Opinion: Young female dance teams are unnecessarily sexualized

This is an opinion article. Any views expressed belong solely to the author and are not representative of The Cluster.

I was at a basketball game a while back when a dance team of a bunch of adorable little girls performed at half-time. The oldest couldn’t have been more than seven, but the majority of them appeared to be in kindergarten or first grade. As I watched them, I couldn’t help but wonder why I seemed to recognize parts of their dance when I don’t attend shows or even games like this very often. That’s when it hit me: I’ve seen our dance team perform the exact same moves before.

There’s no denying that college cheerleading and dance teams are sexualized in some way. As a student worker at the basketball games, I get to watch their performances every time and at least some part of the appeal is that they’re all very beautiful girls who dance amazingly well on the court. The difference to me, however, is that they are all college students who are able to make the choice to join the team and perform.

The sexualization of young girls in the entertainment industries, from television to sports, has been a problem for awhile, but has become more known in recent years. Organizations such as Youth Protection Advocates in Dance have been aiming to eliminate the sexualization in children’s dancing, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t still an issue.

For example, hit Lifetime series “Dance Moms” had a controversy over the sexualization of their young dancers, with the episode “Topless Showgirls” eventually being pulled from rotation. The show has also come under fire for its treatment of its young dancers, in part because of the sexualization of dances and costumes. Despite that controversy, its 8th season premiered last June.

Dr. Tomi-Ann Roberts, a Colorado College psychology professor whose research focuses on the effects of this kind of sexualization on young girls, explained the detriments of objectification.

“The problem is that this objectifies the dancer’s body. The movements and the body are now separated out from the person, the dancer,” Roberts said. “They come to feel that their bodies are not their own but rather ‘belong’ to others. This can make them more susceptible to harm. Children can begin to view themselves as objects, only appreciated and valued for their sexy appearance, as opposed to their competence, training and skill.”

When YPAD’s founder and dance teacher Leslie Scott was searching for work in Hollywood, she was told, “If you want more work, you have to show your body and dress more provocative.” 

To get more students in her class, she was told to use more explicit music. It isn’t surprising that she was given that advice in a culture where we’re constantly told “sex sells.” It does, but when the ones selling it are little girls, we have a bigger problem on our hands.

We need to work to stop this sexualization of these children who just want to dance. From overtly revealing costumes to sexy routines, our job as adults and as a society should be to protect these children from this kind of exploitation. The girls on “Dance Moms” suffered harassment, children begin to “self-objectify” and we do nothing about it.

Children’s dancing does not need to be a sexualized activity. At past basketball games, I’ve seen two other dance routines by young girls that didn’t rely on that uncomfortable sex appeal. Organizations like YPAD and Dance Awareness: No Child Exploited, are working with dance instructors, studios and parents to protect these children and stop this unnecessary and inappropriate sexualization.