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.
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. Y.P.A.D. is here to support you through this journey to becoming a dance activist! Phone consultations with Y.P.A.D. Advisory Panel members are available to guide you!
JUDGING GUIDELINES FOR “AGE APPROPRIATENESS”
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 I feel comfortable reading them out loud in front of this family-friendly audience?
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 (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.
Questions to ask yourself as a judge: Clothing 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. Does the costuming used in the piece contribute to an overall sexualized “message”?
Costuming is “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 (especially when 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
- Any attire that mimics lingerie and undergarments, or corsets and bustiers, IF they are intended to express adult sexuality (these items are acceptable if used in a non-sexualized manner, for example, in a historical period piece).
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, 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 doesn’t:
- 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, 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.)
- 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 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.
TIPS FOR DELIVERING FEEDBACK ON “AGE APPROPRIATENESS”
Critiquing the age appropriate category can be uncomfortable. We want to respect the artistic freedom of those we judge, but when we work with children by necessity we have to put their well-being first. This means, in some cases, we have to modify our artistic choices to keep them healthy and safe. We would never assign Fifty Shades of Gray for a junior high or high school reading assignment. Likewise, in dance we need to carefully think through the musical, costuming and movement choices we are imposing on our youth.
As a judge you have a powerful and sometimes difficult job of educating those listening to your critiques on subject matter that may have never been brought to their attention. Here are some tips for giving feedback on age appropriateness:
No teacher starts off thinking, “Hey, I want to impose sexualized content on my students!” And for most teachers and studio owners their students are family – very few would
ever hurt a youth dancer intentionally. But trends, 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.”
STRUCTURING THE FEEDBACK
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 ad style of the tops are exuding a sexuality I would only feel comfortable seeing on adult dancers. 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 provide 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 keeping the lyrics safe for your kids?