Dance Moms- Not for the faint of heart

Yes. Yes. It’s a loaded title. Let me first start off by saying that EVERYTHING I am about to say is my own opinion. It does not necessarily apply to every mom, every kid, or every studio. I also want to be clear that I am talking about the competitive dance world scenario, not the taking recreational class for fun scenario. It is meant to be entertaining and maybe thought- provoking, and that is it. So, plunge ahead with a grain of salt if you please.

Ok, now that we got that out of the way, here goes nothing. So, Dance Moms is a show that a lot of us have seen. We all watch it with a sense of morbid fascination or just plain horror, but we can’t stop watching at the same time. I now I used to sit there watching with a kind of inner chuckle saying ” How ridiculous” to myself and ” This would never happen at our studio.” But then, the smallest of inner voices echoes persistently in the background,” Is this so far-fetched after all?” Then, it’s all over. I find myself analyzing my daughter’s dance situation and checking it for anything particularly toxic, which isn’t in itself a bad thing. ( BTW it’s all good and she is the happiest I have seen her in years with all of the studios she is involved with currently- whew) Then I get to thinking about dance mom life in general and what I have seen, which is not all good. But, I always try to keep in mind that I chose this and I get what I paid for.

Now, once again, I want to remind everybody that I am neither generalizing or referring to any specific situation or child or studio. The following is just some thoughts I have on some things over the years. I think dance is overall a truly amazing sport, yes I said sport, that your child can participate in. It potentially cultivates lifelong friendships, teaches ethics, fitness, sportsmanship and above all, targeted discipline. My child has benefitted from all of these. These components are fantastic! Add to that the fact that this new culture of trophies for participation only does not seem to have caught up to the dance world. That’s fantastic too. Yay! These are the reasons that we all became involved in the first place right?

However, There is a double-edged sword component to the dance world for the child and the parent as well. Along with those positive attributes, there are some negative ones as well. C’mon now, we have all witnessed them, had secret conversations about them, and dwelled on them whether we meant to or not. The first one I have noted is the potential blurring of the motivation line between the parent and the child. What I mean by that is that, for some parents, it becomes more difficult as their child progresses, especially in the competition world, to keep it straight just who their child is dancing for. Is the child dancing for themselves, or for the vicarious pleasure of the parent? When the child wins at competition, are you cheering for them or are you actually cheering for yourself in your own competition against other moms and how their children performed? I am sure this is not true for everybody, or even most moms, but that component is out there. The term healthy competition is not one that I always feel applies to the dance world. I think that the term healthy competition, in it’s purest sense, should mean competing with constructive feedback for the betterment of individual skill. Is that what really happens? Or is it for studio bragging rights? Does competition in this day and age truly foster a team spirit in which each member boosts the other to keep doing better, or does it potentially sever long term relationships over misguided purpose? These risks are things that studio owners and parents need to monitor carefully and hopefully positively guide their young charges to keep in mind the true purpose. I have seen some studios do a fantastic job of this with lots of group bonding and support and I have seen some that don’t. You know the term no child left behind? This was originally used in reference to providing the fullest educational opportunity to every child, regardless of ability. This is a much more difficult thing to offer in the dance world, at least not in the competitive dance world. The plain truth is that your child will be left behind if they are unable to progress in their skills in a particular area. They will not be able to participate in the same small groups if they cannot do what the other children can do. This is not an intentional slight on your child, this is just a consequence of skill level. You as a parent need to be prepared for this possibility and not take it with resentment and project that onto your child. This is just part of the natural course of the competitive dance world. In the end, even with all the practice in the world, if there are certain skills that consistently escape you, there is only so far that you can go. I understand that people teach kids that success is 90% perspiration and 10% skill, but the reality is that that skill component is really the final element that will push the student further. For example, if you can’t master a foutte no matter how hard you try, no professional ballet company is going to give you a pass because you were working hard. They just won’t accept you in.

