The art of dance

The art of dance

Have you bought flowers for that ‘special dancer’? Each year I enjoy the dance recital of my two granddaughters at the Dance Foundation. At their most recent recital, their dances were titled ‘Whispering Wind’ (ballet), ‘Enchanted Rain’ (ballet), and ‘Trumpets and Horns’ (tap). It was a wonderful time to celebrate how the positive aspects of dance have affected them. Research shows that dance classes develop advanced skills in creativity, problem solving,  communication, risk taking, high ordered thinking, and social awareness.

A young Mary Bawden

A young Mary Bawden

Then nostalgia. I’m taken back to personal memories about MY June dance recitals. One year I was a ‘4th of July’ dancer; the next year I was a ‘Nightingale’ and later, I even appeared as ‘Mary Poppins’. Each week I went to dance class and each week I fell more in love with movement. During those years, I was fortunate enough to learn the craft of ballet from teachers Olga Fricker and Sheila Darby. Ms. Darby was on the national board of Cecchetti Ballet and she was the one who encouraged me to pursue dance professionally. But she didn’t need to emphasize the importance of dance to me. Movement classes reached into my heart throughout adolescence & adulthood. In a changing world, dance class was a positive, safe adventure. And I always wanted more. That’s why my love of dance took me beyond childhood memories.

Cheerleader For Dance

As an adult, I received a BA in modern dance from the University of California Riverside, a MA in worship (with an emphasis in dance) from Hope International University in Fullerton CA, and a California secondary teaching credential. I am also the founder of Soul to Sole Choreography and DA:NCE (Dance Awareness: No Child Exploited). Beyond that, I’ve led a dance ministry at my church for over 20 years and I’ve written a book on that subject. In 2016, I fell in love with ‘LaLaLand’ as well as the new documentary on Misty Copeland, the first black dancer chosen to be a prima ballerina for the American Ballet Theater. It’s safe to say that I am a cheerleader for dance.

But I need to pause here. Because our culture is inundated with children involved in dance and because I am a dance educator, lean in.

I care about maintaining the artistry of dance, and I care about nurturing children from an educational perspective. So here goes. In some dance studios around the nation, there has been an increase in sexualized, objectified movement for children under 12. These studios/teachers often unknowingly model their movement choices on what they see in the media culture. I’ll label this cultural shift the difference between healthy, age-appropriate dance versus unhealthy, age-inappropriate dance.

Hypersexualization/Objectification In Movement

Before I go further, I want to clarify what I mean by sexualization/objectification in movement by sharing some research you can read in detail. The APA (American Psychological Association) report on girls says that there are several components to unhealthy sexuality, and these components set it apart from healthy sexuality. When their criteria is applied to dance studio choreography, it’s important to identify negative movement patterns: booty pops, lip-licking, finger licking/sucking, breast or groin stroking, patting or pointing towards breast or genitalia, crotch-grabbing, obscene gestures, suggestive grinding, and seductive props and looks. And the sexual menu continues to increase.

This is not the art form of dance. It does not promote artistry or creativity. Actually, it is hypersexualization, and it is hurting the perception of dance when a wide-ranging cultural audience watch it in media, model after it, and move in it. More importantly, it normalizes unhealthy sexuality as defined by the APA report. Because there are many people who love dance as well as dance educators who are concerned about this cultural trend just like me, I have released several materials to provide a solution for dance education, particularly focusing on children under 12, under the title of DA:NCE (Dance Awareness: No Child Exploited) on my website I’ve described them below:

  1. 4 minute video exploring the problem of sexualization in children’s dance. Please share it on Facebook.
  2. An R-rated, research-based 30 minute video or a PG rated research-based 17 minute video that has been designed to bring awareness and education in dance(with experts in the field) so that children are not exploited.
  3. An educational powerpoint presentation anyone can download to make a presentation in their local community on this topic.
  4. An encouragement to join Youth Protection Advocates in Dance. Y.P.A.D. is a national organization that is working to certify dance studios with healthy movement criteria(and a lot more).Your membership will make a difference for you and for change across the national scene.
  5. A national dance petition sponsored by the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) bringing education and awareness to dance studios about the objectification of children under 12.

If you love dance, please share the educational materials above with other parents and grandparents. The website is easy to remember: While I support the art of dance 100%, I do not support its inappropriate use. There are appropriate, creative, wonderful ways to use choreography in this culture, and unfortunately, inappropriate ways to distort movement as well (so, like many other areas, choice is the issue). Please join me to bring awareness to dance trends that distort the art form, as well as the cultural acceptance of dance that normalizes the hypersexualization of children. Let’s make healthy movement choices in what we support in the arts as well as what we allow our children to participate in. I feel a responsibility to protect children, educate adults, and encourage the art of age-appropriate dance in the current media culture.

Now I’m off. I’ve got to pick up a bouquet of flowers. I wouldn’t miss the joy of another dance recital in Redlands. I can hardly wait to see the show! Join the healthy movement cause and help me be a cheerleader for the art of dance, not the objectification of children!