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Subcultures Can’t Stay Sub: Now, Everyone Dances

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As members of this generation, we have all come to understand that the Internet is a place full of information. You can learn about every culture of the world, ranging from India to Greece. What differs, in terms of the Internet, is that the Internet offers users access into the world of subcultures.

What’s a subculture? A subculture is “a group that has beliefs and behaviors that are different from the main groups within a culture or society”. Previous to digital media societies, these subcultures remained “hidden”, or largely underground. The only people who truly understood the ins and outs of these subcultures were those who belonged to it. They were foreign, and although mainstream society could recognize these subcultures by name or main idea, they didn’t really understand what went on. Take Star Trek for example. There was an entire cult following of it. There were conventions, costumes, re-enactments, and a whole host of other trekkie activities that the general public probably wasn’t aware of. Like many groups that aren’t seen as the norm, trekkies were susceptible to mocking and judgmental language, whether targeted at an individual or the entire culture in of itself. Although facing these judgments by those who did not understand might have been difficult, the controversy was limited.

Here is where the Internet comes in, taking the judgments of various subcultures down a different path. Don’t get me wrong. The Internet serves as a fantastic place to find friends that share your similar interests and passions. In fact, some subcultures probably wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the Internet. It fosters friendship and lets members of the subculture who are far away connect, while in the past, it might have been impossible to do so. However, on the flip side, the Internet provides a forum for bashing, scrutiny, criticism, and controversy that did not exist as publicly as in the past. For example, BuzzFeed literally took ten different Internet subcultures and exploited them as Creepy Internet Subcultures 101. The infamous Bronies come in at number one, and each member is described as “one who worships as idols the fictional mares of My Little Pony; a weirdo”. Sure, the concept is a little strange. But is it really fair to take different subcultures, and make a page to mock them, ranking their weirdness at varying intervals?

This was the one thought that stuck with me throughout my investigation of Internet subcultures. Sure, I gawked as much as the next person. I stared in disbelief at some of the groups I came across in my searches (the Living Dolls from my previously mentioned BuzzFeed article really threw me for a loop). Still though, I couldn’t understand why the thought of misrepresentation in a subculture bothered me as much as it did. And then it struck me. I, yes ME, was part of, and still follow, a subculture. My subculture differed though. Mine was, and is, a subculture that exists in the real world. The problem came when it was transferred to the Internet, followed by transferring to mass media. Criticism came in at every direction, and put a negative light on one of the most positive parts of my life thus far: the subculture of the competitive dance industry.

The competitive dance industry is a very bizarre, surreal place to grow up. Being a “competition kid” requires a degree of professionalism, commitment, athleticism, and artistry that most adults can’t even master. However, the competition dance world requires all of this from ages four to eighteen. Dance has the power to touch people, a power that a group of kids conquers on a stage for three and a half minutes. Sure, there are the jazzy, Broadway inspired pieces that make you happy, but then there are pieces that take your breath away. As an example, take a look below. This video is actually my old team, the Senior Competition team of Dance Dimensions from New Milford, New Jersey. They are performing at Starbound National Competition this past February. Moments like these are why this subculture deserves the utmost respect and recognition. 

Even with this beauty, the recently popularized industry of competition dance has a very negative connotation in mainstream culture. To begin, the subculture of competition dance is extremely difficult for outsiders to understand. It consists of a crazy judging pattern, is broken into numerous different categories, and “winning” isn’t necessarily first place.  For the “non-comp kid”, as we like to say, Wikipedia actually provides a decent description about how this scene operates.. So, why the negativity? First, the initial glimpse that society had into this subculture was an incident that was displayed completely out of context. Second, the downsides of competition dance are generally the only parts displayed to mainstream culture. Often, these downsides are blown up and highly dramatized in order to receive television ratings. And third, in the cases of the weird nuances of negatives that do in fact turn out to be true, society determines these nuances as “normalcies” in the subculture.

Society has always known about competition dance. “Known” about it. The assumption has always been boring tap numbers, obnoxious red lipstick, and girls mouthing the lyrics to Chicago’s “Cell Block Tango”. However, when the mainstream first realized that we can MOVE, and learn to at a young age, it did not go over in the best fashion. A group of FIRECE (as we comp-kids say to explain a totally mind-blowing performance) 8 and 9 year olds performed a Small Group Jazz number to Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies”, back in 2010. The girls were from Dance Precisions, one of the top ranked competition studios in the country, operating out of Orange County, California. In Single Ladies’ Dance: Too Sexy, Too Early? their routine was described as “disturbing”. The main focus of the panicked public was that the girls were in “midriff tops, hot pants, and fishnet gloves”, performing a routine that had an aesthetic tone of sex appeal. This is only one of the countless articles that bashed the routine, the parents of the girls, the competition for not stopping the routine, and the entire dance industry for promoting such behavior. What the uninformed dancer won’t recognize though, is that costumes need to be tiny. How else is a judge supposed to check bodylines? I’m sure the mainstream member wasn’t paying attention to whether hips were rotated or if the blonde dropped her heel during her eighth pirouette. In Young Girls’ ‘Single Ladies’ Dance Sparks Controversy on Internet, parents of the children spoke out, defending the passion their children had. In my opinion, these are Beyoncé’s tour backup dancers in training. Sure they are young, but they are prepared for the real dance industry past competition life.

Mainstream society loves to backlash those that are seen as crazy, different, or unethical, even if these mainstream members are far removed from the reality of what is really happening. Once dance started gaining recognition, Lifetime television saw a business opportunity, “Dance Moms”, a reality TV show about competition dance. The Dance Industry Reacts to “Dance Moms” Television Show breaks down many misconceptions about this show.

“The show seems to spotlight only the negative aspects of the studio (with the exception of the titles and trophies won at the competitions). Parents not paying bills, moms upset with the choice of costumes and music, moms complaining of special treatment for certain students, costumes not being ready in time, dancers forgetting their routines onstage, and moms drinking during the competition instead of tending to their daughters, all make for good television. Unfortunately, they also portray competitive dance studios horribly, if what is shown on “Dance Moms” is meant to be an indicator of the industry.”

Abby Lee Miller, owner of the studio followed for the show, even admits that there are aspects of the show that are simply false. Kids don’t really learn numbers in hallways two seconds before performing, and the “pyramid” (a rating system used on the show to rank the children’s performances) isn’t actually real. No professional teacher would ever degrade children in that manner. Sure, tough love is needed, and necessary, in dance. But the way the show portrays it playing out makes the entire industry seem psychotic, and as some mainstream members claim, “abusive to children”. Dance made me angry, sad, and mentally as well as physical drained. However, I attribute my drive, commitment, heart, teamwork, leadership qualities, and passion to being a product of Dance Dimensions.

This show created so much drama for the series, that some of the non-reality turned real. The fighting, to whatever extent of truth it was, turned ugly this past month. Abby Lee Miller is suing one of her dance moms for alleged assault. Now, as if before wasn’t bad enough, outsiders will think of this being a normalcy within the dance world. In my 14 years experience, I had not once heard of a parent and studio owner engaging in a brawl, resulting in charges of assault and harassment.

Subcultures don’t fit into normal society. In terms of the competition dance industry though, it shouldn’t be that it doesn’t fit because of its “abusive tendencies”, “legal matters”, or “encouraged sexuality”. Competition kids shouldn’t fit into normal society because they are a breed of exceptionally mature children, who are willing to sacrifice a piece of their childhood in order to master an art that they consider a piece of their being.

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