Wednesday, June 9, 2010

What's with That?

I think I may have even talked about this before but maybe I haven't, so I would be curious to see what others think. My ponderings today have to do with the sweeping trend towards girls taking dance. I don't have a problem with dance per se but when did it turn into something that seems just shy of pornography?

I grew up in a big city and my father has a background in theatre (meaning that I am probably a terrible snob when it comes to this stuff, I admit it). He taught drama at a school for the arts (not an academic school but a school that consisted of several professional dancers teaching dance, a professional artist who did arts classes that were primarily things like batik and block printing, professional musicians who did recorder and piano classes, and of course, dad taught drama). I spent a LOT of time in the church basement that they rented, taking different classes. Our ballet class was strict and taught in the European style - we wore black leotards, flesh coloured tights with the seams up the back, pink ballet shoes, hair HAD to be back in a bun and we spent a good portion of our time working at the barre or doing drills in lines. We curtsied to our teacher and called her by a formal name. It was very structured. There was a recital every year and we did have costumes but they weren't terribly elaborate and tutus were something that were for ballerinas, which we, at that young age, we made painfully aware, were not. Toe those and toe work were earned and certainly not something that was explored until we were older and have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that our fragile bones were ready. Some of the girls I studied dance with went on to audition and be accepted into the National Ballet school. The whole thing probably wasn't all that much fun but we adored it and it taught us a lot about the discipline involved in being a dancer. I still remember being in grade one and the only books I ever took out of the school library were the ballet books - the books with endless black and white photos of positions and the stories of the great ballets (I have tried and tried to find something similar to the wonderful "Royal Book of Ballet" for my nieces that I had as a child but they don't seem to publish anything like that anymore).

Fast forward many years. I stopped dance - I do not have a dancer's build and music really became my passion (I studied music at university and while I decided that a career in music was not for me, I think I have a pretty clear understanding of what is involved and I still dabble a lot in music for children). About 5 years ago, my niece began to take ballet and the family was invited to her recital. We looked forward to it, thinking that we knew what to expect. I almost had a heart attack when we saw the "show".

I couldn't believe it. First of all, the "glitz" and make-up was over the top, the costumes looked like something from a really bad beauty pageant and I saw more skin that I ever thought possible on 6 and 7 year olds (I don't understand why we would need to see 7 year old navels). Much of the dance was highly suggestive (dh turned to me after about 4 numbers and asked when the pole dancing class was going to perform) and I later found out from the s.i.l. that my niece's two costumes cost a total of $175. The music was bad pop stuff and disney (I was shocked, we had always danced to classical played by an accompanist). I know, I must be a prude and conservative and closed-minded but it blew me away. I had to really fight not to let my face show what I was thinking.

We put it down to the particular dance school and the small town that s.i.l. lives in and just thought, "Well, it wouldn't be something we would be allowing our children to do but hey, to each their own, I guess." Over the last few years, I have come to see that this particular dance school is not unusual in its approach after all. I am a teacher and frequently have girls in my class who bring in pictures from their recitals and the amount of make-up and the scant costumes takes my breath away, especially among the girls who do "competitive dance". What is the purpose of this? Since when did teaching young girls dance turn into something so suggestive? Does this really teach them anything useful about the arts? Yes, my nieces do some exams that involve certain steps and techniques that are required in the different dance forms and I guess they are getting exercise but since when did dance really go so far over the top?

Am I the only parent who has some discomfort with this? I was reading a "mommy blog" the other day that I sometimes visit and she had posted the story of her daughter's dance recital and it was the same kind of thing - the show was some crazy 4 hours long, even the littlest children were expected to stay the entire time, the mother was criticized for not putting enough make-up on the child and the child was upset because the dance school had a hard rule about no underwear under the costume (to avoid panty lines). I have another friend who ended up pulling her daughter from the figuring skating show at her skating school because the costumes were so suggestive and the theme of the show was so dark.

Is this really teaching the kids about the arts? I realise that "the arts" comprises so much and being controversial is part of the package. Freedom of expression and all that... but still, is it really necessary at such a young age? Is this how it has to be? For me, the choice is easy. We will just try and encourage Pk to go the music route - whatever instrument she chooses, we don't have to worry about skimpy costumes or suggestive poses... we may spend hours in the car driving to lessons and thousands of dollars but at least we can avoid some of the "beauty pagaent-esque" trappings that seem to go along with it all these days. If she wants to take dance, I guess we will do a lot of shopping around and try to find something that is a little more classically oriented but I begin to doubt that it exists, at least up here.

Is this just me? Have I really become so incredibly closed-minded and conservative or are there others of you who find this a bit much?


  1. You are not alone in these thoughts. I was not allowed to take dance when I was growing up...for the very reasons you have stated here and that was 25 years ago! But now that I am older and have daughters of my own, I see the wisdom in my parent's decision.

    Kayleigh, my 3 year old, is obsessed with princesses and ballerinas. We struggle with encouraging her to be who God created her to be, but not feeding her obession in an unhealthy way. She has a few ballerina costumes that grandma got her and some ballet slippers and loves to dance to classical music (in fact, I got Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella - classical ballets, not Disney - from the library for her to listen and dance to)

    She really doesn't know that many girls her age are taking ballet lessons...I know she will figure it out and we'll cross that bridge when we get there. But our girls will not be allowed to take dance lessons (unless it's an exposure class offered through our homeschool co-op...they did that in the fall and it was very tame)

    I don't care if others think I'm a mean, restricting parent for creating these rules. I don't even care if she resents me for it (as I resented my parents). I do care about protecting her training her up in the way she should go... I'm pretty sure that doesn't include seductive dancing!

  2. Thanks, Jill. It's nice to know that I am not alone and given that you are a musician and involved in the arts, I find this reassuring that I am not alone.

  3. Tea started ballet at 3, like I had, and her school is nothing like that. Some of the costumes for the jazz, modern and tap classes are funkier or less "traditional" than the ballet ones, but certainly not risqué. And make up is recommended but not required, with a light touch.
    Not all dance schools are created equal and I've found it really depends on how professional the background of the person running it.

  4. It's not just you - I also took ballet at a dance academy in a church basement, and was expected to wear what young dancers in training wore - black leotards, pink tights and slippers. For a recital, I remember my mom sewing my character skirt.

    So far, Pumpkinpie's dance experience has just been informal, at Parks & Rec, with no real recital, which I'm fine with - it's given her a bit of a taste, without being pricey.

    But no way am I interested in enrolling her in Vegas training, thanks.

  5. Kittenpie, you can ALWAYS make me smile - I love the Vegas training! That's it exactly. And Catriona, I agree, I think that so much of it does have to do with the background of the teachers (a bit like music lessons - they do seem to range from high quality, technique-based teaching right to glorified karoake). Sadly, at least with dance, it seems that once you leave the city, it's hard to find a school with teachers with that more serious background.

  6. I hope to be able to enroll my daughter in dance if she really wants it, but that will depend on the factors you listed. Otherwise... piano, anyone?