Mad at Dance

For the last few years, I have been mad at dance. Recently, though, I used a different phrase. I was finally able to articulate that I am not really mad at dance. I am mad at the consumption of dance.

For me, dance speaks to the human condition. It is a process by which we enter mindfulness and connection with ourselves and others. Yet, the product most readily consumed and now, in my recent experience, most coveted by young dancers/families is  the sport of dance.

I get it. Sports do a lot of great things. There are great interpersonal and intrapersonal skills developed there. Physical skills, too. Students are taught at school and many homes that achievement is success. I get all of that.

I am not  mad at dance as sport. If that is what you love- love that. I just wish we could call it what it is- dance sport.

I am mad at the illusion that this is what dance should be.

This isn’t a culture. In many instances, it is a numbing. Adrenaline is not an emotion, it is a chemical that provides sensation. It doesn’t provide depth. It doesn’t provide feeling. And we are interacting with dance (and other arts) in ways similar to how we are interacting with other parts of life and we are sharing them with our kids. Success means over-work, over-train, over-caffeinate, over-indulge, over-use. The underlying story is that you are either not enough or you are too much.

If we were truly inviting dancers to move from social and emotional understanding, their gestures wouldn’t all look the same. We, as people, don’t all look the same. Or think the same. Or feel the same.

What are we doing about it?

How do we support kids interfacing with their actual emotions in an appropriate, artistically-based setting? What kind of supplementary experiences are we promoting to help them process who they are as people and then assist them in translating that information into artistry. Or simply character. Personally aware, culturally literate people with empathy, sympathy, compassion, reason, and creativity.

We must be able to articulate if we are able to express. Articulation involves discernment and practice in being present– time and space to feel and be with our feelings. It sounds woo-woo but I find it to be imperative. I can’t change my experience if I don’t fully acknowledge what my experience is.

Isn’t this the art of living? Isn’t this the work of Art?


Author: Heather Vaughan-Southard

HEATHER VAUGHAN-SOUTHARD is a connector. She uses somatic engagement and creativity to inspire change in people, perspectives, and practices within classrooms, therapy rooms, and boardrooms. She is a presenter in the fields of education, social-emotional learning, somatic practice, and the arts.

4 thoughts on “Mad at Dance”

  1. Spot on. Heather, I grapple with this so often as I direct a pre-professional division at my school. I think we need to lead by example and TALK about, articulate our challenges as artists and what our success looks like. In our program we offer them experiences in many areas of dance from conventions to concert dance, dance history to contemporary studies, improvisation to choreography classes and workshops. It is our job, as their guide (teacher), to open the lens of what dance can be, not to narrow it or fashion it down into the bubble that is most comfortable for us.

  2. Hi Heather!

    I loved this piece and resonate with so much of what you are saying. I have danced most of my life and naturally was excited that my daughter has expressed a true interest in dance. I’m quite concerned and conflicted over the options for dance today. The challenge is that you either dance at a studio that is only ballet or a studio that provides multiple styles but is all about competition. Since she loves tap and musical theatre as well as ballet, hip hop and contemporary we have found we are at a competition studio. I was dismayed that they wanted to start her competing at age 6!!! I held off as long as possible and I’m not letting them “fast track” her into the higher level (meaning more pressure, more competitions and more pushy dance moms) but I’m very concerned about where she will go from here. I want her to honor her innate creativity and allow her to continue to dance from a place of JOY!!

    It’s really disappointing that dance has turned into the insane “sports mentality” with the unhealthy parental engagement to go with it. I have already witnessed horrific stories of parents pushing their kids and making it about them and not their children’s needs or honoring appropriate development. They look at me crossed eyed when I express that I’m pleased my 7 year old is having fun and then say things like “I’m not paying all of this money for them to have FUN!”. Thankfully, her teacher the last few years understands and honors development but frankly I’m not sure that as she gets older that this studio will provide teachers that continue to do so. I’m actively looking around, but there are not many options especially as she is so into tap and musical theatre (keeping Eisenhower in mind, but then we would have to add tap and theatre work elsewhere??).

    Thank you for your piece. It is helpful to know that I’m not alone. I’d love any suggestions on navigating today’s crazy dance world. And I love your posts on IG and FB! I hope you enJOY the transition to school/fall!

    With Gratitude!


    Kelly Hale, MS, OTR/L, IMT,c, PMA-CPT 248 227-1646

    Sent from my IPAD


    1. Kelly,
      I was nodding all the way through your note. Thanks for your kind words and personal experience.

      Yes, I think many are really buying status and prestige masked in skill and athleticism. Ultimately, I think it is disorienting. Some families have been surprised when I have spoken to them about the difference in getting in to a college dance program versus thriving in a college dance program. Of course, the surprise started by the content of the class and the amount of time discussing dance at the highest levels. There is a lot to build into a well-rounded experience.

      And yes, I think often a portfolio style education is required- finding the best resources to suit the needs instead of a one-stop shop studio. The other aspect I like that is what that decision teaches- it is okay to take care of one’s self and one’s experience rather than settling in order to fit into the culture. I am a fan of wide-ranging exposure. Students who have studies with many instructors tend to navigate change and have a stronger sense of self than most who stay with a single instructor/studio, in my opinion.

      It is hard but it sounds like you are doing a bang up job navigating. I enjoy following you in social media, too. Perhaps we shall see each other in person soon! Thanks again!

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