Safeguarding in the dance sector

Last updated: 16 Nov 2023 Topics: Elite athletes Safer recruitment Safeguarding children

Safeguarding plays a vital role in keeping sport fun and safe for young people.

We recently spoke to Lily, a young dancer, about what dance means to her, and what makes her feel safe as a young athlete in dance. In this current blog, we wanted to take a deeper dive into the dance sector to understand how safeguarding is approached in the activity and explore some of the challenges faced by the sector.

To learn more, we spoke to Fiona Becker, a Senior Consultant in NSPCC Training and Consultancy, who works with dance organisations to improve their safeguarding practices.

How is the dance sector structured?

“The dance sector is fragmented as there is no single governing body unlike many other physical activities. There are various genres of dance such as ballet, ballroom and Latin, and freestyle dance. Each genre of dance has either:

  • its own member body or association for the style of dance its members teach or;
  • member bodies with teachers who are qualified to teach various styles of dance, with the member body made up of different faculties.

“An example of an association who specialise in only one genre of dance is The Royal Academy of Dance (RAD) whose members are ballet teachers. Whilst examples of the latter are the International Dance Teachers’ Association (IDTA) or the Imperial Society for Teachers of Dance (ISTD).

“These associations usually have their own Board of Directors, Trustees, and teaching members. Most teachers pay an annual subscription fee to be part of a member body, and in return, can host regulated medal examinations for their pupils. Member associations also grant professional teaching qualifications, but these are not PGCE awards.

“Member associations have their own policies and codes of conduct, including safeguarding policies. A breach in these can mean expulsion for the teacher. In addition to the associations, some dance styles have regulatory or governing bodies, such as the British Dance Council, which are made up of representatives from the different associations and competition or event organisers. These bodies usually have a set of safeguarding policies too.”

From your experience, what are some of the challenges of safeguarding and reporting concerns in dance?

“There are a range of safeguarding challenges in dance:

  • private dance schools, as opposed to vocational dance schools which are regulated, are not as familiar with the requirements for safeguarding, so there may be a lack of policies
  • some dance students can fear speaking out about concerns because they are worried about feeling penalised for doing so - For example, not being selected for a dance opportunity or competition
  • many teachers can be held in high esteem by students or hold senior positions in a dance environment this can make it very hard for students to challenge their teaching methods, even if they directly impact student mental health and welfare
  • dance can be a very competitive environment where there is a pressure to succeed and ‘get on with it’
  • anyone can set up a dance school without a teaching qualification.

Because of how the dance sector is structured, there is no single association or governing body. This means there are no standard safeguarding policies and no one pathway to report concerns. This can make handling concerns or conducting investigations complicated. Also, with each association operating as a silo, theoretically, teachers may be expelled from one association and then join another, although background checks are becoming common.”

How have you been working with dance organisations to improve safeguarding practices in this sector?

“I have been working specifically in this area for 3 years as a committee member on the Dance School Safeguarding Working Group, Safer Dance. Here I contribute to the activities of the group, which include the production of safeguarding resources and information, as well as hosting webinars. Prior to this, NSPCC Consultancy has provided support for a range of performing arts organisations too. Although dance is a physical activity, it has been behind the mainstream sports sector in terms of its awareness and understanding of child safeguarding.

“The Safer Dance website hosts a range of guidance documents and webinars to help the dance sector to understand and implement safeguarding arrangements. A useful starting point for all dance organisations is to explore the Safer Dance - Supporting the Conversation content. This offers information and guidance on stimulating a discussion around safeguarding in the dance world that is relevant to your context, whether you are an established representative body, a single teacher, a parent or a dancer.”

How can organisations ensure dance is safe for children going forwards?

“There are a range of actions that dance schools can take:

The dance sector is certainly not alone when it comes to challenges with safeguarding. It’s necessary for many sports and activities to adapt and evolve based off previous findings and recommendations. Our briefing paper, Learning from inquiries about safeguarding practice in sport, aims to help those who fund the sports and physical activity sector to strengthen their safeguarding practices by learning from previous reviews into sports organisations.

As more is understood about the safeguarding needs in dance, the dance sector is continuing to make improvements to the approach to safeguarding. We are seeing more dance organisations:

  • building robust safeguarding policies
  • improving procedures for reporting concerns
  • raising awareness and educating members on safeguarding and welfare topics
  • working more collaboratively with other organisations.

If you would like to know more about safeguarding in sport and how to improve practices, see our guidance on Introduction to Safeguarding.