The Importance of Taking Up Space Project

The Importance of Taking Up Space Project is a syllabus developed by Jessie Levey to empower girls through the platform of dance. 

As dance becomes more popularized through television shows and YouTube videos, the sexualization of girls has increasingly become problematic in the field of dance education. The desire for students to copy popular dance styles, and the pressure on dance teachers to entertain audience members has created a situation where sexualized choreography, lyrics and costumes have become more common. This phenomenon holds risks for girls which, according to the American Psychology Association (APA), include  “cognitive functioning, physical and mental health, sexuality and attitudes and beliefs” (Zurbriggen et al.). Dr. Tomi-Ann Roberts, a member of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls, voices her concerns in an interview regarding student dance routines on the internet. She states, “Many of the things that I have seen on YouTube meet all the criteria that our task force would have said constitute the sexualization of girls” (Roberts). Often parents think this type of dance is harmless since their children (as young as five-years old) don’t even know that what they are doing is sexual.  This response makes Roberts even more concerned. “There’s a lot of really good research that shows that if parents are saying, oh, my daughter isn’t really listening to the words, that’s actually worse. It turns out that when we don’t bring mindful, educated ears or eyes to the material, we are much more likely to be impacted by it” (Roberts).

The Importance of Taking Up Space Project offers girls the opportunity to bring “mindful, educated ears and eyes” to issues around sexism in today’s culture. Through self-awareness, inquiry-based learning and confidence-building activities, girls are given agency in the telling of their stories of girlhood as prompts for choreography. Participants share experiences, bond together and ultimately collaborate in making a dance based on their thoughts, ideas and personal stories.

What the girls have to say about the project:

“I gained courage to defend myself and others when people are being sexist.”

“I felt so connected to the group during the performance. It feels so much better to be in a community of like-minded dancers, like we really have each other’s back.”

 “I used to be aware of sexism, but ignored it because I didn’t know what to do about it, but now I want to change it.”

“I am embracing being a girl now.”

“I feel less fearful of being a girl.”

“I feel freer to be myself as an individual.”

“I feel braver about not fitting into the role of a stereotypical girl.”

A discussion of this work was aired on NPR’s 51%. Listen here.

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