Friday, September 5, 2008

Clothed pole dancing aerobics = "adult business"??

Today we'll discuss that favorite bugaboo of feminist discussions on sexuality and pop culture: pole-dancing aerobics!

No, we're not here to debate whether this popular and lucrative trend is is a route to sexual empowerment, a symbol of a pernicious "raunch culture," or is tacky but harmless fun. Instead, we're discussing something that I know is also dear to the hearts of feminist readers here: zoning. Come on, you know you love zoning, especially zoning + gyration.

Stephanie Babines is a fitness instructor whose business, Oh My You're Gorgeous, offers classes in hula, salsa, belly dancing and yes, pole dancing. As I need hardly tell you, pole dancing is a great workout for your thighs and abs - and it's all totally clothed. But when Babines sought a permit to move her instruction from house parties and rented venues into a storefront dance studio, Adams Township, PA rejected the permit. The local officer who made the call said he didn't bother interviewing Babines because her website looked all sexy. The Legal Satyricon quotes the complaint:
[The enforcement officer] said he did not need to interview Ms. Babines regarding her intentions for the property because her website spoke for itself. He testified that regardless of whether the activity involved nudity, the dance forms Ms. Babines intended to teach were “provocative” and contained sexual “innuendo,” and her dance studio should therefore be classified as an “adult business.”

[He] further testified that the pink-and-black color scheme of Ms. Babines’ website and the high-heeled shoe in her logo indicated to him that she intended to operate an “adult business” at the 222 Mars-Valencia Road property.
No, really!! See, it's in the New York Times, the AP wire, and the Wall Street Journal's blog!

A cheeky Pittsburgh columnist basks in the positive attention this is getting for nearby Adams Township

I'm probably going to get into trouble with my editors, but I'm going to be blunt and call Babines exactly what she is: Someone possessing a master's degree in project management who currently works as a senior information technology professional.

Would you want someone with that track record starting a business in your community?

Thankfully for the righteous, Babines selected the wrong locale to try to open her den of iniquity. She chose Adams Township -- a place where the moral indignation runs deep, and the legal expenses appear ready to run high.

Thank God for the ACLU - they'll stick up for you when everyone else thinks it's beneath their dignity. The Pennsylvania ACLU filed suit on Babines's behalf last week. Their complaint (PDF) recounts the facts in interesting detail - from the development of sexy aerobics as a national trend to the descriptions of OMYG classes, and calls the town out for violating the First Amendment and misapplying its own ordinance.

Adams Township is going to lose. The Supreme Court has upheld restrictive zoning ordinances applies to strip clubs on the basis of dubious "secondary effects" on the local community. The court will have no difficulty saying that this case is different: you're unlikely to have drunks spilling out into the streets and dancers engaging in prostitution when everyone is there to dance, not watch.

More to the point, the "secondary effects" doctrine is based on the assumption that exotic dancing sits at the "outer perimeter of the First Amendment" - it enjoys minimal protection because it ostensibly it is only barely "speech." Here we're talking about not just booty-shaking, but booty-shaking classes. Thus, the court won't have to address the very interesting question of where clothed pole-dance aerobics sits with respect to the "perimeter" of protected speech.

As for Adams Township, presumably their campaign to stamp out "innuendo" and "provocative" businesses will soon extend to shuttering bars and nightclubs and blocking the Fox network.

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