Sense and sexuality

When I was a first-year teacher, I directed a group of high schoolers in a play and included a scene in which two of the characters got hot and heavy on the couch.  It was all strictly first-base, and it was mostly staged, so I was quite surprised that several people on the staff felt the scene was inappropriate.

Looking back, the scene itself was not inappropriate.  Had it been a scene that the two high schoolers had developed to perform, I think it would have fallen 100% under the heading of “Freedom of Artistic Expression.”  However, I was a teacher and I was the director.  I should have been a bit more sensitive to the discomfort those teens might have felt being asked to suck face in front of an audience.

At the time, I figured kids were doing a lot more, so it was not a big deal.  Now, I understand the distinction.  Teens are absolutely sexual creatures and they express that in their way.  But I was having them express not their sexuality but rather their characters’ sexuality.  It was done at my direction, and it was not an artistic rendition of their sexuality.

No one was scarred for life, and in the scheme of things, it was pretty damned benign.  Nonetheless, it was inappropriate, and if I had it to do over, I’d be more sensitive in how I staged the scene.

Assuming you are not in a coma, you’ve probably heard the controversy around then video of eight- and nine-year-old girls doing a dance routine to Beyonce’s “Single Ladies.”  If, however, you are in a coma or have been preoccupied with administering standardized tests to kindergarteners, allow me to enlighten you:

OK, people.  I do think children are sexual creatures.  I have changed quite a number of diapers in my day, and I can tell you that kids are universally delighted when they discover that delightful little treasure that is contained within their diapers.  However, that kind of exploration – along with playing doctor, masturbation, and any number of other activities – is a personal expression of sexuality.  It comes from the kids, and it is childhood sexuality.

The problem with little girls bumping and grinding is that they are expressing adult sexuality, and they are doing at the direction of their parents or choreographer.

There is a world of difference.  It’s a distinction I did not understand as a director fifteen years ago, but I do understand it now.

Kids should be kids.  They should dress like kids and play like kids and – hell, yes – dance like kids.  Don’t tell me they love what they’re doing.  That’s fantastic.  Let ‘em love dance, just don’t teach them to dance like they are strippers.  Don’t act all outraged that people are not focusing on how much fun they are having – you made the damned dance inappropriate, so you took the focus off of the kids.

Don’t tell me the costumes are about movement and lines.  Um, ever heard of a leotard?  And, please, honey, don’t talk to me about rhinestones and ruffles.  Don’t insult my intelligence.  Because the issue with those costumes has nothing to do with rhinestones and ruffles.

Finally, don’t sit there and tell me that’s just what kids do in dance.  Because, if your kid is in an activity that requires her to dress like a two-bit hooker and shake her money-maker at an audience, maybe you oughta find her a new activity.

I’m just sayin’.

15 responses to “Sense and sexuality

  1. Argh. Made me look!

    These parents are abdicating their responsibility to their children and society in general, and their excuses for it are implausible. Are they saying that unless you’re expecting millions of people to see or know about what you’re doing, you can be held to a different moral standard?

    The girls are clearly very talented dancers, and that talent could have been showcased without the song, moves, and costumes.

  2. I’ve been in a coma apparently. Wow. I SO agree with you!! As a former dancer and choreographer myself, I feel this is so very wrong. To teach little girls to dance there is no need to sexualize them like this. The costumes, song choice, and actual dance moves do not have to be this adult and suggestive AT ALL. The bull about the most popular song ever kills me– there are millions of songs, they chose this one song over all other possibilties. Hum. Maybe because it fits with the choreography and costuming?

    Sure they love it. Wouldn’t they love it as much if they were wearing leotards and dancing to another song? If the parent’s don’t see the direct appropriation of these moves from strippers they are willing themselves blind.

    The business about taking it out of context is also mind blowing. If your daughter is involved in something you wouldn’t want the public to view “out of context” – isn’t there a clue in that somewhere?

