Bullying in Dance Class

What does a bully look like?

We tend to picture a bully as a big, tough, boy that picks on those smaller or younger than himself. However, there has been a lot of discussion lately within educational circles about bullying and we are slowly learning that bullies come in many forms. Although dance can foster understanding and a sense of community among young people, dance classes are not immune to episodes of bullying.

Boys in dance often receive taunting, teasing and physical harassment from sources outside their dance school. Sometimes the effects of this bullying can have serious consequences as they did for one young man in Derby, England. It is not as widely recognized, however, that male students can sometimes be bullied by females in their dance classes. After all, boys are typically outnumbered and often a subject of fascination for the females in a typical studio environment. In fact, girls are every bit as capable of bullying as boys, however their style or methods of tormenting usually differ.

Girls tend to practice what is called relational aggression. They manipulate, taunt, and tease on an emotional level that often flies under the radar of teachers. Here are some sources that will help you spot and understand relational aggression in action:

A Teacher’s Role

In all cases of intimidation, there are usually adults that excuse bullying with, “boys will be boys” or “girls will be girls,” feel that bullying is just something everyone must deal with at some point in life, or consider the behavior as part of a phase that will pass. Even though certain age groups are more prone to experience or exhibit bullying behavior, students deserve to learn in an environment that is safe from abuse. Dance classes for pre-teens and teens are a social, as well as an educational environment where cliques and competition can flourish. In addition, students often bring their school-lives into the dance studio despite being urged to “leave it at the door.” Dance teachers can help to combat problems by learning to recognize episodes of bullying and adopting a no-tolerance policy on destructive behavior in their class even before it becomes a problem.

Why stop bullying?

It’s been my experience that students thrive when they are free to create, succeed, and fail in a class without the stress of facing snickers, rude comments, or pressure to join in on bad behavior from other classmates.

Need more reasons?

The Stop Bullying Now! website has a concise list (please visit their website for details and more information on bullying).

  1. Many children are involved in bullying and most are extremely concerned about it.
  2. Bullying can seriously affect the mental health, academic work, and physical health of children who are targeted.
  3. Children who bully are more likely than other children to be engaged in other antisocial, violent, or troubling behavior.
  4. Bullying can negatively affect children who observe bullying going on around them–even if they aren’t targeted themselves.
  5. Bullying is a form of victimization or abuse, and it is wrong. Children should be able to attend school or take part in community activities without fear of being harassed, assaulted, belittled, or excluded.

If your pre-teens or teens are already engaging in bullying behaviors,

What can you do in your dance classes right now?

Take some time out of an upcoming class to sit down with the students and create rules about bullying. Having a heart-to-heart right after an episode occurs may embarrass the bullied student (which is not the point) of the exercise. However, now is better than never. Essentially, as soon as you feel prepared to address the subject calmly and objectively, go for it!

Start out with a discussion about what constitutes bullying.

  1. Ask the students to come up with a list of actions that they would consider to be bullying (whispering and giggling, rolling eyes, etc.).
  2. Next, have them create a set of rules to follow in class that will stop bullying.
  3. And finally, come up with appropriate consequences for breaking the rules. Make sure the rules are clear and concise so that the bully can’t talk their way out of punishment. For example, No Whispering. That means no whispering… period. Doesn’t matter what the whispering was about because they will try to convince you that it wasn’t malicious. Stick to the rule and the consequence every time.

I’ve also found it helpful to create, in general, a supportive environment in class.

  1. Encourage students to clap for other groups after they’ve crossed the floor or performed in front of the rest of the class.
  2. Offer comments like “good try,” “don’t give up,” or “you nailed the timing, Susie!” in addition to corrections is helpful, and don’t forget to praise students who exhibit supportive and positive behavior.
  3. Demonstrate constructive criticism, teaching students to look for positives and “needs improvement” in others’ work, then make it a point to provide opportunities for students to practice constructive criticism (Teach students how to properly offer constructive criticism. Be careful! If there is already a lot of negative behavior running through the class, do not allow bullies to use this exercise as another opportunity to intimidate or belittle. If this is a problem, consider holding off on allowing students to practice criticism until behavior and attitudes have improved overall.)

