I am sitting in a dark room, with LED lights flashing, slightly blinded from the flash of rhinestones, watching a scantily clad girl gyrate on stage. No, I did not take a wrong turn and end up in a “gentleman’s club” – I am in fact at a dance competition. A dance competition where currently girls ages 5-10 years old are competing. Their talent is unreal. These mini dancers are performing feats that ten years ago you would have only seen on a professional stage. The level of dance has increased exponentially over the past decade and I am proud to be a part of it. I wonder though, can little girls still stay little girls in this industry? I firmly believe that they can and I am challenging other dance teachers to make it happen.
In my mind, the key to keeping our little ones little starts with the music. As a choreographer, I listen to hundreds upon hundreds of songs. Each piece of music I listen to conjures images of what story that particular song creates. I see what type of dancer it belongs on, what they should be wearing, how they should move – a scene is instantly created in my mind. Which makes me wonder, who listens to the song “I’m Your Lady” and sees an 8 year old in a bikini? Yes, I did just watch that number.
One of my dance idols, Rhee Gold, spoke to this topic and his quip was so on point. He said, “an eight year old girl can’t dance to “she don’t know how to love you” because guess what?! She don’t know how to love you!!!” Amen! Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t want my eight year old knowing how to love you, and I don’t want her dancing about it either.
Each dancer has a story to tell on stage. They must be able to understand the story in order to have a connection to their movement. My six year old dancer just performed to “Castle On A Cloud” – a song about a young girl dreaming about a better place. Admittedly, I wouldn’t have my little one watch Les Mis, but the song itself is sweet, haunting, and hopeful. The lyrics speak to a mother’s love and the dreams of a young girl.
Even with my teenagers, it is essential to choose relatable topics that allow them to draw on personal experience to bring the story to life. This encourages them to become artists, rather than just play a character on stage. The concept of relatable topics starts with our youngest dancers. Why do we feel like these little ones need to look like miniature versions of our teens? Don’t worry, they’ll get there, whether we like it or not. They will mature and they will be older than we want them to be faster than we want them to get there. As a mother of four, I have seen it first hand and Father Time stops for no dance mom. So let’s stop trying to shove those clock hands forward for our little girls. Enjoy every moment of their pigtails and curls!
I also just saw a beautiful lyrical rendition of “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” danced by three young girls in flowing chiffon dresses with gorgeous lines and emotions to go along with it. It was poignant, wistful, and perfect for their age group. It can be done people! So, the next time you are looking for that “perfect” song for your elementary school group, listen to the lyrics. In fact, say them out loud. Even better yet, would you hand those lyrics to the eight year old and have them say the words to their parent? If not, put the ipod down and keep looking!