    The mother says basically that you can’t fight pop culture. I disagree. You can’t protect them from it all the time at every age, but you can keep what you feel is inappropriate out of your home (and out of their activities!) and make clear to your child what you do and do not condone.

  3. I guess I’ve been in a coma! I appreciate that you started this out with a personal mistake that changed your perspective on this. Well done.

  4. I watched the ladies on The View debate this just the other day…. I was amazed at the varied response! From my point of view (as an Aunt to an 8 year old) I thought they crossed it line–in fact the kids were taught to gyrated right over it! I certainly wouldn’t be ok with my niece learning that dance and dressing in those clothes.

  5. And you said it very well. I couldn’t watch more than 30 seconds of the video. It was that upsetting.

  6. I just…I am so sad that these parents and some members of the media are defending this.

    This is a classic example of children being sexualized. Everything about it is inappropriate for those girls. The music, the costumes, the moves. All of it.

  7. It saddens me to see girls this young doing this. And no, the girls don’t see anything wrong with it, because (hopefully) they are still innocent enough to not understand the controversy. In that respect, I do agree with some of the commenters they mentioned in the video…we ARE putting our adult views onto the kids. But that’s OUR JOB!! We are MEANT to say NO to this kind of thing.

    *sigh* I have so much more to say on this subject, but I’ll save it. Maybe I’ll do a post of my own.

  8. I’m most outraged by the fact that the news man couldn’t pronounce Beyonce’s name. Under what rock has he been living?

  9. I have never been in a coma but I do live under a rock. It’s a beautiful amethyst rock but still.

    My kids did not do dance (I did, in the late 1950s but it didn’t “stick”). My kids were involved in theatre. Costumes and makeup in their theatre group were for the stage and not to make anyone look like a girly-girl pop star. Our kids were always required to take off their costumes and make-up before they greeted their “fans” outside the green room.

    I would think a good children’s dance program should focus on the appropriate ratio of fun/skills for various ages. Costumes and props et al should support that but be secondary.

    My only slightly warped two cents after years of dealing with theatre parents who tried to project their own failed dreams upon their children 🙂

  10. I actually hadn’t heard about this, so count me among the under-rock-dwellers.

    My own 5-year-old daughter has seen the Beyonce video, and attempted to replicate it. In the living room. Wearing pajamas. I get it, it’s a catchy song. But I see a big difference between that, and choreographing a routine and choosing those outfits. Just as you do. One is my own kid’s expression, the other is adult-imposed. Or, at minimum, adult-sanctioned.

    As adults, we need to use our judgment. And I think that dressing them in those outfits in front of a large audience demonstrates a lack of that adult judgment.

  11. Cheeky Monkey

    I thought the parents did a big old mess of trying to articulate why it was okay. Context? Mmmm …. let me pull out my dictionary because I do not think that means what …. yeah, you get it.

    What I find interesting is the contrast between how we view childhood sexuality and a child’s ability to process difficult story lines. So much of our children’s worlds are hypersexualized, from this dance number (and damn, seriously, those girls can dance) to the clothes being sold at Justice. But movies made for kids–think Disney’s bastardization of every good fairy tale ever written–are so unidimensional. A childless friend was commenting on how movies like the new Alice in Wonderland and Coraline aren’t really kid movies because they contain dark themes. And I countered that children are visual creatures capable of understanding the feeling of life’s dark edges even if they can’t articulate it, that, in fact, these movies seem healthier than the wish fulfillment Disneyola (both animated and live action) that clutters the kids’ channels. It’s curious to me, even though I fear I’m not articulating this very clearly, that our culture is more or less okay with churning out tartlets but far less okay with honoring the fears and difficulties of imagination that are such a dominant part of childhood.

  12. lifeineden

    wow, i live under a rock during my coma.

    It’s been said very well so far — crazy parents, inappropriate. Hey, they were from LA after all, right?

  13. I am always in a coma…
    I dont even own a tv!
    but this was disturbing!
    FB, blogs and my google alerts seem to be my source of info

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