Time for a new code of practice to stop sexualisation of girls in an unregulated industry
In 20 years of involvement in Australia’s dance industry, I have seen first hand the impacts on girls and young women, as a result of the imposition of hyper-sexualised messages – from broader culture of course. But also from within the industry I love. Too many girls are expected to engage with adultified choreography, costuming, music and language. From body weight obsession and appearance dissatisfaction, to ‘yo yo’ dieting, anxiety and other poor mental health outcomes, the consequences of growing up in an environment conditioned by the sexualised pressures young dancers absorb, will only become more prevalent if we don’t act soon.
In April 2015, the first of a series of articles I had written surrounding the sexualisation of children in the industry was published here on MTR. Titled ‘The Sexification of Young Dancers Inside Australia’s Booming Dance Studio Scene’, the article gained traction quickly – reaching thousands of readers nationwide and attracting mainstream media attention. It was said to have generated the largest and most widespread discussion so far on the state of children’s dance education. What was originally a final assignment to complete my Journalism degree, it so very nearly was filed to collect dust and remain unread before I sent it on to MTR, in the hope she might be interested.
The article’s publication has now lead to my involvement in a national call for a total overhaul of the industry as it relates to children.
With over 418,000 children enrolled in dance across the country, the industry is quite possibly the largest unregulated child-related industry in Australia. Detrimental consequences of the industry’s self-regulatory state are reflected in the sentencing of prominent Sydney dance teacher Grant Davies who has pled guilty to 47 charges of child pornography and sexual abuse.
Dance educators have a significant responsibility to actively safeguard the physical, mental and emotional wellbeing of all children within their care. It is in recognition of this responsibility, and my passion to see our young people thriving in the safest, most positive and supportive environments possible, that I have written a proposed ‘Code of Practice’ for dance educators and service providers. The code is an ethical framework designed to specifically combat sexualisation and harmful messages in children’s dance education, and empower teachers to adopt practices that holistically safeguard the well-being of our young people.
Such a policy does not exist. A governing authority to implement a policy in the 6,000 studios across Australia does not exist, and the Department of Education do not have a dance-specific policy in place for their in-school programs.
Until this day arrives, I and other concerned people have launched an association to bring this proposed policy to the Australian community. KidsPace Code Incorporated was set up in NSW March 2 and has developed the KidsPace Dance Code of Practice, which is included in a submission to the current NSW State Parliament inquiry into Sexualisation of Children and Young People. With the endorsement of well known and respected psychologist Steve Biddulph AM and a committee of passionate people from a range of sectors including education, welfare and child safety, we are excited to play our part in ensuring young dancers are thriving in positive, safe and supportive environments.
Parents, studio directors, teachers, school principals and anyone involved in the provision of children’s dance education can head to the website and register their interest to view the code.
Jemma Nicoll is a UTS Journalism graduate and freelance writer. She directs Inspire Creative Arts, a dance school in Sydney’s Sutherland Shire and is involved in mentoring and self-esteem development programs for girls.