Unethical behavior, disrespect, and possible plagiarizing in competition dance. Surprise!

This week in Minnesota, several teams at the state dance competition accused one of the top winning teams of plagiarism. The winning team had copied costumes, music and a bit of choreography. They claim they were "inspired" by the other team. Many people believe they plagiarized with a few changes around the margins. Instead of filing a complaint, other competition teams stood on the sidelines and held hands in objection. Those teams were disqualified. Seems to me neither behavior was appropriate.

I entered my daughters into dance programs when they were in preschool. I remember going to my first competition dance as an at home dad and seeing little girls with almost nothing on running around wearing huge hats filled with fruit. Carmen Miranda wore way more clothing than these first graders. After hours of watching thousands of dancers and hundreds of moms push and pull and cajole and scream, I called my wife in disbelief. Who would do this to children?

Why would anybody pay thousands of dollars to a studio with a damaged floor where kids got injured year after year in over training on a bad surface just to win a trophy? Why would a parent spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars to an out of town dance organization to come in for a few "rock star" hours and try to teach thousands of kids on a dirty, carpeted ballroom floor? Why is hazing with ropes, kitty litter, and assorted other shaming techniques allowed in any environment - especially a so called education one?

These things arise, because the system is pervaded by back stabbing and gossip and cheating and lying and child abuse and theft. The world of crazy dance moms and unethical dance instructors does not just exist on television. It is real. Leaders in the industry need to name it, take decisive action, and stop it. Which is exactly what the state high school league needs to do in this instance.

We eventually found a couple of good schools with quality, ethical environments. My advice if you chose to participate is the following: keep your head tall, smile and wave at others no matter the drama, be respectful, walk away from the bad behavior, and role model healthy attitudes for your kids. I did the best I could at protecting my children. I hope you can do the same.

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Ted Coonradt - Oberon Puppet Voice | Rick Miller - Puck
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Chris Rohling - Lysander | Rick Miller - Puck | Rachel Brady - Hermia | Logan Bitz Daum - Demetrius | Hannah Wehlage - Helena
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Maddie Tonjes - Peter Quince | Will Dziuk - Bottom | Kali Jennings - Snug | Alec Lambert - Snout
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Sam Pavich - Tatania Puppet Voice
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Ted Coonradt - Oberon Puppet Voice | Rick Miller - Puck
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Rick Miller - Puck | Will Dziuk - Bottom
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Wesley Erickson - Flute | Kali Jennings - Snug | Alec Lambert - Snout | Will Dziuk - Bottom | Maddie Tonjes - Peter Quince
Since I'm an architect, someone in a conversation invariably says, "I can't draw." To which I reply, "Yes you can." Startled, the person initiating the conversation says, "No, really, I can't draw." To which I reply, "No. You can draw. But your perception of your ability has been socialized out of you. By that I mean that our society believes that only a few people are talented enough to draw, so we don't really even try." 

Drawing is a creative endeavor that is all about perception. For instance, we all have come to believe that a school is drawn with a peak over the front of a door with steps and a flag flying in front. (This was on a test my kids had in grade school and they had no idea what it was.) However, most schools today don't even come close to looking like that. Why then do we teach our children that a school is an old iconic image from the western frontier? Because we are lazy about creativity and don't try to understand how those images create social barriers to perception and inventiveness. Thus most of us have to go back to the beginning to re-learn what it means to be creative. I've used creative techniques that turn perception on its heels from Drawing On The Right Side Of The Brain, The Zen Of Seeing, and other sources to prove that you can eventually overcome that socialization.

This concept of turning perception on its heels was made perfectly clear to me in a recent production of Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare performed by an inter-generational group of professionals and students in the parking lot at the Main Street School Of Performing Arts this summer in Hopkins, Minnesota. This talented menagerie looked at the story, placed it in a post world war tent encampment that was also a drive-in movie theater. The changed setting forced the actors to re-imagine what the motivations really were behind the characters and made the audience push the bounds of its perception. Creativity and inventiveness were present in every aspect as they used video, costuming, staging, and puppetry to set the scenes. Several of the characters including Helena, Bottom and Puck became even more powerful and relevant giving the audience pause about the lessons from this play.

Some might say, "So what?" This is theater and they are suppose to be creative. Yet, aren't we all? Isn't our job to re-invent and improve? Perhaps the stagnation in our economy and society is about a lack of creativity. What if it really isn't about money, but it is about the way we've been socialized, educated, and manipulated to perceive. That creativity and inventiveness together have been thrown away for popularity, emotion, and vulgarity which drives a societal engine that never really helps people. Are we "painted blind" as Cupid is because we are not looking with our eyes? Perhaps we need a paint scraper and a magically different perspective. Sounds like a Shakespeare twist to me:

Get Thee To The Forest
Go outside and I'm not talking about mowing the lawn. Change your every day location in a big way. Get out of the house. Get out of your car. Get out of the office. Run away to a state park forest or a zoo filled with magic. Daydream. Lie in the grass and watch the clouds. Imagine mother nature using the rustling of the trees to speak to you in new ways. Shakespeare used this technique, why can't we?  

Flip Disadvantage Into Advantage
Most people couldn't imagine working or playing in a cracked, sloping parking lot with dumpsters, parked cars, and weeds. But this theater team made it happen. They took a craggy looking space and turned it into an even craggier looking space with purpose. Find your biggest disadvantage and turn it on its head.

Change One Thing
In one scene Helena rides in on a very long bike. It sets the stage for a more humorous and realistic presentation of her character. The bike says she is unpretentious which is counter to being a desperate and jealous rich woman as many interpret her character to be. Of course the actress breathes new life into her throughout the play, but the bike was the one thing that first began the perception change for the audience. 

Be Inquisitive
Ask questions. Investigate. Imagine. Why can't a god be a monster in a garbage can? The play's controlling god, Oberon, was portrayed by many things: an over sized puppet, an under sized puppet, a cloaked human...even a puppet monster in a garbage can. Who would think that Sesame Street could be any kind of inspiration for Midsummer Night's Dream? Yet, Oscar The Grouch would be proud (really, more grouchy) that he could be seen as a god; after all he did a lot of controlling on Sesame Street. Drawing that parallel to a post war pop culture and seeing the possibility meant that someone had to ask the question first.

Take Risks Together
This summer workshop production took a great deal of collaboration. Midsummer Night's Dream is a complex play with numerous intertwined themes. It would make any business analyst graphing a flow chart get a migraine - long into the moonlit night. No one person can do it alone. A reinvention like this takes collaborative brainstorming and a willingness to open yourself to supportive vulnerability. The end product will be well worth the creative endeavor. 

Throwing aside socialized perceptions and embracing creative endeavors can be daunting, but just as A Midsummer showed us something new and magical might just be created in the end. Perhaps a societal amend.
Additional Cast
Todd Hanson - Theseus | Eryn Warne - Hippolyta | Rob Thompson - Egeus| Lily Lenarz-Hooyman - Philostrate | Danny Noyed - Fairy | Kelalani Jankowski - Fairy | Bailey Roth - Fairy | Robby Miller - Fairy | Carley Guthrie - Fairy | Lilly Lenarz-Hooyman - Fairy

Artistic Team
Robert Thompson & Rachel Brady - Associate Directors | CC Keith - Production Stage Manager | Devin Hueffed - Puppet Design & Creation | Max Lazerine - Technical Operator | Cole Benson - Original Music | Will Dziuk - Up & Down Video | Sam Kenknight - Puck's Costume | CC Keith & Logan Bitz Daum - Graphic Design |
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