SUPPORT FOR JUDGES, COMPETITIONS AND CONVENTIONS
Dance competitions and conventions, by nature of the age ranges they serve, need to be “Family Friendly” venues. Our research indicates many family members discontinue attending certain competitions due to feeling uncomfortable with the content. These weekends should unite families, not divide them. If you are a convention/competition owner, director, judge or staff member you hold a high position of power to influence standards through first, having protocols set in place and made clear to all those who participate before registering and second, enforcing them when necessary. This section will shift “age appropriateness” from being vague terminology that feels open to interpretation into a place of specific clarity with solid suggestions on how to maintain a YPAD culture at your events while building positive expectations with your dance families and clients.
While taking a tough stand on age appropriateness and if you choose, deducting points, does make a powerful point (and might be the easiest way to set clear parameters for judging), there are other ways to address this issue. One option might be to provide additional points for routines that meet all guidelines for being age appropriate. This would provide positive reinforcement for family-friendly choices, as opposed to “punishing” studios, choreographers and dancers for less healthy choices. We’re not advocating for this option specifically to stand alone as being silent is an educational opportunity missed, but it may be what feels the most doable for some competitions. A thoughtful mix of the two may be an effective solution.
JUDGES: Please keep in mind that your comments, or lack thereof, and tone is the number one reason that studios choose not to return. Please review the information below which provides options in how to better phrase commentary. Be thoughtful and be ready to back up your statements. If technique needs improvement explain what they can do to improve that movement. If you deduct points, be ready to explain why. Regardless, keeping children and their families in a positive and comfortable dance environment is a priority.
Clarify these standards with your judging panel is important to their success. YPAD offers training on how to implement them. Through specific, gracious and calm communication and sharing the WHY’s you will not only attract MORE families to your event but educate those studios that may not yet understand the importance of boundaries in the areas of music, costumes, movement and concepts.
For those that may push back, please remember no amount of money, politics or repeat customers should take precedence over keeping children and their families in a positive and safe dance environment. We understand it can feel intimidating to speak up but one voice turns into many and change does occur. YPAD is here to support you through this journey to becoming a dance activist! Phone consultations with YPAD Advisory Panel members are available to guide you!
JUDGING GUIDELINES FOR “AGE APPROPRIATENESS
STRUCTURING THE FEEDBACK
No teacher starts off thinking, “Hey, I want to impose sexualized content on my young students!” And for most teachers and studio owners their students are like family – very few would ever hurt a youth dancer intentionally. But trends, lack of education, excitement over the creative process and everyone’s increasing desensitization to these issues can lead really amazing, talented people to make poor choices. And when people hear negative feedback on a sensitive subject, one natural human response is, “it’s not my fault,” or “why am I being singled out?” (aka “everyone else is doing it, too”).
Shame and aggressiveness (while sometimes tempting) are usually not the best way to provide feedback in these cases. Staying positive, calm, on track and focused can help reinforce the message and make it more likely to be heard – because when people hear something negative, they often close their ears and their minds. Focus on giving feedback in a calm, even tone, with honest commentary. You could create a ripple effect and change minds. That is an incredible opportunity to embrace!
Another technique to consider would be to use “softer” terms and the “first person” (I, me), like “I’m wondering if you might consider”, “I feel like,” or “would you be open to exploring more age appropriate costuming in the future?” Also, phrasing the feedback in the form of a question can help. Many times, this works better than using the “second person” (you) and harsher language, such as “you need to select more family friendly music.”
Please do not comment on the dancer’s body shape, body size, weight, height, etc. Even positive comments may have a negative psychological impact. We should never assume the larger dancer is the one with a negative body image or needs to be “covered up”. We can never tell how someone feels about their body by looking at them or what struggles they may be having with disordered eating or eating disorders. In YPAD’s body image seminars, hundreds of youth dancers have reported people making commentary on their body parts that led to negative emotions and anxiety regarding the “dancer body” expectation created by media and perpetuated throughout our culture. Focusing on the amazing things our bodies do over how they look is a needed shift.
Consider using the “Put the medicine in the ice-cream” approach: Start and end with a positive comment, and put the potentially uncomfortable feedback in the middle: Here are some examples:
- Music: “I completely love the beat of this song but I think the lyrics are a bit racy for this age group. Try to take that into consideration. But I really do see where the rhythm matches your choreography style.”
- Costume: “Red is my favorite color but the small cut and style of the tops are exuding a sexuality I don’t feel comfortable seeing on teenagers. Great choice of leggings though!”
- Movement: “I see some heavy use of gyration and twerking. I understand that these moves can be used appropriately and artistically in certain cultural dances, but please reconsider twerking when working with this age group in this context. I feel it’s giving off a hypersexualized tone. I’m sure that wasn’t your intention so please keep this in mind. I really do love the staging though!”
