Dancing Around the Porn Law

Photo by Belinda Lopez

Published in the Jakarta Globe. View PDF of publication here.

Pole dancers keep spinning as they wait for the government to decide if their art is illegal.

It looks like a giant condom!” Arianna Starr — Penthouse Pet, former Miss Nude Australia, striptease school teacher and tonight’s performer at Blowfish nightclub in South Jakarta — is staring at the costume the club’s management wants her to wear.

Since the controversial antipornography law was passed in Indonesia, it seems even the barons of Jakarta’s nightlife are getting worried about “violating public morality,” in this case, letting their risque Australian performers show a little skin.

“The condom” is shiny, tight and white, and shaped somewhat like an opal-colored full-length diving suit. Nothing like the cleavage- and thigh-revealing get-ups the adult performer has brought with her from Australia.
“Since [Indonesia] had the pornography law passed, they think that what we’re wearing is a little bit too skimpy, but you see, we need to look sexy,” Arianna says. “If we don’t look sexy, we don’t feel sexy, we don’t dance well.”

Candice Leigh, Miss Pole Dancer Australia 2007, looks reflective. “I feel like you’d want to be shot out of a cannon whilst wearing it,” she says. “But I’m sure that conforms to the standard of ,” a pause, “non-skin.”

Just moments earlier, a formally dressed Indonesian woman had walked into the change room and looked Candice up and down. The Australian pole dancing teacher is wearing a white bra with hanging sequins and a set of “butterfly wings” that she will flap around in during her performance.

“I think you’re meant to cover up as much as possible,” Candice says after the woman walked out again. “But unfortunately I need my skin to grip to the pole — I think [she works for] the main sponsor, Malboro, so obviously they just want to make sure they keep in with all the laws and stuff like that. They’re just being cautious, but again, I need my skin.”

Cigarette producer Malboro’s connection to the club is no secret. Behind the flashing staggered lights, between rolling waves shown on giant screens, the word “Malboro” appears hypnotically, subliminally; flashing to a techno beat. Attractive girls dressed up in costumes best described as sexy astronaut suits, complete with metallic gray eye shadow, strut the club, sporting the brand’s cigarettes.

While the porn law is yet to be officially enacted, the club now seems to be searching for the fine line between titillating their patrons and staying within the realms of soon-to-be legislated conservatism. Magda Hadiwibowo, the club’s PR representative, says it didn’t want to break the law, but would probably still have pole dancers at the club in the future.

While Candice and Arianna request vodka be rubbed all over the pole to degrease it and stop them sliding during their performance, they begin their stretches. So are they planning to incite sexual desire tonight, despite the antiporn law? “You know, I love sexual desire myself, but I’d like to be going home after this event, so I don’t think I’ll be doing that,” Arianna says, in the middle of a full-leg split.

Stretching is essential in the strenuous pursuits of pole dancing and aerial aerobics, which is a mix of contortion and weight lifting. During her own performance, Candice will be mindful of a rib she’s put out of place. Though no one in the audience would suspect it, as she grips the metal between her things, letting her butterfly wings swirl as she spins around the golden pole.
The club’s rainbow lights pierce through the silk. She draws hoots of approval from the well dressed crowd when she strips down to lace-up hot pants. “The club said no G-strings,” Candice says after the show.

Watching the show is Trent Roden, their promoter from the Australian management group Slingshot Entertainment. He splits his time between Jakarta and Sydney and says the new law is going to make things “interesting.” “There’s certain sensitivities here that coming from a Western country like Australia, we just don’t need to think about, it’s pretty free,” Trent says. “But coming here, doing business, we have to be aware of those extra certain things.”

Trent has brought these two Australian adult performers to Jakarta even though his own country presents a strongly worded warning against traveling to the city because of possible terrorist threats. US singer Rihanna canceled her Jakarta show in November because of security concerns after the Bali bombers’ execution.

“I guess we just keep under the radar a bit,” Trent says, “just do what we do.” But he is optimistic about the future of Jakarta’s entertainment scene. Arianna and Candice have been welcomed by the city’s friendly nightclub community, he says, and they’ll just “go by the locals” or seek legal advice to adhere to the pornography law.

He does not believe artists will continue to cancel shows in Indonesia — even if a little bit of coaxing is required. “They realize there’s a potential market here in Asia, there’s a door opening for them.”

Indeed, no security flaws or pornography laws are going to stop Arianna, running through the busy club wearing “the condom” to meet a DJ performing after her own gravity-defying act. “You know, I love life, I live every day as it comes,” she says. “And to tell you the truth, what’s life without a bit of excitement?”

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