Many of you have probably by now seen this video of a group of young girls dancing to Beyonce’s Single Ladies on the World of Dance tour. Huong L., Jeff S., and Dmitriy T.M. sent it in and asked us to comment on it. First, the video… which is stunning:
I think I’ve watched this a half dozen times and I’m mesmerized.
But to the analysis…
After the Single Ladies video came out there was a rash of parents uploading videos of their kids dancing along to the video. We featured a particularly impressive example of a preschool-aged girl dancing to the video and offered it as an example of how kids are active agents in their own socialization. You might also apply this idea to this video, sent in by Heather B. (which I am not going to comment on because I can’t figure out the context).
Certainly children do make choices about what to mimick. In a culture that highly sexualizes young girls, we shouldn’t be that surprised when they make choices that we find incongruent with (our beliefs about) childhood. The World of Dance routine, however, is not simply an example of children being active in their own socialization and responding to the powerful messages of self-objectification aimed at girls of all ages. In this case, many, many adults were instrumental in producing the product: their dance teacher(s), the choreographer, their parents, and the producers of the tour, to name the obvious. These girls are performing a highly sexualized routine because many adults chose to sexualize them.
For more examples of the sexualization of young girls, see our posts on sexually suggestive teen brands, adultifying children of color, “trucker girl” baby booties, “future trophy wife” kids’ tee, House of Dereón’s girls’ collection, “is modesty making a comeback?“, more sexualized clothes and toys, sexist kids’ tees, a trifecta of sexualizing girls, a zebra-striped string bikini for infants, a nipple tassle t-shirt, even more icky kids’ t-shirts, “are you tighter than a 5th grader?” t-shirt, the totally gross “I’m tight like spandex” girls’ t-shirt, and a Halloween costume post.
Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
Kate — June 9, 2010
These girls are incredibly skilled dancers! The amount of sexualisation here in rather shocking though. The thing that shocked me more was if I didn't look at their faces then it wasn't shocking - these pre-pubescent girls have exactly the sort of body shape that you expect from an adult dancing to this song. In a way this video is a meeting n the middle of the sexualisation of children with adult women being encouraged to look like teenagers.
Diana — June 9, 2010
Kate, that was the first thing I thought too! I didn't think the choreography was really all that shocking and had these girls been wearing more modest outfits, I don't think there would have been such outrage.
Jeremiah — June 9, 2010
Putting aside the "ick" for a moment, these dance moves are really quite old. I notice a lot of references to dancehall style, which I believe comes from the Caribbean. These moves have been in dance sequences for at least the last 15 years.
I get the sense most of us are reacting to the combination of costume and choreography - a series of cues we tend to associate with adult sexuality.
I hope we're not making the mistake of conflating 'play' (in the sense of children mimicking adults) with actual sexual availability, because I think that's the inference a lot of commenters (and Lisa) are making, and I (currently) reject that.
Are there any child psychologists than can shed some light on how young people view their own sexuality? Is there any research that's documenting trends and comparing them to cultural inputs? Are these activities overall harmful or helpful to young girls' self esteem? Are young dancers/models more prone to sexual abuse due to their participation in these events? Higher risk for sexual dysfunction as adult?
(note: this is my first viewing of that video. All things aside, that routine represents some seriously hard work on behalf of those girls, and they should get some serious kudos for that performance.)
Lora — June 9, 2010
I think all of the links at the bottom of the post redirect to "page not found". Just fyi.
Jacob — June 9, 2010
I too question whether this routine is "highly sexualized" -- their outfits certainly bare a lot of skin, however the choreography itself doesn't strike me as highly sexual in nature.
Lisa writes, "These girls are performing a highly sexualized routine because many adults chose to sexualize them." But perhaps she is the one doing the sexualizing(?)
Jessica — June 9, 2010
Those girls are awesome dancers! Wow. I would have looooved one parent or choreographer somewhere in that process though to say, "Hey team - couldn't the girls do this same dance, but not in the teeny tiny bikini tops?" Seeing that much skin on a young girl is always unfortunate.
