As someone who loves dance, I feel profoundly sad when I see greed, ego and destructive behaviors infecting the dance world... especially when that world involves children. Unfortunately, this is now the reality in some youth dance circles, where the drive for instant fame, youtube hits and competition trophies trumps creative movement and the right to a healthy and safe dance education. In this world, children are being taught increasingly sexualized dance moves to explicit and sexually suggestive music. Girls as young as nine perform at dance competitions in padded bras masquerading as "costumes." And while some people might think it's cute when children twerk, lick their lips or pat their private parts as part of a dance routine, the research is clear: there are dangerous consequences when children and teens are sexually packaged in the dance environment.
Adults can advocate for themselves when they’re asked to do something unhealthy or unsafe in a dance setting, but kids can't. Parents and other adults MUST step up and advocate for them. Sometimes, though, it's hard for adults to make good choices for children without access to reliable information on (1) what is or could become unhealthy or dangerous for youth dancers, and (2) what kids are being exposed to in a given dance environment.
Luckily, there's a dynamic new movement called Youth Protection Advocates in Dance (Y.P.A.D.), which is doing groundbreaking work on both fronts. Y.P.A.D. is dedicated to combatting the exploitation of children in dance whether it be hypersexualization (through music, movement, social media exposure and/or costuming choices), sexual abuse, or inappropriate physical exertion that leads to unnecessary injuries. Y.P.A.D.'s mission and message are supported by the research and studies of well-respected groups like the American Psychological Association and the Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media (among many others). There has been a groundswell of support for Y.P.A.D. from all corners of the U.S. (as well as from across the globe), which has intensified into a fever-pitch since the launch of Y.P.A.D.'s website last month.
Y.P.A.D. is compiling a tremendous collection of resources on the harmful effects of hypersexualization and dangerous dance practices so that parents and dance educators can arm themselves with up-to-date information. Y.P.A.D. is also creating voluntary disclosure and certification programs through which studios, instructors and convention/competition owners can provide details on the types of music, movement, attire/costuming, and physical environments youth dancers will be exposed to. These resources will give parents the tools they need to make informed choices. To help dance educators, Y.P.A.D. recently released its "Standards, Recommendations & Guidelines" handbook, which provides advice and practical tips for creating and maintaining a safe dance environment, as well as tools for navigating the conflicts that may arise around these thorny subjects. Together, Y.P.A.D.'s comprehensive resources will be the arsenal we need to combat exploitation and sexualization in the youth dance world.
Y.P.A.D.'s charismatic founder and leader is renowned hip hop dancer, choreographer and dance activist, Leslie Scott. In addition to having worked as a back-up dancer for a multitude of high-profile pop stars, she is a faculty member at both of Hollywood’s top dance studios: EDGE Performing Arts Center and Millennium Dance Complex. She also teaches seminars, workshops and master classes around the world. Leslie's undying commitment to keeping kids safe in dance is legendary and her enthusiam is dangerously contagious. And then there's her work ethic: There no one who works harder in the world of dance advocacy.
Y.P.A.D.'s Advisory Panel includes a vast roster of heavy hitters, including legendary choreographer and creative director Tina Landon (whose choreography credits include Willow Smith, Rihanna, Janet Jackson, Jennifer Lopez, Ricky Martin, Christina Aguilera, Tina Turner, Britney Spears and Shakira among many others), Dr. Carolyn Heldman, whose Ted Talk video "A Sexy Lie" has over 1.2 million views, and Dr. Tomi-Ann Roberts, who served on the American Psychological Association's Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls.
A few months ago, Leslie asked if I would join Y.P.A.D.'s Advisory Panel and I think I said 'yes' before she had even finished her sentence. So many incredible things have happened with Y.P.A.D. since then. I am grateful to have been given a chance to contribute to this urgent and vital mission, and it's an honor to be working alongside such an amazing group of artists and professionals to keep our youth dancers safe.
I'm proud to say that almost all of Santa Barbara's studio owners and dance educators are committed, above all else, to keeping kids happy, healthy and safe in dance. I want to make sure that doesn't change, so I have been meeting with studio owners and dance professionals to talk about Y.P.A.D.'s mission and the fabulous resources it has to offer. And with Y.P.A.D.'s help, I hope to roll out the voluntary disclosure program in our local dance community sometime in 2016 so that Santa Barbara County parents can have the information they need to make informed decisions for their sons and daughters when it comes to dance.