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drdance

Best way to help - safe and effective dance training

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Hi everyone, this is a query for parents and teachers really as to the best way you think that the message regarding safe/healthy/happy/effective dance practice should be spread. In recent weeks people have shared with me various social media posts whereby children are being exposed to dangerous practices including (but not limited to) children stretching box splits with one foot on a chair and the other on the floor with comment from the teacher about 'pain and tears but then the children want to do it more next lesson', children as young as two years old being celebrated for taking part in acro/'strength' classes wearing ankle weights, teachers boasting about children training for hours on end and more.

 

We know that the dance training industry is not regulated, and we know that teachers who are guilty of dangerous practices may or may not be qualified or registered and this apparently makes very little difference. We also know that some of the schools who partake in this sort of activity are also highly successful at competitions and have a lot of media exposure including being scouted for tv shows such as Britains Got Talent, The Greatest Dancer etc.

 

Is there a way that the message about safe dance training, child-appropriate dance training, and protecting our young dancers' bodies and minds can be shared effectively?

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I shall keep a watch on this thread as it really is a topic that needs much debate.... and an area of kids health & safety that really needs exposing/tightening up on/improving in so so many ways!

Good luck Dr Dance - vive la revolution!

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It's very difficult as our young people are exposed to so many negative influences these days.

I think it starts with the very perception of dance. Whilst I will argue to my dying day that dance is an artform not a sport, it does have a lot of commonality with sport, not least the physical risks posed, especially by poor coaching/ teaching. But somehow this is not recognised widely. I know people who would never dream of sending their child to, say,  an unqualified swimming coach, but are perfectly happy with the village hall dance class run by an 18 year old with no qualifications and quite possibly no DBS, first aid training or insurance. Why? Well, it's "only dance".  It seems to be quite a deeply ingrained attitude. I have had no difficulty getting support from our local school for my sporty son's pursuits, or my musical son's activities, but when my DD was at the same school the attitudes ranged from disinterest to scathing criticism. I don't know what the answer to that is, but I do think it is the fundamental problem. 

You are somewhat "preaching to the choir" here, as most of the parents and teachers on this forum already take dance seriously, understand the risks as well as the benefits and want to improve things. But for every one of us, there are dozens of "drop and run" parents, and, in my opinion, it is the widespread lack of understanding and apathy that allows unsafe practice to flourish.

Then at the other end of the scale there is the almost god like power wielded by those in the elite institutions that it is so hard for anyone to challenge.

I would like to see more transparency and accountability throughout the industry, and I do think that a national governing body would help. But I can't  imagine that happening any time soon.

The use of social media has to be key. So much bad stuff is out there, but I think it can only be countered by using the same media to fight back. Atracting high profile people in the industry promote to safe practice via their social media may be beneficial.  Coukd the current trend for "ambassadors" be utilised, both by lobbying commercial  companies to only use ambassadors who demonstrate  safe practice and to drop those posting unsafe pictures etc, or by setting up a specific scheme? TV companies don't help - is there any way of challenging them over the way they portray dance?

But ultimately change has to come from more and more parents, teachers and dancers standing up and saying "this isn't ok". Other institutions have changed, so surely dance can to?

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I am totally with you on this one drdance.  There are too many dangerous practices going on posted all over social media.  Local academic schools often under-value proper dance training because they consider it to be the same thing as their after school clubs, or dance as part of P.E. - often badly taught by teachers without any specific dance training!

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Thank you Dr Dance for pointing this out. I have never been a fan of social media one trick ponies and similarly i don't support these dangerous practices. Children are easily influenced on social media so i would target that area. As Pups-mum said - perhaps utilising the ambassadors? 

Yet, i have done some experiment over the weekend and believe me or not i have passed and been aproved as an ambassador with my "parent" account that is with 3 followers and no posts what so ever. I worry how the companies actually select ambassadors? Is it only sales driven?

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Pups mum - again very well said & good ideas.... 

Social Media could well be used as it’s on vaccine I suppose but then Flexy Nexy highlights how unregulated (/unregulatable?) it all can be....

It surely needs to start & the top (good practise from those hallowed elite organisations) to then drip down....

And yes, TV & other media have a role to play as do we making good choices.... all the views of the good the bad & the ugly are noted as views & viewing figures.... so perhaps we need to also try stop looking at the rubbish or unsafe where we can to limit the old adage if no such thing as bad publicity....