The dance moves themselves, though there were a few hip-wigglers that might be a bit too sexy, were pretty great. The girls seemed tough to me (not to mention accomplished!), powerful agents - they were not just writhing on the stage and there wasn't any simulated sex. So... not as sexy as it could have been, thank goodness!
Go, girls! Just throw on a real shirt or leotard next time, huh?
Deaf Indian Muslim Anarchist — June 9, 2010
Back in the 1980s, didn't young girls idolize Madonna and dressed up like her? If so, what's the big deal? lol, people get over it.
Gina — June 9, 2010
Jeremiah, I think play is something different from this kind of performance, which places these children in the gaze of others. Play is done primarily for the child's own gratification. While this performance can fulfill that gratification for the child as well, it is also done to make the child a spectacle to others. And I don't think anyone here (in this post or thread specifically) is saying that if a child were to mimic this dance in his or her home that it would be as wildly inappropriate for adults to conceive of such a performance to be done in public.
I took dance classes when I was younger and I always felt uncomfortable in the leotards we had to wear, but I liked dance. How many of these children felt uncomfortable performing in such a way in front of so many people but didn't feel like they could speak against the adults running the show? This is something that concerns me.
Syd — June 9, 2010
The dancing doesn't particularly disturb me. Personally, while some of the moves and certainly the costumes are inappropriate, it's not shocking at all coming from 8 and 9 year olds (had these girls had a more traditional costume on, likely, it wouldn't have even sparked any controversy). When I was that age, Beyonce, in Destiny's Child, was singing very similar songs and we loved it, and our parents listened to it, because really, whether it's Single Ladies' or 'Bills Bills Bills,' it's a shit ton better than a lot of the other pop music in that genre. Some of the moves should have been tuned down, but I do not think that this is an indication that we're telling little girls they should be sexy slaves to men (in fact, the song they're dancing to says the EXACT opposite).
What is disturbing? I know competitions like this. In dance and cheer contests for TEENS and ADULTS, random people are not allowed in to video tape things, and the videos that are taken are purely for use by the participants, their teams, and their families. For a competition involving pre-teens, this security would be even stricter. The only person who should have this video would be a parent or coach of one of the teams in the competition. Judging by what I'm seeing, the contest was likely HUGE. Yet, while in context we know that dozens of teams had to be competing, and likely, this was not an unusually raunchy routine, we ONLY ever see THIS group of girls and their families/coaches dragged through the mud. The disturbing thing is not that the girls are doing this, but that SOMEONE put them, and only them, on the internet for all to see. And I don't me 'OMG PEDOS WILL SEE THEM.' I mean all this pearl clutching will likely really, really affect their lives and self-esteem when they're old enough to find out (according to the news clip posted here, I believe, the parents are still keeping this from them). Someone who had the videos of this group put them online when they shouldn't have, yet no other team is online being used as an example of the downfall of civilization. My guess? Some psycho parent or coach of a rival team did it. Their daughters didn't win or get as much cheering, so they put this routine, which was likely no worse than the competition, online so everyone on YouTube can call them 'prostitots' and blogs on the internet can rage about how every adult involved is unfit and probably a sex offender.
What I would rather see? I would rather see this whole bullshit left to die. These are CHILDREN. They're having fun, and what they got for it is all kinds of people jumping on them for dancing to something other than 'Row Row Row Your Boat' and actually having talent, and used as an example of horrible things, yet the question of who decided to throw these young girls on the internet for all to see is never mentioned.
Jess — June 9, 2010
I don't understand how having a more "modest" outfit would make this choreography any more acceptable. They could do it in snowsuits and it would still not look right or age-appropriate to me.
splack — June 9, 2010
I'm curious what people think sexualizing young girls would look like if not this? Would young girls performing head-bobbing moves, mouths open, on their knees be sufficient, or would we be 'repressing' them if we were to 'project' onto their innocent mimicry a sexualized meaning?
