The end of the school year means that with the hustle of finishing up school studies, extracurricular sports are usually winding up too. As the parents of dancers, we have another set of dance competitions and recitals to attend, even though spending a sunny weekend afternoon inside a dark theatre isn’t always appealing. We have an extensive time and financial investment in dance lessons—even though we know they probably won’t continue dancing professionally after high school. Supporting our daughters through this stage in their life, and learning and investing in a sport we knew nothing about, has been one of the best things we could have done for their confidence.
My oldest daughter simultaneously started dancing around the same time she started walking. When she was maybe nine months old, we noticed how much she liked grooving and moving to music. By age two, she was already working an iPod, selecting music, and making up her own choreography. By age three, given her interest and natural abilities, I enrolled her in a local community-run baby ballet class.
My second daughter, two years younger, soon followed suit, first singing before she could talk, starting dance lessons at age three, and then performing her first solo at age seven. There was no stopping them from this sport called competitive dance. As much as we tried to introduce them to other activities, sports, and clubs, they both chose to stick with dance.
Year after year, the commitment grew—and so did the cost. Like any activity that we want our kids to excel in, we agreed to keep paying for lessons as they got better at it. Most young girls start with ballet and then add another style like jazz. For little girls who love sparkle and sass, jazz is the epitome of dance. They discovered Dancing with the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance on TV and idolized the pro dancers, their sparkly costumes coupled with amazing music and lighting. After jazz, competitive dance became the next step, soon followed by the not-so-inexpensive private lessons. Jazz shoes, pointe shoes, competition fees, and trips out of town all started adding on to the tuition fees, and we kept on finding ways to pay for all of it. Every recital and competition, we were there, cheering them on.
While dance moms can get a bad rap, we are supporting our kids, just the same as soccer parents or hockey moms. It just involves a little more waiting and lot more sparkle. We aren’t trying to recapture our youth by dressing up our kids—we are instilling confidence and commitment, just like you are.
I’ve definitely encountered some stage-parent-type-moms, but the majority of us are just happy to have our teenagers steadily involved in a sport that they love. We drive to endless practices, do the late-night pickups, and run all over town looking for the exact shade of ‘nude-colored’ tights that are needed. We eat meals on the run, constantly looking for healthy take-out choices, and we sacrifice plenty of our own social lives to support our kids in dance.
We also spend time rubbing feet and drying tears, reassuring our kids that even though they didn’t place in the top of the competition roster, they are still amazing dancers.
It is because these are young adults who leave their hearts and souls on stage with every performance. If they are still dancing long hours in high school, it is because they truly love every single thing about the sport. They have experienced rejection, critique, and heartbreak many more times than wins, and yet, they continue to pursue their passion.
My daughters have learned that sometimes, no matter how hard you try, how hard you train and put your every skill into a performance, there can be someone else competing against you who is just that much better. Even though as a performer they appeared to me like a beautiful lean colt, prancing across the stage with chin high, eyes wide and smiling from ear to ear, it may not have been the right formula to win.
But what they have learned—after years competing in the sport—is that the win was in the journey to get there. They have fallen in love with the process. And if they fall down, they’ve got the confidence to get back up and keep going.
So we will spend another weekend bustling around in a frenzy, gathering costumes and doing hair and makeup, then watching them do their thing on stage.
And there is nowhere else I would rather be.