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Friday, October 29, 2010

Have children's dance routines become too sexy?

A Youtube video featuring young girls in a risqué dance routine is ruffling a few feathers in the dance community. Can pop culture really be blamed for the sexualization of children's dance?

A video on Youtube featuring a routine performed at the World of Dance competition in California last spring is causing quite an uproar, and is causing many people to ask: have dance routines for children become too sexy?

The video sparking the controversy features 8- and 9-year-old girls performing a routine to Beyoncé's "Single Ladies" while wearing hot pants and gyrating and thrusting in ways that you're
 bound to find in, well, a Beyoncé video. The girls are clearly talented dancers, but the risqué moves, coupled with the skimpy outfits, have ruffled more than a few feathers.

When I was in elementary school, dance recitals often involved classical or jazz music, the occasional 80's pop song played for irony or cuteness, and full bodysuits covered by tacky jean jackets. Booty-shorts and pelvic-thrusting weren't in the dance vocabulary. So what changed? And what affect is this having on kids?

Jay Reeve, a a clinical psychologist in Florida, says that there are sexual implications behind the new inclination towards risqué dance routines:

"When you reward sexual behavior [at this age], they're probably going to continue to try to gain applause and approval from this type of behavior. You're coaching them that they are expected to behave in a way that's prematurely sexual."

While the debate has been going on for months south of the border, it is bound to be intensified here in Canada after Lisa Sandlos' appearance on Canada AM this morning. Sandlos, a mother of two and dance instructor who is writing her PhD thesis on dance at York University, sees the sexualization of dance as becoming more prevalent:

"It is amazing how it's in most dance competitions. It's in the majority of dance recitals. There's an element of over-sexuality in dance groups of young girls, as young as six and seven."

If this is, as Sandlos claims, a growing trend, what can we blame for the change?

It's easy to blame pop culture for the over-sexualization of dance competitions. After all, it's easy to find hundreds of music videos featuring scantily-clad women bumping and grinding to a beat. But does a prevalence of risqué music videos really lead to a difference in the way children are taught to dance? Is blaming pop culture just the easy way out?

The blame, of course, does not lie with the children. Instead, the people that should be held responsible for the sexualization of competitive dance are the adults responsible for the organization and judging of these competitions. When risqué dance routines are rewarded at the competitive level, it's no surprise that instructors are quick to incorporate more sexiness into their routines.

Of course, the rewarding of such routines is probably not done consciously — it is often a reflection of current taste in popular culture. What adults in the competitive dance community need to do is take a step back and understand that there may be repercussions to this unconscious trend, and make a conscious decision whether or not they want to support it in the future.


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