Sunday, November 13, 2011

Dance and Age appropriate material

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

13 comments:

  1. thank you so much Ann for writing this - honest writing and beautifully written. I really appreciate it. love you and love your tender heart and smart brain! xoxo

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  2.  I feel that by teaching our children that there is a time and a place where we are allowed to "perform through the art of dance" that they learn to direct that need to feel "sexual" through their dancing, and not through life experiences. My daughter has grown up in this competitive dance world where she is allowed to wear two-piece costumes and have her hair and makeup done for competitions...yet she is fully aware that none of this is appropriate outside of dance. She is an extremely conservative young lady when she's off stage. While I have witnessed other inappropriate costumes at some of these competitions I do feel that the ones that are done "tastefully" are not in the same entity as those others. There is a difference between performing and competing in dance. The point of competing is to win. In order to win you have to be willing to put in the blood, sweat and tears regardless of your age. Otherwise there are plenty of performance opportunities when it comes to dance, where there is no one judging your technical ability. Dance competitions are primarily based on technicality, which will only improve through lots of practice and hard work. I once heard this quote..."hard work beats talent, when talent doesn't use hard work". There is a lot of truth in this. As for what my daughter is looking to get out of her devotion to dance...well we don't know yet. But for now it is all she knows, and loves to do. I do know that her experiences have taught her that she can accomplish anything she puts her mind to. But she has also learned that it's not always easy, and never to give up. Dance is helping my daughter become the person that she is today...and that is not only an intelligent and talented young lady, but an extremely hard worker. 

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  3. No 8 year old should be feeling "sexual" through their dancing. It is not ok. Nor is it reasonable to think that a child, which is anyone under the age of 18 legally, can compartmentalize those feelings just for the stage. When fathers in the audience feel that they can not watch because it is criminal to witness young girls performing in a certain fashion, there is something wrong.

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  4. sassy22 - why don't YOU put on that "tasteful" 2 piece outfit and shake your ass on stage in front strangers and then comment on how hard work pays off--- whats the pay off???? blood sweat and tears go into age appropriate dance too. just sayin'

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  5. I am not at all trying to say that your dancers don't work hard...every dancer whether in a recreational or competitive category must work very hard. Nor did I say that my 8 year old feels sexual on stage.

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  6. I am not defending any provocative dancing that some studios may have competed with, rather trying to defend our studios costume styles and the amount of hours our dancers spend practicing. I would agree with you as far as inappropriate booty shaking amongst young dancers.

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  8. just a quick disclaimer... my reference to "Nine" was in no way a reference to any specific studio. I was using it to make my point. I actually did not see a number from "Nine" this weekend. I am not singling out any studio anywhere.
    It was my intention to open up dialogue. I am glad for the conversation. Please be civil in your discussion and refrain from referencing any studio by name. Do not call children or people names please.

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  9. As a dancer myself, I feel it appropriate to respond to Ann's writing. I find it inspirational that Ann would take this topic into consideration and set a voice to the thoughts of many audience members this past weekend. Being a young woman, I take pride in my body, but I also realize the essence of remaining covered. It would make me uncomfortable to look into an audience and find the several dads of young children looking back at me with a look of discomfort. I am a dancer, not for the trophies, but for the sheer enjoyment. When I dance, I could care less who is watching, let alone a judge. Let a judge give me constructive criticism on how to improve myself. But their word is not law and I don't go to competition to find "my place in the dance industry." If the point of competing is to simply win, then where is the fun? There is a definite difference between performing and competing, but if the attitude to "win" is the only thing thats of importance, than there is something wrong with the way society is headed. I look forward to competition to see inspirational dancers who LOVE WHAT THEY ARE DOING. I go to competition to compliment others on what I thought was impressive, and I go to competition to further improve MYSELF. Not to win, cause what's the fun of winning when there is no place to improve? What I saw this weekend wasn't girls who looked forward to the things I did. What I saw was parents vicariously living through their children, and young children acting in ways they shouldn't because they didn't know any better. Parents who take pleasure in watching their young child perform a crotch shot while wearing almost less than a swim suit are the reasons people should get a license to have children. I must also add, while competition is fun, dance isn't a sport. Yes, dancers are just as athletic as any football player, but we must remember that dance is an art. Art is something to be shared and not something that should be thrown into a competition every weekend. This is the reason that girls at competition are so volatile to one another. I watch band competitions where different bands socialize as friends and send "good luck" cards to one another. Why must this civilized attitude dissipate with dance?

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  10. I joined this conversation for the mere debate of it all. I find it interesting to hear everyone's input on this controversial matter. I think some of you are getting angry at my personal opinion, when the truth is we are all entitled to our freedom of choice. I support all dance studios that nurture and teach a love for dance. Each studio is unique in it's own way, and parents have the opportunity to decide on which studio fits their dancer and family the best. When I say that I don't have a problem with these two-piece costumes, that is just my belief system. I also don't have a problem wearing a two-piece swimsuit myself either....while I have plenty of friends that disagree and choose to cover up more. We are still friends regardless of our differences because we can embrace the fact that we agree to disagree. Just because I agree with these dance costumes does not mean that is what my daughter wears the whole time. Her group actually dances to songs from Peter Pan, Beauty and the Beast....and Sister Act. Not all of which had 2-piece costumes. My daughter does wear one for her solo...which I had custom made for her, and I believe is tasteful and appropriate for her. Now do I think you guys should all do the same for your daughters? No....not if that is not something you are comfortable with. You all obviously have a great thing going on that works for your studio, it's dancers, and the parents. I'm not judging you for your choice, and wish that you wouldn't judge me for mine. When you go to these competitions please try to embrace each studios differences...and stop wasting your time being angry just because it is not following your personal belief system.

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  11. I am new to this blog and know I am late with my comments but I have to say I absolutly am 100% more comfortable with my son being part of this dance studio after reading this article.My son is 4 and has shown interest in dance since he was a baby.He loves dancing so we enrolled him in the combo class and he is loving it.Before we enrolled him we gave him a choice in soccer tee ball and dance he chose dance.I hate seeing a parent push their kid into something.Yes they may have been interested at a young age as my son is but when they stop being interested even if they are talented at it you can't just make them keep doing it and push and push trying to create your own little superstar.I feel like yes you should encourage your child to work hard but you should encourage them to play hard too because if you don't when they graduate high school and get out from under your roof they are going to choose to play hard then.As for young girl feeling sexual and expressing it through their dance.Really???Tell that to the men in the audience watching trying to remind themselves they are young girls.having them express sexuality through dance is only encouraging sexuality.Not only in them but the boys watching them.So many parents want their kid to reach superstar status before they are adults they forget that they are kids and you only get to be a kid once.Why can't we teach our children that they don't have to dance or dress skimpy to get attention or to win in life.Parent stop pushing your dreams on your kids and let them be a kid while they can because it already goes by to fast as it is.They should take a look at some of the kids that have been famous wince they were little and ask yourself if you are doing anything different then their parents did.For what I have seen most of them have ended up on drugs,and messed up so bad it takes years to fix them is that what we want for our kids.Are we teaching them to be themselves and stand up for their values and that is more to life than winning or are we teaching them to be fake,dress like college girls,and winning is all that matters.Thanks for writing this and I am glad my son is in your class.

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  12. Everything you have said here is the reason we chose YOUR dance studio for our daughter. She's only 4 and I worry about ways to protect her from the sexualization of our society. I am SO happy that we found you. We were really impressed by the fact we saw you stand by these principles at the recital yesterday, no over sexing needed! =0)

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  13. I have just installed iStripper, so I can watch the sexiest virtual strippers on my taskbar.

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