A New Awareness of Age-Appropriateness
by Karen White
Is it possible that age-inappropriate competition entries are losing their appeal? Caron Moore, founder and director of Encore Performing Arts Showcase, thinks so. “I feel that during the last two seasons, the sensationalism surrounding provocative routines is down,” she says. “There isn’t the same shock value.”
Moore says her impression that the dance studio industry is moving away from inappropriate material is based on conversations with her fellow competition directors, social media chatter about the subject, the style of costumes appearing in advertisements, and a general sense of what’s happening in the industry. For backup, she asked Encore show director Brad Barnes if he thought there were fewer pieces he felt uncomfortable watching. He did.
The two then thought about the next logical question—why? They discussed possible reasons, ranging from better educated audiences to a rising awareness among teachers, choreographers, and competition directors due to the work of organizations such as Youth Protection Advocates in Dance.
The ultimate responsibility for promoting age-appropriateness lies with the teachers and studio owners who work directly with these impressionable young students.
“We agreed that the industry as a whole seems to be paying attention to what is going on and making a statement by doing something about it,” Moore says. “I think everyone is seeing what the big picture is, and I feel positive about where we are headed.”
Age-appropriateness was rarely a concern during the 29 years Moore owned two studios in the Dallas/Fort Worth area and took her students to events such as Dance Caravan, Dance Olympus, and Tremaine Dance Conventions & Competitions. She sold her studios in 2007, and during the decade she has run Encore, Moore says, the world has changed: the rise of reality TV, YouTube, and social media means studio owners and choreographers are now pressured to get likes, hits, and followers. Contemporary choreography, often paired with angst-driven, mature subject matter, seems to be more highly valued than other genres by some young competition judges and teachers who have grown up in this media-driven world.
While it’s important for competitions to convey the message that age-appropriate dances in genres such as musical theater, tap, and even ballet, can win, Moore says that the ultimate responsibility for promoting age-appropriateness lies with the teachers and studio owners who work directly with these impressionable young students. Here are some simple rules to follow to achieve that end:
Music: Know what every song is about. If you have any doubts, look up the lyrics online.
Costumes: If a child seems uncomfortable in a costume, use your creativity to fix it or choose another.
Content: Learn and be respectful of your students’ emotional and social developmental ages. Moore believes some young teachers are uneducated about this, and it wouldn’t cross their minds that the piece they are choreographing is too mature for their students. “They just want to do these fabulous creative pieces,” she says.
Trust your instincts: If you find yourself thinking, “I wonder if this [blank] is inappropriate,” it probably is.
Two years ago, Encore changed its critique process: now a senior judge makes comments meant for studio owners’ and/or teachers’ ears only. Comments might be directed toward general educational issues such as students who don’t appear to be adequately trained or rehearsed, or age-appropriate questions concerning choreography, lyrics, or mature movement. This teachers-only commentary is placed on one USB drive, while the other two judges’ critiques are placed on a separate USB that can be played for students or parents.
“It’s gotten nothing but positive feedback, and we feel it’s made a difference,” Moore says. “If the senior judge feels something crossed the line, she can say so without jeopardizing the integrity of the teacher or the dancers. It’s professional to professional.”
Torment, or love lost, or sexual content—“that’s not the world of 7-year-olds, and it shouldn’t be in their world,” Moore says, adding that dance teachers are some of the most influential people in a young person’s life. “Let children be children,” she says. “It’s our responsibility as dance educators.”
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.