A government regulated governing body (not just pay to join membership bodies) is surely long overdue in dance? As Pups mum says, more ‘checks & measures’ are in place for almost every other extra curricular activity we would consider signing our kids up to....

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It’s not just bad/unsafe practice that’s posted on social media - one of my particular bugbears is “professional photographers” using photoshop on dancers to edit feet, make waists/buttocks slimmer and even - I kid you not - remove muscle.  Not only have I seen this in adverts for dancewear where professional dancers have had their physique “tweaked” but recently I saw a photo of a dancer (on a Facebook page aimed at students/teachers/parents) who appeared to have no knee whatsoever.  What is unaesthetically appealing about knees, goodness only knows.  

 

Photoshopping is bad enough in ordinary magazines but in an art form where students already worry quite enough about body image, weight, muscle development and whether their feet are sufficiently bendy, it is both unacceptable and even dangerous.  The number of unphotoshopped pictures of dancers “going over” onto their toes in broken pointe shoes is already worrying without giving young dancers a false image of the “ideal dancer” by photoshopping out muscles and bones. 

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We probably need to vote with our credit cards on matters like this.

Wherever possible, shop with manufacturers and retailers who *don't* use advertising techniques that are potentially detrimental to young dancers, and complain to those who do. I don't really know anything about advertising standards, but is there a case for complaining about photoshopped pictures as being misleading or something?

I suppose this is a bit like the anti smoking campaigns. Legislation is obviously effective, but social acceptance is also key. It used to be normal to smoke, "cool" in fact, but now it is seen as antisocial in many circles. In the same way, we need young dancers to stop seeing these dangerous stretches as cool, and over training as a badge of honour and replace with the idea that they are stupid things to do. Advertisers know what they are doing. We need to follow their example and use "influencers" from within the target population and the celebrities they look up to. I am nowhere near media savvy enough to know how you would actually go about that, but I suspect it will be a more effective method than trying to educate parents.

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I think a major influence has been the promotion of static poses as images over an appreciation of the expression of movement between these positions. An arabesque is beautiful because of what comes immediately before and afterwards ... how the position is reached and how the body transforms fluidly into a different position after moving through the arabesque. Instagram shots of high extensions, over-splits etc don't capture this artistic quality. Instead, they celebrate the gymnastic contortion and extreme flexibility of the dancer's body.

 

I think backtracking on this is likely to be extremely difficult, not least because there seems to be a genuine trend in vocational pathways of rewarding young dancers with extreme flexibility and high extensions. It is highly possible that the most successful students also have artistic expression and an ability to communicate through the art form ..... however, I'm not so sure that dancers with those two latter qualities would get very far in today's ballet world if they did not also possess outstanding flexibility and high extensions ....

 

Perhaps the horse needs to be put before the cart - ie. audience taste will only change if dance schools and companies are actively seen to be not only encouraging but also promoting safe practice and an appreciation of ballet as an art form instead of a gymnastic display.

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Indeed Glissade.

Are audiences given what they like, or do they have to like what they are given? 🤔

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Everyone who dances needs equipment  - shoes, leos, tights etc. 
If the manufacturers could put a catchy, cool slogan on ALL their products which promotes good practice from finding a reputable teacher, to warming up properly and doing safe stretching etc. Not sure what it would be?.. haha but maybe all schools could participate in a worldwide competition to find the best and that way they would be educated at the same time!

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What I notice about these posts is a lack of teachers challenging teachers. It would really help if their peers began to tell them how unacceptable and dangerous some of their practices are. 

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4 minutes ago, Pas de Quatre said:

Ha, ha, you think they would take any notice - these teachers believe they are superior to everyone else!


No, I don’t necessarily think they would notice, not at first. But the parents might notice if teachers themselves started calling them out on it. And it’s the parents that need educating if they’re to keep their dc safe. 

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I think the problem then would be that the teachers that are highlighting the bad practice would be labelled as “jealous.”

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20 minutes ago, Busymum said:

I think the problem then would be that the teachers that are highlighting the bad practice would be labelled as “jealous.”


Possibly, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try, especially those who are well known. I do think the industry needs to take some responsibility themselves for solving this issue, not just relying on parents to become better educated. 