What to do if bullying continues.

Pull aside the offender after class. Provide specific examples of his/her bullying and/or breaking the rules, make it clear this is not acceptable, and let him/her know that this is a warning that will be followed with specific consequences if the behavior does not stop. It may also help to pull the bullied student aside and let him/her know of your plans to end the bullying so that he/she feels some reassurance that you are aware of the problem and are taking action to prevent it.

There are lots of ways for parents and teachers to deal with and prevent bullying. The links I’ve included above offer suggestions, as well as support for victims and even more links on the subject of relational aggression.

Have you been bullied in a dance class? If you are a teacher, how have you prevented bullying behavior in your class/school?

Nichelle (owner/editor)
Nichelle Suzanne is a writer specializing in dance and online content. She is also a dance instructor with over 20 years experience teaching in dance studios, community programs, and colleges. She began Dance Advantage in 2008, equipped with a passion for movement education and an intuitive sense that a blog could bring dancers together. As a Houston-based dance writer, Nichelle covers dance performance for Dance Source Houston, Arts+Culture Texas, and other publications. She is a leader in social media within the dance community and has presented on blogging for dance organizations, including Dance/USA. Nichelle provides web consulting and writing services for dancers, dance schools and studios, and those beyond the dance world.
Nichelle (owner/editor)
Nichelle (owner/editor)
Nichelle (owner/editor)
Nichelle (owner/editor)

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  1. Mother of two dancers says:

    Unfortunately my daughter has recently been bullied in a dance class. The offending student spread malicious sexual rumours about my child. I reported it to the scchool but unfortunately they didn’t deal with it. My child had the maturity to speak to the offender and also speak to their parent but the situatio was not resolved. She has now pretended to make up to make her life easier. She has since left the school and I feel for the next child that is subjected to the same treatment.

    • I’m sorry that your daughter has faced such a situation. Awareness on the part of all three groups: teachers, parents, and students, is crucial in curtailing and ultimately halting bullying. It’s why the post was written: to build awareness in hope that more children can feel safe in their learning environment (dance or otherwise).

      • Mother of two dancers says:


        Just wanted to let you know the outcome for my girls. We have moved dance schools and the teacher and students are very supportive of each other. The move has been a completely positive experience. Also, the girls are so happy that their dancing has improved and their confidence is fantastic now. At their end of year performance my friend commented on how they look like different dancers and have confidence.

        Kind regards

  2. I do not know what to do – my daughter was in her first Nutcracker performance and was bullied consistently throughout practices and then backstage – of course, when no adults were around. It is so sad. She is a kind girl and cannot understand why they are doing this to her. She has friends. She loves the ballet, but says she’ll only go to class where no one is allowed to talk, so they don’t bully her – but she will not audition for any productions because she fears the bullying. I hate to bring this to the attention of the teacher/director of the school, yet, it is harming my daughter and her love of ballet by keeping quiet about it?

    • Hi Marianne,

      I am curious, what’s holding you back from talking with the teacher/director about the recurring problem?

      I am guessing your daughter has spoken with you about the bullying. It’s a good idea to get as much factual information from her as possible about the incidences. You may also want to ask her what she thinks should be done.

      I can’t say if you are harming your daughter or her love of ballet but the bullying is not doing her any good, either so I think it is important to find a solution. The bullying may not stop without some intervention by adults so going to the teacher is a logical step. But present facts and let him/her know you want to work together to find a way to stop the bullying.

      I recommend having a look at this helpful pdf: http://www.stopbullyingnow.hrsa.gov/HHS_PSA/pdfs/SBN_Tip_21.pdf

      Best of luck! Let me know of the outcome if you do talk to the director.

