Not Exactly Billy Elliot
As a boy growing up in the 1970s in a small, rural county that had one dance school and one male student—the owner’s son—I couldn’t imagine getting a dance education. Mine wasn’t an Appalachian coal mining town equivalent to the mid-1980s Northern England in Billy Elliot, but in retrospect it seems close: a pulpwood company town of unions, strikes, and factory chimneys pumping out smoke.
I didn’t lack access to arts or arts education—I studied piano, voice, and guitar, and sang in several choruses. It wasn’t even that dance was altogether closed to me—along with my grandparents, parents, and sister, I joined a square dance club at the town armory. But ballet and tap, sadly, seemed open only to my sister and other little girls.
Moreover, I had little exposure to professional dance even as a spectator—we lived far from any large cities, cable television hadn’t yet reached our home, and the nearest public TV station where I might have caught a performance of The Nutcracker was far enough away that its signal was snowy, when we could receive it at all.
Fortunately, dance found its way into my life—and into my heart—nonetheless. In high school and college I performed in musical theater productions. After college I took some contemporary and jazz classes. Later, I spent years engaged in many different styles of folk dance. I became an avid fan of ballet and contemporary dance, of musical theater and old Hollywood musical movies. Eventually I made my way to Dance Studio Life, first as a writer, then as managing editor, and now as editor in chief.
As editor in chief, I’ll continue to work with the DSL team to bring you new ideas, sources of inspiration, and resources that will help you offer the best dance education possible to your students. Although I don’t come from the same dance education background as you, I share your passion for dance, for education, and for helping kids find beauty, grace, and meaning in movement. —Thom Watson
DSL editor in chief Thom Watson is an aficionado of ballet, contemporary, and folk dance. Formerly DSL managing editor, he has also been an internet and social media executive and a political columnist.
Autism in Girls
The story made so much sense that it was like reading news I already knew. “Autism—It’s Different in Girls” (Scientific American Mind, March 2016) looks at new research and suggests the reason boys diagnosed with autism far outnumber diagnosed girls (generally, 4 to 1) is that autism in girls doesn’t resemble autism in boys.
Early studies done by male researchers on male patients failed to take into consideration boy–girl differences in biological, social, and personal factors. In other words, autism was defined based on presentation in boys, and when girls didn’t fit the definition, the assumption was that whatever was troubling them couldn’t be autism.
This has led researchers to consider what links might exist between autism, girls, and issues such as anorexia, cutting, hygiene, and social awkwardness. “Aha!” went my dance teacher brain. How many conversations have I had about the female student who won’t wear deodorant? The teen who leaves class to calm herself in the bathroom? The little girl with the violent outbursts? The middle schooler who can’t bear to be touched?
Dance teachers deal with a range of personalities, and experience helps us recognize and push through our students’ bad days and foul moods. But then there are behaviors that fall far outside what we expect to see, confound us, and keep us up at night. Could any be due to autism?
Interesting, for sure, but my brain almost leapt out of my head when I read about Asperkids author Jennifer O’Toole, who spent her pre-diagnosed life full of anxiety and exhaustion as she worked furiously to camouflage her social awkwardness and sensory differences.
Anyone else encountering a high number of female students diagnosed with anxiety?
I’m no medical professional, but I found a lot that made sense in this article about “missing girls” on the autism spectrum, and how until more research is done and better diagnostic tools designed, “the experiences of women with autism should teach us to be more tolerant of socially inept behavior in women.” Or in little girls wearing tights. —Karen White
DSL associate editor 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.