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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Dance With Me

I am not a Dance Mom.

I am a mom, and I have a beautiful daughter who has been dancing for twelve years, but I am not a Dance Mom.

We are not on the competition team.  We have not won awards or trophies.  We do not do anything.  She is the dancer.  I pay the bills, drive her around, and wish she had a cheaper hobby.  But dancing is her thing, not ours.

My daughter has danced at the same studio for most of her life, and I have watched the other girls (and two boys) grow up with her.  The studio owner is the teacher; I couldn’t have chosen a better person to be my daughter’s role model.  They are a tightly-knit group, but I am not a part of that group.

I know the other mothers, and for the most part I like them.  We all want what’s best for our kids, right?

But lately, things have changed.  I don’t know if it’s because they’ve been watching Dance Moms and think this is the way they are supposed to act or if it’s always been like this and I just never noticed until I had to step back from helping backstage after my car accident.  But there is a different attitude now that makes me want to cry.

There is a mom who refuses to applaud for anyone but her own daughter.  Because this mom has a problem with me, she also crosses her arms and scowls whenever my kid is on stage.  What a great lesson to teach her own daughter.

There’s a mom who stands backstage and scolds the girls for their mistakes after a competition number is less than stellar.  Or the mom who pats the girls on the tummy or behind and comments on their eating habits, warning them about getting fat.  There are moms who sit in the audience and make jokes about the boys’ sexual orientation or mock a girl who is a bit bustier than some of the others. There are even some who try to take control and attempt to tell the teacher which girls to feature or which ones to kick off the team.

These moms say things like, “We should have gotten First Place” or “We really could have done better.”  They talk about judges being unfair to “us” and tell their friends how hard “we’ve” been working.  They wear jackets emblazoned with the studio name so they can be dressed just like their daughters, and they announce to the world that “we” practice so many times per week.

It’s not just the moms from the studio my daughter attends.  I see it at the competitions all the time.  Yes, there are moms who actually boo when another studio wins.  Who does that?  Who boos someone else’s child onstage?

At one competition, I sat behind a couple of moms in the audience who were having a wonderful time at the expense of a rather heavyset girl who was part of a group on stage.  The poor girl’s outfit was unflattering and far too revealing, but I had to give her kudos for going onstage like that.  She kicked higher, whirled better, danced more enthusiastically than the rest of her team.  But those moms couldn’t see her skill or her joy of dancing.

All they saw was a fat girl.  They laughed and mocked and made mooing sounds while their young daughters joined in on the fun.

I lost it.

I leaned forward and told them that she was my daughter.

The backpedaling was great.  They stammered and apologized and turned beet red and I relished every second of their discomfort.  And then I delivered the punch.

“Ten years from now,” I told them, “when your little girls are in the hospital dying of Anorexia and you are asking God why this is happening to your family, I want you to remember this moment and know that it is all your fault.”

Yup, it was mean.  Yup, I crossed the line.  And yup, I’d do it again.

A few weeks ago, I watched my daughter and her friends do a street performance at a local festival.  They had so much fun, and the crowd loved it.  And for me, there was a moment, a split second when I understood those kids, understood why they continue to dance and work so hard even when we mothers are making asses of ourselves.

There is a little girl named Jennica on the Junior team. Jennica is a spunky, funny little girl with some genetic quirks that sometimes set her apart from the other girls.  She has danced from the moment she first started walking, and she doesn’t hear the nasty things people sometimes say about her.  At the festival, she and her brother danced to the song “Dance with Me”.

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I saw a look on her face that took me back thirty-odd years, to the days when my family used to climb the 300 wooden steps to the top of Mount Baldy in Saugatuck.  My aunts would let my sisters and me run down the sandy incline on other side.  It was so steep that our legs would start churning faster than we could keep up; we would squeal in terror and flail our arms and wonder which of us was going to lose control first.

And then, just for an instant, in that flash between controlling the descent and losing out to gravity, we flew.  Free, airborne, totally in God’s hands.  We didn’t just feel joyous; we were joy.  Exultant in our bodies, in being young and strong and invincible.

That’s what I saw on Jennica’s face that day.  Pure joy.

That should be why our daughters dance.  Not for the trophies or ribbons.  Not for the applause or the spotlight or the attention, but for the pure joy of moving their bodies to the music.  For the power and the freedom coursing through their bodies as they move.

They should love every minute of it.

And we should love them enough to let them dance.

We should love them enough to let dancing be theirs, not ours.