      • I hesitate to sound petty or like I am “tattling”. The last few weeks of practice, I could tell something was wrong – my daughter, usually bubbly and talkative when she would come home from practice, now very quiet. Finally we talked and she told me about two girls who keep coming up to her at practice telling her she stinks at her part, and her hair is wrong – typical catty girl things (these girls are only 8-9 years old). I told her how to handle herself, not to respond – if she didn’t respond back it would not give them more “ammunition.” I explained she did not do anything wrong – this is just how some people are. But the last week has been awful – tech week and performance. Things got worse – yesterday, after performance – we picked her up, all excited it was completed and handed her a bouquet of flowers, and she looked at me and said, “OK. I’m cold can we please leave now?” Very odd and disturbing. So, we went out for a celebratory dinner and my son, who is 11, put his arm around her and said, “Molly … please tell mom what happened.” It sounds petty, one two little girls standing in line with her backstage, and just as they’re ready to go on, they turn to her and say, “the whole audience is going to be laughing at you – your makeup looks ridiculous and you are funny looking.” Now, what would have happened if my daughter who have burst into tears and walked onto the stage crying? Anyway, I apologize for this long post. I am going to formulate something to send to the director/instructor. My daughter loves the way her classes are taught – very structured, no talking allowed during class – very focused on technique, which is what she wanted. She wants to learn the proper way to dance, not just spend a year in dance school learning a routine to perform at a recital. This school does no recitals – they give the students the option to learn to perform and apply what they’ve learned but auditioning for Nutcracker and then a spring show. After this last series of events, my daughter said two of her friends want her to try out with them for the spring show, but she says she does not want to. I’m trying to raise strong daughters, who are respectful of others and kind, but yet strong enough to stand up for themselves – this is just breaking my heart. Any suggestions how to approach this, or what to say?

        • This is classic relational bullying, Marianne. It’s not petty or tattling or just girls will be girls stuff. Yes, it happens in life and this IS the way some girls act but bullying can have serious consequences. We make bullying okay when it is allowed to continue.

          Definitely take a look at that pdf in my last comment. It lays things out step by step. You’ll even notice that it says that sometimes when the child tries to “ignore” their comments, it only gets worse.

          You might simply ask to schedule a meeting with the director, letting her know that your daughter has been feeling disturbed and unsure of what to do about comments directed toward her by two other girls. Be warm but not apologetic in your tone because showing that you aren’t certain this needs addressing may make the director less inclined to address it. When you speak, just be straightforward – what you told me is a good start. Then, as I said before, let the director know you want to cooperate with the school to find a way to stop the bullying so that your daughter can feel safe and respected in the environment. If the director feels at a loss or asks what you think should be done, point her to any of the resources in the above article. Expect that something will be done and that the bullying will stop, but check in with your daughter to see how things are going and if it continues, speak with the director again.

          Best of luck, Marianne! I hope this is resolved quickly and easily.

          • Well, I tried. But this was the response I got back from the director of the school, so I will just have my daughter finish out the year, not audition for the spring production, and look for another school for next year. Thanks for your support – I wish I had a more favorable outcome from the school rather than to just tell my daughter to fight back.

            “I am sorry to hear about this situation, and I am glad that M__ shared this with you. The best advice I can give is to tell M__ to answer those girls right back and to never let anyone else define what you want to do. The comments you described below with the candle incident I would describe as “catty.” However if I knew about it I could address it immediately. There have been many times that I have had to address behavioral problems among the younger groups so I have no problem talking to the groups again. In fact I will make a point to discuss it at the next audition. If I had known earlier perhaps I could have put an end to it before it got so out of hand. Let me assure you that we have never had any one not go onstage because of negative comments or had any one go onstage in tears. Please relay to M__ that I will talk to the kids as a group, and if further steps need to be taken I will need to talk to the specific kids involved. Most importantly please tell M__ that you should never let anyone else take away what you want to do. If M__ wants to audition for the spring show she should not let these girls stand in her way. That means that they won so to speak. M__ is a kind person and showed concern for her friends by… but I think M__ was more concerned about it then the girl involved since I have not heard otherwise. I would advice in the future as I have told all the kids that if there is an issue come and find me. I would have kept all the parents and kids involved after rehearsal and addressed it directly. It is hard for me to get a clear picture of what this harassment was without specifics. If it continues please let me know who to speak to specifically and I will have a conference with their parents. I hope M__ can find the parts of the show that she enjoyed, remember those moments, and let the bad go. If anything I think M__ probably learned a valuable lesson which she can carry with her, which is not to be afraid to stand up for herself.”

