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Brash, flash and too much flesh

Christmas tree and santa hat

Traditional Christmas props are making way for a more Strictly Ballroom approach at some school plays, it seems. USAG- Humphreys under a Creative Commons Licence

At a school Christmas show, Maggie Black worries that things have gone too far. 

In the run-up to Christmas, many proud parents and grandparents rapturously enjoy a show put on at their children’s schools, where little people dress up in costumes and dance and sing their way through festive and nativity numbers.

Since I don’t have children or grandchildren, this is not a joy I usually share, but spending the tinsel season on the other side of the world from my home in Britain, I was taken by cousins to such an event. It was truly spectacular, the annual ‘Fantasmous, Marvellistic, Wonderama’ Christmas Show, put on by a dance school that aims, and manages, to have its mini-students perform in professional productions of Matilda and The Sound of Music.

The first number was from Cabaret. Lots of flesh, lots of seamed tights, lots of wiggling and contorting, and suggestive pouts, lots of brazen come-ons and smiles as big as a boozed-up tarantula’s. Lots of side-flips over canes, lots of landing with legs split open facing the backs of simple wooden chairs. It was brilliant. Well, it is the ‘Seniors’, I thought, inspecting the programme. Some ‘Seniors’ were about 16.

If I thought sexual suggestiveness were only for ‘Seniors’, I was wrong. In the next musical number, around 40 small girls and half a dozen boys filled the stage. The girls wore tasselled tutus, cut as tiny as you like, few yet having embryonic breast-bulges. They shook their frills seductively, smiling with all the wide-openness that taunting invitation can impart. Hair primped and piled, make-up generously applied, the line-up for Chorus Line was just a high-kick away.

Having spent so much time in countries in Africa and Asia, I could not help thinking how bewildered and horrified relatively unsophisticated (another word for poor?) people belonging to other, older, cultures would be. This is not a religious conviction matter, as people in those countries could be Muslim, Hindu, Christian or Buddhist. To me, it is a question of child protection, but of course that must sound hopelessly out of date.

Many sophisticated people in those societies aspire to belong to the shopping-mall, celebrity-mad, globalized culture we inhabit in the West, so even if shocked they might stay tight-lipped. This was what the upwardly-mobile audience in suburban Melbourne did. When I whispered my misgivings I was told by companions of the truly ‘Senior’ generation not to voice them. Reservations about children being sexualized as young as four at their ‘full-of-love-and-freedom’, ‘please get my tot a part in Strictly Ballroom’, and (no doubt very) expensive Miss Madam’s Dancing School were not acceptable conversational fare.  

There is a Pandora’s box here. How often are we told about the radicalization of young Muslims in our societies, how vulnerable they are to hate messages against Western norms of freedom. There was I, trying to bear three and a half hours of brash, flash, thumping-beat, child self-exposure in the name of self-expression and ‘talent’, and thinking I pretty much agreed with those who condemn near-naked, deliberately alluring, small-girl-parading as ‘immoral’. I may sound like a grumpy old what-not, but it risks making those girls vulnerable as they grow up, even if they have gained in self-confidence too.

If ‘unsophisticated’ parents in India and Africa keep their adolescent girls out of school, it is less because they are not willing to see them aim for an independently capable life, than because they don’t want them exposed to predatory sex. I’m not sure I don’t think they’re right, if this kind of ‘schooling’ is regarded as the height of liberated, child-rights supporting education. If it was my grandchild cavorting about on that stage, I would be bothered too. 

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