Following in Beyoncé's 'Single Ladies' footsteps strips 7-year-olds of innocence

The Early Show hosts chat about a video of a young dance troupe that has caused a stir.
By Sarah Kaufman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 15, 2010

The signs are all there: The hip-grinding come-ons. Legs kicked up to the ear. Skin-baring lingerie.

This particular video remake of Beyoncé's hit "Single Ladies" follows a rubric of raunchy moves straight out of the pole-dance manual.

But the performers, according to published reports, are 7-year-olds.

Their satin-and-lace hooker look screams Lolita. The whole two-minute display seems one crotch-shot short of illegal.

And with nearly 2 million hits, the clip of five enthusiastically gyrating grade-schoolers (dubbed "Little Girls Going Hard on Single Ladies") taped at the World of Dance competition in Pomona, Calif., last month has gone viral.

We could get child psychologists on the phone to opine about what a bad thing this is, to shed light on the vulnerable 7-year-old psyche and the crucial development of a girl's sense of self at that age. But we know what they would say: That global girldom needs more emphasis on intellect and independence, not less. That being cheered on for dressing and moving like strippers teaches girls a disturbing, belittling lesson. And that's what's so bewildering about this video: We know it's wrong. Didn't their parents know it was wrong?

It isn't prudish to think 7-year-olds ought to look like 7-year-olds. It's prudent. Twisted minds are surely drooling over the exhibitionism of the Beyoncé bunch. Pedophiles don't need more kindling on their deranged fires, but displays like this one shovel it on. And put other little girls at risk.

What's troubling here is more than just the moves these kids are making -- it's the element of adult manipulation behind them. Sexy children, pushy parents: Think back on JonBenet Ramsey, the rouged and blow-dried beauty pageant princess, dead at 6. The irony is that kiddie pageants back then -- she was killed in 1996 -- were undoubtedly tamer than some of them are nowadays, with skimpy attire and dirty dancing all the rage. (Look at the one depicted in the 2006 film "Little Miss Sunshine," in which Abigail Breslin's young character performs a striptease.) Same thing on certain dance competition circuits -- like the one that launched this video.

I watch this bunch of energetic 7-year-olds and wish that, with those kicks and their apparent athleticism, they were outside on a soccer field, enjoying a sport that focuses on play -- and not so much on the body.

I have a 7-year-old daughter, and her passion at the moment is turning perfect cartwheels, playing baseball and inventing dramatic scenarios for her collection of tiny plastic animals. Peer pressure doesn't seem to be an issue yet, but then again, most of her friends are into the same things -- gymnastics, storytelling, inventive play. Happily, my daughter seems to have a view of herself that has nothing to do with starlet underdressing, sexuality beyond her years or the latest trend in music videos.

Will this always be the case? I can only say I hope so -- and I know for sure that one way to grow a head case with low self-esteem and a body-image problem is to plunk her in front of music videos that hype sex appeal and tell girls their greatest asset is that thing they're sitting on.

Of course, the Beyoncé Five have gone a whole lot of steps beyond just watching the grown-up moves. I'm impressed by their flexibility and clean execution. But at the same time I wonder, what kind of dance teachers (paid by the parents) drilled them for hours and hours in the chilly perfection of a routine that feels so exploitative of their energy, innocence and charm? Soon enough, these girls, like girls everywhere, will have to navigate tricky adolescent waters, learning to dodge what's unsafe and unwise, and finding out what true power, self-respect and individuality look like.

This performance gives them a big shove in the wrong direction.

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