RATIONALE: Movement Sends a Message and Teaches Children Boundaries for Their Bodies
As dance educators, studio owners, competition owners, judges, choreographers and facilitators of art for youth, we bear the responsibility of making sure that every piece of choreography that hits stage or technical drill practiced in class is age and developmentally appropriate. It is very important that the creator of the movement err on the side of safety when deciding if a certain set of movements could possibly expose dancers to an over-sexualized atmosphere. This includes freestyle and improvisation. This also puts a large responsibility on the competitions and those who judge. We must stop rewarding competition pieces that sexually package our youth. Movement also includes the face and the way some are instructing our young dancers to use their expressions, gaze, eye contact, tongues, winks, finger sucks, etc. Reports indicate many judges and family members have felt extremely uncomfortable on the other end of inappropriate face choreography. Dance educators need to insure that the primary pedagogy of teaching the art of dance is agility, flexibility, strength, technique, advanced skills within various disciplines, as well as performance, musicality and texture. All of this can be accomplished with a class and performance curriculum that doesn’t include movements, facials, staging or styles that are hyper-sexual in nature. There are SO many stories our youth can tell through movement they genuinely can relate and embody. Let’s work with that!
STANDARDS AND RECOMMENDATIONS:
Dance students should not be instructed or encouraged to do dance movements that:
- Are sexually suggestive such as twerking (this excludes African, Afro-Caribbean or Brazilian Dance moves or any movement of hips, pelvis, buttock and torso that do not promote a sexualized message), “booty pops”, lip licking, finger licking, and breast or groin stroking, patting or pointing towards breast or genitalia, or lip pouting that promotes an sexual tone.
- Mimic obscene gestures, drug or alcohol use, or gang activity (i.e. flashing “gang” symbols, middle finger, licking the hand and grabbing the crotch).
- Include sexually suggestive grinding, humping the floor, sexually straddling a prop (like a chair), back arches with bottoms to the audience in a suggestive manner.
- Use props that are sexually suggestive or meant to depict violence (whips, chains, guns or knives) unless they are part of age-appropriate storytelling (Pirates of the Caribbean, etc.).
- Staging the dancers in a row touching each other and then rolling their bottoms or gyrating their hips in sexually suggestive way.
- Spanking themselves or another dancer on the bottom or running their hands up another dancer’s body in a seductive manner.
- Crotch drops in a deep plié with knees and feet turned out, either by itself or multiple bouncing while engaged low on the floor.
- Contain artistic concepts or themes with sexual connotations or references to drug or alcohol use (such as “partying at the club”).
- Contain expressions that connote an “invitation” on the part of the audience to view the dancer as a sexual target (e.g., “come hither” looks, winks, long gazes and provocative stares directly into the eyes of judges or audience members.
Be thoughtful, especially with younger children when setting concepts that promote the “mean girl” mentality, gossip, sex appeal, affairs, etc. Remember that our young children may not understand the difference between stage and real life. The artistic concepts we use will teach them ideologies about boys, girls, relationships, values and even affect their occupational aspirations! Encourage movements that absorb your dancers in their bodies and bodies’ capabilities, not ones that get the loudest cheers from the audience due to trends.
YPAD recognizes certain artistic concepts that lead to a greater education and awareness of social justice or personal issues may utilize content with which some people might feel discomfort. We encourage you to be mindful of these sensitive concepts and artistic directions, as well as to communicate with dancers and parents to ensure that all involved are comfortable with the message being portrayed in the studio or on stage.
SPECIAL CONSIDERATIONS FOR FREESTYLE DANCING:
YPAD has seen a growing trend of adult sexuality being superimposed on freestyle choices of young dancers and teens. Applauding, rewarding and encouraging this has become commonplace. Our concern is that young dancers are beginning to replace individual, authentic expression and exploration of movement with the emulation and mimicking of sexualized trends. It is possible to counteract this by first raising awareness if /when you see a dancer defaulting to the movements described above. For example, you can suggest that the dancer exchange a sexy lip pout with a smile, or replace twerking with an uprock or tutting. Strongly encourage your dancers to try new isolations, levels, direction changes, footwork, arm choices and combinations of all these elements. Invite your dancers to express a spectrum of emotions on their face. This will bring out their unique freestyle and FREE them of hypersexualized mimicking!
SPECIAL CONSIDERATIONS FOR CONTACT / IMPROVISATION DANCE:
Contact/partner improvisation is and can be an important educational tool. However, when it isn’t properly taught and supervised, it can quickly become unhealthy and harmful. Children simply do not have the maturity and ability to set and defend their own physical and emotional boundaries during these exercises, which means instructors and studio owners MUST SET AND DEFEND THESE BOUNDARIES for them.
We believe that anyone reaching or supervising contact/improve dance exercises for youth students should exercise the utmost care, which includes:
- Making sure that your dancers know what to expect (physical contact, that there may be uncertainty, etc.).
- Actively preparing and supervising the exercise to ensure that all forms of contact and communication (both verbal and non-verbal) are appropriate, respectful and age-appropriate.
- Encouraging your students to say “NO,” walk away, or give a “stop” hand signal at any point if they feel uncomfortable. Let them know that they will not be punished or judged for stopping the exercise.
- Setting and enforcing ground rules for the types of touch and contact permitted during the exercise, such as:
- No touching, brushing or making hand or body gestures in a sexual manner.
- No intentional touching in any private areas (breasts, bottom, genitals, no mouth-to-mouth contact).
- No constraining, locking, pinning or grabbing another dancer in a ways that compromises their safety or limits their choice of dance movements.
- No forcing or surprising another dancer into a lift, or into bearing weight unsafely.
- No verbal or physical aggression, posturing or intimidation.