November 2016 | On My Mind


Words from the publisher

In the adult world, sex sells—witness Miley Cyrus singing nude in her controversial music video for “Wrecking Ball” and Beyoncé appearing on the cover of Time magazine in her underwear. But the rules for children are different, and they should be. Children depend on us to protect them from being exploited or sexualized. In a society that appears to accept and promote the sexualization of women and girls, it’s hard to stand strong and insist—as I’ve done for decades—that dance teachers must be advocates for their students. But I believe every dance teacher must stand firm against movement, music, and choreography that inappropriately sexualize young girls.

Photo by Mim Adkins

Photo by Mim Adkins

So I will continue to speak out about what I believe is a black eye on the dance education field. When it comes to the issue of inappropriateness, I have never had a discussion that didn’t start with teachers blaming the competition world. To me, that’s a cop-out to avoid taking any responsibility in the matter.

If a teacher has a group of 12-year-old dancers who work hard and have passion for their art, why would she choose to shift the audience’s focus to the dancers’ thigh-high boots and bra tops? Why couldn’t these students wear age-appropriate costumes that encourage audiences to appreciate the dancers for their abilities and effort instead of for their appearance?

I believe that dance teachers’ inappropriate decisions about costumes and choreography influence girls to believe that it is their bodies, and not their abilities, that they are showing off to audiences and judges. These inappropriate choices affect students negatively, decreasing their self-esteem and creating insecurities—and possibly resulting in body image issues, eating disorders, depression, and more. That is exactly the opposite of what a dance education should promote.

I challenge each one of you to think about the lessons you are teaching the girls and young women in your charge. These students need to know that their success in dance and life should have nothing to do with their sexuality. Let’s put the focus back on the joy of dance and a commitment to excellence.

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.