Go-go dancers at Tahoe outdoor film fest sparks dialogue on objectification of women
The presence of female go-go dancers onstage at the annual Tahoe Adventure Film Festival has sparked discussion on the objectification of women — and their fight for inclusion — in the outdoor industry.
The Tahoe Adventure Film Festival (TAFF) hosted its 15th annual event last Saturday. The sold-out event showcased a selection of films featuring extreme athletes rock climbing, surfing, skiing, boarding and kayaking.
TAFF founder Todd Offenbacher said that after feedback from attendees, this year’s event included more female athletes in the films — and for the first time in the festival’s 15 years, a female athlete, Olympic snowboarder Jamie Anderson, won the Golden Camelot Award.
But this year, the continued use of minimally clothed female go-go dancers at the event has received social media backlash from women who argue it represents the continued sexualization of women in the outdoor industry.
“Though it might be a small thing to have half-naked dancers at the event, it’s evidence of the outdoor industry continuing to use women as decorative objects, eye candy or merely sexy props, whose job it is to smile, flirt and boost men’s egos at outdoor industry events,” said Lara Miller, the owner of a public relations company in South Lake Tahoe.
“The Heavenly Angels are another example of this within our community. Change starts at the granular level and in our own communities. If South Lake can truly reflect inclusion at their events, it will only benefit the community,” continued Miller, who decided last year to stop attending the festival because of the dancers.
Miller said her intention is not to put down the women who choose this job, but she feels that at a festival billed as an inclusive, outdoor-focused event, it sends the wrong message.
“There is a disconnect for me. I don’t understand what go-go dancers have to do with the adventure sports industry,” said Aimee Malia Doran, a pro skier based in Squaw Valley.
Doran said she’s experienced first-hand what it’s like to be treated as a lesser athlete, including receiving less promotion and prize money at competitions than her male counterparts. While competing in the Rahlves Bonzai Tour, a race coordinator did not believe that Doran and the other female skiers had faster run times than most of the male snowboarders, and therefore should go ahead of the boarders and follow the male skiers.
“All of the women kept trying to explain that to him. But it took five dudes telling him that before he agreed,” said Doran. “It’s already hard enough to compete. It’s scary — and to not have that support from the person running that race is heartbreaking. It is a synopsis of what we experience in the industry — of people not taking us seriously. I don’t think having go-go dancers at an event is bad necessarily, but I think it creates a culture of voyeurism instead of participation and inclusion. It forms this disconnect that women are here to be looked at instead of women are here to participate just like us.”
Jen Gurecki, CEO and founder of Coalition Snow, a Truckee-based company that crafts skis and snowboards for women, pointed out that although the dancers have been used at the festival since its inception, the conversation is only now heating up.
“There’s been go-go dancers ever year, and now is when people are actually saying something about it. Obviously this is a very interesting time in our society with the #MeToo movement and having a president who talks about grabbing women by their pussies. Women are fed up,” said Gurecki.
Gurecki said she’s never felt that women had an equal position in the outdoor industry, and that’s one of the reasons she felt so passionately about creating Coalition Snow.
“Male privilege has been so normalized that we’ve never actually questioned it. The objectification and sexualization of women has been so normalized, we’ve never questioned it — and now we’re in a time in society when we’re questioning it even though it’s always been an issue,” continued Gurecki.
“There is not a problem with women who choose to dance, and there is not a problem with women who choose to work in the sex industry. It just comes down to who is in control of it. I think the challenging part of this situation is you have so many women who feel a part of the outdoor community, and they want to have ownership over that community, but they don’t feel like they have been able to have a say in how women are represented.”
Gurecki points to the Lange ads, which depict female athletes in nothing but lingerie and ski boots.
“Todd [Offenbacher] has done an amazing job building something for the community and it adds a lot of value and brings people together and makes people proud of living in the mountains,” she continued. “Here’s an opportunity for him to make the event even better by reassessing the values of his community and recognizing that the go-go dancers aren’t what people there come for.”
ANOTHER FORM OF EMPOWERMENT
Offenbacher said the reactions to the go-go dancers this year make him “really sad.”
“Anybody who knows me knows my intentions are genuine and pure — to celebrate this amazing lifestyle in Tahoe and to make the festival action-packed,” said Offenbacher. “This year was about celebrating women in adventure and action sport. I wish I would have thought to include male dancers, too.”
In past years, there have been male break-dancers, drag queens and a “little person,” he said.
“It’s a celebration and the dancers are 100 percent intended to be entertaining and exciting.”
Not all female athletes take issue with the use of the dancers.
“I definitely don’t think the dancers are taking anything away from the female athletes that are highlighted in the films,” said Olympic Valley pro skier Elyse Saugstad, one of two female athletes featured in the film “Drop Everything.”
“I think that as women there are all kinds of forms of expression. I know they work really hard. I am familiar with dancing, and those women, that’s their job. To pick on them doesn’t seem right to me. The idea of showcasing and empowering women, we come in all forms.”
Saugstad sees the dancers as part of the South Shore “flair” and “culture.”
“It’s about the context of where we are. We’re in a casino showroom. Tahoe culturally is known to have nightlife and dancers and skiing and outdoors. I think that it just goes hand in hand,” said Jessica Broyles, owner of Champagne Productions, a talent management company for singers, dancers and aerialists in Lake Tahoe — and the agency that provided the go-go dancers at TAFF.
“It’s about animating the event. You can’t inspire women by trying to be just one type of woman. There are all types of women,” added Broyles, noting that the dancer’s costumes are not about “sex appeal,” but “creative expression.”
Lauralynn Balcerzak, known by her stage name Featherpistol, was one of the dancers at the festival.
“I think the big issue at hand has to do with what kind of empowerment we’re talking about,” said Balcerzak. “This is about celebrating the female body. That doesn’t mean that we are demeaning ourselves, in fact, the whole point is equal but feminine. Equal but different. Equal but not men.”
“I’ve been a trained dancer since I was 5 years old. I worked hard to be the performer and artist that I am — same goes for the skiers and the rock climbers that were being featured,” added Sarah Roulias, another dancer from the festival. “We should have the freedom to be whoever we want to be as women.”
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