Dollar Dance

I can’t believe how much it cost to enroll my daughter in a dance class.

She was four years old.  The class was $35 per month.  Harmless, right?  Then came that first pair of ballet shoes, the first leotard and first pair of tights.  Soon, there was the recital, with costume fees and ridiculously overpriced tickets to watch my kid spin and stumble around on the stage for 90 seconds somewhere in the middle of a three-hour bit of performance art, the memory of which still has the ability to make my head pound.

The Princess loved it.  She thrived on it.

That one little class ballooned into two, then three.  When she was seven, she wanted to audition for the competition team.  When she was nine, she started begging for pointe class.  Luckily, her teacher doesn’t allow her students to begin pre-pointe until age eleven, so we got a couple years respite before having to invest in pointe shoes.

Just as a side note, I want to mention that my beautiful, wonderfully talented daughter inherited her mother’s big feet, which means that her pointe shoes have to be custom-ordered. Can you hear the cash registers going cha-ching?

Competition fees are ungodly.  I’m sorry, but there is just no other word to describe the astronomical amount of money that parents and dance studios have to shell out for these events. We’re talking hundreds of dollars every competition season, and we’re pretty small potatoes out here in Michigan.  I can’t even begin to imagine how high those fees must run in some of the bigger cities.

Gravity?  What gravity?
Gravity? What gravity?

My heart really goes out the parents with more than one kid in competitive dance. We’re talking second mortgages here.

And the costumes!  Big, big bucks.  Sometimes, it seems like the cost per costume is directly proportional to the amount of fabric involved: less fabric seems to equal more money.  We’re lucky that my daughter’s teacher is a very smart woman who tries to stretch our costume dollars.  She often orders one “base” costume and adds hats or collars and cuffs or maybe a little skirt for the different numbers to help keep the cost down.  She’s also been known to recruit dance moms and senior students to save a few bucks by gluing on the sequins and spangles ourselves.

If I think too hard about what the costumes might cost without her money-saving tricks, we may need to dial 9-1-1.

Then there are the recitals. This same dance teacher works tirelessly to hold fundraisers and find inexpensive places to host the recitals, but she still has to set the ticket prices well above what I would pay to take my family to see a performance by a professional dance company.  Okay, a professional dance company wouldn’t be oozing cuteness, like when the four year-olds forget what they are doing onstage and start waving at the audience. Those tickets are worth every penny, especially as the years go by and I get to see those stumbling four year-olds develop into graceful dancers alongside my daughter. But it’s still physically painful to hand over a wad of cash twice a year for these shows.

Has it been worth the cost?

Absolutely.

My daughter hopes to continue dancing after she graduates this year.  She wants to teach, and she hopes to own her own dance studio some day.  She had the confidence to audition for a highly competitive college dance program, and she’s got the inner strength to be okay if she doesn’t make it.  Dancing has played a big role in making her the amazing person she has become.

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I have to be honest and say that it’s not just dancing itself that has been so good for her.  We were blessed to find a dance studio run by a woman who has become a role model, a mentor, an advisor, and in some ways, another mother.  This is a woman who refuses to dress her students in the overly sexual, age-inappropriate costumes that are so prevalent at dance competitions. She rewards her students for their hard work, ability, and attitude; she talks to them about healthy eating but never about dieting or weight loss. In short, she takes care of “her kids” in ways that go far beyond just teaching them the right steps.

I don’t allow anyone in my house to watch the show “Dance Moms” because I find Abby Lee to be an utterly reprehensible human being.  I guess I was spoiled by having my daughter dance with a good teacher; teachers are supposed to guide and lead by example, not by shaming and belittling their students.  If my daughter had gone to a studio with an instructor who treats the children the way Abby Lee treats her students on that show, I would have yanked her out of dance and put her in an activity less likely to do lasting harm, like football or rugby.

