It is hard to turn on a television, computer, or radio today and not hear of a new allegation of sexual misconduct. So I apologize for opening this magazine and having one more article because I know we are all tired of it. However, I wanted to write about ways to protect our dancers, teachers, and parents. We all want a safe place for our dancers to grow and be nurtured. Sometimes when we turn on the news, we can start to feel that there is no safe place anymore. How can we protect our families and ourselves?
While we cannot prevent everything in life, within your family circle, there are ways to help protect your loved ones. Sex and sexuality are hard topics and are never easy to discuss. There are many ways to talk about these important subjects with the family, and choosing the “best” way may involve your beliefs, upbringing, and religious background. The most important thing is to talk about it. Having a child feel that he or she cannot talk about certain body parts makes it scarier to tell an adult if something inappropriate has happened. So make sure that your child knows you are a safe person to talk about uncomfortable topics. If you are a studio owner or educator, a student may also tell you about inappropriate behavior. It is important to be aware of the resources in your community, and how you are expected to report and respond to a disclosure. You should not be expected to manage this issue alone and there are resources to help you know next steps (some listed below). If possible, have these conversations with another adult in the room or at least nearby (such as able to observe through a window).
The dance studio should feel safe and secure for students. When we turn on scary stories in the news, we can start to feel that every adult is a predator. We have to remind ourselves that the vast majority of people in the world are good people who want the best for our families. In the dance studio, it is important for teachers to be able to touch dancers to help them feel the movement. It is also important in partnering classes for hands to be placed where they can best support the dancer. In both these cases, these areas of touch can be in sensitive areas. It is extremely common in partnering classes for hands to be accidently misplaced to support a dancer or catch a fall and end up on the genitalia. While perhaps uncomfortable, it is rare for these interactions to be inappropriate. However, inappropriate behavior can happen. As a teacher, keeping windows and/or video available for parent viewing can help everyone feel more comfortable. As a student, keeping open dialogue with a partner, teacher, and a parent can help everyone involved. Also, students should feel empowered to ask an adult if something is appropriate or not, as sometimes it can be unclear. Being aware, but not panicking or automatically assuming the worse can create an open dialogue about okay touch and not okay touch. As a parent, watching for unexplained behavior changes in your child like no longer wanting to go to dance class, dancing with a certain partner, working with a specific teacher, may be early indicators to pay closer attention to interactions. This can also be true of the opposite red flags – only want to take class with a certain teacher, always wanting one on one late night private classes with another partner, etc. Again, open dialogue, observing classes, making sure there are no secrets can be ways to investigate any suspicious behavior changes.
No matter how hard we try, there are times when situations are out of our control. If inappropriate behavior has occurred, whether related to dance or not, it is important to take action steps. Firstly, the behavior must stop or be stopped. If inappropriate behavior was reported, our initial human reaction is often disbelief. Think how many times you have said “no, not him!” to the television lately. However, it is important to respond to the person’s story and remove the student from further potential interaction with the accused. Secondly, report accusations appropriately and accurately. This is not the time for rumors and whispering. This is the time for reporting any allegations and allowing investigators to do the job of determining facts. There are strict laws regarding reporting suspected child abuse and reporting is mandatory. Thirdly, the accused perpetrator should be removed from any potential role or situation where inappropriate behavior could occur until facts are established. Lastly, counseling for both perpetrator and victim should be started (not done together). If the victim is a child, then parental counseling should also be started. This is recommended regardless if the accusations are proved true or false after investigation.
There are many resources available for training and to assist in both prevention and reporting. The Boy Scouts of America is one organization that has Youth Protection Training, protocols for adult volunteers, and clear reporting procedures if needed. There are also clear recommendations with both written and video material for protecting volunteers, leaders, and students. The Florida Department of Education also has resources available online. While there are many opportunities to gain information, it is not always standard at every dance studio for adults to have undergone specific training. It is recommended that studios examine available options, assess the needs of their staff, students, and parents, and take action steps to ensure all are sharing a positive experience.
Dancing, like life, is a balance. Many dancers have a “me too” story. Some of those stories are because of dance, but many have found healing in dance. Therefore, it is important not to “throw the baby out with the bathwater.” The world is not always safe, but it is beautiful and full of joy. We can all take practical measures to keep our families and ourselves safe while enjoying the full offerings of such a complicated and joyful world. Dance Happy Dance Healthy.
|Writer: Kathleen Davenport, MD|