Volume 47, Number 2 - September 8, 2009

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Rebeka Silva
Rebeka Silva

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Dancer on pole
Photo courtesy of Drunkencorpse.com

Stripping Away the Stigma

By Rebeka Silva

Arts and philosophy professor Karen Stewart has previously been unsuccessful in her attempts to offer history of dance courses at Miami Dade College’s North Campus because of student apathy toward the classes.

“I offered History of African dance, 20th century social dances, dances of Asia and folk dancing,” Stewart said. “But nobody signed up.”

That all changed this past summer.

Using flyers with catchwords such as “ exotic dance” and “stripping” to promote her fall term dance history I course, she hit the jackpot.

“In a matter of 96 hours, three of those classes were full. Two of them with 35 students and one with 36 students,” Stewart said.

Despite some confusion among her students, the class does not include stripping.

“I must say that when my flyers first went out, the response that I received was from female faculty and staff looking for where they could sign up,” Stewart said. “They thought the course was going to teach them how to strip. They were extremely disappointed when I told them that this course was lecture only.”

It teaches the evolution of erotic dance from burlesque to 21st century stripping introducing dancers from that era such as Josephine Baker, Sally Rand and Mae West.

Stewart never thought she’d see the class come to fruition.

“I was run into the dirt when my flyers were first exhibited because this course was looked at as unprofessional and academically challenging,” Stewart said.

North Campus academic dean Harry Hoffman said he is fine with the campus offering Stewart’s dance history I course. 

“I believe the class is well attended this semester,” Hoffman said.  “There are no reservations about offering the class that is officially called by the State and the college history of dance.”

Stewart, who has also taught at the University of Miami, Barry University and Florida Memorial University, said her approach will be strictly academic.

She plans to demonstrate through video how burlesque was more of an art, using novelty acts and elaborate music, costume and lighting to create an artistic mood.

“It was very different back then. The littlest skin shown was arousing to men,” Stewart said.

After the burlesque portion of the course, Stewart said she will also introduce strip dance and pole dance techniques through video.

So how did Stewart get the idea for the course?

The answer is simple: Her students.

It seems they heard about a campaign launched via Facebook by pole dance instructor, KT Coates, to make pole dancing a sport in the 2012 Olympic Games.

More than 2,500 signatures have been collected. Coates has said that she hopes the drive will help remove the negative stigma attached to pole dancing.

“My students kept coming into class asking me if pole dancing was going to become part of the Olympics?” Stewart said. “I never thought a class like that would make, but students kept asking about it.”

Stewart’s students say they are satisfied with the class.

“I thought I was going to learn how to strip,” said Andrea Coletti,  a student in  Stewart’s class said. “I still find it [to be] one of the coolest classes.”

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Miami Dade College is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges to award associate and baccalaureate degrees.
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