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 . . . “

Go, Cardinals!

I think my kids go to the best school in the world.  I am so proud of them, but I am also proud of myself and my husband, for making the choice to keep them in this particular school system.

Early on, I faced a lot of criticism from certain people in my life who felt that the school was just too small to be effective.   Then, when a nearby town offered the “Promise” of a free college education to anyone who graduated from their public schools, I faced huge pressure from those same people to transfer my kids.  The implication –sometimes not a very subtle one—was that I was a bad mother for not switching schools immediately.

A few years later, our little school ended up on a list of schools that were struggling.  Once again, I was hit with pressure to yank my kids out of their school and enroll them in another.  I’ll admit I shed a lot of tears over the nasty phone calls and emails from folks who felt that I was clearly not focusing on my children’s best interests.

Now, our school is on a few “best” lists in our state.  Their scores are steadily improving every year, and the kids have the added bonus of being part of an educational community that is small enough to focus on more than just standardized test scores.

You know, I never heard my high school principal speak until he stood at the podium at my graduation.  I met the Assistant Principal a few times (usually during second hour German class when I got mouthy with Fraulein Johnson), but Mr. Evans was a mystery.  And forget about meeting the Superintendant!   We had all heard stories about him, but many of us wondered if he really existed at all.

At my kids’ school, the principal and the superintendant have both done crazy things like taking turns in the dunking booth at different fundraisers, or riding donkeys at donkey basketball games.  They join the teachers in interacting with the kids in school as well as at community events.   Basically, the entire staff strives to make themselves relatable, approachable, human to our kids.

Maybe I’ve got it backward, but that’s every bit as important to me as high scores on standardized tests.

This past year, our school participated in Challenge Day, a program whose mission is “to provide youth and their communities with experiential programs that demonstrate the possibility of love and connection through the celebration of diversity, truth, and full expression.”  Challenge Day urges kids to “Be The Change”, to reach out to each other.  For more information on Challenge Day, go to challengeday.org.

This past week, the staff and administrators of our little school took this a step farther.  They put together a hilarious video in which none of them is afraid to look silly.  From the P.E . teacher’s Elvis impersonation to the drama teacher’s willingness to laugh at her own . . .ah, vertical challenges, to the principal himself –who really shows how to rock a bathrobe and black socks, by the way –the video shows the kids that adults aren’t afraid to step out of their comfort zone.

The caption to the video reads as follows:

Be the change in your school. Our teachers opened themselves up to demonstrate their willingness to “Be the Change” at Bloomingdale Public Schools. Can you make a difference in your school?

Challenge yourself to leave your comfort zone. Improve your school by working harder in class, being nicer to one another, take care of the building–have pride in your school. If you won’t don’t expect others to change first.

I am proud to be the parent of three Cardinals.  Here’s hoping the video goes viral: