I have been freelance writing, ever since elementary school. My passions include music, age-appropriate dance, travel, and many others.
When it comes to choosing dance studios, several factors come into play. Are teachers sufficiently qualified? Are there set syllabi? What do the recitals look like? How are the students dressed for ballet classes?
For Christian parents, they also wonder about the music the students dance to, how they dance to it, and how they would dress in their routines. As St. Paul pointed out in Philippians 4:8, they want to see children dance in routines that make audiences think about "whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, and whatever is gracious."
A majority of studios, especially ones that have competition teams, would have students dance the opposite. And that's when carefully choosing a studio that fits your family's morals come into play. Here's why.
It's a S(k)in
Once upon a time, children would dress like ladybugs, Minnie Mouse clones, or even fairies. They'd dance to songs like "Bug-A-Boo" from Mousercise or "On the Good Ship Lollipop" from Bright Eyes.
Since recent years, children in most studios would dance in bra tops and briefs or booty shorts on bare legs to showtunes and songs from Burlesque (including "But I Am A Good Girl," in which the lyrics mention the lingerie company Agent Provocateur), Moulin Rouge!, and Chicago.
Such trends troubled Leslie Scott, founder of Youth Protection Advocates in Dance (YPAD). Before founding the California-based organization, she had to turn to immoral music to increase attendance in her hip-hop classes in conventions and studios. Never in her life had she been pressured in order to appeal to young dancers.
“There came a point where I started realizing that even though I was booked around the world and I was well known, I was miserable,” lamented Scott, “I had to really look and see how this was affecting my self-esteem and my body image…”
“Plus there was the battle of teaching young kids from across the country – children who were traveling to LA to take my class that was really only meant for adults. I didn’t feel comfortable teaching them to explicit music and with these sexualized movements."
One reason why Scott established YPAD was because music in both routines and classes alike don't jibe with children's families' morals.
“Socioscience has a lot of research that proves if we allow music to filter in the background and listen to music over and over in class or rehearsal without mindfully understanding the content," explained advisory panel member Dr. Tomi-Ann Roberts, PhD, "it actually has a more negative effect on us than if we actually listened to it understanding the meaning of the lyrics and storyline.”
In YPAD's 2015 study, 87% of dancers ages 7-13 look at the music videos to the songs they hear at their studios. Only 6% asked their parents for permission before dancing to them. One 12-year-old female learned that “being a boss and a (witch) is a good thing."
A 16-year-old girl noted, “A lot of the songs we use for competition make partying in the club and even violence and girls hating girls seem normal and okay.” More often than not, the songs are also used in jazz or lyrical jazz classes in numerous secular studios, mostly with competition teams.
If the thought of your tween Esther dancing a lyrical combo or routine set to a song about "making love" daunts you, then it's time to switch studios if necessary, even if it's further from your home. Children should dance to music that is age-appropriate and relatable to their lives.
“A 7-year-old shouldn’t dance to ‘I Don’t Know How to Love Him’ because she doesn’t know how to ‘love him,'" wrote noted dance educator Rhee Gold, “She should dance to ‘Old MacDonald Had a Farm’ because that’s what is age-appropriate and she gets it.”
If necessary and available, look for dance ministries that offer the right flooring for rehearsals and teachers with credible credentials. Oftentimes, dancers dance to various genres of Christian music, from hip-hop, gospel ballads, to contemporary Christian music from the 80's and 90's.
The messages in the lyrics of those songs strike relevant areas of their Godly lives, from forgiveness of sins to God's love. For musical theater routines, expect 7-year-olds dancing to songs from the Psalty canon rather than "Big Spender" from Sweet Charity!
Better yet, look for schools that often use instrumental music for recitals, concerts, and, if permissible, competitions. "Students will say, 'We want to dance to the Top 40 or more popular music,' but I have to be honest," said master tap teacher Jason Samuels-Smith, "As a teacher and elder to these kids, you have to know what's good and what's not so good."
Obviously, a ballet-centric studio or even a feeder school of a ballet company is another great option, as almost all routines (as well as full-length ballets, oftentimes The Nutcracker for every Christmas season) are set to instrumental music.
As for classes, every ballet class in such a school is set to a CD of wholly solo piano music or live piano. If possible, look for the latter to develop children's musicality and appreciation of classical music. Look for schools with percussion-accompanied modern and concert-style contemporary classes, too, if possible.
Costume and attire make the children
In many recitals and competitions, age-inappropriate costumes, choreography, and music sadly complement each other like barbecued ribs, corn on the cob, and a garden-fresh salad.
"The problem isn't only the choice of music, but the costuming and movement as well," griped Gold, "Seeing 8-year-old dancers in lycra bras and panties covered with rhinestones strutting across the stage like they're well-trained exotic dancers is offensive to me."
"These performances are not age appropriate or what teaching dance is all about. The teachers who make what I consider the wrong choices are not only hurting their dancers, but are giving private-sector dance education a bad name."
But such costuming isn't limited to secular songs. To some parents, the idea of bra tops and briefs on bare legs and Sandi Patty's "Via Dolorosa" or Celine Dion's cover of the Schubert Ave Maria don't jibe well, especially in many lyrical routines set to either song at competitions and recitals.
"Like, why does that extremely talented 15-year-old have to wear a bikini for a costume," asked dancer Kourtni Lind-Watson, plaintively, "Why do children have to dance in extra-sparkly (and oftentimes, extra-tiny) costumes when they dance to Christian music about a God that accepts and loves us just as we are and values our bodies as temples?"