If I had it to do again, would I still enroll my daughter in that $35 beginning ballet class?  Yes.  She’s my baby girl, and this is what she loves.  I’d do the same if my son’s STEM club meetings came with this kind of cost, because that is what he loves.

But I’d go into it with my eyes open to the eventual cost of her dreams, and I would budget for it a lot better.  I’d try to be better prepared.

In the meantime, I’ve got a six year-old son who wants to try dancing like his big sister, and I’m just not ready to shell out $35 for his first class. I just keep hoping he likes football.

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This post is part of Finish the Sentence Friday, with the prompt “I cant believe how much it costs to . . . “

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A Mouse Tale

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Is there a painting or sculpture you’re drawn to?  What does it say to you?  Describe the experience.

There is a Lladro figurine named “Tuesday’s Child” that has spoken to me for years.  Since eleventh grade, in fact.

My aunts always collected figurines.  Hummels, Precious Moments, Royal Doultons, Andreas, and Norman Rockwells.  Especially Norman Rockwells. I couldn’t help but learn to recognize an artist’s work at a glance, although none of their figurines really struck me as being anything special.

Then I discovered Lladros.  Tall, with long flowing lines and graceful shapes, always in pastels and with a gentle simplicity that exudes a feeling a peace.  They are beautiful and delicate and they touch my soul in a way that no other piece of art has ever done.

The first one I saw, the one that drew me to the collection, was called “Tuesday’s Child”, and I saw it in the display case at a jewelry store at the mall.

As usual with me, there is a story.

I had a friend back then whose nickname was Mouse.  Mouse was a ballet dancer.  She was also what my aunts referred to as “a Toughie” because of a very rough start in life.  She looked so tiny and innocent, but she could swear like a sailor and she was certainly no stranger to drugs and alcohol at a young age.  She wore her hair spiked and multi-colored, totally embracing the fashion trends of the eighties.

We drifted apart in high school.  I’m ashamed to admit that I got wrapped up in the almost-almost-popular crowd, and Mouse had just gotten a little too offbeat for me.  She and her best friend talked tough and looked rougher, and she made out with her boyfriend in the hallways with so much gusto that some of us dubbed them “Kinko and Slinko.”

I heard that she gave up dancing, which was a shame, because I remember being moved to tears when she danced to her own choreography to “Anatevka” from Fiddler on the Roof.  She moved on the stage like some kind of mythical creature, something beyond human, something that defied gravity.  She took my breath away.

The last time I saw her, she was with her best friend at a festival in South Haven.  They were dressed like biker chicks, and Mouse regaled me with a tale of a recent fight that had left her with a fat lip.  I couldn’t get away from her fast enough.

She was only fifteen when she died a few weeks later in a fall at a party.  Rumors flew about drugs and alcohol and stupidity of the other partygoers who were too fried to call for help.  I never knew which parts of the stories were true or false, but I knew that Mouse was gone and that I had not been a good friend to her.

It was the first time we had lost a peer, and the reminder of our own mortality hit us all hard.  People who had snubbed her and mocked her suddenly portrayed themselves as her best friend, weeping dramatically in the halls.  Parents and teachers pounced on her death as a cautionary tale against drinking, and some of us were just quietly lost.

Then I saw “Tuesday’s Child” at the mall.  She was a delicate little ballerina, bent gracefully over to lace her pointe shoes.  There was something about the pose, and in the part-serious, part-amused expression on her face that just spoke to me of Mouse.  Looking at the beauty of that tiny figurine, I was reminded of Mouse’s grace and beauty in life, and I stopped focusing on the ugliness of her death; I could finally start forgiving myself for failing our friendship.

“Tuesday’s Child” helped me say goodbye to Mouse.

Of course, I have never been able to afford that specific figurine since it has long since been “retired”.   But I have managed to collect three genuine Lladros and a small handful of knockoffs made by NAO.  Someday . . . someday, I hope to own “Tuesday’s Child” but until then, I have my memories of a girl named Mouse.

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