By MARY WARD
UPDATE, 3PM: As of this afternoon, Fairfax news are reporting that RGDance have ceased trading, effective immediately. Grant Davies will remain in custody until he faces court in July.
“Yeah! Work it Milly*!”
A Ke$ha song begins to play. A girl struts across the stage, hands on her hips. She contracts her body forward, Tyra Banks Style, before throwing her head to the front, her lips in a pout.
She stares down the adjudicator. He smiles.
The girl has spread her legs and bent her knees. She proceeds to thrust her pelvis and her rib cage simultaneously. By this stage, she has been joined by around 20 other girls, all jiggling their bums and chests in the same fashion.
Throughout their routine the girls hold their legs behind their heads, a tiny slip of green lycra across their crotch the only thing standing between them and a wardrobe malfunction.
They finish their dance to thunderous applause. By the end of their routine, the hotpants the troupe wore have well and truly ridden up their (now stationary) behinds. Many a bralette has rolled up on itself.
There’s no doubt that the girls are flexible and energetic. Their unison is spot-on, and they look like they love what they do. They win their division.
I am really angry.
Because this is an under 10’s dance eisteddfod in suburban Sydney.
And this is exactly what is wrong with dance competitions today.
With my two sisters and myself all dancing competitively at some stage, I’ve sat through more eisteddfods than I can count, and this is a scenario that is all too common.
Yet, it might be one that is about to change.
Australia’s dance school scene is about to come under some intense scrutiny.
Over the weekend, dance teacher Grant Davies was arrested. He was the owner of RGDance, one of the top dance schools in the country.
Grant has been accused of grooming two children for sex, possessing thousands of child porn images (some taken at his dance studio) and for two counts of producing, disseminating or possessing child abuse material.
I know that this sounds really horrible, but let’s just put the sexual abuse bit of that paragraph to one side.
It’s the straight ‘child abuse’ that hasn’t really been touched on by the media, and yet this is the part of Grant’s charges that I think we need to talk about.
Because, to be perfectly frank, I – and plenty of other young dancers – have sat by in complicity and watched child abuse happen in the Australian dance eisteddfod scene.
What you need to understand about RGDance is that their sphere of influence extends well beyond their own studio.
They hold holiday workshops for kids from studios across the country. They released books and DVDs. RG’s elite dancers do a national tour called ‘RGFamous.’ These dancers have their own fan pages on Facebook and Instagram and were reportedly rewarded by the studio on the basis of how many ‘likes’ and ‘follows’ these pages attracted. Their rehearsals were regularly documented on RG’s Youtube channel, Twitter and Instagram accounts.
The majority of these elite dancers are between the ages of eight and fourteen.
All of RGDance’s social media accounts have been deleted since news broke of Grant’s arrest. As someone who has watched a lot of RG’s content, I think it’s important that you know that this is what you can now no longer see:
– You can’t see pictures of the tiny crop tops RG’s students wore at their studio.
– You can’t watch the opener of their concert last year, which featured a dance move that is best described as depicting some sort of woodland animal trying to burrow itself into a hole. But with arse cheek movement.
– You can’t watch Grant laugh as he pits two kids against each other in an ‘ab-off’ (his term for two people clenching their abdominal muscles to see who is the most ripped.)
– You can’t see the excerpts from Grant and Rebecca’s many video series, with titles like: “The Dancer’s Body that You Deserve.”
(Because all eight year olds deserve to be keeping food diaries, as RGs dancers allegedly do. And they definitely deserve to be attending classes five nights a week, as my friend who once auditioned for a spot there was told she would have to. Oh, and they most definitely deserve to be punished for speaking to kids from other studios at eisteddfods, as I have also heard stories of. With 150 sit-ups, because that’s what they deserve.)
I don’t know if these things are what the police report meant by ‘child abuse.’
But, if they’re not – they should be.
For too long my peers and I have sat on Youtube, idolising these ten year olds who are obviously not living the lives that ten year olds should live. No child needs a six-pack. No child should be able to do 50 push-ups off their knees. No child should have their dance rehearsals documented and then scrutinised by the whole Internet.
And yet, with every click we gave their sites, every book we bought and had signed, and every piece of lip service we gave RGDance, we endorsed this abuse. So why didn’t any of us stop? Why didn’t we see that this was a seriously disgusting way for kids to participate in what is supposed to be a fun hobby?
Why didn’t we recognise that this was tantamount to child abuse?
Because the RGDance model has become the way that you win competitions.
While it used to be acceptable for your competition troupe to rehearse for an hour a week, three nights a week, if not more, has become the norm. Provocative performance is everything. And don’t forget about those DVDs with tips for success, because ultra-competitiveness is now the ultimate goal.
The sooner the dance community realises that this culture is messed up, the better.
Because the truth is that there is no reason why any little girl needs to perform her jazz dance in a crop top.
The ol’ “but it’s so that the adjudicator can see her lines” excuse just doesn’t hold up; there’s no reason why they can’t see exactly how her body is moving under a leotard.
There’s no reason why any little girl needs to gyrate, when there are perfectly good steps and positions that demonstrate a much greater degree of skill.
And, you know what? There is no bloody reason why any kid traipsing around suburban eisteddfods needs a fan page.
The Australian dance eisteddfod circuit needs a shakeup.
And, boy, am I ready for it.
*This was not a performance by an RG troupe but, regardless, the name of the dancer has been changed.