Stephanie — June 9, 2010
Here is a longer video of those kids dancing at the party- and it doesn't look like a school party to me, but that is just from my point of view. It looks more like a birthday party.
Lisa Wade, PhD — June 9, 2010
Links are fixed. Sorry about that; it's a really annoying Wordpress glitch.
Kishh — June 9, 2010
I went to the site of origin, where this vid first appeared. The comments people made were like, "Super!" and "Fantastic!"
Do they not get that girls who don't even have things to shake, are being sexualized? 10-12 year olds dressed like, excuse the lack of a better word, sluts? That's practically a cut-off corset with the skirt part shrunk so you only see the bikini part. Not to mention that the colours used were black and red, and red has a connotation of sex, lust, passion, etc.
Maybe these girls did not know about the meanings of red, but I'm sure they must know the actions they're performing.
And fine, if they don't, then what of the parents? This is truly disturbing. And I don't call this talent because they're just doing what the adults tell them. Would kids really perform those dance moves by themselves, out of their own imaginations?
Didn't think so.
Courtney S. — June 9, 2010
Okay, when I was 10-12, I totally mimicked dance moves like this without an adult telling me to. It's called experimenting with your sexuality. It shouldn't necessarily be done in public, but it's not alien to growing up.
Also, those girls ARE talented, and you're cutting them down unnecessarily to make your point. They are very good dancers.
Samantha C — June 9, 2010
I remember when this came up on a livejournal board, a majority of the comments were about how great dancers the girls were and they need to be encouraged. And I remember a few other people saying "Great, yes, they're terrific dancers, and yes they should keep dancing. Is there any reason that they can't show off their amazing talent wearing less-revealing clothing and to a song that isn't about hooking up?"
The video makes me really uncomfortable, but then I also admit I'm a prude. When I think of dance, I want to think of ballet, maybe tap, swing and ballroom. I'm 20, and I've always hated the fact that I missed out on a time when I could go to a "dance" and do something like that instead of the grinding sex-simulating jumping-around-like-a-maniac dancing that's been popular in my lifetime.
Becky — June 9, 2010
For the record, they're not 10-12 years old. They're 7-8 years old. That age difference is quite significant in terms of maturity and experience.
And they are very good dancers; no one ever said they weren't. That's not the point.
They're not "experimenting" and they're not "mimicking." They've been choreographed and dressed by adults. It is the adults whose judgment I question. I'm sure the girls have no clue what all the hubbub is about (nor should they).
Eve — June 9, 2010
My first impression was that the girls are amazing dancers. My second impression was that the dance was inappropriate. I don't think it would have been more appropriate if they were wearing less revealing clothing. Perhaps that makes me a prude, but I think as a culture we are sexualizing girls at much younger ages than we once did. This dance would have been too sexual if they were wearing paper sacks.
This is different from young children having their own sexuality. I don't think children are asexual, but they should not have it imposed on them from outside. Now, for all I know that was the dance they all begged and lobbied for; if so, I find that to much less problematic. I don't have any way of knowing how they felt about it - perhaps they thought it was great; perhaps they were embarrassed.
Maya — June 9, 2010
I don't consider myself a prude at all, I've always been a sexually open person and all that, but it amazes me that people don't find this dance inherently sexual. Yes, the girls are amazing, skilled dancers, but how can those hip thrusts not be seen as sexual? Dropping to their knees and grinding? Prancing away in that manner?
I'm with others who say that this would be a sexual dance no matter what they're wearing, the outfits only accentuate it as they fit with the style of dance which is sexual.
But I do agree with Syd that the most disturbing part about this is that someone videotaped it and put it on the internet. How many dance routines like this occur regularly? I'm certain many. But this is the one the whole world has seen online.
