Dance Teachers: Please Put Some Clothes On Your Students

Dance Teachers, we need to talk. You have got to stop sending children out to dance in public in their underwear. Maybe you’ve added some rhinestones to that underwear or maybe you’ve strategically placed a piece of chiffon somewhere but come on…underwear is underwear and we all know it.

And Dance Parents, you shouldn’t allow your children to do this, even if your Dance Teacher thinks its okay.

I go to dance recitals and competitions and feel like I’m in “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” Surely I’m not the only adult among the hundreds in attendance who thinks it’s inappropriate to send kids on stage to dance in their knickers. Am I?

You may be wondering what qualifies me to state such an opinion, so here are my credentials:

  • I’ve been involved in dance either as a student, a performer or a teacher since somewhere around 1963.
  • I started my daughter’s dance training at a traditional ballet school but when she was lured by the showy world of competition dance, I was sucked into being a Dance Mom.
  • I created an arts education program for kids with special needs and dance represents a significant chunk of what we do at Merrimack Hall.

Surely this sufficiently convinces you that I’m an expert on the topic of dance competitions…but I have been called an opinionated know-it-all before so feel free to disregard my impressive resume and chalk this up to me being obnoxious. It won’t be the first time I’ve stated a strong opinion that I was convinced was irrefutable only to have people tell me I’m being an asshole.

I am not a prude. If you know me, you know that I excel at cussing and have strong liberal leanings. I have an open mind about most things, particularly the arts. But as the years have rolled along, I’ve watched kids’ dance costumes get smaller and smaller and  now…well, costumes seem to have disappeared altogether, replaced by what they call “hot shorts” or “bloomers” worn with what appear to be bras from Victoria Secret while they are performing for an audience, under the glare of stage lighting. I’m not sure what I find the most objectionable – sending 8-year-olds out onstage dressed like this or sending 17-year-olds in this attire.

Maybe Dance Teachers think they are costuming their students like the people they aspire to be…perhaps Misty Copeland or Beyonce. So, I offer you Exhibit A:

MIsty Copeland

Misty Copeland is not covered up in this photo or in the incredible commercial she filmed for the Under Armour campaign. But…

  • She’s Misty Copeland.
  • She’s a grown woman.
  • This is an ad for base garments, otherwise known as UNDERWEAR and is not apparel that is advertised as a dance costume.
  • Notice that both the photo and the video take place in a rehearsal space…not on stage in front of an audience.

And take Exhibit B:

Beyonce

I adore Beyonce and think she is a positive, empowering role model for girls. Obviously, she isn’t wearing much in this photo. But:

  • She’s Beyonce.
  • She’s a grown woman.
  • She’s Beyonce.

I’m guessing that even Mrs. Carter would Exhibit C objectionable:

Single Ladies

I could go on and on about this picture and the dance these 6-years-olds performed, which nearly blew up the internet when the video went viral a few years ago. This specific dance and the controversy around age-appropriateness was a hot topic back in 2010 on Dr.Phil, with Anderson Cooper and with many other reputable journalistic outlets.

But I’m just focusing on the costumes right now.

I’ve seen dozens of teenagers dancing in “costumes” like Exhibit D (which is featured in an online dancewear catalogue) at competitions and recitals:

dancewear

See what I mean? She might as well be naked. But she’s a professional model, she is in a rehearsal space, there’s no one else in the photo and the catalogue calls this item “activewear,” perfect attire for dance class, yoga, pilates etc. It is important for dancers to be able to see their bodies, to check their turn out and lines while taking class in front of unforgiving mirrors. Dance class is one thing but in front of an audience? I vote no.

This trend seemed to start when young dancers stopped wearing tights. But you can dance barefoot while wearing footless tights, you know. And at least tights would add a layer. I sat next to a man at a competition recently and he told me that he couldn’t watch dancers dressed like this – said it made him extremely uncomfortable so he scrolled through Facebook during these numbers. His daughter is only 7…by the time she’s a teenager, they may just be wearing a thong and pasties.

I thought costumes were supposed to enhance a dance piece or advance the story of the dance. Have a look at Exhibit E:

shutterstock_291046667 copy

This stock photo is representative of a photo I saw where about 25 teenage girls were wearing sequined bikinis while dancing on scaffolding. What story could a dance teacher be telling that requires girls to wear bikinis while dancing on scaffolding? Maybe the dance teacher who chose to costume her students like this is actually preparing kids for careers as erotic dancers. I have nothing against erotic dancers and quite enjoy a well-done strip show…when the performer is over 21, everyone in the audience is over 21 and I’m enjoying a nice cocktail. At a “family friendly” dance competition…not so much.

Now, I realize that there are categories of people who perform in public wearing in very little clothing – like track and field stars or gymnasts. They are wearing garments that are aerodynamic and help improve their speed or they are wearing leotards because anything else would get tangled up on the uneven bars. Of course, dance teachers have to insure that the costume they select won’t trip up their dancers or impede their movement. But there’s a line of good taste and I hate to be the one to tell you but Dance Teachers, you have crossed that line.

So, Dance Teachers, please rethink your costuming choices. And Dance Parents, please voice your objections to costumes like these, if you have them. Barely there costumes like these do not make a dance more competitive and parents shouldn’t be afraid to voice concerns over immodest attire.

Maybe I’m wrong or maybe I’m just being an asshole but I think our kids deserve better.

Stay tuned…in future posts, I will offer my expert opinion on tilts, leg extension, crotch shots, props, music selection and much, much more.