Here are great examples of costumes in a routine to Patty's "Via Dolorosa!"
"There are different kinds of dance competitions which call for different types of costumes," explained Julia Gleich of Gleich Dances, Youth America Grand Prix has a lot of tights and tutus."
"Perhaps it’s because the competitions are (treated as a) sport, think gymnastics," she added, on the subjects of barelegged dancers wearing 2-piece costumes, "That would be a simple answer. But there is also something suggestive about a lot of the dancing in competitions, the choice of music and style, that make the costumes 'sexy.'"
"Oversplits and big back arches direct focus to the body where it is not covered, or barely hidden. And the dances are often performed by young female dancers (the boys don’t typically wear briefs or midriff tops)."
If you find the options that children wear in their dance routines disturbing, take heart. Dance costumes don't have to be that way! It all goes down to research via past recital (and competition) videos; photos on social media and frame-lined walls; and parent reviews surrounding costumes.
That's where concert dance-minded schools, including classical ballet ones with set syllabi like Vaganova-based ones, RAD, Cecchetti USA, and the ABT National Curriculum, have the upper hand in costuming and class attire. In countless cases, midriffs and thighs are covered in non-ballet classes via leotards, tights, modest shorts, and leggings!
Also, more often than not, the ballet classes require uniforms. Instead of a bra top and booty shorts over bare legs in an advanced class, expect your child to be in a solid-colored, plainly-designed leotard (often black) worn over pink tights in footed positions. Not only are teachers able to see more of her body alignment and placement, but be comforted that her modesty is practiced more!
The clothing-based values also hold true with dance ministries or Christian-affiliated studios, whichever is available. Like concert dance-minded schools, costumes often cover midriffs and knees, selling the idea of wholesome dance education. Attire also follows this principle.
A note on dancing in heels
Dancing in heels can be a viable and useful skill, especially in situations in which it's involved like musical theater and others involving formal social dancing like wedding receptions. But liability aside (especially with dancing in stilettos), classes that teach it often use morally questionable music.
If you want your child - if old enough and have sufficient core strength and ballet training - to dance in heels, consider a school that offers character dance classes. Character dance is a ballet subgenre based on non-ballet dance genres, most often stylized takes on foreign folk dances from Europe and former Soviet nations.
Besides enhancing geography education, character dance classes safely teach the skill without compromising morals. Plus, the heels of the shoes worn in them are thicker, shorter, squarer, and more stable than stilettos.
Help the kids stay off the grind
As for choreography, some parents are fazed by the influences from pop music videos, strip clubs, and modern burlesque revues. And grinding and twerking only scratch the surface.
Other troubling moves are detires (the ballet term for leg holds) or side layouts ecarte or efface devant, oftentimes at 180 degrees in hauteur (read: leg extension) or further. The legs in those ballet positions are in an open fourth position. The trouble with this fact is that if a barelegged dancer wearing shorts hemmed higher than mid-thigh, briefs, or leotards and/or a dress or a skirt hemmed mid-thigh or higher in those positions, the crotch hems would sometimes roll inward.
Situations like these can happen at recitals and competitions. Huntsville-based Merrimack Hall co-founder Debra Jenkins encountered such a mishap involving a teen's lyrical solo.
"There was an audible gasp from the crowd but she maintained her composure and finished her performance, as dancers are taught to do," lamented Jenkins, "I was left with a roaring rage directed at the adults in her life who allowed that to happen to her. Adults who selected her costume. Parents who paid for that costume. Adults who did not insure that the costume was properly anchored with butt glue or toupee tape."
What lyrical costumes looked like when I was a 90's kid (note the tan tights under dresses)
If you absolutely dread the idea of a barelegged 11-year-old in a bra top and briefs dancing a solo to Celine Dion's cover of Eric Carmen's "All By Myself" that includes a 200-degree detire ecarte devant, then seek out another available option that is more wholesome.
It's the same with choosing another studio where the probability of a barelegged 11-year-old a bra top and briefs doing so likewise to "Bring on the Men" from Jekyll & Hyde or "Cell Block Tango" from Chicago is just about zero. Again, classic jazz dance-heavy musical theater routines to songs from the Psalty series are better suited for Christian children.
"Use the internet to view videos on specific dance websites that you are considering," said Mary Bawden, founder of the California dance ministry Soul to Sole Choreography, "Evaluate the choreography, costumes and music. Look for clear visual evidence of healthy, age-appropriate movement experiences versus unhealthy, harmful dance."
"Another tip: make sure, and attend the June dance recital of a studio you are considering prior to enrolling your child. If you recognize age-inappropriate dance, do you understand that what you are viewing is not the art of dance but the hypersexualization of children? Left unchallenged, hypersexualization normalizes movement trends that are not normal."
If at all possible, start with a classical ballet school. Not only proper technique will be taught, but almost all the time, choreography fits students' levels and ages.
"In a world where children are continually exposed to sexually explicit advertising, television, movies, and even video games," said Gold, "I would like to see dance training have a sense of wholesomeness."
"There are those who may argue that I am old-fashioned, but there are literally billions of choices for music or concepts available for today's dance teachers that wouldn't offend anyone. Why not consider the uncontroversial options rather than taking a chance that you could compromise a child?"
"Thorns and snares are on the path of the crooked," advised Proverbs 22:5-6, "those who would safeguard their lives will avoid them. Train the young in the way they should go; even when old, they will not swerve from it." Why not search for studios in which dance teachers are guaranteed to train your children the same ways?