PART I: Premature expertise and the exploitation of kids in dance
After a weekend of witnessing more dance than I ever care to see, I thought it would be a good time to share some of my thoughts on the subject of dance competitions, age appropriateness, and the discretion of dance studios. After much discussion with my staff, my colleagues, my students, and parents of young dancers - I felt compelled to write about my opinions on these subjects.
Let me start by saying I don't wish to discredit any other business or organization while talking about this and will refrain from being specific or naming names. I suppose one thing I can be specific about is the television shows like "Dance Moms" and "Toddlers in Tiaras". These shows depict a culture that I feel is inappropriate for children, and yet people are mesmerized by these programs. I suppose it's like seeing an accident. You just can't help but rubberneck.
Now I'm no prude.... I worked in Las Vegas for many years. I was NOT a topless dancer. However, I was around it and never felt it inappropriate as it was specifically for adults. I performed in somewhat provocative shows that I felt were tastefully done and were in a place where you knew what to expect. There is no denying that dance is a sensuous art form and can easily be very sexual and provocative. Heck, there is an entire industry based on this (exotic dancing).
Over the past weekend I attended one of the many dance competitions that go on every week all around the country. I viewed hundreds of dances from a variety of studios in my area. The children ranged in age from 4 to 19. Many were highly skilled dancers who put in thousands of hours to hone their craft. Their dance skills were astounding. They were well rehearsed and totally prepared.
Now, I understand the desire to strive for excellence and technical expertise, but here is one of my dilemmas: what is the reason for pushing a child to the pinnacle of precision at a young age? These kids are not aiming towards becoming a ballerina or professional modern dancer as far as I can tell. They don't seem to be looking to dance on Broadway. Perhaps they are hoping to one day win a spot on "So You Think You Can Dance?". (Another subject I hope to address) Nope, that's a long way off. They are just dancing. A lot. To become a company member at many of these studios, you cannot do anything else. No cheer leading, no chorus, no school dances, no other extracurricular activities at all. The rules are stringent and the hours numerous. Many times they are pulled out of school to rehearse for competitions and they compete most every weekend. It's overkill at it's finest.
These kids are young and influenced by the adults in their lives. Their parents are in control. I suppose a parent is entitled to do whatever they want with their child as long as they aren't breaking the law and/or abusing them. If they want their kids to miss school to rehearse... then that is their prerogative. I'll keep my opinion limited on this.
The real issue for me is with the educators and choreographers. In my observation, many of the instructors and choreographers are young and exploring their own expression which of course includes sensuality. It is possible they have not yet developed an opinion about children and provocative dancing as they are still immature themselves. Whatever the reason, it seems they just don't consider it. They are just responding to the music that inspires them without considering the impact of their creation on a young impressionable child and the audience that will be witnessing it. Many choreographers do not have access to grown dancers and so they place their work (that would be amazing on an adult) on children and/or teens. I understand choreographers see a vision but many times it turns out that they are acting out their fantasies on the wrong group....
I feel there should be careful consideration in the creation of any dances performed by children.
Here's the other thing, these wonderful young people are missing some very important things in their life. Kids need time to be kids, right? They should be able to go out and play, ride their bike, watch cartoons, or play with dolls. Instead many of these girls (in particular) are performing to songs such as "two ladies", "my discarded men", and other luscious morsels of musical genius (I actually do think they are genius in the context of the musicals they were written for!). What is the child really gaining from all this? I believe it is this: An ability beyond their years that will be burnt out by the time they are able to utilize it as a professional, a warped sense of what is appropriate, and sexual eroticization at an inappropriate moment in their life.
As a studio owner, I take it very seriously that I am influencing young people. I am cautious and I encourage my staff to be careful about the material they present. Suggestive music in combination with suggestive movement and provocative costuming just isn't the image I care to project. Occasionally our older students will touch on more mature subject matters and some sensuality, but we try to be subtle or maintain a sense of humor about it.
I do feel that many other studio owners are ignoring the red light of conscience when it comes to dance. They assume that because it is dance, it is OK to be revealing in costume and suggestive in movement. They do not bother to filter their music and it's subject matter. It is a very precarious balance we must strike as dance educators. I feel as if there are many studios that for years have ignored this responsibility. I do not claim to be perfect in this sense but I am very aware of this aspect of dance education. Children need to be children, even when they are dancing.
by Ann Bode
- ▼ November (3)