(POLE) DANCING FOR THE GODS
In rural Taiwan, an agricultural landscape of rice paddies and Chinese temples, one wouldn’t expect to see young, scantly clad women pole dancing atop Jeeps to Taiwanese-techno music. However, opposed to what outsiders may think, these women are in fact dancing for the gods in a ritual called “miào-huì” — “temple gathering.” This is a ritual of both Buddhist and Taoist religions, which often intermix in Taiwan.
21-year-old Yi-ting Li, is a dancer who freelances at miào-huì, earning around 2000 to 3000 NTD (between 60 and 95 USD) per gig. She picks up jobs on “Line,” the popular South Korean chat app, and posts her profile in groups for clients to browse. When she picks up a gig, she meets a driver at a certain location to make her rounds with a small group of dancers.
She is fully aware people may mistake her profession for something sexual, but she affirms that it isn’t. “People who haven’t seen this may think there is more to our work aside from dancing,” she says, “But usually if people watch us work, they will know what our work is. It is definitely not sexual.”
Indeed, at the community level, people see this type of entertainment a part of Buddhist and Taoist religious culture, meant for making an offering and giving thanks to the gods.
Yuan Horng Chu, professor of cultural studies at National Chiao Tung University in Hsinchu, has devoted his career to studying Taiwanese culture. He says classical community entertainment like opera and puppet shows are the origin of more exotic entertainment that started in the 80s. “There was probably 150 groups, and the business was booming,” referring to a trend called “diànzi huā chē” — “electric flower cars,” upon which women would entertain at temple gatherings and funerals, singing and performing striptease. This tradition, frowned upon by government authorities, has slowly faded away, making way for what Yi-ting does— simply dancing atop jeeps at temple gatherings without the striptease. Still, the juxtaposition of religion mixed with sensual entertainment remains apparent.
Despite however outsiders and authorities may judge Yi-ting’s profession, she is happy doing it, “To me, dancing is a really happy thing, because when you are dancing you wont think about all your problems. When you dance you can forget about that stuff.”