Amy — June 9, 2010
The costume is a hugely important part of this. It would not have been as inappropriate if they were dressed in something other than lingerie. That costuming is never appropriate for a child.
The move at 1:47 is very disturbing. I'm a belly dancer, and that move is pretty much banned in most belly dance circles because of the vulgarity of it. Some tribal fusion dancers do this move but it is always done slowly and without sexual connotation.
As Becky said, it makes a huge difference that these girls are around 8 years old. When i did modern dance as a child (I'm 27), only the older girls (12, 13) were ever given anything remotely sexy to do, the younger girls always did cute or fast dances, never anything like this. Hell, when I was 16 a choreographer gave us a step for a dance from "Cabaret" for our school play that involved opening legs towards the audience, and it was later scrapped because it was deemed inappropriate for us as teenagers.
Montse — June 9, 2010
Whatever happened to "I'm a Little Tea Cup..."
Amy — June 9, 2010
This isn't the first time this song was presented in a sexualized manner in an inappropriate context; the Chipettes did it first in Alvin and the Chipmunks 2 last winter.(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w-zGKAG5hqs) I remember watching it and thinking, "Aren't they supposed to be pre-teens?!"
Alvin and his trio, of course, don't perform that in ways that are very gendered (unless a gender-neutral performance is, by definition, a masculine performance because of the complete absence of "feminine" dance moves). But it's amazing to me that even chipmunks can be sexualized in a movie aimed at children. I'm not trying to trivialize the video in the post, which sexualizes actual people; I'm just offering more evidence of how normal this phenomenon has become.
Amanda S. — June 9, 2010
First of all, it's clear that these girls are enormously talented and have worked very hard. They have every reason to be proud of this performance. The people who put them in those outfits? Not so much.
Anyway, a bit of context may be helpful. World of Dance appears to be an urban dance competition: "With focus on the art of street dancing and today’s new aged choreography, World of Dance is the largest touring event embracing Urban Dance and Youth Lifestyle." A skim through a couple sets of pictures taken at this event (one, two) shows that the costumes worn by the girls in the video are the exception, rather than the rule, even for the teenage and adult participants. But knowing the context does make me interpret the video a bit differently, so I would urge people to take a look.
Jenn — June 9, 2010
As someone who was once a young girl and in dance, I'd have to say that this video isn't exactly all that shocking. The reason I quit dance after finding it utterly joyless past the age of 10 is right here, on tape.
Dance, for girls, is almost entirely about sexualization and titillation. As Captain of my Dance Squad in Middle School, nobody talked about our routines or our expression of the music. Nope, it was all about how fat we were and how hot we were. We were 12 and 13!
I began to notice, around that time, that even though I had far more dance training than many of my peers (in many different styles, but mostly lyrical jazz), I was subsequently passed up for leadership positions or roles in a dance that would have put me in the spotlight for girls that had "dancers' bodies" and were extremely conventionally pretty. After middle school, I was never placed in the front or chosen for leadership positions ever again, even as other girls were less trained, less able to lead, younger, and less dedicated.
So I quit. I've left dancing as a serious past-time and sport when I was 14, and I still smart from it today. I love dance. I love choreography, musicality, and the physical expression of music. But Dancing isn't that, past the age of 10. It's all about asses and tits and how skinny you are and how high you can jump.
I'll guarantee you that the girls in the video probably all have huge issues with their body image, all because dance is now constructed in the same vein as stripping. It's all about titillation and conventional sex appeal. It's not even about beauty or anything like that, just raw and disgusting sexual objectification.
The shock over this video proves that people have absolutely no idea what goes on in girl's dance classes and recitals. This is the norm, not the exception. It's also, sadly, the norm of dancing if you're an adult too.
For clarity's sake, imagine that most, if not all, the art in the world became porn. Porn was art, and anyone who objected to that definition was a prude. People who actually produced non-porn art were either expected to fit into extremely narrow demographics (i.e. such as ballerinas), they couldn't fit work, were slandered as prudes, or pretended that they weren't producing porn but really were. That's what dance is today: it's to dance what porn is to art.
