Alexis Biggs shimmies up the pole before contorting her tanned limbs into position.
With one leg bent in front of her, she points the other leg straight out to the side, her opposite arm raised triumphantly to form what is known, among industry connoisseurs, as the ‘beach babe’ position.
Then, hoisted in mid-air, she crosses her ankles and places her left hand coquettishly on a hot pant-clad hip to showcase a move called ‘seated lady’.
Her diamante earrings glisten underneath her honey-blonde hair. As her audience applauds, she lowers herself to the floor and gives a coy smile.
It is an arresting sight. But not for the reason you might think. For Alexis is a seven-year-old who has been brought to this pole dancing class by her mother.
And she is far from alone. Little girls around Britain are ditching more conventional hobbies like pony club and ballet to take part in this disquieting new trend. It has become so popular that there are moves within the industry for children-specific qualifications among pole dance teachers.
Several hundred youngsters are estimated to attend classes in pole dancing – or pole fitness as it is labelled – across the country, and their numbers are steadily growing.
The mothers who are taking their children are from entirely respectable families. They claim to be cautious and loving parents, who see these classes as nothing more than a good way of keeping fit. But can they really be right?
‘When I hear about mums taking their daughters to classes like this, it angers and astonishes me,’ says child psychologist Emma Kenny.
‘To encourage young girls to use their bodies in a sexual manner is not, in my opinion, moral. Children are being pushed into adulthood long before they need to, and this is one of the most extreme examples yet.’
Since the Eighties, pole dancing has been synonymous with strip joints and lap-dance clubs. But a decade or so ago, it stopped being solely the preserve of red-light districts and moved into mainstream life. Sniggering hen parties took classes along with middle-aged women looking for a novel way to keep fit.
It is even being bandied about as a future Olympic sport, and last month The International Pole Sports Federation announced new regulations (no ‘overly-erotic’ dance moves in competitions) in the hope it will become more ‘respected’.
Despite these efforts, it has yet to shake off its sexual connotations. So it’s startling, to put it mildly, that pre-pubescent girls are now attending pole dancing classes.
‘It’s up to other people what their perception is, but to me it’s not at all the way other people make out,’ says Alexis’s well-spoken mother, Jean Heaton.
‘It’s keeping her fit and healthy, isn’t it? It’s simply not like it is in strip clubs.’
We’re talking at JLN Pole Fitness – the studio in Westhoughton, Lancashire.
A Playboy clock competes for space alongside Dirty Dancing and Fame posters. Blue disco lights line the walls. In addition to eight poles, there is a swathe of black silk hanging down to be wound around bodies and used as a prop.
Nearly everything else is pink – from the walls to the glitter pom-poms to Alexis’s sparkly cropped T-shirt. Jean, 31, a stay-at-home mother-of-three from Warrington, Cheshire, has been bringing her little girl here for six months.