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:
- Girls Bullying Girls
- Girl Bullies
- Relational Aggression (defines some of the “types” like Queen Bee, Bystander, etc. and offers additional links)
- The Ophelia Project
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).
- Many children are involved in bullying and most are extremely concerned about it.
- Bullying can seriously affect the mental health, academic work, and physical health of children who are targeted.
- Children who bully are more likely than other children to be engaged in other antisocial, violent, or troubling behavior.
- Bullying can negatively affect children who observe bullying going on around them–even if they aren’t targeted themselves.
- 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.
- Ask the students to come up with a list of actions that they would consider to be bullying (whispering and giggling, rolling eyes, etc.).
- Next, have them create a set of rules to follow in class that will stop bullying.
- 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.
- Encourage students to clap for other groups after they’ve crossed the floor or performed in front of the rest of the class.
- 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.
- 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 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. Read Nichelle’s posts.