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The case of a New Brunswick pole artist who saw her performance at a Moncton, N.B., ribfest abruptly cancelled last weekend is drawing attention to the lasting stigma around an activity once associated mainly with strip clubs.

Christine Johnson wrote in a Facebook post that her scheduled show at the festival, organized by the Rotary Club of Moncton West and Riverview, was cancelled minutes before she was set to go onstage and she was told her act was not family friendly.

“Unfortunately after weeks of hard work in preparing to put on a great show for my hometown, one narrow-minded member of the Rotary Club Committee put a dramatic halt to my performance minutes before I was to go out on stage based on my choice of apparatus,” Johnson wrote on Sunday.

She said she chose to share her experience for other female performers who face challenges because their art incorporates their bodies, commenting on the misconceptions people have about her “aerial art.”

“Last night was a big realization for me that the battle is still very real and that so many people still need to be educated on what Pole Art is,” she wrote. “It’s a sport, I am an Athlete, an Acrobat and what I do is no different than a Gymnast on a balancing beam.”

Johnson’s post detailing the incident drew media coverage and hundreds of supportive comments and shares.

Rotary Ribfest Moncton said in a Facebook comment Tuesday that Johnson would be offered an apology.

“We are also very disappointed with the way things turned out,” the comment read. “Christine is a beautiful artist and didn’t deserve how she was treated. An apology will be offered as we certainly recognize that an injustice occurred.”

The organization said the situation had a positive side because Johnson raised awareness of stereotypes around her craft.

Pole activities are increasingly seen as a form of art, dance and athletics similar to gymnastics, with more people participating in classes and competitions.

In 2017, the International Pole Sports Federation was granted observer status by the Global Association of International Sports Federations, formally recognizing pole as a sport in a step toward the possibility of future Olympic participation.

Despite slowly shifting perceptions, stories like Johnson’s story are not uncommon

Last August, North Carolina middle school teacher Kandice Mason went public with her work suspension after school officials saw private Facebook videos of her pole dancing. Mason defended her pastime as an art form and a good way to stay in shape, and told local news station WTVD-TV that school officials cited a policy that employees are role models who are “responsible for their public conduct.”

Elisabeth Magalhaes, director of the Canadian Pole Fitness Association, said perceptions of pole artists and athletes have come a long way in Canada, but misunderstandings persist among people who have never seen a performance.

Pole dance and sport is associated with other heavily stigmatized performances like stripping and burlesque, and Magalhaes said performers can be sexualized by people unfamiliar with pole activities.

Magalhaes said exposed skin is a functional necessity that allows performers to grip the pole, adding that other dance forms and sports require athletes to wear less clothing than what many pole performers wear.

“Because there’s a pole involved, suddenly when a woman is showing her legs or her stomach, it’s suddenly an issue,” Magalhaes said by phone from Mississauga, Ont.

Magalhaes said she hopes more public performances will lead to better understanding of the athleticism and artistry involved to prevent future experiences like Johnson’s.

The long-time instructor said she’s seen interest in the sport grow, with more men starting to participate more mainstream venues hosting performances and competitions.

“You can see how people watching it, they’re pretty amazed by what everyone is able to do. You can see that their opinions of it have changed just by watching the performers on stage,” Magalhaes said.

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