 

Saban and Swinney Share A Secret For Their Success

Monday night, I will be glued to the television to watch Alabama and Clemson duke it out for the NCAA National Championship. I will be pulling for Alabama…I went to school there and will be on the edge of my seat to see if the Tide can clench an unprecedented 16th National Championship. I’m nervous about our chances for victory because Clemson is a formidable opponent. I’ve heard lots of people say, “No way an ACC team beats an SEC team in the title game,” but I know that Clemson is the finest team we’ve faced this year. And not because of anything they do on the practice field or in the locker room…not because they have some secret training tool or better athletes than we do. Actually, Clemson and Bama share the same secret to success and it has nothing to do with football and everything to do with what Dabo Swinney and Nick Saban encourage their players to do off the field.

Saban

University of Alabama Coach Nick Saban

Every major NCAA football program shares the same practices. All of them recruit the best athletes they can find, all of them scout their opponents and hire top coaches and trainers who specialize in preparing elite athletes for competition. All of them have thousands of boosters who donate millions of dollars to their programs. All of them have elaborate stadiums, time-honored game day traditions and legions of devoted fans. All of them give the young men they coach every conceivable opportunity to develop their raw talents. All of them work to mold the student athletes they coach into men, into leaders both on and off the field. There’s not much difference between any of the Division I schools and how they approach the development of their football teams. So how did Dabo Swinney and Nick Saban end up on top?

Clemson Tigers Coach Dabo Swinney

Clemson Tigers Coach Dabo Swinney

Clearly, both teams have enormous talent. They both have experienced coaches leading them. They both have motivated athletes and both teams will show up Monday night ready to compete, fully prepared for a game that is the culmination of all of their pre-season goals and dreams. But it takes something extra to end up playing for the Championship; a certain amount of luck plus that indefinable element that turns a group of young boys into a united team. Swinney and Saban have ended up on top because of all these things but they both have an added element to their football programs. Both of these coaches are affiliated with programs for people with special needs and both coaches involve their players in that affiliation.

Right now, you’re probably thinking I’ve lost my mind. What in the world could spending time with a person with Down syndrome have to do with becoming a contender for the football National Championship? How could someone with cerebral palsy have any affect on the outcome of a high-stakes athletic competition? What does a Division I athlete have in common with a person with autism? I think it’s their involvement with people who are routinely marginalized that has given Saban, Swinney and their players the edge.

Alabama’s legendary coach, Gene Stallings, once said this to me (I’m paraphrasing): I’ve spent my life around the most elite athletes in the world. I’ve watched professional football players achieve physical feats that I never imagined. But the most impressive physical, athletic achievement I’ve ever witnessed was when my son, Johnny, who had Down syndrome, took his first steps at the age of four. Those first steps represented years of practice, struggle and determination.

Saban has been involved with The Rise School at the University of Alabama since he arrived in Tuscaloosa. His personal foundation donates thousands of dollars each year to The Rise School, a national model for early intervention and inclusion. His athletes routinely volunteer at the center, always showing up for their shift in a coat and tie. The Rise School’s founder, Dr. Martha Cook, told me once that there’s nothing that moves her heart more than seeing a 300-pound linebacker sitting on the floor playing with a three-year-old child with cerebral palsy. She told me that Saban’s requirement that his players spend time with her students is evidence that he is “producing not just athletes, but men.”

Swinney has been involved with Clemson’s groundbreaking Clemson Life Program since he began his tenure and his personal foundation, like Saban’s, donates thousands to the program. Clemson Life is a full-on residential college program for students with special needs and has received national attention for the unique nature of its elements. Swinney invites Clemson Life students to closed practices, picks them up in the team’s bus and even lets them touch the fabled rock at Clemson’s stadium, a privilege only given to Clemson’s football teams. In this moving video, its evident to me that Sweeney has instilled respect for everyone, regardless of their abilities, in his athletes.

Clemson Life student at football practice

Clemson Life student at football practice

So what is it about football teams spending time with people who have special needs that gives them the edge over other teams? It’s my contention that the Tigers and the Tide view their accomplishments and abilities through a different filter because they regularly spend time with folks who share none of their physical ability but have the heart it takes to be a winner. How can you take for granted your superior physical ability when you spend an hour with a child in a wheelchair? How can you allow yourself to squander even one minute of your practice time when you have hands-on experience with people who will struggle their entire lives to tie their own shoes or to acquire the skills they need to live independently?

When both teams take the field Monday night, they will be equipped with everything they need to win…the finest preparation, a carefully thought out game plan and their own athletic prowess. They will also be equipped with a level of compassion and humanity that you can only experience when you spend time with people who have special needs. Those football players have been influenced, their hearts have been moved and their appreciation for their own skill has been humbled by seeing people overcome the odds every day…just to say their own name…or complete an academic assignment…or navigate a world that is designed in ways that prohibit their full involvement. I believe the players for Clemson and Alabama will bring to the field an inspiration and motivation to win that isn’t based on self-serving goals but instead is based on a true appreciation for the worth of every person’s abilities.

I could be wrong. Maybe Clemson and Alabama have ended up on top because they worked harder than every other NCAA team or because luck played out for them. But I don’t think I’m wrong. I think these two teams ended up on top because their coaches have instilled in them a perspective for winning that comes not from competing with the most exceptional athletes in college football but from interacting with people who have overcome obstacles and challenges those young athletes will never have to face.

And to me, that makes Saban and Swinney the best coaches in college football. And in my book, both teams deserve the National Title for this reason alone.

But I will, of course, be yelling Roll Tide all night!