PITTSBURGH, PA - The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania filed a lawsuit today on behalf of a woman who has been denied an occupancy permit by a small Butler County township to open a dance-and-fitness studio that will teach pole dancing. The suit claims that the Township's permit denial violates the woman's First Amendment right to teach and communicate ideas about a lawful, constitutionally protected and increasingly popular form of art and fitness.
"The activities deemed too provocative by Adams Township have become an increasingly popular form of exercise for women around the country, and even in China, a country not known for freedom," said Witold Walczak, ACLU of Pennsylvania's Legal Director and one of the woman's attorneys.
Studio owner Stephanie Babines is a university-educated, information-technology professional who also operates a dance and fitness program called Oh My You're Gorgeous. Ms. Babines teaches dance and fitness classes designed to help women express their sexuality. She believes that these classes help to improve women's self-esteem and provide an enjoyable way to exercise. She considers pole dancing to be both an art and a sport, and believes that it shows women that they can be powerful, physically strong, and beautiful with their clothes on.
The studio would teach pole dancing, hoop aerobics, strip tease, power lap dance, "stiletto strut," salsa dancing, belly dancing, cardio kickboxing, and "SeXXXercise" (an "Abs and Core Work Out) - all fully clothed. The lessons involve no nudity, no spectators and no sexual activity.
"My classes are a specially designed exercise for women that allows them to have fun, feel confident about their bodies and express their sexuality," said Babines. "This is not a strip joint or gentleman's club. This is a dance and fitness studio just like hundreds of others that have recently opened around the country, including here in the Pittsburgh area," added Babines.
The lawsuit references stories in the New York Times, U.S. News & World Report, Pittsburgh Magazine and on Oprah Winfrey's show that discuss how pole dancing and other forms of exotic fitness classes have become increasingly popular forms of exercise and self expression.
A recent report documented how the craze has even spread to China.
While even a repressive country like China has allowed similar dance studios, defendants in this small Butler County town have refused Babines' request for an occupancy permit by declaring that her studio is adult entertainment that cannot be operated in this location.
Today's lawsuit maintains that the adult-entertainment ordinance does not apply to Babines' dance studio and that what is really going on is that Township officials personally viewed the dance style as too "provocative."
The case, captioned Babines v. Adams Township, was filed today in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh. The ACLU-PA expects to file a motion for emergency relief to seek an expedited decision.
Attorneys on the case are, in addition to Walczak, ACLU-PA staff attorney Sara Rose and cooperating ACLU attorney Michael Healey, from the law firm Healey & Hornack. Ms. Babines' website is www.ohmyyouregorgeous.com. The complaint is available here.