I know someone in prison. He’s a dance teacher—or was, before he was found guilty of raping girls he had taught at dance studios in two states. At this point, he’s been in prison for more than nine years with time still left to go.
Whenever I read a story about a dance studio instructor or owner being brought up on charges involving students under their care, I think of this guy. His convictions didn’t involve our students. We only knew him as charismatic. Super talented. Popular. That was before the stunning phone calls from the authorities.
For the most part, the tsunami of sexual misconduct charges that began to roll at the end of 2017 didn’t concern child predators. But the teacher–student power dynamic is ripe for exploitation, especially in cases where the child or parent is blinded by dreams of stardom—such as the egregious case of Australian dance studio owner Grant Davies—or when the staffer has unlimited access and authority—such as Dr. Larry Nassar, who worked for USA Gymnastics.
There is no obvious profile for a child predator. Looking back at recent arrests and convictions connected with dance studios, I see charges brought against males and females, ages 19 to 65; studio alumni, award winners, and longtime friends; owners, teachers, stage managers, gymnastics coaches, photographers, and even an IT person.
“There is just no employee interview that can uncover this type of thing,” one betrayed studio owner wrote on Facebook. Yet there are common-sense steps you can take. Install closed-circuit TVs in classrooms. Don’t allow private lessons in an empty studio. Forbid staff from giving students rides home or to events. Assign multiple monitors for dressing areas at recitals. Do employee background checks. Talk to your staff about boundaries, and to your students about self-respect.
Above all, keep your ears perked and your eyes open. With vigilance, we can start a movement of our own: #DanceStudioSafePlace. —Karen White
DSL editor in chief Karen White, a former newspaper reporter and freelance writer, has taught dance in private studios and choreographed musicals since age 17 and has no plans to stop.