Thursday, February 20, 2014

Real Dance Moms...

I reluctantly watched an episode of Dance Moms with my daughter yesterday. We don't watch much TV and when we choose to do so, reality TV is not on our list of 'must sees'.
I was peripherally aware of this programme, as my daughter had danced since the age of 3 or thereabouts, so of course other Dance families watch the show and talk about it ad nauseaum.
Well, having watched it, I don't know whether to laugh or cry.
I see shades of every dance teacher I've had the good fortune or misfortune, depending upon your point of view, to cross paths with, and shadows of many dance students and their parents, including myself and The Diva, in the unfortunate members of this cast.
And I've decided, that it's a bit of a disgraceful world really, this world of competitive dance. It never sat well with me, even when we were involved (we're not any more), and the deathly seriousness with which the coveted trophies of Age Champion or whatever they call the darned things, are pursued just reminds me of that movie Best in Show. In fact I've been known to refer to Dance Eisteddfods as being similar to a Dog Show, but in tutus. Naturally I do not refer to the kids, who are all beautiful, but merely to the format to which these proceedings adhere. The kids aren't named, the schools aren't named unless they win something or place, and no-one apart from the parents knows one little tutu-ed and be-sparkled child from another. And yet, each parent imagines that their child is the one who will become A STAR.
Naturally it suits the dance teachers to foster this belief and any question of whether my child should, from one year to the next, continue to dance is met with a long list of my childs glowing attributes, and promises that 'she'll get her chance to shine' dangled like a carrot in front of ones nose. I bought into it for a long time.
Then I realised that I had other children, frail and ageing parents, friends and siblings and other good folk with whom I wanted to spend my time, and who I thought were more important in my childs life than 'Dance'.
So we gracefully bowed out and my daughter now dances for the sheer love of dance. She doesn't 'compete', and she doesn't lose sleep over whether she'll get that extra two points that will push her up to a Distinction for her ballet exam result. She has an enviable poise and posture to die for, and I think she'll probably dance forever...for the love of it. Not because she's been falsely led to believe that there's a pot at the end of the rainbow in the form of a short lived career as a ballerina.
That woman who runs THAT dance school in the Dance Moms show, has the same attitude of many teachers I've met, in that she believes she is some sort of God with the power to bestow fame and fortune upon those she chooses to tutor. In my experience this is a thinly veiled excuse for Dance teachers to bully both parents and students to adhere to a punishing schedule of rehearsals and classes. In the end, it's not about the kids. It's about THEM. It's about the teachers seeking the fame and fortune that eluded them as young dance graduates and it's about them seeking to retain a shimmer of glory and mystique that oddly surrounds those even tenuously connected to the Entertainment world.
We all want that. We all want to be special. We want our children to be special and we desire a good and comfortable life for them. We want that bit of glamour too, lets be honest.
But for us, the glamour had a bit of soot around the edges, the glitter was a bit too jarringly sparkly sometimes, and frankly, my daughter is already special. The most special daughter in the world because she's ours, and we love her no matter what.
Thank the stars (no pun intended) for our new low key dance studio. The two ladies who run it are in their twilight years. Dance has been their life. They encourage students from the ages of 2 to 102. For them dance has no barriers. They have students who are vision impaired, hearing impaired and students with conditions that are terminal. They exhibit a simple passion and joy for dance that we found lacking for so long in the 'shiny' Dance studios where we were previously involved. I have no doubt that our old teachers smirk behind their hands at the news of where my daughter now dances. It's not shiny. It's not the best. It doesn't have swanky premises.
But we love it because there is joy there.
And isn't that what dance is really about?


  1. Wow! I could have written this! My daughter was in competitive dance for 11 years beginning at age 5. She was not an athletic child but most definitely dramatic from an early age. Dance for her was the equivalent of hockey for boys (we're Canadian). It was her "sport". Her involvement resulted in the entire family making long term, steadfast friends with other families. Having said that, as business people, my husband and I were very uneasy about the "business" of dance and dance competitions. You say for the teachers and owners, it is all about THEM and I agree but it is also about MONEY! Every year, the costume fees went up arbitrarily as did the competition fees. More mandatory dances were required meaning more fees, costumes and time. By the end, I was so fed up. I was also very fed up of dance teachers claiming they are reason for the children's successes and that dance is SO IMPORTANT in the world as they also consider themselves to be.

    Regardless, my child did very well during those years. She often won overall awards, not always because her dance was so spectacular. It was also because she has amazing stage presence and performance abilities. A "total package". We were not "wrong" to put her in competitive dance as she entered a performing arts school beginning in Grade 7 in the drama program and in Grade 11 she moved to the dance program when she left the studio. Now she is a senior, contemplating what university to attend. She danced because she loved it and with all the hours, she developed amazing organization and study skills resulting in very high marks.

    Would I do it again? Probably. I think if you want to put your kid in competitive dance, you need to be a sensible, mature parent.

    Thanks so much for sharing this. The "world of dance" is an odd one to say the least.

  2. Joan, thankyou for your well thought out response to this post. I found myself nodding all the way through. Ahhh...the money....yessss. I conveniently block that from my memory. Dance is right up there with other elite sports like Tennis and perhaps only exceeded by Dressage, in terms of expenditure, and we entered the foray being well aware of that. Even so, as business owners with a comfortable income (although seasonal), we cringed at the cost of some of the costumes. Factor into that, accommodation at more distant Eisteddfods, meals, entry fees, new ballet/tap/jazz shoes, exams and vacation schools and you're talking serious money. Did it make any of us Did it make us poorer and put a strain on our family...yes. And I think that is the case for many families. I once heard it said that 'dance breaks up a lot of families.' Whoa. Really? I'd choose my family over dance in a heartbeat. But then I say that with the enchantment of distance. When we were in the thick of it, we were convinced that Dance is All. It's almost cult-like, isn't it? But then so are many elite sports where that line of thought is's not just Dance. Each to their own. We're happy where we are. Where there is joy to accompany the passion, where the students like each other because exam results are not made public and they're not 'auditioning' for that spot at the front of the 'V', and where dance is valued as a part of ones development, and not the sole source of it. Thankyou for popping in Joan...x


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