Thursday, June 04, 2009

Dance schools - here we go again

Again I'm looking for a dance school for my kids. Here is my letter to the Sydney Morning Herald explaining what happened when we were at our previous dance school.

All the wrong moves threaten childhood innocence and modesty

July 1, 2008

The report of the Senate committee inquiry into sexualisation of children stressed that successful regulation of the media should embody "broad conformity with community standards". Recently, in an area outside the inquiry's remit, I have had cause to question what those standards are.

I complained that the concert at our local dance school was inappropriately sexual for children. The older girls, who teach the younger students, performed a dance to the Prince song Cream that was more suitable for a men's club than as family entertainment. I felt uncomfortable watching it in an auditorium filled with grown men and small children.

My children performed to the song Hot Hot Hot, which was fine in rehearsal because it was about the weather. However, they were introduced with, "And now here is [this class] as they prove to you why they are feeling hot, hot, hot." Not fine. Surely framing them in a sexualised way that they are unaware of is exploitation.

The incident that shocked me most, however, was during a dance to Barbie Girl. The girls were dressed as Barbie dolls, and for the male vocals a boy of about 10 came on stage; the only time a male appeared in the concert. To the lyrics "Kiss me here, kiss me there", he kissed his fingers, then put his fingers to his groin and thrusted. The message was unambiguous. The audience cheered and clapped.

In my complaint I argued that all adults are responsible for the protection of children; that there is value in maintaining innocence and modesty (I mentioned the brief costumes); that the performance would not be acceptable in a preschool or school; and that art forms should express a range of emotions and ideas, certainly more than just sex. I included the Herald article by Cathy Sherry ("Wrong moves - and words - for young girls", December 11, 2007) and letters to the editor to show that the issue is of public concern.

I thought I was voicing the community standard. But I was told my beliefs were different from the dance school's and that I should find another. I contacted Australian Teachers of Dancing, to which the school belongs, which assured me none of its schools used inappropriate songs. I gave details of the concert but have had no reply.

I know other parents who have left dance schools because of the sexualisation of children, but never tell the school the reason. So the schools think what they are doing is fine.

Our local dance school is run by nice people. They would not mean to damage or disrespect children. But their response shows they are not prepared to accept their responsibilities. I hope my views are not as out of step with community standards as I have been told. But what if those standards are represented by people who accept the inappropriate sexualisation of children because they don't ask questions or don't speak out? Or worse, by the parents who clapped and cheered?

I might need a new community.

Catherine Walsh

Oh, and the music was too loud. And the teenage teachers had no control of the class...

If there was a local dance school that offered fairly casual classes, with basic uniforms (we don't want to feel we're joining a cult), age appropriate songs and moves like the kids learn at school (the dances are ABOUT something), a concert that was held locally where we don't buy tickets through ticketek, and isn't four hours long and isn't about the costumes and make-up, I reckon they'd be very successful!

Wish me luck!

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