That any of this is surprising boggles the mind.
Robert Monroe — June 9, 2010
My question, when I first saw that video, was why are adult women participating in the sexualization of little girls. If you view any documentary or reality show about beauty pagents it's always the mothers who are most involved in the sexualization of their daughters. I can't imagine dressing my 7 year old daughter up like this and letting her dance that way in public....or at home.
Dee — June 9, 2010
I don't know what the adults were thinking getting the girls to wear that. Where is this supposed to be normal? For Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan and Miley Cyrus? The first two are train wrecks and the third probably will be.
Ames — June 9, 2010
Porn culture reaches far and wide. It's that simple.
Gracie — June 10, 2010
They are wearing less clothing than in the ACTUAL video! Why is that nessacary? The parents could have dressed them like Beyonce, who was in a dance leotard to begin with? I danced for over 13 years, and wore plenty of costumes that allowed for freedom of movement, that had sparkle and pizzaz, which NEVER ever exposed a bellybutton. It's not nessecary to dance with that little on, and frankly, it's not even the norm. And, as an adult woman who buys lingerie now; YES, that costume is supposed to look like lingerie. The dancing would have held up with more clothes, and allowed us all to focus on these little girls' tremendous talent.
Laura — June 10, 2010
I'm really on the fence about this. Mostly, I agree with Gracie that the girls could have at least dressed in the black leotards like Beyoce and her dancers in the video. It's pretty similar to what dancers often wear, whereas this does look like lingerie which is bizarre and uncomfy looking on a little girl.
Rosa Pérez — June 10, 2010
Do you remember the final dance in "Little Miss Sunshine"? This dance did remind me of it, and the reaction of the audience is so differen!!!
M — June 10, 2010
"Seeing is believing"? Well I'm seeing it but I CAN'T FUCKING BELIEVE IT, neither can I believe some of the commenters here! 8 YEAR OLDS IN CORSAGES AND THIGH-HIGH LACE-UP BOOTS? Dancing like strippers? Seriously?
Kay — June 10, 2010
I think part of the cues that read as sexual are in the details of the outfit. It's not just showing skin. If a kid that age were running around naked people would just be shouting at the parents to keep the kid from streaking, not talking about sexualization. It's just that those outfits are basically a scaled down version of lingerie/clothes designed deliberately to be sexy. It's about what skin it shows and what it doesn't, and the context in which the clothes are worn. In the original video, even with many/all of the same moves nobody would say it was sexy enough to remark on. Taking a song with this context, and these moves, and adding in a costume that (on adults originally) is DESIGNED to be sexual takes the whole thing that much further. It would have been more sexual had Beyonce done it in this outfit, and it's definitely sexual on these kids. (not defining sexual as 'sexy' but as 'with a context invoking/referring to sex'. Just to be sure I'm clear)
el.j — June 11, 2010
I do think there is also a racial reading here which is interesting. Beyonce's moves were lifted from a number of sources, but there is clearly also a African/Caribbean influence in her dance moves, such as the wining moves. Beyonce obviously already mainstreams these dances for white audiences - but I do think the context changes again when a majority white dance group performs these moves. The other video of the "school dance" posted in the thread kind of speaks to this - as a Caribbean descended person, while it was a little "oh dear!" seeing little kids do these dances, at the same time, that's what it looks like at Caribbean student socials anyway so other than the children being young the dancing itself wasn't shocking. And there's a whole history behind the styles of dance in the Caribbean, and how they connect to African dances and the influences of slavery upon performance and so on that contextualizes the movements. When that's transported to white people, this connection to African diasporic culture is removed, and that has the effect of making the dances look "purely" sexual, without the surrounding context of how those dances function in a African-derived society.
