It has just been announced that Australia is getting its own version of the controversial US show Dance Moms.
As the director of a recreational dance school that prides itself on nurturing our students as humans before dancers I feel compelled to start a conversation within our community that will safeguard our kids as they navigate this time.
What is Dance Moms?
In a nutshell it’s a sensationalist reality tv program that follows the lives of a group of elite competitive dancers and their mothers. It’s certainly done a lot to raise awareness of dance training however many would argue that it has done more harm than good.
The Australian version will be Hosted by Sydney 2000 Olympic sweetheart Nikki Webster who runs three NSW based dance studios. We can only hope that our version will be kinder than the US counter part.
Regardless of what I or anyone else thinks kids are going to watch it. It’s going to be entertaining, it’s going to be popular, there’s no way around it. We can’t and shouldn’t be trying to stop anyone from watching it.
What we can do is arm our kids with the right tools and mindset to be able to assess what they’re seeing.
Here are a few conversation starters that could help:
“How long do you think she trained before she was able to do that trick?“
There are phenomenal dancers everywhere on social media. What we don’t see is the years of dedicated, professional training that goes into creating one instagram picture. We also don’t see the 20 takes that were deleted before the video of that amazing pirouette was posted.
“Does that look safe?”
Dance requires a fine balance between extreme flexibility and strength. The job of a professional dancer is to make these extreme movements look effortless – hint, they’re not! – Look at a stretch from an anatomical point of view. What shape does the skeleton need to make to do that move? Is it something most skeletons aren’t capable of? What soft tissues might be damaged in trying to reach that standard?
“Was that a kind thing to say?”
I hope that this won’t be an issue with our Aussie version as it certainly is in the US show. No matter what you are trying to communicate to someone there is ALWAYS a kind option. Did that teacher insult the student or simply express disappointment in their behaviour? Did that girl offer feedback with helpful solutions to her friend or tell her she looked fat?
“What do you think is going on behind the scenes that we don’t see?”
TV shows, even the ‘reality’ kind are highly curated. Their directors and producers have a specific look they want to create, they want to be able to portray their vision. This show is dealing with individual humans. The footage we see will be edited to fit within that overarching vision. Anything that might change the context will be taken out. Further to that, what about the lives of these people outside of dance? How are they being affected by this? How are their families coping? Remind your kids that reality tv is only semi-real.
What if your dance says “I wanna do that, I’m gonna youtube it right now!”?
Here’s one we get all the time. Yes, Youtube can be a great learning tool, I get my students to look up their ballet syllabus work to help them remember the choreography (My rules: Don’t read the comments. Don’t write any comments! Don’t trust that it’s all correct. Check with your teacher in your next class if you’ve learnt it correctly.)
The problem with kinds learning things from a digital source is they have no feedback whatsoever. It’s simply not safe. The best feedback comes from the dance teacher who knows them best. Who has spent years working with an individual and know their movement patterns, their restrictions, their weaknesses and their strengths, even their personality and emotional state. If you’re desperate to do something, tell your teacher and they’ll help set up a plan to get there, or convince you that it’s not worth it if it’s unsafe.
Noone knows what this show will bring, but if we’re looking at it from a point of view that educates our kids to be mindful of what they’re seeing we can harness the excitement without the fall out.