The Substance Abuse Issue
In one of my very first Notes, Weekly Note #7, I described a moment while judging in the following way:
"...And I just wanted to put my clipboard down and walk away."
Ironically, the following was written about its sister event. It was written and posted publicly on Facebook at the start of the year. At the end this person asks what you think. I encourage you to ask yourself the same question...
"Ok, I don't usually complain or jump on soap boxes very often....but I feel a need to speak up.
I won't say any names (because I'm pretty sure those that I speak of know who they are).
I am soooo tired of seeing professionals in this venue competing under the influence of drugs and alcohol!
What kind of message are we sending to the young dance community when our pros perform in the most embarrassing manner?
Heck, I was borderline embarrassed myself, just being a judge during such an event.
I would like to thank all of the dancers out there that truly take this sport seriously by not feeling that they need to get drunk or high to put on a great show!!!!!
Don't call yourself a "Pro" if your not going to act in a professional manner!
Just a side note.......IF I FIND THAT YOU ARE UNDER THE INFLUENCE, AND I AM JUDGING...I WILL PUT YOU ON LAST PLACE WITHOUT HESITATION!
I think event organizers need to step up to the plate to insure the integrity of our sport, so any event organizer that would not hire me in regards to my previous statement are not worth working for anyway.
I LOVE THIS PROFESSION, AND WILL DO ANYTHING TO PRESERVE IT....HOW ABOUT YOU?"
As "one of those folks who knows everyone and their brother," as a a dancer recently called me, my very first thought upon reading this was... "but you emcee for **********!!!!????" Which is, like, the cartel central of the WSDC/NASDE community!? But that was just my response. And my husband's. And just a few of my colleagues. But then again, we are coming from a truly unique vantage point.
So let's hear what others had to say in response. I am not including their names because I don't know what each of their privacy settings were on FB. Mr. Kiehm's settings, for you non-FB'ers, were visible for all to see. Again, it was set at Public, which means anyone from anywhere can see it. But FB does not show the privacy settings for those "commenting" on the Public post, so I'm just offering their words.
Also, there were a total of 144 responses, as well as 662 'likes' and 38 'shares,' which is extremely rare for any social networking site nowadays in regards to WCS. Part of this, of course, is that he does work for **********, and therefore lemming behavior without reading is most definitely present, but still - the numbers are just plain impressive. I clearly cannot list all of them here, but these are just a few, in no particular order. As you can see, there's quite a variety of perspectives, information and thoughts from people all around the globe:
"Thank you for speaking -up about this matter as we all think it is embarrassing for our sport we love......"
"I'm sharing it because even in Europe we began to have these kind of trouble ...."
"Totally agreed with your comment. However, I have seen the organizer of the events drinking during the events. In addition, they show up the next day, with the nasty smelling."
"Maybe it's time to name names so we know who we are hiring." (Club Officer)
"I have noticed the use of "RITALIN" by dancers. It puts a persons dancing and hearing together and they are far more awake. I brought it to the Dance Hosts attention and he thought I was from Mars. Needless to say, I don't really compete anymore because the competitions have dancers who are in altered and enhanced states."
"I had a Pro show up for a private once completely under the influence. No refund offered, no apology. I have never forgotten. This is a much bigger problem than simply coming to a competition under the influence. It appears many folks find dance conventions a great reason to get drunk, and others are just using drugs to stay awake all night. It goes without saying that this takes a tremendous toll on your body, as witnessed by some of the folks we've lost way too young. If this is your life style, I sure would encourage you to take a second look at what you're doing. You ARE worth it."
"I noticed this happening with the top dancers over 10 years ago when the young hot dancers started taking over, that is when I quit going to conventions monthly, I can only imagine how the party, party atmosphere has escalated since then!! Seemed like more and more of the convention time was spent watching the top dancers show off and party and I wasn't interested in being on the sideline watching their clique !! So I've saved thousands of dollars not attending the big events any more, and I dance many more hours at all the many, many dance studio dances around San Diego!!!"
"...it's just that this has been going on or a long time now and unfortunately, I happened to reach my boiling point there. Please don't feel singled out. It's been at just about every event I've been to in the last couple of years." -Michael Kiehm, in response the event director's comment
"Just a thought, in world championships for ballroom, they have started drug testing. It's for steroids or controlled substances. Trying to slowly get the community to shape up and prepare for more "sport" recognition."
"I would hope that every judge, everywhere, would feel this way about any competitor! We need to keep it clean! I also feel that no one should be obligated to dance in a competition with a partner who is drunk or high ... there needs to be a mechanism to prevent this from happening in a J&J."
"Yes, I agree...that mechanism is the event organizer or the chief judge.....Hell, the pros were on the side line waiting to go on the floor with alcohol in their hands! Maybe it's there way of getting relaxed, but hell, they're pros! DEAL WITH IT!"-Kiehm, in response
"I could not agree more. The term "professional" has as much to do with conduct as it does ability. If you don't respect your sport enough to give it your best then respect the paying audience you perform for and event you represent. Thank you for bringing public what others have been whispering about."
"Dear Michael, I really want to thank you for standing up to this problem... we as older seasoned dancers have seen this at events and workshops. We respect you for standing up for your sport and passion... We have watched you for more than 20 yrs. and know how you train for your sport... How wonderful would it be to promote this sport as drug and alcohol free for the kids coming in. This could be great therapy and keep kids off the streets and out of trouble. Parents and educators would be more drawn to drug free events for the kids. You go ..with your name and passion you can make a difference one event at a time. Who knows some of these competitors may have to address a problem or give up their passion..."
"Michael, I'm so proud of a person who will stand up for what he or she believes and do it with grace. I too was embarrassed by what I saw. I am a mother and always wanted my children (grown now) to share my passion of dance. I am some what relieved I didn't push this watching what i saw this last weekend. I am a professional and I have to present myself as a professional because I never know my circle of influence. In my [work] I talk about you don't really know who is watching. If we truly care about those around us we need to put our own actions in check. There is a time and a place for things. Dancers if this is speaking to you, this is a new year and we can't go back and change what has happened, but going forward YOU can make decisions that could make a difference for you, those you are influencing, the future of dance. Its YOUR choice..With LOVE and compassion. What if someone got hurt dancing with you and it was your fault because you were under the influence? Just saying....."
"Michael, you definitely hit a nerve. You have over 527 likes. So organizers of events should realize this is not a small matter. Thanks again for speaking up."
Of course, as you would expect, there was a lot of "rescuing" going on that I didn't post here, especially from event directors, and back peddling and so on and so forth. All to be very much expected. You've heard it all before... worship and praise to The Church... blah blah blah... heard it all coming three days ago.
But the vast VAST majority of the 144 comments were extremely positive and supportive. Dancers, parents and competitors have had enough, clearly. I've known that for a while. I'm just so so sad that no one in the WSDC/NASDE community is listening to them, never mind taking action.
I clearly remember the day an event shut off the music and closed its doors for an hour, because someone in their early twenties gave someone in their late teens alcohol. It was a huge deal. Someone underage was drinking alcohol, and they wanted the entire event to know it was not okay. They shut it down, and when we all asked why, they told us.
What a message. What a 180.
So. You've heard from a ton of people. As Kiehm asks at the end of his post,
"I love this profession, and will do anything to preserve it... How about you?"