Wednesday, July 1, 2009

LDS Woman Jennifer Bourland, A Former Exotic Dancer, Opens Up The PlayfulPole Pole-Dancing Gym In Mesa, Arizona; No Hard Feelings Evident

Here's a story that's unlikely to show up at either the Mormon Times or the LDS Church News, not because the subject is unfaithful to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but because pole dancing provokes an image inconsistent with that normally associated with the Church.

But the story showed up in the Arizona Republic on July 1st, 2009. Jennifer Bourland and Debbie Faaaliga have opened PlayfulPole, a gym at Alma School and Guadalupe Roads in Mesa, Arizona that teaches women how to pole dance in a workout that combines fitness and sexuality. And it's not a dive for men to come and get their jollies, but a safe place for women to express themselves.

The interesting aspect - Jennifer Bourland is both a former exotic dancer, and a current member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. After Bourland retired from exotic dancing, she decided to partner with Faaliga to open the gym in order to give women a place they could learn this type of dancing without having to go to clubs. Bourland touts pole dancing as an excellent workout for women, noting that in 16 years as a dancer, she never went to the gym because her job kept her in such good shape.

Jennifer Bourland never sought out to become an exotic dancer in the first place. But a number of years ago, at the age of 33, she found herself with a husband terminally ill with cancer and mounting expenses. She lost her job as a food merchandiser because, according to her, she was considered "too attractive" for her job. She's a tanned, petite blonde.

So, against her husband's wishes, she decided to use her looks to make money. Ironically, there were some other fringe benefits; as she danced, she got into better shape and felt more beautiful and powerful. Her self-confidence grew. In one noteworthy incident, when Mike Tyson showed up at her club, she used the opportunity to playfully bite the champion boxer on the ear. But her job also helped her get a leg up on entrepreneurship, and so today she has her own gym. Classes at Playfulpole cost between $50 and $375 and have anywhere from two to 10 people in them, and women don't often come alone - they bring friends, sisters and even co-workers. Bourland has three children and five grandchildren.

What the story doesn't tell is the impact of this business on her religion. We don't know if she's a fully active Mormon or a Jack Mormon. We also don't know if her local Church leaders have given her any static about her profession. It would have been quite useful if the Arizona Republic had also addressed these issues; good journalism by the professional media includes anticipating and accounting for such follow-up questions in advance.

While the Church still discourages women (particularly if they're married) from working as exotic dancers, and all members from working in any establishment selling liquor by the drink, the Church doesn't ban members from these professions. Mormons who are otherwise faithful are unlikely to have their temple recommends pulled merely for working in these professions. And besides, since beauty is a God-given gift, there's no reason why a woman shouldn't make money from it, so long as the profession is legal. The Church's main concern is that it could expose married women to temptation, leading them to break Temple covenants, which are considered far more serious than ordinary covenants.

Of course, the LDS Church strictly forbids anything remotely approaching exotic or "dirty" dancing at events held on Church property. The traditional LDS view on dancing is replicated in this post on By Common Consent.

A similar issue became contentious up in Davis County, Utah earlier this spring. In March, Davis County Commissioners caught wind of a Miss Pole Dance Utah contest which was slated for May 16th at the Davis Conference Center in Layton. But promoters of the event were able to allay public concerns, citing a host of rules such as no G-strings, thongs or see-through outfits; tops must cover the woman's entire breasts; and bottoms must cover the entire buttocks. In addition, the clothes contestants started with would have to remain on during the entire competition, and any "accidental" wardrobe malfunction would mean immediate disqualification. In the final analysis, the competition, entitled "Fetish", was OK'ed by the Conference Center management.

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