Frequently Asked Questions:
Does YPAD want to “police” music, movement and costume choices in the dance world?
No. YPAD’s focus is on providing education, resources and support so that we can work together to keep youth and teens happy, healthy and safe in dance. We believe that dance professionals play a key role in influencing the self-esteem and identity of those under their care. Our goal is to share tips and tools to everyone in the world of youth dance (including studio owners, instructors, competition and convention owners, parents, and the dancers themselves) in order to avoid potentially harmful situations. To be clear, YPAD isn’t interested in blanket censorship, policing the dance industry or in spearheading legislation. Instead, we believe that education leads to self-regulation.
If I can’t use sexualized music, movement or costuming won’t that limit my artistic expression and/or freedom of artistic speech?
First and foremost, we believe in the creative power of our dance peers – every day we see examples of talented choreographers and dancers creating amazing, positive, and healthy dances. It can be done.
Second, similar to academic institutions, dance educators are ethically responsible for creating a healthy and safe learning environment for their students. When we work with children, we give up a certain degree of artistic freedom, by necessity. We would never bring a nude model into a junior high art class, or use “Fifty Shades of Grey” as a high school English class reading assignment. Dancers are both athletes and artists, and we use our bodies for expression so the safety of the learning environment is, in many ways, more complicated than in an academic classroom. However, in dance education and all other types of education there is a common denominator: The educational methods we use with children are going to differ from those we use with adults.
You’ve said that sexualized costuming can be harmful, but aren’t children, even less dressed when they’re in a bathing suit?
We wear different kinds of clothing for different purposes. Some are functional. Coats keep us warm in winter, leotards allow us to stretch and move freely, swimsuits help us glide in the water and maybe and get some sun. Other forms of clothing are highly decorative — less function and more form (like prom dresses or tuxedos). Dance costumes tend to be more form than function, as they are often designed to enhance expressive features in dance, all while allowing the dancer to move.
When sexualized costuming is used, it’s not the same as being on the beach in a bathing suit. When children wear bathing suits at the beach or pool, they are not on display for an audience. Even if a costume looks like a bikini, it is not functioning as a bikini – its function is mostly expression. And when the message behind that costume choice is “be sexy,” the children wearing those costumes are being sexualized.
On a related note, are you against bare midriffs?
No. We don’t believe that the midriff is sexual in nature, as it is the core and foundation of dance; however it is sexualized in culture and research reveals that it can be a point of shame and comparison for many young dancers. We have recommendations and resources for keeping it “body positive” on our website: http://www.ypad4change.org/standards/. We invite you to use these resources to help facilitate a conversation with your dancers on these important issues.
If you don’t like certain types of music or movement, then don’t use/do them. But why impose your opinions on others?
Our commitment to creating positive, healthy and safe dance environments for our children doesn’t come from our opinions. Rather, it comes from a large body of research and advice from the top psychologists, policymakers, professors, health care professionals and youth dancers themselves who agree: unhealthy dance environments are harming children.
What’s wrong with “dancing sexy”? Don’t we have the right to express our sexuality?
Adults absolutely have the right to express their sexuality, including through dance. We are sexual beings and healthy sexuality is an important part of life. However, when adults impose sexuality on children (whether it be through instructing a child to do sexualized movement, dance to highly sexualized lyrics, wear sexual attire, or “act sexy” for the camera/audience), the effects can be very damaging. Children can begin to view themselves as objects, only appreciated and valued for their sexy appearance, as opposed to their competence, training and skill. When expressions of sexuality are one-directional, as is the case in dance performance (designed for a viewer, a judge, or an entire audience to look at and evaluate) then the “expression” of sexuality is not mutual or consensual. The expression is solely for other people’s enjoyment. When very young children “perform” sexuality this way, then they are learning that their bodies belong in a sense to others, not to themselves.
And while YPAD’s mission is focused on protecting children in dance, we are concerned with the increasing levels of objectification of adults (especially women) in our media-saturated culture and in the world of dance. Young dancers admire and emulate their instructors, as well as the adult dancers they see on YouTube, in music videos, on awards shows, etc. When those adults are being objectified or engage in self-objectification, those behaviors become not only acceptable to children, they become influential. We are encouraged, however, by the work being done by amazing organizations like the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, RewindReframe.org , American Psychological Association, the #WomenNotObjects campaign and others to address these disturbing trends on a more general level.
Children don’t understand the sexual messages or double-entendres, so how dangerous can lyrics be?
Unfortunately, there is a great deal of research that shows that children often DO understand lyrics and, in fact, these lyrics actually impact the way children’s brains, identities and attitudes toward sex, drug-use and violence develop. This is especially true for adolescents, who connect deeply with music. For them, music influences identity development probably more than any other entertainment medium.
In a nutshell, when lyrics suggest that men they force themselves on women and treat them as sexual objects to collect, they can have a terrible effect on how boys treat girls. These types of lyrics can also teach girls that their main value is to give sexual pleasure, which can impair a teenage girl’s self-worth, (this, in turn can lead to a poor or distorted body image, eating disorders, depression, and even drug or alcohol abuse). On the other side of this is increased music messaging of females dominating and objectifying men. Music and music videos that distribute the message in order to be an empowered feminist one must take away the power of another gender and aggressively dominate them is not moving towards gender equality. This is teaching young girls a distorted definition of empowerment.
These effects can be compounded in the world of dance. When we dance to music, we simultaneously internalize it and strive to express the message of the song with our bodies. When we rehearse, we listed to the song – including the lyrics – over and over and over. When the lyrics of that song involve direct or indirect messages of sexualization, drug and alcohol use or violence, our child and teen dancers are hearing those messages in a very concentrated way. And when they are also affirmed by external sources such as social media, applause or a trophy, the effect of the sexualization is compounded even further.
Two psychologists on our Advisory Panel have weighed in on this important issue – please take time to watch Dr. Tomi-Ann Roberts’ and Dr. Christina Donaldson’s videos on our resource page
There aren’t that many “clean” songs out there these days – won’t we all be using the same music?
It’s true that lots of the popular music today contains profanity, sexualized lyrics and references to drinking, drugs and violence. This can make finding healthy music for your dancers more difficult. YPAD is committed to helping you – we are developing resources and relationships with groups who can make the music selection process easier. For example, please take a look at our curated list of age-appropriate music on Spotify, and check out our affiliates like Squirrel Trench music, which can edit music into a form that works for you.
But my students want to become professional dancers – shouldn’t they be learning the sexualized dance moves that music video choreographers use… or learn to dance in heels so they’ll know how later on?
Not all professional dancing jobs require sexualized movement. In addition, most of the sexualized movement we see adults doing in music videos, etc., require a solid foundation of technique, which is where we should be focusing our educational efforts with children.
There’s also a risk of physical injury. Children’s muscular and skeletal systems are not fully developed and dancing in high heels creates the same risks as putting a child on pointe in ballet too soon.
For children who are preparing to enter into the professional dance world, it is crucial they are aware of their worth as humans so they can advocate for themselves. Exploitation in the dance world comes in many forms, whether it be dancing on concrete without hazard pay, being paid under Dancers’ Alliance rates, or being sexually harassed on set. Staying healthy as an adult in the professional dance industry requires a strong self-esteem and the ability to enforce safe boundaries. We can help children build these skills now by teaching them that it is okay to act their age, to advocate for themselves, and that they should never compromise their physical, emotional or sexual well-being for any job.