OCEAN CITY — Perhaps emboldened by two prior federal court rulings that essentially defined freedom of expression and First Amendment rights as they apply to street performing in Ocean City, a 27-year-old Frederick woman has created quite a stir and pushed the envelope when she set up a pole dancing operation on the Boardwalk.
Chelsea Bell Plymale, 27, of Frederick, the self-styled “Pole Doll of Ocean City,” set up her pole-dancing operation on the Boardwalk at 2nd Street last Saturday night, instantly causing a large crowd to form and setting off public comments about what is and what is not acceptable on the famous promenade. She has been seen several times this week as well and on Thursday morning told her followers on Facebook she would be back out on 2nd Street after dark.
Backed by two U.S. District Court decisions in the last two years that went against the town of Ocean City and its ordinance regarding street performers, buskers all summer have been nudging closer to the line of what is deemed acceptable and what is not acceptable on the Boardwalk.
In one fell swoop last weekend, Plymale may have obliterated the line and walked, or danced, right on by it, but town officials and its police department are powerless to stop her with the teeth pulled from its busker ordinance and the court decisions protecting freedom of expression and First Amendment rights.
“Unfortunately, what she is doing is completely legal,” said OCPD Public Affairs Specialist Lindsay O’Neal this week. “She is exercising her rights to freedom of expression under the First Amendment and we have to adhere to that. We definitely don’t want to see pole dancing on the Boardwalk, but the federal judge made it clear in her decision on the prior cases that the First Amendment rights must be protected.”
For her part, Plymale, a former Frederick Community College student who now works as an entertainer and dancer at the Good Guys Club in Frederick, has said publicly and on social media outlets she is merely exercising her freedom of artistic expression and that what she is doing is not sexual or raunchy. She has pointed out many in the crowd were less clothed than she was while she was performing. She has also made it clear she is doing it for the money as evidenced by the tips collected on the Boardwalk last weekend.
It should be noted pole dancing is a growingly popular and socially acceptable fitness medium with a solid reputation for its physical exercise benefits. While no one would disagree with the benefits, few apparently believe pole dancing on the Boardwalk at the height of the summer season is acceptable. For the moment, at least, the city’s hands are tied to prevent it, but it will likely be addressed somehow during the offseason.
“No one wants to see that up there, but we’ll keep looking for ways to address this,” said O’Neal. “Our command staff is talking to the city solicitor and as it stands right now, she is protected by the court ruling. We’re currently working out things to see what we can and can’t do. Again, it’s a slippery slope and we’re hoping to find ways of allowing the performers to do their thing while protecting the visitors and protecting the town’s family image.”
Preserving the resort’s family image is paramount for city officials, but the issues with many of the street performers has made it increasingly difficult. Just in the last week or so, issues have been raised with some foreign student workers performing in costumes and accepting tips. This week, eight temporary henna tattoo stands were shut down when the operators were found to be in violation of their student-worker visas.
A frequent visitor to Ocean City, Ryan Huebel was on the Boardwalk last Saturday with a group of friends for a bachelor party weekend when he came upon Plymale and her pole dancing act. While admittedly no prude, Huebel said he was taken aback by the performance and the crowd that had grown.
“We saw a cop standing on a trash can videotaping her,” he said. “You should have seen the families walking by and watching with disgust. I guess legally she was wearing a bathing suit and dancing and wasn’t any more or less covered than many people on the Boardwalk, but it just didn’t feel like it belonged up there. It’s disappointing, but at the same time, it’s what it has become up there.”
Huebel said one member of the group attempted to put a tip in Plymale’s bathing suit, but she adamantly refused, as if accepting the donation in that manner would have taken the situation beyond a performance and into something less seemly.
“She was very savvy,” he said. “One of our guys tried to put money in her bathing suit and she was adamant that it needed to go in the tip box. She has done her homework and she appeared to be pretty smart.”
Huebel said the pole dancer on the Boardwalk represents the slowly chipping away family image in the resort.
“I’m not sure what the answer is, but the town or the police have to do something about it,” he said. “Ocean City is increasingly getting a bad reputation and the Boardwalk is becoming like a circus. We ordinarily go to Bethany or Rehoboth, but we were with a bachelor party and came down to Ocean City. I guess that kind of says it all.”