Backstage with Leslie Scott of Youth Protection Advocates in Dance
You know when you meet a powerhouse for the first time, and she leaves you like ‘WOAH’? Yeah, that’s pretty much been my feeling every time I get to interact with Leslie Scott, who’s today’s interview! Leslie is the Founder of YPAD (Youth Protection Advocates in Dance), as well as a dancer and highly sought after teacher, with her contagious positive energy and inspirational messages.
I’m currently taking the YPAD online certification, and am so impressed with it, (and she’s generously given readers a SPECIAL OFFER at the end of the blog!) I can’t wait to share all of Leslie’s wisdom with you all! Let’s dive in!
KC: What's your earliest memory of dance?
LS: My sisters and I would put on shows in our living room. We loved creating and performing! I also was very drawn to the Bboy scene growing in my hometown when I was in elementary school and junior high and loved the street dance culture. I was influenced by Beat Street, Flashdance and Footloose. As a young child I would try to emulate MJ and perform in talent shows. I sewed sequins on my own glove and would try to moonwalk to classes while wearing a thriller style jacket with tons of MJ buttons on a regular basis. I still have that jacket. I was obviously devastated when Wade Robson came out with his testimony of abuse so it’s hard at times to give credit to MJ being such a driving force in my young dance life but he was for many of us. I will never be as devastated as Wade. Regardless, Hip-Hop culture, popping, locking, breaking and social dances like the Cabbage Patch, Roger Rabbit, RoboCop and moonwalk heavily influenced me as a kid. :)
KC: What's your background with dance?
LS: I grew up a street dancer and would choreograph my own dances as a young child. I was the only freshmen who made the varsity dance team in High School and I would choreograph many routines. I did not grow up a studio kid. From there I went on to create the Arizona State University Hip-Hop Coalition (ASU HHC) that is still viable today. My goal in college was using dance as a vehicle to shed light on social justice issues and also unite dancers of all different levels, backgrounds, cultures, differences, etc. When I moved to Hollywood my goals became very self-serving and I lost my way. Thankfully I have found my roots again.
KC: Was it love at first plie?
LS: Many are shocked to hear my answer is no. ;) I did not take to studio classes as a child or teen. I loved to hang out with the Bboy crew at my school and create my own “funky” dances for the high school team and try to emulate choreography from music videos in my bedroom. Plies were not for me at the time. ;)
KC: How did you get into teaching?
LS: A dance teacher who was at my high school to choreograph Guys and Dolls for our musical that year saw me free styling. She also taught at the local YMCA and saw me take her fitness classes and felt I had natural rhythm and movement quality. She asked if I would audition for the tap section of Guys and Dolls if she brought me a pair of tap shoes. I ended up auditioning and I made it. She wanted to start hip-hop style dance classes for kids and adults at the YMCA and at 17 gave me the honor of teaching them.
KC: What’s your favorite thing about teaching?
LS: For me, teaching dance is a vehicle to build self-esteem, community, unity and make the world a better home. I love the joy, sense of freedom and self-love it can bring. I love being able to share a message through movement. The benefits dance can bring to Holistic Wellness are well researched and powerful. When dance is used in its pure form it has the the potential to be therapeutic medicine to soothe ailments of the mind, body and Soul. When used in harmful ways it can have the opposite impact. That is why I’m passionate about preserving its goodness.
KC: Who are your dance heroes, and why?
LS: My dance heroes and heroines are those that may not fit into the cultural ideal of what a dancer looks like, dances like, etc. but who do it and enjoys it in spite of societal stereotypes that may appear as obstacles. My heroes and heroines are all the people that dance free of internet affirmation, names that we do not know, teachers that do not seek the limelight, but are Dance Doctors, using dance as medicine to heal the brokenness of individual hearts and our collective world. I think everyone was born a dancer but when society starts assigning certain attributes as being a “good dancer” (praise) versus “bad dancer” (embarrassment and shame) then inclusiveness and participation is lost.
