Saturday, May 7, 2011

Costumes, Choreography & Body Image... Oh My...

Allison has been taking a ballet class at a local dance studio just down the street and around the corner from our house since last fall. She has loved every minute of it. She's been very excited about the idea of dancing on stage for an audience ever since I explained the recital concept to her.

Yesterday we got to see the girls' costumes and try them on for size. Luckily Allison's just fit, in spite of the growth spurt she seems to have had in the last six months. Unluckily, I don't think I'm very happy with the costume choice. Its cute, and its over the top, but I don't think its appropriate. The leotards they picked are halter top style. For three-year olds. And I just don't think its appropriate.

I think that dance studios very often over-sexualize little girls at very young ages in both costume and choreography. Last summer as I was looking for a dance studio for Allison I worried about making sure I found one that wouldn't do this to her, or any of the other little girls dancing with her. The world is harsh enough... dance studios don't need to be helping 3, 5, 8, or 10 year old girls feel like they have to grow up too fast or be "sexy" to have worth.

The choreography for Allison's class is very cute, and very 3-year-old appropriate. There's not a ton of real technique involved, but they're three... the think the fact that Allison knows what first position and plie are is pretty good I think. I wish the studio did as well at preserving/honoring the innocense of their 3 and 4 year olds in the costuming. I mean... I don't really expect her dance costumes to be sleeved, but a halter top?

So now, I'm thinking about looking for a different studio for Allison to dance at and it has me all sorts of worried. There are so many things that I want for her: I want her to enjoy dance. I want her to dance somewhere where she can be taught good technique so that she has options... so that she can be a "real" ballerina as long as she keeps wanting to dance.

I'd like her to be trained at a "serious" classical ballet studio, rather than a competition team driven dance studio. I want a studio that will preserve and protect the innocense of little girls. I feel like at classical ballet studio, I'd have to worry less about inappropriate costumes or choreography. But they bring with them a whole different worry. I don't want Allison dancing somewhere that will attack her body image from a young age or ever. And that is my worry about a serious classical ballet studio. I don't want Allison to ever be told that she can't or shouldn't dance because she doesn't have the right body. I don't want her to ever think that she needs to diet or look different to be good enough. It is hard enough to grow up with a healthy body image... I don't know a single woman who needs any help thinking up ways she'd like to change her body. And I want to sheild Allison from that as long as possible.

So where do I go? What do I do? Take her out of dance entirely because I'm so scared and worried? Stick with the current studio and alter her costumes until I start having problems with the choreography too? Find a serious studio and keep my eyes open for body image issues? Find a little not-so-serious ballet studio and hope for the best?

I'll tell you what I'd LIKE to do. I'd like to clone the director of the studio my sister danced at through high school and bring her out here to start a studio. It was excellent classical ballet (with tap & jazz instruction too) with beautiful choreography, lovely costuming (that parents got to see and "approve" before-hand!) and no pressure for dancers to have the "right" body. I want to find that studio here. But I feel like, if it exists, its a needle in a haystack. And now I'm so terrified of picking the wrong place. It feels so silly, and yet, with how these things I'm worried about could affect Allison, it feels like it matters so much.


Emily said...

There are certainly a lot of varied opinions about your concerns. All I'll say is that you just do whatever you feel best doing with your daughter. Whatever feels right to you is the best for you.

Daddy Parks said...

Oh, do I hear you. I sometimes look back and wonder why my mother ever let me dance at the studio where I was. I suspect she prayed hard that I would be oblivious to what was all around me as, looking back, I pretty well was. (But maybe that's somewhat related to being 1) male, 2) a teenager, and 3) having ADD.)

Best of luck on your search and I hope you can find your needle!

Mike and Julie said...

Rosie, it DOES matter. The message Allison gets now about what is appropriate dress and how we can fudge on the standard will affect her choices later on. At her age, it's more important that she have fun than that the instruction is the best. One thing you could do is to go to each studio and ask to see photos or video of past performances and costuming. Ask about the philosophy. Be prayerful about it. I remember when Steve first went to BYUI with me to apartment hunt for him. I told him before we started the search that he needed to have a prayer in his heart, and when he found a place that felt like home, then that's where he needed to be. The third place we went to felt just like that.

David said...

Ok, I've given this a lot of thought. Here's what I would do:

Let Allison perform in the recital that she prepared for. Beforehand, talk with the instructor about your concerns about the costume. Ask the instructor if you would be allowed to alter the costume. If the instructor says yes, do it (if you want to), and if they say no, don't.

Although you disapprove of the costume, I think it's more important to let Allison perform in the recital she's been preparing for than to worry about the costume this time. Personally I've never ever found halter-style outfits to be sexy or attractive.

Talk with the instructor about your concerns about future costumes. If the instructor will use more modest costumes or allows Allison to use altered costumes in the future, then she may continue dancing there. Otherwise, you could take her out of the class.

*whew* I gave this a lot of hard thought in the shower. As a parent of a little girl, it's relevant to my interests to think of what I would do in this kind of situation.

Even so, please keep in mind that I'm not as experienced as you with parenting or dance studios, so my advice might not be very good. Makayla is seven months old. The only dancing she does is belly dancing. You know, where she lays on her belly and ONLY her belly, lifts up her arms and legs, and bounces up and down on her belly button. :D

Rosie said...

Well... I did let the studio know that I wasn't pleased with the costume choice and that I felt that halter tops were just plain inappropraite for young girls. Allison will still be dancing in the recital... she's very excited about it and I do want her to have stage experience. Plus we paid $45 for the costume. I cannot alter the costume for the performance, but I intend to make her a little shrug to wear with it for every moment she's not on stage. And I'll be looking for a new studio for her to dance at next year... and I'll be asking for recent recital videos or pictures to see before making a choice. Hopefully we can find a dance home for Allison that we'll all love.