It's been a controversial issue for a while amongst pageant insiders, judges, and competitors all over the United States and bordering neighbors, Canada and Mexico.
Starting in 2005 with a request from 4-year old Sophia Clarkman's mother, Jane Clarkman, to include "talent poles" within segments of nationwide beauty competitions, the hot topic has suddenly become all the rage, literally, among players of the child pageantry world.
Clarkman, 35, brought the issue forward to John Hughson, pageant director of the yearly Teeny Queen Jewel pageant, when her daughter Sophia was refused the right to perform her talent segment of the Teeny Queen back in June of 2005. She had entered the competition with her talent being "baton twirling." It was soon revealed that little Sophia's baton twirling was the 4 year-old literally twirling around a giant baton, ie pole, when Sophia stepped onto stage, to the horror of shocked audience members and parents alike.
A dumbfounded little Sophia and her portable pole were quickly escorted off the stage and disqualified from the competition.
Since then, Clarkman and a noteworthy following of supporters have fought to allow talent poles into mainstream competition.
"My daughter has an acrobatic talent that just happens to be doing tricks around a pole. It has nothing to do with stripping," she tells media reporters.
Other parents seem to disagree, as Sophia Clarkman has since been labeled "Little Miss Strip Tease," "Stripper Whore Supreme," and "Slut" amongst fellow competitors and national pageant goers. She became a youtube phenomenon for an afternoon in July of 2006 when her mother uploaded a home video of her twisting around on the basement pole. The provocative video was removed by administrators shortly after.
"I wonder what that little girl has been watching and where her mother has taken her," said Gordon Bootlik, father of three pageant champions with titles in Texas, Arizona, and California. He claims with stout conviction that Sophia had all the moves of any typical stripper in any club, including splits, platform boots, and private part rubbing in front of the audience. "She did not rub her clit, how can you rub your clit with latex pants on? It's called a cartwheel," stated Clarkman, who seems to have gotten used to the accusations.
Upon investigation, it seems as though Sophia Clarkman did in fact, rub her privates in her infamous stripper pole routine. “She did rub her privates in the routine,” says the parent of the home video. “I started taping it because I wanted to have something this controversial on tape, to hopefully get her kicked out.” The clip shows Sophia doing a cartwheel and finishing it off with a crotch rub. In fact, she does it 3 times throughout the short-lived routine. Her mother tells reporters it was a Michael Jackson routine, and she was only doing an impression, and indeed, Sophia was dancing to the song “Bad,” as confirmed by the video tape.
Sophia, now 9 years old, is still dancing on poles, and better than ever.
"She just loves to dance, loves to move her body, and loves to be the hottest, like all the other girls, don't let them kid you," exclaims Clarkman. "They're all just jealous that they can't spin as well as my girl, or have never tried because their mommies won't let them. Sophia can do the bridge, the straight leg grip, everything really, because her body is so young and flexible."
To date, 41 parents have removed their children from pageants that Sophia Clarkman has competed in with or without her pole, and are continuing to boycott pageants that have recently allowed the controversial dance props into competition.
This year, beauty pageants in 10 states and Quebec will be accepting talent poles into competition, along with a good hard set of rules pertaining to the new artistic medium. Competitors will not be allowed to remove any clothing during their performance (that includes gloves, hair ties, and hats); they may only do scissor splits and not straddle witch splits; and they are by no means allowed to use the stripper pole for any pageant segments other than the talent segment.
"Allowing girls to do this in their swimsuits would be a big no-no," exclaimed Hughson, who was against the idea of the talent pole at first but has warmed up to it, after seeing all the new talent that it continues to bring forth. " I understand the concern, but it is completely separate from sexuality. These are kids we're talking about, and they are void of any sexuality at this age."
So much so that even the tots in the 2-and-under are allowed poles in their routines, so long as they can walk.
Says Hughson, "toddlers can toddle around the pole, yes. If that is their talent, that is their talent."
Mariam Maxwell is a past and current judge of both adult and child beauty pageants. She has been judging pageants for 23 years. She is also a mother of her own two beauty queens, one of who still actively competes.
Maxwell is overjoyed at the new rule change.
"I was a stripper for 6 years in college. I did it for the same reason every other girl I worked with did it - because we loved it. I have a stripper pole in my bedroom and I am proud of it, my husband loves it. We are a stripper family. I am completely supportive of the new introduction and I am supportive of the families who have fought hard for it. Whether their daughters become doctors or strippers makes no difference to me. This is a part of our evolution as females, we need to be able to express ourselves as feels right for us."
As for little Sophia Clarkman, whose breasts are now in full development, only time will tell if this child is on the path to stardom or stripperdom. One thing's for sure, she has a bold future ahead of her.