Monday, June 25, 2012

On being a dance mom

      The new season of  Dance Moms started a couple of weeks ago. It is one of my chief guilty pleasures. I am attracted to it like a spectator at an impending train wreck. The show is so outrageously over the top, and yet I cant stop watching, partly because it is so outrageously over the top and partly because I am the parent of a dancer.

      I never set out to have a dancer child. Many of the other moms at the dance school were clearly dancer themselves (even a retired dancer carries themselves in a certain way, no matter how many years and pounds it has been since they put their technique shoes on). I did expect a child with an interest in the arts, being that I majored in theatre and my spouse majored in music. But I never considered that the genetic jumble would produce a dancer,particularly a ballerina. But from a very early age, as she was enraptured by Angelina Ballerina, and pranced about the house on tip toes that she was a born dancer. Friends with far more experience in the field said told us we needed to get her into a dance class and find out if she was really meant for this. So 8 years ago we found an excellent school and  she started, originally with just one beginner class, that has over the years worked itself up to multiple classes several nights a week. And even this is but a dip in the shallow end of the pool,the really committed children (or children of more prosperous parents)are there nightly taking multiple classes.

One thing that is like Dance Moms is that moms (and sometimes dads) do sit around the studio and talk. And we do talk about Dance Moms. We tend to watch it on 2 levels at once, both as ordinary reality TV, and then more critically, by comparison with our childrens' experiences.We also tend to watch it with a huge sense of relief, as in at least our kids teachers aren't that crazy, or at least the other moms here aren't that nuts.

My daughter's school doesn't do competitive dancing. They are focused on training, with an end of the year workshop so parents can see their progress. The  school is associated with a youth dance company that students  can audition for, they usually do one or two ballets a year, a few performances each. But no competition, no weekly trooping off to this city or that. Her dance teacher once said to me "If you want your kid to have a trophy go spend 20 bucks and buy them one. You'll save yourself a fortune". She went on to point out that schools that did competitions spent all their time perfecting the particular dance they were doing, instead of working on the fundamentals of dance.

As an experienced dance parent who knows what all this stuff costs, I am staggered to think the amount of money these moms must invest in dance classes, weekly costumes, competition entry fees, bus charters, and so forth. Only one of the mothers gives any sign of having a job or (currently) a husband, or income. How do they pay for this stuff. What life do these kids have outside dance? With the exception of one older girl who wants to do high school stuff like cheerleading we never hear about the kids doing anything but dance, and yet I know most of the children at my daughters school are involved in all sorts of other activities as well, both in school and out. We also never hear about school, home schooling or otherwise. They have to sit down an write a paper once in awhile. I am always seeing girls between classes getting homework done in the lobby of the dance school.

And clearly the moms have no other life than the dance school either. They are there all the time, and no one ever seems to worry about getting food on the table or seeing to other kids or spouses. Yet I know almost all the parents I ever talk to are hideously busy as they try to include their children's dance activities in with schooling (whether public or doing it themselves) scouts, sports,jobs, and the needs of their other kids.

Now I realize that like all reality shows, there is tons of stuff let on the cutting room floor. But it would be nice if we were given a little more idea of the reality outside the studio. Families of children in any creative or athletic enterprise sacrifice tremendous amounts of money and time to make it all work.

And here is the saddest thing. The dancing really isn't that great. Its not bad, its about what you'd expect of girls in their age groups, but its not spectacular. I can see dancing that good at any school in the area. The performances each week never seem to build any skills for the next week. There is little analysis of what they did or didnt do right in their performances. The ranking of the dancers seem to be entirely based on their placement in competition. No wonder the show focuses more on the Moms' whining that the girls' performance.

That doesn't mean I wont be watching next week. What the heck, I can use escapist reality as much as the next guy.

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