Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Guest Post: An Open Letter to Youth Competitive Dance

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Today's guest post comes from Lori Leigh Wilson. Lori is a mom of 3, a writer, a voice-over actor and a plant-based foodie. She is passionate about holistic family health, taking time to enjoy the moments (almost always) and learning from her missteps. You can check out her family lifestyle blog (where this piece was originally posted) for veggie recipes, parenting successes and failures, and honest sharing.

Being the dad of 3 little girls, this post spoke to me and I asked Lori if it'd be alright if I shared and she graciously agreed.
Dear Youth Dance Competition Organizers and Judges,

First of all, I would like to start by thanking you for providing a forum for my daughter to express her passion. At 10 years old, she revels in the opportunity to move her body and pour her feelings and creativity into music and movement. Even when she isn’t training, she will most often spend her free time choreographing new routines and practicing the moves that have turned her into a strong and athletic young girl. And make no mistake, she is an athlete. And this is in no small part due to the focused training she undertakes in preparation for competition.

Like any competitive sport, there are things that I don’t love about dance – the incredibly high cost, the countless hours that make family dinners all but a distant memory from September to June and the scant costumes (many of which will come in handy if my daughter ever parlays her dance training into something involving a G-string and a pole). But like all parents who agree to enroll their children into competitive endeavors, I appreciate that I sometimes have to take the good with the bad and these are the issues I will grit my teeth and contend with as long as my daughter continues to love this sport.

There is however one thing I just cannot wrap my brain around. One thing that makes me sad and frustrated at the same time. Here’s my problem – can you please tell me why I am required to plaster my beautiful daughter’s face in layers of gaudy makeup and absurdly long false eyelashes in order for her to compete on stage? And why every dancer from the tender age of 6 must endure hours in front of a mirror layering on powders, blushes and lipsticks only to come out looking like ridiculous overly sexualized young women?

Here is why I have a real issue with this – you are essentially telling a group of young athletes (the vast majority of them girls) that they are not good enough just as they are. That all of the hours of sweat and training are not quite enough to prepare them to compete in front of a panel of judges. Instead of celebrating their natural beauty and athleticism, they must further prepare by slapping on face powder and body glitter and hairspray themselves to within an inch of their lives to make themselves presentable. In order to fulfill the advanced requirements of the sport, they must transform themselves from beautiful innocent young performers into sexy made-up temptresses.

When I’ve asked around, I’ve been informed that the makeup enhances the quality of the performances. And I can understand this point only in relation to particular themes – perhaps a zombie dance would require ghostly white faces and fake scars or a smurf song would lend itself to blue faces and costumes. But I’m talking about the lion’s share of dances that regardless of the theme or music require all female performers to apply obscene amounts of eyeshadow, mascara, foundation, blush and lipstick.

Now I’ve also been told that the thick and often garish makeup is applied to allow the judges to see the girls faces better. But if that were truly the case then why don’t I see bright pink gloss or spidery lashes on the equally talented male performers? Maybe I’m missing something but I’ve yet to see a young man dance across the stage in a belly shirt with rouged cheeks and a head full of laughable attached ringlets.

Can you imagine any other competitive sport where the athletes would have to endure such indignity before competition? Would we send our children who play rep level soccer or hockey or football or lacrosse onto the playing field wearing ruby-red lipstick and purple blush to better appreciate their athleticism? Are gymnasts, swimmers and track stars forced to spend hours in the mirror pre-comp carefully affixing 1-inch lashes to enhance the visual aspect of their performance?

And am I the only one who finds this completely nuts? Because I’m really starting to think I am. I have always been shocked by how few of my friends share my discomfort with this requirement. “Oh Lori” they say “it’s just part of the sport.” “The girls will lose marks if they aren’t wearing makeup” or “My daughter loves getting all made up.” To this last comment I say yes – my sister and I spent many an hour as young girls slopping piles of my mom’s discarded makeup all over ourselves and having a ball. But it wasn’t mandatory to any activity we were participating in. It was simply for fun.

I do not consider myself a dance mom any more than I’m a soccer or hockey mom to my sons. I’m simply one mother stumbling my way through parenthood trying to do what is best for my children. And like most parents I will support them in their choices as long as they are reasonable and not life threatening. But I also want to teach my children to speak up when something feels wrong and to challenge conventions when they are outdated or unreasonable (and you can bet I’ve had many frank discussions with my daughter about my feelings around makeup and dance).

And please don’t misunderstand me – this is not meant to be a dig at any particular person or studio. I happen to love where my daughter dances and her talented teachers and I’ll be the first to admit that I had a blast watching her on stage at each and every one of her competitions last season. I’m only asking that as a collective – moms, dads, kids, studio owners, teachers, competition organizers and judges – that we take a good hard look at this particular requirement and perhaps decide that at least for these young athletes- dance should be appreciated as a sport and an art form that ultimately needs no artificial embellishment.

To the organizers of the competitions and the judges, I can tell you this for sure- if you lose the makeup you might not see bright pink lips or electric blue eye lids but I can guarantee you will have a much better view of the pure and unaltered joy on the dancers faces. You will see natural smiles and cheeks flushed with effort and excitement. You will see their eyes lit up with happiness and passion. And at the end of the day – isn’t that what it’s really all about?



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