While I usually stray from any sort of recommendations in regards to television, music, and films due to my snobbish tastes, every so often a person who knows me well enough will push something my way that makes a surprising impact on my entertainment regime. My dearest friend in Berlin suggested that I take a look at “Dance Moms” and my life will never be the same.
I started viewing it last week and immediately thought to myself there was no way in hell I could ever stop, but I had to. While I love a good reality show (usually of the artistic competition variety) I shied away from “Dance Moms” after seeing a preview or three cross my way over the past few years on account of its gratuitously sensational nature; to me it looked something a lot less like something that could hold dance teaching in a positive light.
But after the first, “Those legs look about as straight as Elton John,” something hit a nerve in me in a good way. While the “characters” of the show are expertly edited in that typical reality television sort of way in order to highlight their flaws and weaknesses, there are many aspects that hit a chord with me.
My first teaching job was at a dance school for kids, and I was deemed a teddy bear in comparison to many of the other teachers. Mind you, I did not start my dance (ballet) training until I was in university, so the rigorous and somewhat heinous methods of teaching came at a later age though I grew up as an athlete (soccer, track & field, tennis) so I was familiar with the boot camp-like training that children are prone to endure.
I taught kids from 3 years-old to 17 years-old in a variety of classes and during my review, the head of staff explained to me that many of the parents were complaining that I was “too nice” to the kids. I started to hone my more strict pedagogies after this counseling despite my desire to stray away from some of the more psychologically damaging methods I had witnessed in my own experiences.
(Mostly) girls start at a very early age with dance. They wear skin tight clothing and stand in front of a mirror for hours on end where there are disciplined in the harshest of ways. The body is stunted in a way to exceed expectations of the demands of variable dance forms, and the self-inflicted abuse sometimes matches and/or surpasses that of the teacher. Working through tears and injuries are a part of the craft, and while it hurts sometimes to think of how I suffered through many bouts of unthinkable pain both emotional and physical, I do not regret one single ache – for it has made me the consummate artist that I am today. When I think back to the building blocks of my success, it is always the hardest teachers that I thank the most.
I was inspired to write a post about the second episode of the very first season of “Dance Moms” because it touched on a very serious issue of controversy that actually made me take a long break from watching it – and I’ve been pondering it nonstop for over a week now.
The girls that are highlighted in the show range in age from 6 to 13. There is a glaring issue of sexuality that is touched upon in regards to costuming, make-up and choreography of a certain performance composed for a competition called “Electricity”. All drama and banter from the dance moms themselves aside, I was harkening back to my time as a dance teacher where the kids did wear skimpy outfits and loved to dance like they were twice their age and it was never an issue broached by any of the staff or parents. While the age-appropriateness issue I believe is in the eye of the beholder, the technique of jazz and the outer laying spectacle of show business remains the same and will evolve according to industry standards. What makes this a special issue for me is that this is a highly satirized show that appears on television, so this in turn builds a slippery slope for the participants and audience members alike.
First of all, Abbey Miller is just as crazy as any good dance teacher out there – and this is why she and her dancers are so successful. She is genius in articulating her method of teaching in those rare moments that you get to see this in the show (buried between outlandish moments of drama) and has no qualms about never feeling as though she has to defend herself.
I’ve watched the “Electricity” number about 30 times since I first watched it – and while the choreography is a little risque for little girls, it is inherently great, but it fails in execution due to the dancer’s abilities. It is edgy and modern and impressive, and incorporates voguing, so I loved it. I pin-pointed all the mistakes, most of which could not be seen due to the editing and the cutting short of the full number itself. “Electricity” did not win at this competition that was aired on this episode. I did some research and found out that the winning team was another midriff clad little girl group that danced to “Shake Your Groove Thing.”
There is the inside and the outside point of view in regards to what is right and wrong, and what is to be condemned and condoned.
I’ve taken a lot of time to consider this but I have to say, never before until it was brought to my attention did I think that a young dancer who is subjected to an appropriate amount of brutality in the ways of discipline and teaching, who learns to age faster than her peers, and is sent through rigorous amounts of psychological torture – did I think anything was wrong with it. But this is not to say that even now am I against it in any sort of way. Taken out of context, it is easy to translate this performance as inappropriate, but the context is dance, and furthermore art, and all that should be looked at is the form for which it was intended.