For fourteen years now, I’ve been “Mom.” Rachel’s mom, Sammi’s mom, Piper’s mom, soccer mom, cookie mom…you know the drill. And since 2011, I’ve had the privilege; well, I’ve PAID for the privilege, of calling myself “dance mom.”
You may have seen the Lifetime television program Dance Moms, in which an overbearing woman screams at little girls if they don’t get their turns exactly right, and the moms of these little girls watch the teacher berate the students, make catty remarks about the teacher, and continue to send their daughters to Abby Lee’s dance studio anyway. Trust me, I am not THAT kind of dance mom. If my daughter’s teacher ever started treating her like Abby Lee treats her students, I would yank my kid out of there so fast her tutu would spin.
My oldest daughter started taking dance class in 3rd grade, which is actually fairly old in the dance game. Many students start taking lessons when they are three, which results in adorable toddlers in tutus barely following the teacher during their two and half minute recital piece, but does make a great photo op. We didn’t sign her up at three. It was expensive, we didn’t know where to take her for dance lessons, and would it be something she really stuck with? Meanwhile, she danced. She made up dances to songs on the radio. She made up dances to songs in her head. One of her best Christmas presents ever was a Barbie dance mat with accompanying “Learn to Dance” DVD.
One day, a friend invited her to “bring a friend” day at her dance studio for a hip hop class. “Are you going to learn to hop?” her little sister asked her. No, but she learned a dance—and she found her place.
At her first recital she was one of the few third graders who were not constantly checking the teacher or the other girls to see the next move; she had it down. She had confidence. She shone. It was wonderful to watch. She has always been physically adept; she learned to do the monkey bars before she learned to read.
In 4th grade, she was old enough to try out for her dance studio’s competition team, and she made it in. One of the happiest days of her young life. Then the next fall is when I truly began my career as a Dance Mom. When she was in 3rd grade I had thought it was terribly onerous that I had to drive her to the studio twice a week for two classes. In retrospect, those were the easy days. Now she goes to the studio four days a week for several hours at a time.
Dad, of course, drives her sometimes too—it just usually happens to be me. They don’t make those “Mom’s Taxi” keychains for nothing.
Those four days—three weeknights and one weekend day—are just the rehearsing. The Big Show is the competitions, in locations ranging from high school auditoriums to Hilton Coliseum. Weekends filled with dance numbers; productions numbers featuring 20 kids or more, solo acts, tap dancers, ballerinas, contemporary dancers, hip hop dancers, even the occasional clog dancer. The weekends are a blur of bobby pins and buns and makeup and tights. Sometimes the kids have three hours between competition numbers; sometimes they have four minutes. Each dance has a unique costume, of course; hip hop’s glittery combat boots look terrible in lyrical dances. So the girls run to whatever approximates a dressing room; usually a curtained off portion of a hotel ballroom, and do a quick change into their next outfit and breathlessly run back for their next number.
The moms watch. We hold our breath when we know the difficult leap is nigh. We applaud and shout out our kids’ names. We swell with pride when a mother wearing the sweatshirt of a different studio says “Oh, that was pretty!” We end the weekend with a dance hangover, having seen, in some cases, as many as seventy dances in a day; watching to see if the next studio has a unique costume or concept and if they don’t, going back to our books or phones or the bathroom while we wait for our kid to come back.
I know that my family is fortunate to have the funds to be able to sustain my daughter’s passion, and to be able to indulge her sisters in their activities, as well. I’m very happy that Rachel has a place to go four days a week where she feels welcome and included. I think it has helped her to weather the slings and arrows of junior high. I once asked her if I shouldn’t be more worried about her, since she hadn’t given me anything to worry about.
She even has a job at the studio—she is a dance assistant for a group of little girl dancers. When she goes to apply for that “real job,” she will already have had work experience, as well as experience with time management—after all, if you only have the window of time between school and dance class to get your homework done, you know you don’t have time to blow off. (A lot of homework also gets done in the dressing room in between classes, when she’s not running through numbers or going to Jimmy John’s for dinner.)
I know that some families make a point of eating dinner together every night, but this is not us, and it never has been—her dad and I have always been artistically involved in something, usually theater. We do feed our children, but it seems to be more like once or twice a week that we’re all in the same room eating at the same time, and I often say something like “Who ARE all you people?” And because the PSAs tell us that families who dine together have children who don’t do drugs, I often take this opportunity to tell them not to do drugs. So far, it has worked.
I’m glad my daughter has found her tribe. She has made friends who go to other schools, so her social network extends beyond the boundaries of North Central Junior High. Her friends have different backgrounds, different futures, but they come together over one thing: their love of the dance.
I am under no delusion that my daughter is going to grow up to be a professional dancer. I hope she keeps dance in her life, because I know it brings her joy. But if it’s just for now, that’s enough.
*Special thanks to our Guest Blogger, Sharon Falduto, for sharing!