World News

She Thought Pole Dancing at Kindergarten Was a Great Idea. Others Disagreed.

Posted September 3, 2018 6:33 p.m. EDT
Updated September 3, 2018 6:36 p.m. EDT

BEIJING — At the start of a new school year, a kindergarten principal in southern China thought dance performances would make a grand welcome. They would include jazz and traditional Chinese dance, she said. Oh, and there would also would be a strutting, shimmying pole dancer.

“The goal was to get the kids to learn more about one variety of dance,” Lai Rong, the principal, told one Chinese news outlet.

Goal achieved.

The internet in China lit up with video of the pole dance performance Monday at the Xinshahui Kindergarten in Shenzhen, accompanied by outrage and wonderment that anyone would think pole dancing was a reassuring way to greet anxious children being dropped off for a new semester.

Ceremonies for the Chinese school year are usually solemn affairs, and so social media platforms like Weibo and Chinese news outlets erupted with demands for an explanation and punishment.

In the video, the children standing around the outdoor stage did not seem gripped by the spectacle of a woman in black shorts and a top doing sultry spins and high steps and then falling to the floor while shaking her hair around. Small girls in red marching band uniforms stood impassively in front of the stage in the schoolyard while the pole dancer flounced in front of them.

“Children are quite simple; they wouldn’t think such complicated thoughts about this,” Lai said later in a telephone interview. “They’d just think that it’s amazing for someone to be able to fly on a pole like that.”

But at least some of the parents were agog. Michael Standaert, a U.S. journalist in Shenzhen who sends his children to the kindergarten, recorded the pole dancing, and his astonished anger, on Twitter.

“Who would think this is a good idea?” he wrote. “We’re trying to pull the kids out of the school and get our tuition back.”

Standaert said this was not the first time the kindergarten had left him wondering whether he should withdraw his children. In July, he said, it held “10 days of military ‘activities’ and displays of machine guns and mortars at the door.”

One parent, in a report by the Southern Metropolitan Daily, a newspaper in Guangdong province, questioned how parents could possibly feel comfortable sending their children to a kindergarten led by someone with that kind of taste.

Another, blunter comment questioned the principal’s sanity.

The kindergarten issued an apology.

“There was a lack of comprehensive consideration of the contents of the performance,” said its message, which was reported by the Chinese news media.

But Chinese officials — who have learned to be wary of the power of angry parents — went further. The education bureau of the Bao’an district in Shenzhen where the kindergarten operates called for the principal, Lai, to be dismissed and said the kindergarten would be investigated.

Lai said her intentions had been misunderstood.

“My whole career in education has been destroyed by just this one event, just five minutes of performance,” she said. “The internet is too powerful.”