Monday, January 12, 2015

Tweak the Twerk

This weekend, my Mentoring AQ course was cancelled due to flooding on location so I couldn't attend. The board report card writing website was down so I couldn't do that either. Instead, I planned a media/dance lesson for my primary division students and found myself knee-deep in an ethical dilemma of my own creation.

The third section of dance expectations in the Ontario curriculum, Exploring Forms and Cultural Contexts, states that students should "demonstrate an understanding of a variety of dance forms and styles from the past and present and their social and/or community contexts". I like incorporating popular culture and student interests into my lessons and I thought it would be a fun and engaging task to examine the Taylor Swift video, "Shake It Off". If you haven't seen it before, I've embedded it below.

I really like this song and enjoyed watching both this video, as well as the "Behind the Scenes" videos on YouTube explaining the creative process. The video taught me about dance styles that I was unaware of, like the incredible Finger Tutting. The lyrics are a great inspiration for all the anti-bullying talks we are supposed to initiate with our students. But there's a problem.


Twerking is a dance style that, according to Wikipedia, is "a type of dancing in which an individual, usually a female, dances to music in a sexually provocative manner involving thrusting hip movements and a low squatting stance". Students in the U.S. have been suspended for twerking at dances and making twerking videos on school property. In the same article, the twerking sections of the very same Taylor Swift video I planned on showing was accused of "perpetuat[ing] stereotypes" about Black women.

What should I do? I thought of several options, but each came with its own unique set of subsequent problems.

a) Block the twerking sections

Whether I do it high-tech (download a copy and turn the screen black) or low-tech (put a paper in front of the screen as I re-film, or simply put my hand over the data projector when the section pops up), I could use the song but just remove the controversial visual parts.

BUT isn't that a form of censorship? I'm disappointed when I hear that teachers or teacher-librarians alter books because they find certain parts unacceptable. Changing an artist's creation because it doesn't match my standards is a dicey proposition. Isn't that what I would be doing by blocking specific images?

b) Play it and address the controversy

It's possible for me to play the video in its entirety and directly discuss the potential offences. Who performs each of these dances? Who doesn't? Why? It would elevate the discourse and critical thinking. I think it would make an excellent discussion, to look at dances in the past and present that were considered "bad" (such as the tango and the twist and twerking - hey, they all begin with T!)

BUT these are young students (6-8 year olds) and I'm not sure how much they could handle. I've got to confess, I don't know how much equity education happens in our classrooms. If it is uncommon for my students to have experience talking about race, gender, and class, will this be too much, too fast?

c) Play it and ignore the controversy

Maybe this is a mole hill, not a mountain. Maybe they might not even notice the twerking. After all, it lasts for a grand total of 17 seconds in the entire video. By blocking it or having a serious conversation about it, maybe I'm calling attention to it in a way that isn't needed.

BUT if I am aware of the potential for offence, then aren't I being derelict in  my teaching duty for not dealing with it? I talked with another teacher last week about the possibility of using this video, and he recommended I run it by the principal first. Do I really want to risk the wrath of upset parents or a shocked administrator?

d) Choose a different video

I could save myself the angst and trouble and just search Learn360 or any one of the school-safe video streaming options we have in my board to use a sample that doesn't have these strings attached.

BUT is avoiding the issue entirely a coward's way out? What drew me initially to this video was how, in a quick 3 minute chunk, eight different dance styles were showcased. Comparison becomes quite easy when the different dance forms are shown together like it is in the video. Read the teacher prompt included with the specific dance expectation:
"When we watched the video of Irish dancing, a few students mentioned that the dancers don't use their arms when they dance. Did anyone notice anything else? Are arms used in some of the other dance forms that we saw?"
This type of observation could be accomplished in one period (with follow-up) instead of the multiple ones needed if we were highlighting one style per class.

I'm not sure what I will do. Any advice? Option A, B, C, D, or one I have not yet considered?

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