I saw this blog posted on Twitter about the controversy and I actually have to say that I think this writer hits the nail pretty close to the head. It really isn't the fault of the kids, the parents, the teachers or the competition. Everyone is just doing what they were told to do in order to be successful in the dance industry. She than goes on to blame dance on television, which I think is a bit of a stretch here, but she's heading in the right direction. She's saying it is the fault of mainstream dance... but honestly, who really is mainstream dance?
It got me thinking about a conversation I seem to be having a lot lately with parents in my studio regarding who is making decisions for the dance industry? Well hold on to your hats here people... but nobody is the ruler of all things when it comes to dance!
I'm not trying to start up a discussion about whether or not I think dance is a sport versus art, but when I am talking about dance competitions I approach it with a sport mentality. We train the kids and then they compete against other kids, which mimics the sports of soccer or hockey. However, in all other sports, and even some fields of art, there is a "governing body" or an association that is in charge per say. For instance, in hockey the NHL is of course the ultimate goal for hockey players, but there are sanctioned leagues run by the hockey association that determines teams based on ages and abilities. They are all accustom to the same standards and rules across the board, to keep some sort of flow and consistency. In figure skating, they have Skate Canada, which is organization that all skating rinks pay dues to in order to coach by their standards, etc, etc. Even in piano lessons, they have a standard set of levels, books and testing to go by. You don't have to learn/teach piano lessons by the grade levels, but it is how you can achieve the same certificate for a level as a fellow piano player on the other side of the country would.
It has become painfully obvious that in the dance industry there are actually no rules, no standards and no one telling anybody else that what they can or cannot do. A lot of dance parents actually don't seem to know these kinds of facts... so here they are! Every competition (like every dance studio) is individually owned and therefore, comes up with their own set of rules and standards. So if this dance in question is deemed inappropriate by one competition and thus is disqualified, that same group can still go and win Overall High Score at another competition. Let's just call a spade a spade here - the dance industry is open for anybody to make money in, and what it boils down to at the end of the day is money. Anybody can make a buck in this industry, but the successful ones can make a lot more.
Enter John Smith, a 30-something fresh out of dental school who opens up a dance studio because he sees an opportunity to make money, even though he has no previous dance experience. He advertises some fun classes in a really fancy building with large studios and a "state-of-the-art" sound systems. He puts some funky letters beside his name denoting that he obviously know what he's doing and then parents will think he does so they pay money to send their kids there. They will pay for lessons for ten years or so and then their kid will go audition for SYTYCD and will be one of the people Nigel politely tells on tv to "go ask your teacher for a refund!"
I had a new parent once come into my studio during Registration and ask to see the credentials of all of my staff that would be working with their daughter. I looked at him and asked in return, "sure, what kind of credentials are you looking for?" Well he wanted dance teaching credentials obviously... so I elaborated, "what sort of credentials do you think it takes to teach dance?" I don't think he appreciated my sarcasm, but the truth of the matter is that they came from another dance studio where they were told that their exam syllabus association were the people who had to give me a piece of my paper saying that I am able to teach dance. Or maybe this other dance studio truly believes that themselves!
So, I'm going to say something now that will shock a lot of parents... the whatever Association of Dance that you pay money to every year to examine your kid, is run by a group people just making money off the dance industry, similar to everybody else. They are not the knowers-of-all-things-dance-teacher related and nor do they distinguish who is a successful dance teacher or choreographer. They are people who set up a syllabus of exercises, sold it to studios to train their kids with, and then charge studios and parents alike to basically be judged on the work, kind of like a dance competition would. The idea works in theory, as it does in a lot of other sports, but there are more than 6 dance exam associations that I could name you off the top of my head with opposing dance ideals... so their goes that theory!
We are all entrepreneurs in the dance industry, which I have no problem with, but I don't like that we can't be honest about it. We cannot just hide behind titles or certificates if we really want to make a change in this industry and set some standards. It has to come from everyone, and unfortunately when were dealing with millions of entrepreneurs, it probably won't happen. Someone will always be selling what you won't, or be doing what you don't agree with, and thus someone will always be willing to pay them for that. I'm not saying it won't happen, but it's going to take something catastrophic to bring an industry so vastly large together when it comes to standards.
Now, I am not pro or against this young group of dancers making headlines, as maybe the dance industry has made me so desensitized when it comes to appropriateness. Much like in life, we all have a different set of standards that we live our lives by. What one parents might deem as too young to wear half tops on stage, is not a common consensus. What one dance studio is telling their parents will win a dance competition, might disgust another dance studio. But, that's also beauty about it all... you get to decide. Not the people producing So You Think You Can Dance, or America's Best Dance Crew, or not even the people responsible for all those music videos supposedly inspiring these types of dances. They are all allowed to put dancers on television in whatever costumes they want, and do whatever kind of sexy moves they want, but you don't have to! No one said that was the all aspiring highest achievement of dance you want your kids to mimic, or do we just assume it is since it's on tv?
I really do think it's great that the small world of dance competitions is getting such media attention, but I just wish it wasn't for this one controversial episode. A lot of people unfamiliar to the dance industry only know about it what they do see on television, and now we might have completely deterred any of them away from ever letting their kids take dance classes at a local studio. I'm not saying that I have all of the answers here, but because this industry is so open and seemingly accepting, I am able to write a blog pretending that I do!
What I do know for certain about this entire situation, is that this studio that has come under so much heat lately is probably laughing all the way to the bank from all this publicity... and I'm sitting at home with a glass of wine wondering why that 7 year old in my tap class still can't do buffalos after an entire year of classes. Guess I better return my 'can be a dance teacher' certificate!