she said. “They have an International Pole Sports Federation. There are people petitioning to put this in the Olympics as a sport. But in our country – yes, our country – it’s still taboo.”

Too bad.

Despite the vituperation aimed at her profession, her clients and her by people incapable of seeing the positive aspects of pole-dancing, the parade controversy has been good for business, Owens said.

“We’re hearing from people who are trying to be more educated,” she said, and those who just want to have fun.

If the float is in next year’s parade, I’ll bet you a lot more people will be lining the streets – just to, you know, get educated.

Twas the night before Christmas and Grampa was feeling quite chipper

He was in the next room entertaining some strippers

I crept as quiet as a mouse and peered through the keyhole

And to my surprise I saw they were all on a pole.

They were pirouetting, and twerking, they were shaking and such

Too bad I didn’t have any pearls I could clutch.

I ran down the hall yelling for grandma to come see

But when I told on Grampa she just laughed at me

Your grampa may be old, she said, and he’s sowed his last oat

At least I thought he had until he saw that darned float.

Barry Saunders: 919-836-2811, @BarrySaunders9

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