“Children deserve to learn and experience the gift of dance in safe environments that do not sexualize them.
Children deserve to love dance, their bodies, and themselves.
Children deserve to not be victims of sexual exploitation.”
This is the mission of Dance Awareness: No Child Exploited (DA:NCE). Founded in 2016 by dance educator and author Mary Bawden, DA:NCE is an organization dedicated to bringing awareness and education to parents, teachers, and other adults in order to stop the hypersexualization of children in dance culture today.
It may not come as a surprise that rampant hypersexualization and objectification has permeated almost every corner of society. This issue is often easily recognized in advertisements, movies, television shows, and social media, but what about the art of dance itself?
Mary Bawden, a dancer herself in her youth, fondly remembers the feelings of empowerment and freedom she felt in her childhood dance classes. She went on to receive a degree in modern dance from UCRiverside, then a master’s degree in worship with an emphasis in dance from Hope International University. She also led a dance ministry at her church for over 20 years and started Soul to Sole Choreography in 2003.
Despite the fond memories and a lifetime of positive experience with dance, Mary began noticing that the culture around children’s dance was moving in an unhealthy direction that included the sexualization of children under 12 who were being outfitted with adult costumes and taught sexualized choreography set to adult music. She found that children’s dance choreography was becoming more likely to include “negative movement patterns: booty pops, lip-licking, finger licking/sucking, breast or groin stroking, patting or pointing towards breast or genitalia, crotch-grabbing, obscene gestures, suggestive grinding, and seductive props and looks.”
Indeed, many dance studios across the country now regularly choreograph and costume their young dancers in inappropriate and hypersexualized ways. Bawden was motivated to document her findings and talk with experts in order to raise awareness about the dangers related to this trend.
While some people may try to say that all of this is “just harmless entertainment,” research has shown the significant detrimental effects that this type of sexualization can have on children. A study on the hypersexualization of children put it this way:
“Many say that the real issue with hypersexualization is the objectification of girls and women. They propose that hypersexualization is not about sexuality but about sexism and about who holds the real power in our world. Objectified girls are being groomed to accept the passive role of object, whose main source of power is her appearance.
Pornography is a big part of the problem, according to some, such as the Réseau québécois d’action pour la santé des femmes. Soft porn images now abound and seem normal in pop culture aimed at teens and tweens.
And some say that it’s all about the bottom line, that, because ‘sexy sells’, the fashion and toy industries are targeting girls for new markets in the same way the tobacco and alcohol industries target adolescents.”
Another study from the American Psychological Association found that girls who are hypersexualized at a young age can experience myriad negative outcomes including, but not limited to, body dysmorphia, self esteem issues, poor academic performance, and being at a higher risk for risky sexual behavior.
Which poses an important question: Where are the positives for teaching girls that they are merely conduits for physical objectification? By continuing to turn a blind eye to the practice of hypersexualizing children’s dance, parents and dance educators are teaching their young children a dangerous lesson. Sexuality is not inherently wrong. In fact, it is a beautiful thing. But for children, who are still in critical stages of emotional, physical, and mental development, dance should not be yet another way for girls and boys to be morphed into sexual objects instead of recognized as holistic human beings.
DA:NCE has set out to change the way children’s dance is seen and performed with a host of different resources, including educational toolkits for both parents and dance teachers, presentations, the latest research, and easily accessible videos.
To learn more about DA:NCE and get involved, visit their website at https://www.danceawareness.com. Additionally, please take the time to sign this petition as we fight for a world free from sexual exploitation.