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Calling the teachers out publicly wouldn't go down well and very likely be counter productive. A lot of the parents know about unsafe practice but either don't want to.stop it because they are too hungry for their child's 5 minutes of fame or would be too frightened to go against the school culture because of potential reprisals. Also  Busymum I agree. Teachers already have near slanging matches and one up manship posts on fb and those with a similar culture (often the high profile popular schools) would just gang up on the people challenging such practice. I just don't think certain schools are going listen. They are making lots of money and gaining in popularity so they don't have a vested interest in listening. I fear it will take the serious injury of a child before people wake up to the current trends in unsafe practice.

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I’ve tried to be proactive on social media about this in the past and have been subjected to personal threats and abuse from teachers who felt attacked by my concern for the safety of children. Never once did I mention any particular teacher or student. It was vile and hateful and several of them did gang up against me. It has recently happened to another colleague who dared to speak out. While they did have a lot of support, there was also significant backlash on social media which got very personal and nasty. Hence my wondering how best to deal with this issue.

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56 minutes ago, drdance said:

I’ve tried to be proactive on social media about this in the past and have been subjected to personal threats and abuse from teachers who felt attacked by my concern for the safety of children. Never once did I mention any particular teacher or student. It was vile and hateful and several of them did gang up against me. It has recently happened to another colleague who dared to speak out. While they did have a lot of support, there was also significant backlash on social media which got very personal and nasty. Hence my wondering how best to deal with this issue.

Exactly drdance. I have seen similar behaviour on fb. Some of them behave like school bully's and are incredibly unprofessional. The problem is a lot of them know the hold they have over the parents so they don't actually care. 

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That's dreadful drdance.

Though if it is any consolation, I would say that that kind of reaction shows that they know you are right. In my experience, people who are secure in their own knowledge and expertise seldom resort to those kind of tactics to "defend themselves".

Keep fighting the good fight. Things will change eventually.

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19 hours ago, drdance said:

We also know that some of the schools who partake in this sort of activity are also highly successful at competitions and have a lot of media exposure including being scouted for tv shows such as Britains Got Talent, The Greatest Dancer etc.

 

I wonder whether a concerted attempt my registered dance educators - maybe bringing together RAD, ISTD, BBO headquarters organisations, plus the Heads of the ENBS, RBS, and other top vocational schools, could complain about the standard of bodily safety on a programme such as The Greatest Dancer ? (the most inaccurately named programme on television at the moment, except perhaps for Love  Island).

 

And maybe the organisations who run the competitions in which child dancers are rewarded for doing acrobatics etc could start to impose limits and penalties in points, to dissuade - or even stop - tricks which involve moves we know are bad for most young bodies.

 

I think that, unless the rewards are removed, we will see more & more young bodies damaged. Problem is, we don't know at 11 whether the extreme moves that a young child seems able to do, will leave her/him with a damaged body at 40.

 

And thank you DrDance for raising the issue. If you have any position or influence in any registering or awarding body, this might be something to set up a strategy/policy group for.

 

Edited by Kate_N
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Kate N - some thought provoking comments & fantastic suggestion re: collaboration between top global recognised dance awarding bodies, vocational schools & maybe add in the end employers too? Too choreographers, pro dancers & heads of RB/BRB/ENB/Rambert   plus other genres relevant (sorry - I only really know of ballet...) 

And maybe some of those horror stories of his or can go wrong? Interviews with firmer dancers daily suffering from conditions brought on or worsened by poor training/overcstretchinv etc etc

 

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I've been reading the recent facebook post from Centre Pointe.  Very professional in tone and lots of support for them.  But I'm betting there is backlash and abuse behind the scenes from the no pain no gain brigade.

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I was responsible for writing the post you have spoken about, yes I have had some horrendous abuse! But I stand by every word I wrote, I have trained some stunning students who have gone on to become current senior soloists in leading ballet companies alongside current west end performers, but the thing that I am most proud of is the articulate well adjusted young adults I have also had the pleasure of nurturing over many years. Please message me if you are interested in the matters I have discussed, the only way to bring about change is by uniting!

 

The current STATE of the Dance World

I have thought long and hard about writing this post, but I feel as a teacher who is passionate about nurturing young dancers, I think someone needs to stand up to what is becoming a very dangerous and incestuous environment in which to train pupils and students.

Teachers are Teachers whether it’s in the academic sector or dance and many would do well to remember that, too many overstep the mark and borders that really should be very clear become merged to the extent that children become vulnerable. Social media is a great tool but used excessively and with inappropriate motivation it is dangerous. 