            • Well, actually it seems that this director is willing to do something. She’s expressed that she wants to address it with the class. I think it is unfortunate that she doesn’t recognize or acknowledge that ‘catty’ behavior is how girls bully but this is a common lack of awareness (and why the article above and those like it are important, I think: to increase awareness).

              Marianne, feel free to contact me rather than continue here: nichelle AT danceadvantage Dot net.

              I’m curious to know what outcome you were hoping for, as it seems that the director is willing to work on a solution that includes having a talk with the girls. I agree that your daughter should not let bullies stop her from doing what she wants to do. And, unless there are other reasons for being dissatisfied at the school, this includes leaving the school. This doesn’t mean she must put up with bullying, it means she should persevere despite bullying while the adults around her address the problem.

  3. southwellies says:

    What happens when the perpetrators are the ‘dance teachers’ ?
    They call the children ‘useless’ and ‘scatty’ that they are ‘letting the team down’ and ‘elephants’ and threaten that the child will not be in ‘the show’. They shout at them and constantly put the children down instead of praising their good behaviours and efforts.
    What example are they leading to the pupils when they use archaic principles in running classes where the child who is not as good is belittled and humiliated and put down in front of the class.
    There must be an accountability by these adults so that our children can maximise their potential in a friendly environment.
    What policies are there to protect our children when asking nicely to be considerate has not worked?

    • Hi southwellies,

      I can tell you what would happen with me if consistent belittling was used as a motivator… I’d remove my child and either find a new school or a new activity. In some places there are long-standing institutions that feel this works for them to produce top-level dance students. And, to some extent it probably does work for them – fear and intimidation are great motivators. So perhaps reputation is keeping you or others from pulling your child out but if the whole school is operating this way, and they get results, then asking nicely probably is not going to get you anywhere.

      Unless perhaps this is some kind of state/government-funded school (and maybe not even then) there are not going to be regulations/policies of protection. Your recourse against this is taking your child out of a potentially harmful situation. You give permission to what you put up with. Money talks in private businesses especially. Losing enough students may force a change. But if it IS a place that’s getting results then many people will decide that it’s worth staying. The question is, is it worth it to you? If not, don’t waste time hoping or expecting or wishing someone else will change things, remove your child.

      Wishing you the best possible outcome!

  4. What if the bully is the teacher?

    • Hi Kelly,

      A valid question. It can and does happen, unfortunately. I would request a meeting with both the teacher and the director. In most cases, I’d encourage you to problem-solve with the teacher first, however, if you honestly feel you child is being bullied by his/her teacher, the conversations should really be ‘on the record’ in a scheduled, calm, sit-down, problem-solving way. I’d resist calling the teacher a bully and let facts speak for themselves. So gather your facts. This article may be useful: http://www.danceadvantage.net/how-to-talk-and-be-heard/

      Good luck!

  5. I just wanted to weigh in as a teacher and say that it is so much more helpful when parents can come to the specific teacher of the class the bullying is happening in (rather than go straight to the school director) and have a specific example (“my child saw kids pointing at her and she felt uncomfortable”) rather than a vague report of bullying. When parents come to me directly the issue can be addressed much more quickly, and specifics always help.

    I want to help everyone’s child have a positive experience in class, so the more parents can communicate with me the better!

  6. Thanks Chelsea, I couldn’t agree more. I discuss talking with a director in that article I linked to in the comment above, but a similar process applies when approaching a teacher about problems in the class.