Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Waunakee High’s “Psych Ward” Dance Routine

If you haven’t already heard the recent reports about the Waunakee High’s “Psych Ward” dance routine you can watch the clip above. I know there’s been a lot of strong emotions and hurt feelings over this, but I think that the end result is more positive then negative.

I say this because I don’t think these girls set out to be disrespectful to the mentally ill, but rather this is a result of a bigger problem in society. Society doesn’t see mental illness the same as they do cancer or other diseases. They also see the mentally ill as a character in a scary movie or a homeless person on the street that they can’t relate to. In fact, I’ve read many comments from the public saying that these girls didn’t offend anyone because the mentally ill are “too busy talking to themselves on the street and don’t care about such political correctness”. This in itself demonstrates the sad perspective that those with mental illness don’t matter.

What society doesn’t understand is that mental illness is everywhere. I can guarantee you that someone who has witness this performance has in one way or another been affected by mental illness or know someone that has. Until mental illness is understood, offensive attitudes will continue.

Personally, this performance is offensive because it demonstrates the negative stigma surrounding my son’s illness, it’s messages like these that keep fear alive when regarding mental illness. We’ve experienced first hand how this stigma has damaged my son’s personal relationships, so it’s unsettling to see a dance team make a mockery of my son’s illness to energize a crowd or make a bold statement.

But as much as this performance was in poor taste, it was a reflection on the attitudes that exist today. That’s why the parents, the students, the administration and coaches didn’t stop the performance, because they didn’t recognize the harm they were causing. They didn’t know who they were hurting. But as life often has it, we learn best from our mistakes.

As a result of this performance, there’s been another opportunity to educate the public about mental illness and who it affects. I imagine that many eyes have been opened to the suffering experienced by those with mental illness as this story has spread through the internet. Just browsing through news links, I’ve read story after story of parents who are raising children with serious mental illness. For some reading about this performance, these comments may be their first exposure to the hell that these children are living in and hopefully what will follow will be compassion and increased sensitivity on the matter.

Now for the ugly side of all of this.

I can understand not knowing better and allowing the performance to take place at the basketball game. But once the performance became public and they were made aware of how offensive the performance was to others, I’m disappointed that they chose to continue with the routine at the state competition, even with the modified costume.

I understand more than most the amount of dedication and hard work those girls put in. I myself was a dancer that performed in state competitions, then after high school I worked professionally as a dance choreographer for these performances. I know that these girls gave up much of their free time to prepare for the competition and were very excited to perform and show off their talent, but under these circumstances I think it would’ve been better for them to drop the routine all together.

I believe that teaching good character is more important than any trophy one could win. I can’t hold you responsible when you don’t know any better, but once you know that you’re being hurtful to others, you must be responsible for your actions. Doing the right thing isn’t always the easiest thing and learning that through this experience could’ve been the best lesson taught to these dancers.

* * *

Read more details here:

Video Source:
Channel 3000
“Crazy” Dance Upsets Mental Health Advocates
Jessica Arp reports
February 7, 2011


  1. I saw this a few days ago and just can't get over it, especially since hospitalization in a "psych ward" was recommended for my son last week. It kills me inside. Shame on so many people for this. I have to stop now because my blood pressure will rise again and my anger will get us nowhere. It infuriates me.

    Have a great week!

  2. I don't know what to say. I bet if the parents or family of those dancers had a mentally ill person in their family they would stop that kind of subject for their dance routines.

    Our son is on a 72-hour crisis stay right now in a center for mentally ill children. He was out of control and it was dangerous to keep him here. He is a beautiful kid with a disease he doesn't understand. I hate this for him. My heart hurts for mentally ill children. Thus, the subject for the book I am writing.

    This kind of media makes my blood boil. If they only knew who they were hurting!

  3. Shari and Sarah- I’m so sorry to hear about what your kids are going through right now, it must be terrifying and gut wrenching.

    You bring up a good point Shari ”if they only knew who they were hurting”. I wish there was a way to make others more aware. I think the problem is that much of us don't want to make our child’s illness public because they will be outcasted, so our child’s illness remains hidden for the most part. I wish there were more characters seen on tv to give an inside look of what our kids go through. When I see the autistic child in the tv series Parenthood I always think how good it is to see this disorder made public, I think it brings understanding that wasn't possible before.