As well, in terms of the song, while I don't support its message, as someone else pointed out, of women being an "it" I also think the song has a particular context of Beyonce as a Black woman that is usually left out of the way people receive that song. We keep hearing that 42 percent of African-American women never marry, and Black woman are also stereotyped by the idea that we are overwhelmingly young single mothers (the hated phrase "teen pregnancy" as though there is normal pregnancy and then a separate kind for young women.) So in that context of the fuss about whether Black women can get married, that Black men don't want Black women because of our attitudes, and all the other propaganda around Black women as second class women, etc. "put a ring on it" does have a particular message that is different from the way white women and marriage are discussed in society. There is one sense in which one can read "put a ring on it" if not as empowering, at least from the perspective of Black women asserting our marriagiability and in that sense our right to demand the same from men as white women. There is a different context when white women can expect to be validated in terms of their desirability as partners, and thus are also empowered to reject marriage as well as a structure - whereas black women are being told marriage is not something we can have because we are degraded and lesser and uppity and too much trouble and we're good for sex but not someone to commit to. Therefore, asserting the right to marry does become something that is political in ways that it isn't for white women.
ms.bec — June 12, 2010
Children need guidance to make good decisions. What we see here are adults surrounding the children making bad decisions on a child's behalf.
I think parents have a responsibility to ensure that the adults in their children's lives are supporting them to make good decisions. Supporting your child to look like a stripper is not just creepy, it's downright abusive.
Megan — June 13, 2010
i'm really impressed by these little girls. they are definitely better dancers than me.
i really dont think there's anything inherently sexual about the dance moves. but their outfits really do bother me. and it's not even so much that their bellies and legs are showing- they're little kids, so thats not a big deal. i know TONS of kids who refuse to change out of their swimsuits, like, ever. its mostly the stockings that bother me, and really the whole outfit just looks like lingerie, and children dont need to be wearing lingerie, ever.
other than their outfits, that video was really cute.
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lukewarm.oasis — June 18, 2010
The primary problem is the dance routine, not the outfits, which only exacerbate the issue at hand: sexualized little girls.
I disagree with people stating that there would not be an issue if the outfit was different. Wrong, and as mentioned prior, whether on regular leotards or paper bags, the choreography is inappropriate for a 8-9 year old child. Maybe the people that hold that opinion assume that ["normal"] dancing is a combination of overtly-sexualized moves . . .or maybe the can't distinguish a child from an adult.
Also, I would like to add that the author and those outraged/disturbed by this video (and others like it) are not "looking" for the sexualization of the girls or are unjustifiably complicating a benign activity/circumstance. The sexualization is blatant.
These girls are being paraded and managed by irresponsible parents and it can be read as a sign of a contemptible culture . . .
KAKA — June 18, 2010
NOBODY HAVE THE RIGHT TO SAY:"THIS IS NOT GOOD", BECAUSE EVERY HUMAN HAVE YOUR NATURAL SEXUALITY, AND THE CHILDREN ARE HUMANS TOO.
THERE ARE SO MANY SEXUAL DISTURBS IN THE ADULT, BECAUSE THEY DON'T UNDERSTAND IT AND THEY DON'T KNOW HOW TO TEACH NOTHING GOOD.
Rory — July 6, 2010
Idk, the video just didn't do it for me. I guess I just don't associate that those kind of movements and that style of dress with sexuality. I associate it with boring talent shows.
I'm way more concerned with how much time that must have taken to learn and perform with such accuracy. I hope they knew what they were/ their parents knew what they were getting into when they started.
Also, why aren't there any men in this video? It's sexist and exclusionary. The children also seem to be similar ages. They should have had some older men and women, and more minorities.
Actually, I'm moderately offended that *I* did not receive an invitation to participate in this event. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that I am a black male.
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Blix — July 9, 2011
What chance do these girls have for any mindset other than the one that says talent=sexiness? They are being reared on it! There are other ways to showcase a girl's abilities without hypersexualizing them.
I'm all for cultivating one's gifts, but I sincerely hope these girls get a chance to be kids.
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