In many cultures and regions around the world throughout history, dance has, and continues to be a powerful presence for community building, worship, celebration and more. It’s heroic to me to affirm access to dance should not be related to how “good” you are at it. If it brings your Spirit to life, you are good at it!
Past that, I admire Debbie Allen. She has consistently used her platform to make the world a better home and create access to the arts for those who otherwise may not have had it. I also admire Wade Robson. He is courageous, insightful, strong and unique.
KC: What’s one of your favorite funny or heart warming stories about teaching dance?
LS: This is such a hard question. After 29 years of teaching there are so many! I have to say they have come with students of all ages, colleagues as well as parents. I still chuckle every time I bend down to tie my shoe in class and the students do it as well. ;) As far as heart warming, a memorable story is from a young man who was struggling with depression and anxiety wrote me a long letter that before starting to train with me he was considering suicide and my class was therapeutic for him. I will never forget that. Every time I teach I am acutely aware I do not know what my student’s burdens may be but I know they have them. That experience really moves me to keep an open heart and set my intention to always create a safe and inclusiveness space for each person.
My second experience was choreographing a Christmas recital at a small orphanage in Anahuac, MX called Casa de la Esperanza. I didn't speak Spanish and they did not speak English but it was a Divine experience. When they performed and the town came to watch I remember tears streaming down my face and thinking "This feels more satisfying than any professional job I have ever been on." That experience solidified my purpose to start a dance related non-profit that also includes an outreach division. I have been back to that same orphanage 6 times and led dance camps with other dance teachers.
KC: Are there any cliches or preconceptions about dance you try to correct in your teaching?
LS: That in order to make a living as a Dancer you have to be “viral”. That in order to make a living as a dancer you have to self-sexualized or endure objectification. That dance has an ideal body shape. Instead I advocate that dance is for everyBODY. No matter the shape, ethnicity, ability, height, gender, sexual orientation or any other differences that may be used to divide us as humans, everyone deserves equal access to the arts. That in order to be successful one must follow the trends regardless of safety or quality.
I believe in the “And/And” scenario because I am living it. I no longer self-sexualize, I no longer allow my agent or clients or colleagues to objectify me, I no longer compete on social media, I no longer put what my body looks like over how it feels and I am turning away job offers because I’m so busy. You can advocate and protect youth and yourself AND be successful and make a living.
KC: Tell us about YPAD. What is it, how did it begin, and where is it at now?
LS: YPAD (Youth Protection Advocates in Dance) is a non-profit organization dedicated to building empowered dance communities and keeping youth happy, healthy and safe in all dance environments. We are a division of EDIFY Movement. EDIFY Movement is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization originally founded in Los Angeles and fueled by the passion and commitment of doctors, therapist, specialists and educators for youth and adults in athletic and artistic activities.
Youth Protection Advocates in Dance (YPAD) was born as a response and solution to various negative trends on social media and in person that commodify and exploit youth and adults in performing arts. We believe the resources and training that YPAD has developed to educate on emotional physical and sexual health can be adapted for gymnastics. Because of this we recently launched Youth Protection Advocates in Gymnastics (YPAG). Dance and gymnastics are a powerful source of self-expression, community building and Holistic wellness. YPAD/YPAG unites communities to nurture that belief though education and advocacy.
YPAD’s focus is on providing dance studios, conventions, competitions, instructors, dance professionals, parents, community members and dancers with the support, education, tools and resources they need to make healthy choices in the dance environment and the world. We have self-esteem seminars for ages 7-17 and adults, parent seminars, social media fasts, our certification and many more services and resources. We began in 2011 and after launching Certification in 2017 we now have over 500 Certified Educators across Canada, New Zealand and Australia and over 50 YPAD Certified Studios. Our next step is developing Certification for the gymnastics community and to continuing our commitment to the dance community by encouraging healthy and safe practices for youth and adults through evidence based research.
YPAD's education and certification clarifies and affirms that age appropriate practices with youth in dance are no longer vague or “just” your opinion.
