I have never watched a full episode of the Lifetime program “Dance Moms” mainly because unlike most Americans, I dislike reality TV, but also I dislike the premise that moms argue and get catty with one another over their daughters’ positions in the dance world. To me this is the stuff that nightmares are made of, but apparently enough people disagree that after 6 seasons the show continues to turn a profit as it generates divas.
Why do I even care? My daughter has forced me to examine my own fears and prejudices. I do not dance. I’ve tried, and regardless of what I look like on the dance floor, I’ve always felt internally uncomfortable. My mom has old silent movie film footage of me in a metal canister at one of my few dance recitals.
I’m dressed in a leotard and wearing a stuffed dragon tail and head cover. My mom doesn’t remember the song we danced to, but my performance was definitely unforgettable. I manage to get through the routine along with all the little dragon-girls without incident, however, as I am on the end and our routine culminates in a handholding Rockette line, I am seen taking advantage of my position, and instead of heading off stage, I run the dragon line around and around in circles to the hysterical laughter of the audience (as this is the 70s the laughter must be inferred because the film is silent).
My reign of terror on the dance stage continues until I come too close to the black curtain. A pair of adult hands is seen reaching out and capturing me, the rogue dragon. The improvisation ends and the rest of the lair walk of the stage. To my mother’s chagrin this would be my most memorable starring moment in the dance world. She tried with me to instill the same love of dance that she herself possesses, but I resisted the infusion at every turn. I think she had hoped I’d follow in her footsteps and dance on the folk dance team at her alma mater. Not a chance!
See I hated dance. I hated leotards and tights. I hated the princess mentality of my fellow dance students. I hated the discipline and control of the teachers. The only style of dance I did like was clog dance. It was loud, irreverent, allowed you to yell out on stage “EeeOoo” and the fluffy slips under the puffy skirts were fun to twirl in. Against type, I actually went on to compete in clogging competitions. I won a silver medal with a broken foot at one point, but at the end of the day, I still hated dance.
I had no aspirations of becoming a dancer. A roller skater like Olivia Newton John in Xanadu, yes, but a dancer, a ballerina, a cheerleader, even a clogger—N-O! I held strongly to my “I don’t dance” position and avoided all forms of it where humanly possible-unless, of course, it was a slow dance in the arms of a cute boy, and all I had to do was hold on and move in a circle.
Fast forward to a year ago when my daughter begs me to sign her up for dance classes. Just because I don’t feel comfortable dancing doesn’t mean I don’t love watching dancers. The movie “Footloose” was filmed a short distance from my college, the Osmonds were from my hometown, my closest friends were all cheerleaders and drill team members. Dance was all around me. It just wasn’t in me, and now I had a daughter begging for dance class. Could I handle being a “dance mom”?
As I write this my darling daughter is sleeping in her ballet shoes. I tried to get them off her. She woke up and told me she needs them on for good dreams. Who thinks that way? Apparently, she does.
Dance is in her. It finds its way out in the aisles of the grocery store, waiting for me at the dentist’s office, even at a friend’s pool party in the swimming pool. My girl must release the dance inside her. I’ve seen her dance to the music of her snow globe collection when she’s been sent to clean up. She choreographs pieces and then teaches them to her siblings who don’t always cooperate the way she’d like. But the most telling sign of the dance inside her is that she tells everyone she meets that she is “a dancer”. My daughter is my fear incarnate.
Yet, I’m overcoming my fear through her need to express herself through movement, and I see now that what I do through written words she does through rythm and positions. Dance makes her feel happy. Who doesn’t want to have their children happy?
We found a dance studio that fosters friendships over competition and technique over placements. I would never let my child dance for the devil on the dance show aforementioned. I can not see myself as a competitor against other dancer’s mothers. All of that is nonsense to me, and while it might make for interesting television programming, I have zero need for the drama in my real life. At Sunshine Dance Studio in Orange County, New York, my sweet girl has found a sense of self, a group of friends, and an outlet for her artistic expression.
The May recital was semi-professional. A student from the studio has gone on to receive scholarships to Alvin Ailey and acceptance at The Performing Arts High School in NYC. The head instructor herself attended this school and danced for Alvin Ailey. Yet, instead of competition the atmosphere is one of acceptance and camraderie. The moms talk outside of class, and there isn’t a feeling of one-up-mom-ship. It’s actually been enjoyable, and my fear is diminishing.
Through the studio, my daughter has made friends with older and younger dancers. She admires and looks up to the older girls, and she likes mentoring and modeling for the younger ones. She enjoys wearing her sunshine apparel outside of the studio as it gives her a sense of belonging, and she talks nonstop about dance and “her studio” and tells everyone she meets they should join. It isn’t an elitist feeling she has about the studio, and for that I’m grateful.
Her closest friend at dance is a student who has had some special educational needs. In knowing this little girl, I never would have guessed she had struggled. Her mother has shared with me that dance as well as Tae Kwon Do have helped her daughter overcome both Speech issues and social shyness. My daughter loves her daughter and looks forward to dance classes because she knows she’ll see her buddy.
It may be dance or martial arts or sports or writing, but I firmly believe that children need to find something that they enjoy early in life in order to foster their feelings of self-efficacy and esteem. I’ve seen what dancing does for my daughter. Dance helps her define herself. I’ve seen what Tae Kwon Do has done for her close friend–she has found her voice and become a leader.
Dance is now a priority in our lives. Yes, school is very important and we won’t allow our daughter to slack off academically, but dance classes are equally as important as Literacy and Math. Whether she decides to dance professionally or only as a hobby she will have the support she needs to accomplish what is best for her regardless of the cost. Finding your passion at six-years-old is priceless.
I’m overcoming my prejudices toward dance and dancers slowly but steadily with every arabesque and every wave of her best jazz hands. I’m open to her expressing herself in ways I continue to find discomforting, and on occasion and in the privacy of our home I even let her teach me a thing or two. But, one thing I do know, you won’t be seeing us on any reality T.V. Shows!
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