Offer alternative solutions (offer an “and-and” solution, not an “either-or”). Rather than only providing commentary that a music, costume or movement choice was ”wrong”, try to provide feedback that highlights other solutions. Examples:
- “I see a tremendous amount of creativity here, so I’m wondering if in the future you could find a way to showcase this group’s amazing technical skills and at the same time use age appropriate moves?”
- “I love this song choice, too, but I feel like the lyrics are too adult for this age group. Have you considered doing deeper edits on your musical choices so you can select the music you want while at the same time create a healthier song for your kids?”
HOW TO IDENTIFY A POTENTIALLY INAPPROPRIATE ARTISTIC CHOICE:
Questions to ask yourself as a judge: What is this song saying to these dancers? What about the audience? What message does this song send about the value of human beings and human bodies? If I printed out the lyrics would the audience be comfortable listening to a young person read them out loud in front of this family-friendly audience? Would the young dancer feel comfortable reading the lyrics out loud?
Music is “Age Appropriate” if the lyrics and any other sound effects DO NOT contain any of the following:
- Explicit language (ask yourself if the lyrics or sounds be considered offensive or unsuitable for the dancers and/or the audience)
- References to/subliminal suggestions of (or sounds that allude to) adult sexual behavior (even if not explicit)
- References to criminal behavior, gang activity, dangerous behavior, violence, or physical or mental abuse
- Racist, homophobic, misogynistic or other language or behavior that could be considered discriminatory
- Lyrics that are misandrist (communicating a dislike of or prejudice against males) or misogynistic (communicating a dislike of or prejudice against females).
- References to drug and/or alcohol use.
The Psychology of Fashion is a fascinating field. Young children and teens are billion dollar consumers. Research does link sexualized clothing choices to body image issues, eating disorders, self-esteem, sexualization and objectification. Sexualized clothing can also contribute to the belief that young children and adolescents are appropriate sex targets.
Costumes that may be perfectly appropriate on its own can easily become hypersexualized when coupled with an inappropriate song message, seductive choreography and flirty facial expressions.
Questions to ask yourself as a judge: Does the costuming used in the piece contribute to an overall sexualized “message”? Does it make the child or adolescent look older than they really are? Does it mimic what you might see a pop star or a celebrity wear? What is its purpose? If it’s to make a young person appear more attractive, ratchet, sexy or hot, than the costume is not a healthy choice.
The “bare midriff debate”: A bare midriff does not equal hypersexualiztion. However, sexualized pop culture, fashion and marketing certainly have heavily influenced some areas of dance and the dance attire choices for our children and use the stomach as a vehicle for body shaming, sexualization and objectification. Whether you allow midriffs to be shown or require them to be covered up may have consequences and rewards.
Nude Fabrics: Nude fabric can absolutely be used in appropriate ways. Although “technically” covered, the use of nude fabrics gives the impression of nudity or covering only what is absolutely necessary. This perception may contribute to a sexualized tone, increasing the chances that the child or teen may be looked at as an acceptable sexual target. It may also confuse the child or teen about body objectification and boundaries regarding nudity.
Cut-Outs: Cut-outs can absolutely be used in appropriate ways. Be thoughtful about cut outs (even when fabric is used over area). Are they near the bottom, breast, hip or pelvic area or small of back? Do they add to a sexualized tone or imply only a certain body type could wear the design? Does it mimic something a pop star or celebrity would wear versus child appropriate fashion?
Tights or No Tights: There are many artistic and perfectly valid reasons to not wear tights with a costume. Acro-partnering, allergy to tight dye, sensory sensitivity, artistic vision and more. Bare legs do not equal inappropriate. When a dancer is not wearing tights their buttocks, groin and pubic area should still be covered. If you see any exposure of these areas due to no tights it is recommended that judges suggest costume glue or recommend tights for the comfort of the dancer and the audience. Please be mindful.
Costuming: “Age Appropriate” if it DOES NOT involve:
- Rhinestone/bedazzled bras that project a hypersexual undertone
- Thigh-highs that project adult sexuality and garter belts
- Booty shorts or bikini-cut shorts that reveal part of a dancer’s bottom
- Bikini tops that are made for swimming but used as costumes, IF they have nothing to do with the artistic concept, and project a sexual tone (ie: coupled with sexualized movement or flirty facial expressions)
- Fishnets IF they project adult sexuality upon young dancers (Note: if used in a non-sexualized context, fishnets can be appropriate – please be mindful of the overall tone).
- Leather/Cat suit/Dominatrix-type costumes
- High heels, thigh-high boots/heels that project a sexual tone (NOT including traditional dance shoes that have a low heel, such as character shoes, some tap shoes, etc., which are all fine)
- T-shirts that display a message of sex, violence or drug use
- Attire that mimics lingerie, undergarments, corsets and bustiers, IF they are intended to express adult sexuality (these items are acceptable if used in a non-sexualized manner, ie: in a historical period piece).