Parents, dance is not a quick fix nor is it all about child stardom, if you want to survive in this industry you need longevity, do not be swayed by the promise of instant fame but instead understand that a teacher that really cares, is the one that grafts “quietly” with your child in the studio with a structured timetable, instead of the one that is looking for the next big promotional event that will escalate their own personal status. 

We as teachers are here to guide our pupils, yes to train and to train with intent, purpose and consistency, but also with due care and consideration for the individual. Not as in some cases to the extent that we ”break” children, I re-iterate “children” how is it acceptable to train in excess of 70 hours a week, and more importantly for this to be boasted about openly on Social Media. This is against the law for professionals let alone children. However without the presence of an independent governing society that has the power to monitor such activity and ultimately to stop it happening, teachers have a free reign to do as they please at the expense of your child’s health and welfare.

Another area of grave concern, is the obsession with teachers feeling the need to constantly post excessive videos online, I beg you to question what happens to the other 15 pupils standing on the sidelines, when these videos are being produced? ask yourself is this your child? In which case is It the right school for your son/daughter? Yes an occasional video but surely teachers are there to teach, that is what they are paid to do!

Teachers need to also understand that at all times they must act appropriately online, therefore how can a principal of a dance school ask for advice on her Facebook page about a specific named diet pill and where she can obtain them when she is in the position of guiding teenage dance pupils some of whom quite possibly could be feeling vulnerable about their own body image, how is this acceptable?

Equally so to use such language as “love you so much” on a continual basis to pupils of all ages again totally inappropriate. When is the (dance) world going to see that surely this cannot be in the best interest of our young people, this kind of behavior is unacceptable in the academic sector so why are we allowing it to happen in the dance sector? 

I do hope that if you have read this post you will take the time to think about it seriously, Surely our children are the most precious things in the world they need to be protected.

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bbodance CPD ran a safe stretching course last year, which talked about safe practice and development. I think that’s a good start but I think the cost of courses alienates people and more often than not teachers will choose a CPD session on a particular grade or syllabus recap over the more seminar style courses, I suspect because recapping the syllabus improves grades and as teachers we feel we are judged on exam results maybe? I think changes need to be made in regards to CPD, not only should all dance teachers and facilitators have to complete 18hours per year but they should have to dedicate a certain percentage to covering safe practice and safeguarding. I am only speaking from my association with a particular exam board so I don’t know if CPD is mandatory with other exam boards to continue to enter students. 
 

As someone who dedicates a lot of time to my teaching qualifications and CPD, it pains me that ex dancers with no teaching qualifications are viewed as the best option for kids, in my experience it is these teachers who continue to teach in the way they were taught adopting very old school approaches. I have also seen a complete lack of awareness of safeguarding not just from ex dancers but trained teachers too tagging kids on social media, with the date and time of the class or showing photos of them with their certificates and their full names visible. I know this is not true of all ex dancers and some do leave their professional careers and retrain as teachers, but not every excellent dancer makes an excellent teacher, being a dancer and teaching dance are two very very different skills, some people are very lucky to be exceptional at both but not all.

@drdance I think maybe putting together a PowerPoint or video seminar with some accompanying documents that teachers could access through the members areas of their exam boards would be a great start. And maybe to educate the kids there is a way of utilising instagram? 


 

 

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@Danceforfun I applaud you and I have done so openly on social media. What I cannot get my head around is the number of parents who defend and support these teachers who are most likely causing their children permanent physical and emotional harm.

 

@Bluebird22 I think the issue here is that unless safe dance practice/ child protection/safeguarding courses are mandatory CPD, those who need to hear the message will not opt to do so. 

 

Teachers working in state education have to complete mandatory safeguarding CPD every year. I think this should be the minimum. The church of england (for example) require everyone involved in a church who could have contact with children and/or vulnerable adults are made to complete online safeguarding training which has a pass/fail test so it wouldn't be too hard for the big exam boards to insist on this. 

 

I think that in terms of educating the kids/parents via social media the message has to come from people that they will listen to - ie not someone academic and uncool such as myself, but a celebrity choreographer, director or tv presenter. Or, as has been suggested,  if somehow the big schools/companies/directors etc could all come together to make some kind of campaign. But I have no idea how to do this, and my connections are limited to the dance science world.

 

What we need here is a way of contacting/recruiting some industry professionals for a marketing type campaign... 

 

 

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