Girls Who Dance

I had been thinking about young girls who dance for a little bit through two different videos. One was the video that Cora P posted about.

Though I do see where Cora P is coming from, I would like to focus on a different angle.

This video is of a girl named Kaycee Rice who was ten-years-old at the time of this performance. In July 2013, Thought Catalog posted the video to their website with the title, “This Ten-Year-Old Girl Has the Soul of 1,000 Drag Queens.” Now, I’m not going to talk about cultural appropriation or what Kaycee was wearing or her dance moves. However, I would like to talk about the negative comments on the page (there were good comments, too).

“She’s ten year old. Her parents need horse whipped.”

“This is unbelievably hideous in every respect. What is the point? All art communicates, so I ask: What is this communicating? This performance can’t properly be called dance because while there is kinetic movement, there is no art, no grace, no thought behind the movement. Not to mention how this child is presenting her body to the world. This makes me so very sad.”

“There is a way to express confidence, power, and athleticism in dance without being sexual and we should take a stand for that if we want to see a more peaceful, humane, and less animalistic world. We need more sexual repression and prudence, not less.”

“Sorry, Werkitgirl, this is not dancing. Dancing implies thoughtful arrangement of movement to communicate an idea. It also implies a flow of movement from one idea to the next. In no way can this be compared to Ballroom or tango, both of which use movement as an artistic metaphor. This is nothing more than pole dancing. Since when does a 10 year-old girl wear something like that to “celebrate” the body?”

“She will make a great hooker in 8 years.”

Clearly, Kaycee is having fun. She likes performing and she’s talented. But based on this one view of her, in these five comments, this 10-year-old is being associated with an animal, she’s seen as artless, a potential great hooker, inhumane, nonpeaceful. Her parents are seen as bad parents for letting her perform even though she’s amazing in this routine.

This video is of then two-year-old Heaven, dancing with her mom. Heaven, who is now three, performed on Ellen with her mother recently. Before they performed, Ellen asked her a few questions, including if she wanted to be a dancer when she grows up. Heaven enthusiastically replied, “I am a dancer!”

Everybody laughs. Ellen responds in a way that is sort of dismissive, like “how could you, a three-year-old, think of yourself as a dancer?” But Heaven does see herself as a dancer and there’s something pretty powerful about a black child being able to envision herself in the world and claiming what she loves to do, but I digress. After the video went viral, many people were posting it on Facebook. On my feed, someone linked to this article and wrote:

“[Mom], this was us except you were working in [Uncle’s] office and I was sitting on the floor with a stack of printing papers, trying my best to be like you.”

The mom replied, “Lol, that placed you in college, I hope this don’t place her on a pole lol”

The daughter responded, sort of defending the little girl. Though most of the comments I’ve read about Heaven and her mother are positive and talk about how great it is that Heaven’s mother is cultivating a love of dance in her, there was nothing risque about the dance that the girl did, and yet, the conclusion is still that she will end up on a pole. Heaven loves dancing and it is telling that the three-year-old was more excited about receiving a butterfly costume for Halloween in the video with Ellen than getting tickets to see Beyoncé–the point being that she’s three. She has her entire life to decide who and what she wants to be.

On the other side of the spectrum, there’s six-year-old B-girl, Terra. Some of the comments on a Colorlines article about her read:

“Just as long as she puts as much time in her school work as she does in her dancing abilities I’m all for it! A very good dancer indeed!”

“The brain must still be educated regardless of being a great dancer, musician, etc. The world has enough entertainers and not enough educated people.”

“This may totally be my fear or ignorance…or both. I was truly impressed by her skills and entertainment value…I just felt a tiny bit uncomfortable with her masculinity…No offence to this beautiful child…I just would have preferred to see more femininity there…especially for a developing girl child.”

There are a few things that are happening with these comments. First, some of the people who commented are assuming that the arts and school are mutually exclusive and in that vein, they are valuing academics over arts. It’s a video of a girl dancing–she’s not speaking or doing anything academic, so why does her education come into it? In the last comment, the person says they are uncomfortable with Terra’s masculinity and ‘prefer’ for her to show more femininity. I think this is a case of being damned if you do, damned if you don’t. If Terra had showed more femininity, she might have been seen in the way that Kaycee did. Heaven didn’t show much femininity other than being a girl, and yet she was still seen as potentially ending up as a stripper. The style of dance that Terra participates in necessitates a ‘game face’ and she wears her hair in cornrows, which may be where the commenter sees ‘masculinity,’ but her outfit is a pink and purple tracksuit.

A problem in the discussion of these girls is that those who comment seem to assume that these girls are unchangeable–because they like a certain style of dance or performed a certain style of dance, this must mean x about them. And if x is true, they will be y. But real-life doesn’t work that way. Going back to Cora P’s post, I will admit that when I first saw the video of Kaycee Rice, I felt a little uncomfortable watching it. But that was soon overshadowed by her talent. At the end of the day, all of these girls are talented and they shouldn’t be penalized for doing what they love.

[Sidenote: If any of the girls do “end up on a pole,” that’s still her prerogative. In reality, pole dancing is pretty impressive once one gets away from the negative connotations of it.]

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