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”.
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.