There are some other things to brace yourself for before entering the competitive dance mom world. First, set aside that 10,000 extra dollars a year aside now…because between comps, costumes, lessons, festivals, therapy sessions( ha ha), that’s about what it runs. You might as well know up front. Also, be prepared to be able to keep a healthy discussion with your child throughout about the real goal of them dancing, whether it is to pursue a career in dance or for recreation and fun. Make sure that you keep tabs on the human lessons that are involved…remaining a good person, realizing that competition is not everything, sportsmanship, maintaining good physical and mental health. Watch over your child and protect them, not in a helicopter or momager way, but in a healthy way. If you see them growing and thriving, keep going. If you see them withdrawing and experiencing mental anguish all the time because of negative feedback or over-focusing on trophies and those ever-coveted convention scholarships, please rethink it. I want to clarify when I say watch over your child that is not always easy. You can’t realistically strive to be in charge of everything without consequences. Your studio owners and teachers are trying to run a business as well and they have to make decisions that they feel are for the betterment of your child and their studio at the same time. It is what they have to do to succeed. If your version of protecting your child consists of constantly complaining that your kid is not center stage, whether they deserve it or not in your mind, almost never goes well and will have unfavorable repercussions for the both of you. It’s just not the best way to go about it. However, I do think that it is ok to not just stand by if you see your child being berated or mercilessly scape-goated. You don’t have to teach them that they must lie down like a rug and take whatever is coming to them. There are reasonable limits. I can honestly say that I have regrets in my past dance mom life regarding not speaking up or acting up more( because I didn’t want to go to jail that But, at the same time, I was struggling in those situations with not teaching my child that it was ok to lower myself to the unreasonable level of the person I was talking with. I should not have to lose myself and what I stand for to retaliate to an untenable situation. Those are the times in which you hopefully have taught your child to be grateful for the training they have received, hold on to the lessons that they have learned, and gracefully exit without burning bridges. That is the goal for me at least.

The last thing I want to address in the competitive dance mom world is what I am going to refer to as the “suck-up fangirl gene.” I just don’t seem to have it. I see moms falling all over themselves to impress and kiss up to dance teachers, desperately hoping that it will result in their kid getting ahead in a studio. I see some studio owners fall for it and I see some dismiss it. I am far more likely to gravitate to the ones that don’t respond. This is why. First of all, I seem to be missing this and I don’t think I would be good at it if I tried. Second, and most important, I want my child to succeed based on her merits, not whatever ass-kissing I am attempting. Trust me, I would only get in her way more because I am really and epically poor at it…..and I am ok with that. Now , having said that, I am guilty of pushing my child to go up and talk to someone when she is hesitating. This is only because I know that her social anxiety is getting the better of her and I also know that she has carefully planned exactly what she wants to say from her heart and is just too afraid to say it because she worries that it will come across as sucking up. That makes me sad. I try to explain to her that her commenting on something that she noticed or admired about someone and expressing it with no agenda is the furthest you can get from sucking up. I am an educator as well and if I had an inspired student come up to me with a comment that shows that they were paying attention, I would be all over that!

Having said all this, I want to be clear that my child is still a dancer. She loves it and plans to do it for the rest of her life. She has learned from people all over the world. She has learned how to be disciplined and accomplish tasks on a timeline. She gets to use both sides of her brain every day. She gets exercise. She gets a kind of emotional, mental, and physical stimulation that she cannot get from anything else. Will she pursue it as a career? Who knows? As long as she is happy, that is really all that matters to me. Have a fantastic day.

Dr. Katz

2 thoughts on “Dance Moms- Not for the faint of heart

  1. Spot on article. Focus shouldn’t be how many trophies can we get- it should be on getting better than the last time you were out. It’s amazing to see what lengths people take to have a group make a certain age bracket or put them in the wrong skill level. I see it at every competition. These last few years have been the most drama free and relaxed dance years for me and it’s been wonderful. 😊

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