- Incorporate nude fabrics or cut outs that accentuate a hypersexualized tone
- No tights are worn and the buttock, groin or pubic area are revealed through the movement
C. DANCE MOVEMENT AND CHOREOGRAPHY
Note: Please keep in mind that “movement” also includes the face and the way dancers are instructed to use expressions, gaze, eye contact, winks, and other cues.
Questions to ask yourself as a judge: Dance is expression – what message is the piece’s movement and choreography trying to express?
Movement and choreography is “Age Appropriate” if it DOES NOT include:
- Contain sexually suggestive moves 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), sexualized “booty pops”, lip licking, finger licking/sucking, and breast or groin stroking, sexualized hair whipping and ponytail pulling, patting or pointing towards breast or genitalia, or lip pouting that promotes a sexual tone.
- Mimic obscene gestures, drug or alcohol use, or gang activity (i.e. flashing “gang” symbols, etc.)
- 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 (chairs, whips, chains, guns or knives, etc.) unless they are part of age-appropriate storytelling (Pirates of the Caribbean, etc.)
- Stage 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 t, 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
Concepts and Themes are “Age Appropriate” if it DOES NOT include:
- Sexualized behavior
- Racist, homophobic, misogynistic or other behavior that could be considered discriminatory
- Anything promoting violent or relating to physical or mental abuse
- Dangerous or criminal behavior that could glamorize such behavior or could be considered discriminatory; or may encourage others to imitate it
- Drug and/or alcohol use
- References or allusions to adult sexual activity (even if not explicit)
- Anything involving glorifying physical and/or gun violence, or gang activity
- Misandrist (communicating a dislike, contempt or ingrained prejudice against males) or misogynist (communicating a dislike, contempt or ingrained prejudice against females) concepts
Sensitive approach to the following concepts:
- Perpetuating “Mean Girl” or “Womanizer” stereotypes
- Heartbreak/Romantic Love
- Social Justice
Controversial subjects may include: religion, racial tensions, death, violence, terrorism, domestic violence, mental illness, abuse, addiction, Holocaust, slavery, eating disorders, body shaming, etc.
YPAD recognizes certain artistic concepts lead to a greater education and awareness of social justice, political, civil rights or personal issues and utilize content with which some people might feel uncomfortable watching. While we recognize that discomfort may be part of that education and that is perfectly normal, we are concerned if the dancers being utilized to carry the message are possibly not developmentally and emotionally ready to be a part of that concept.
For instance, themes such as domestic violence, mental illness, abuse, addiction, Holocaust, slavery, eating disorders, etc., have been growing trends among the competition circuit. When judging one of these pieces please keep in mind if negative stereotypes are being perpetuated, if content is being trivialized/sensationalized and if you feel it is appropriate for a family friendly event or could it potentially triggering to the audience members that could range from toddlers to the age of grandparents.
Ask yourself if this is the way a child’s imagination would interpret the concept OR has an adult taken a mature them and imposed it upon a child? Adolescents are still children and need to be advocated for equal to younger dancers. An adolescent brain is going through a second and last wave of brain malleability and are especially vulnerable to external influences. Children may also be experiencing some of the themes in their home and personal life and the content could be triggering.
Regarding sexualized content, ask yourself if the concept is mimicking or emulating the behavior of adult pop stars or celebrities, whether in music videos, on award shows or present on other media platforms. Be aware of power differentials and sexism/gender stereotypes that either overtly or covertly sends a message of objectification.
Be mindful of setting romantic concepts on young children. Developmentally we want little girls and little boys to have the chance to engage with each other as humans and develop healthy friendships free of gender stereotypes. This includes young students that may be exploring gender identity or already decided they are transgender and are making a transition. Creating concepts from “romantic love”, flirting, heartbreak, gender stereotypes, etc. too early may disrupt the healthy process of engaging with the opposite sex.
We understand studios usually have a large number of females and a smaller number of males and this can feel challenging when it comes to concepts, staging and costuming. The concept of putting the male in the center as the focal point, while the females compete for his attention, dance around him and in essence create a power differential of him being in charge and the females being accessories or vice versa, the females dominating the male or males, has the potential to send a dangerous message. YPAD believes there are so many creative concepts if we open our minds beyond these typical scenarios.
FINAL JUDGING SUGGESTIONS:
It is highly recommended to choose judges off of their credentials, experience working with children/adolescents and background in dance education, not social media following or fame. Judges are expected to understand the difference between the wow factor of dangerous tricks and displays of harmful hypermobility. Rewarding pieces that may utilize these skills have become a trend in the competition market. Its important judges are able to recognize and then carefully articulate what is developmentally safe and healthy. Whether it’s a child who is put en pointe too early or a piece that utilizes dangerous tricks, these are educational opportunities for the adults in charge of these young dancers.
Some helpful resources are:
- View “The Potential Harms of Hypermobility and Tricks” educational webinar by the YPAD injury prevention specialists.
- YPAD Certified Adjudicators, Competitions and Conventions have access to a self-driven online YPAD educational course specifically for training judges. (Avail 2018)