When infants are learning to speak, they make all sounds possible before learning how to combine the correct ones to communicate an intentional message. Through interaction, guidance, and by example, eventually they become fluent children and freely expressive adults.
It’s no news that dance is a language, but it may be news that it has evolved so rapidly that we have lost track of what it means, or even the will to question. Ever spent time with a curious toddler? They are always asking “but why?!” It could feel pesky or unnatural at first but, if you’re not already doing so, it’s about time to take this approach to dance: to pause and consider the meaning beyond the movement, and the values being portrayed.
Y.P.A.D. believes, and has proven with research, that music and movement teach children expectations and boundaries for their own bodies, as well as others’ bodies. The internet and social media have made available more information than we even have time to process. Being extreme is a requirement to stand out from the crowd, as is seen with the rise in hyper-mobility, unsafe stretching, the rise of sexualization, etc. Y.P.A.D. has been following these trends in dance culture and it appears as if we are all lobsters in the pot, in a situation that’s boiling hot! We must learn to separate pop-culture examples “out there” in the world from those that we choose to bring into family-friendly and child-oriented environments, such as dance studios and events. Humans are wired for affirmation and, once dancers are on stage, it is even more so their goal to be celebrated by those watching. It matters what standards we set for success, who they are being, how they are costumed, and what is being celebrated about their time on stage and in the studio.
Y.P.A.D. does NOT want limit artistic freedom. Rather, we encourage a cultural shift towards a dance experience that puts our children's physical, emotional, sexual and spiritual safety first! The pedagogy of teaching the art of dance is agility, flexibility, strength, technique, advanced skills within various disciplines, as well as performance, musicality and texture. Costuming is a major conceptual and visual element of every performance. The choices we make when costuming children and teens teach them lessons about their bodies, personal expression, the purposes and possibilities of how we present ourselves to others.
Dance educators play a strong role in allowing children to look like children, while exploring these formal elements of the art dance. We have partnered with Curtain Call® to ensure children can look like children, explore storytelling and character without being exploited or misguided. Dancers can have the transformative learning experience that comes with thoughtful, artistic expression and exploration, rather than being objectified. Education leads to self-regulation, and real empowerment is giving youth the tools to advocate for themselves, so they can mature into self-sufficient and autonomously expressive adults.
Y.P.A.D. has made this easier with our Tools Not Rules: Standards, Recommendations & Suggestions handbook (available in digital and print format for $24.99 ) Inside you’ll find detailed listings of commonly choreographed but inappropriate movements, helpful solutions, including how to navigate situations, such as freestyle and contact improvisation.
Some key points include:
- Consider the “cumulative effect,” how all elements of production (including, but not limited to, costume, facial expression, movement, music, props, lyrics, etc.) convey a cohesive tone and message.
- Maturity in life does not automatically equal sexual maturity. There are many themes than can be mature and relevant to kids and young adults (self-acceptance, bullying, boundaries, conflict, etc.) that are not sexual in nature. Bonus: when your dancers can relate to experiences, they can convey them more authentically!
- Obscene gestures or references to drug or alcohol use, gang activity, violence, adult sexuality, are all inappropriate for children and teens.
- Props can be suggestive and illustrative. Some depict violence (whips, chains, guns or knives) and may only be appropriate in a certain context (Pirates of the Caribbean, etc.). Rest assured all Curtain Call® costume props, characters, and concepts are appropriate for children and teens to wear in family friendly settings.
- Age-appropriate also means physically safe. We don’t put dancers in pointe shoes unless they are adequately developed, and this should apply when we introduce any potentially risky tricks or techniques.Curtain Call®’s Sensory Icons, featuring: fidget friendly, glitter free, sensory friendly, adjustable straps and compression, fulfill Y.P.A.D.’s ambition for a happy, healthy and safe experience for young dancers. Every design is appropriate by Y.P.A.D. standards, meaning any cutouts, nude fabrics, every detail of every design is thoughtfully crafted to be classy, functional, and fabulous. Not only are dancers more physically comfortable, audiences are more mentally and emotionally comfortable.
It is a privilege to be entrusted with the education of another, especially when their body and personal expression are involved. We are not just teaching dance, we are teaching values and reinforcing them every time we make a choice about music, movement, costuming, and more. It matters what we expose young people to, and what we cultivate in them. “You don’t know what you don’t know,” and their expression can be limited to trickle-down effect of pin-ups and pop culture if we don’t offer and encourage healthy, creative alternatives. Dance is a language – let’s give the next generation the vocabulary, tools for artistic exploration and creative expression that they deserve.
Jen Ray is a Y.P.A.D. Certified Educator, Adjudicator, and Advisory Panel Member that believes the holistic and mindful approach Y.P.A.D. takes is an antidote to many difficulties dancers face in today's culture. Through her Discover Dancinema workshops, as co- director of The JaM Youth Project, and Y.P.A.D., Jen Ray's influence is one that inspires a culture of well-rounded, critical-minded, and multitalented individuals. Her company Dancinema, started while completing her B.A. Film Studies at UBC Vancouver, has quickly evolved into a respected international brand producing dancefilms, workshops, and events including Cascadia Dance & Cinema Festival (Vancouver, BC) and Capitol Dance & Cinema Festival (Washington, DC). She has enjoyed and appreciated opportunities such as Cucalorus Festival's Residency, screening at many festivals including Los Angeles Dance Film Festival, being selected for twice Dance Teacher Magazine, and collaborating with The JaM Project on their productions at Dancerpalooza's 25Live! and The Kennedy Centre, to highlight a few. The most rewarding and close to her heart are projects and partnerships such as Curtain Call®, where innovation and the healthy development of young people is the central focus.