YPAD Certification is backed by specialists, facts and evidence based research on the emotional, physical and sexual safety of youth in ALL dance environments including competitions, conventions and social media! We firmly believe that education leads to self-regulation. Individuals and Organizations can become fully YPAD Certified and complete the requirement to proudly earn our Certified Seal to market health and safety to their communities or they are welcome to audit the training. We may not have a Governing Body but we DO have YPAD!
We also developed the YPAD Consultant Group (https://www.ypad4change.org/consult/). This service was created for anyone needing one on one, private consultation in the broad areas of emotional, physical and sexual safety. YPAD offers one free consultation for educators, studio owners, parents and youth (with parental permission) with our specialists in the fields of nutrition, sports medicine, physical therapy, special needs, sensory sensitivities, LGBTQI+, eating disorders, body image issues, anxiety, depression, self-harm, mental illness, bullying online or in person, sexualization, objectification, internet safety, trauma, grief, conflict management, suicidal ideation, abuse (physical, sexual and verbal), perfectionism and more. If something is weighing heavy on your heart and you need a trusted specialist to listen and assist you in finding resolutions and peace, please reach out to our team.
KC: How can people become involved in YPAD?
LS: We are powered by awesome volunteers! If anyone has a speciality or credential in the topics we cover and wants to serve on our YPAD Consultant Group or Advisory Panel please reach out. If our mission has meaning to you and you would like to volunteer or become a YPAD Ambassador we would love to hear from you. You can learn about certification at ypad4change.org/certification and if you would like to volunteer and become part of our team you can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
KC: What’s next for you and your business? Do you have any exciting projects on the horizon?
LS: I was honored to be the Keynote Speaker at Curtain Call Costume's showcase at the end of October in Baltimore. Curtain Call is the world's only YPAD Certified Costume Company and their support has been incredible. They are sponsoring our booths at all the UDMA's this season as well. They not only have creative and appropriate designs they are awesome humans.
Also launching at the end off October is the only YPAD Certified Competition guiDANCE Experience (https://www.guidanceexperience.com)! What they have achieved to earn the YPAD Certified Seal is truly impressive! We hope everyone will check out their tour dates and read about their commitment to reclaiming a fun, healthy and safe competition environment!
I was invited to speak in November about YPAD and appropriate practices with children in Kingston, Jamaica at the Wan Move Diaspora Dance Experience. However, my 3 year has been on 101 airplane rides on behalf of YPAD and as awesome as this opportunity is I may send another YPAD delegate OR my fellow YPAD/YPAG Director Joseph Zanovitch who is also my husband will go as a very late Honeymoon. ;)
Aside from those immediate projects we are deep in the trenches every day working on cases from bullying to eating disorders to sex-abuse, cultivating relationships with like minded organizations, facilitating citifications, spreading our education and developing YPAG Certification.
We are endlessly thankful to Misty Lown, the Founder of More Than Just Great Dancing (MTJGD) for being our First Visionary Sponsor and to our amazing team of Advisory Panel Members, YPAD Certified community, sponsors, volunteers and all who help shine light on this needed mission!
For anyone reading this...we would like to offer you 25% off our online YPAD Certification course. You can visit ypad4change.org/certification to review the modules and requirements and use the code DDD2018. This is valid until December 31st, 2108 and is valid up to 6 months after purchase. Thank you to Katrena for this platform and the important work you are doing to advocate for body positive environments!
KC: Thank you so much for your generous offer! And now... just for funsies...
Burritos or tacos?
KC: Legwarmers or ballet skirts?
KC: Disco balls or rainbows?
LS: Disco balls
KC: Center Stage or Flashdance?
KC: One word to describe yourself?
A BIG thank you to Leslie for sharing her time and wisdom! I hope all of you will check her work out and consider the YPAD Certification - it’s such a vital and important resource for teachers in our modern world! You can also share these wise words with teachers, parents and friends who you think would dig this interview!