November 2015 | On My Mind

Words from the publisher

We all have opinions. And sometimes, when they’re on topics that have the potential to affect large groups of people, our perspective can be controversial. When I know that’s the case, I try to convey mine in a non-judgmental way, hoping to stir up thoughtful debate rather than offend people who disagree with me. Recently I stood strong on an issue, and I made some enemies. I get it—why would I oppose a petition, “Tell Congress to Protect Dance Kids”?

I’ll tell you why.

Government regulation of dance education is a bad idea. Government regulation of an art form would mean placing controls on a constitutional guarantee that the founders placed at the very top of the Bill of Rights—our First Amendment freedom of expression. Why would people want the government to take away the freedom to decide for themselves and for their own children which forms of dance are appropriate, or even permitted? Why would they want congressional oversight of dance education?

Photo by Mim Adkins

Photo by Mim Adkins

They want it because they hope to stop the inappropriate sexualization of dance for children. And they want to eliminate sexual abuse within the dance education field. So do I. But inviting government control over our schools is not the answer.

I am an outspoken advocate for age appropriateness in costuming, music, and choreography. I am horrified at the instances of abuse that occur in our schools (but keep in mind that these instances are, in fact, rare). We need to discuss these things; we need to take a stand against them; we need to set high standards so that others follow our lead as responsible school owners, teachers, and public speakers who protect children who dance.

What we don’t need to do is ask the government to do what we have the power to do. Policing the dance education profession is the responsibility of those who are in it. And that means every one of us. If you’re not already thinking about your accountability to the kids you teach and to the future of your profession, it’s time to start.

If you wonder if a song or costume is inappropriate, then don’t use it. If you believe that you must use provocative music, costuming, or choreography because that’s what will get a high score from the judges at a competition you go to, then it’s time to find a new competition. Differentiate between what you see on TV and what children should be performing, and let your students be the kids they are. And when you see something inappropriate, speak up. Talk to the teachers who presented the work or the competition directors who condoned that high score.

We can fight for what is right for children, and we should. We can be more effective than the government—and do less harm in the process.

As for making enemies, I can deal with that. I’m confident that I did the right thing for dance education by demanding that each person in the field take responsibility. Let’s stand for something. Let’s stand up for the kids.

DSL publisher Rhee Gold has owned a dance competition, presided over national dance teaching organizations, and founded Project Motivate. His book, The Complete Guide to Teaching Dance, is in its second printing.