Several years ago, “Dance Moms,” a popular reality TV show, surprised everyone and took
the nation by storm. The show featured highly talented and well-trained dancers working with an instructor in the studio setting. The students’ mothers were also featured as they interacted with each other, the teacher, and the dancers. On one hand, the show helped popularize dance training and exposed the world to beautiful choreography. On the other hand, there was almost always drama, tension and conflict. Unfortunately, this made for successful TV, and the term “Dance Moms” was born into homes across America.
My Reaction to the Show
As a dance teacher, people have often asked me what I thought of the show. In reference to the show itself, I don’t think a studio mom would ever want to be referred to as a “Dance Mom” as it was portrayed on that show. I doubt any parent would want to be known by the characteristics they exhibited: loud, catty, demanding, among a string of other adjectives. As a studio owner, though, I am certain I would NEVER want to be known for treating students or parents the way the instructor did on that show! She was arrogant, reactive, unfair, and sometimes downright cruel. The relationship between all involved was a perpetual tug-of-war for power. I would never treat our Burns Dance family like that. The drama on the show was constant, and it is likely the students will deal with trauma left behind from the series for a long time.
The dance experience shouldn’t be like that for families. Instead, it should be a partnership where parents and instructors work together to help kids grow into their fullest potential.
To be clear, BDS loves OUR dance parents. In fairness and to clarify this isn't about moms vs dad. The term "Football Dads" could just as easily be applied if producers decided to create a reality show of little league football dads as they interacted with each other, coaches, and other players. Male or female, we can all lose our cool when things get heated.
Harnessing Passion in the Studio
Parents are passionate about their kids’ activities and even more so when lots of time and money is being spent. When it’s harnessed well, that passion can be helpful to a child when it shows up through positive involvement and encouragement.
The best dance parents know how to differentiate between the regular frustrations of dance studio operations and a toxic environment for their kids. It’s important for parents to pay attention to instruction and to evaluate whether or not an instructor’s teaching methods are helping dancers grow into the best versions of themselves. If an instructor’s methods are pushing down rather than lifting up, the studio environment might not be healthy, and it’s probably time to find a different dance home.
However, when it comes to “dance moms,” as the term has come to be understood, if parents’ passion is not managed and proper expectations aren’t clearly communicated, that train WILL run off the rails leaving your dance program in shambles. I don’t think there is a studio in America immune to having an overbearing dance mom or dad who has zero ability to take off the child-centered goggles until it is too late. Sometimes, that ends with a student being “moved out” of a program just because the parent can’t come to terms with studio procedures and policies that are put into place for the overall good of the students and the stability of the program. Other times, it just takes a little refocusing of priorities and the child is able to stay. No student is going to have a chance in any sport unless his/her parents embrace a bigger picture where their child’s success is a result of the parents’ resources and encouragement, not necessarily their input.
The best dance parents know how to channel their passion into participating in studio events, helping with aspects of performing - hair, make-up, quick costume changes. The best dance parents pour energy into encouraging their children through the ups and downs of dance life knowing they’ve signed their kid up to experience joy, frustration, wins, losses, hard work, soreness, fun, teamwork, success and more. They walk with their dancers as they learn to navigate challenges and grow into the people they’re meant to be.
What is Really Important
Some parents go to great lengths to give their children opportunities to be great at something. They pay for extra lessons, rearrange their family schedules or sacrifice vacations. Aiken has no shortage of things for kids to do, regardless of economics, and having opportunities available to everyone is a great thing as long as we don’t lose sight of what’s really important: providing children with training and skills that benefit them throughout their lives.
Investing in a child’s extracurricular activities can produce feelings of entitlement that seem understandable: “I’m paying all this money, my kid should be doing ‘x,’ getting ‘y’ or able to ‘z.’” But I think the wisest parents know this mindset hinders students more than it helps them. The wisest parents know pushing and demanding puts detrimental pressure on kids and that entitlement doesn’t produce adults you want to know or work with.
A Shift in Perspective
It takes hard work, time, and dedication to learn and build on skills, in dance as well as in other areas of life. Few things compare to watching a student who has continued to work for a skill finally achieve his/her goal. Not only have they reached a level of performance they’ve been aiming towards, but they have learned the value of perseverance through challenges. This is a lesson that continues into adulthood.
We’ve seen a HUGE shift in our industry with the rise of “recreational competition” where the playing field is leveled based on dance experience. I have mixed feelings on this. I am happy to see more performing opportunities for students of all levels of skill sets, but Facebook posts about winning Ultimate Platinum 1st place, or Title Winner, or National Champion are not telling the real story. In other sports, “recreational competitions” might still be competitions, but in dance, “recreational” competitions are performance opportunities disguised as competitions.
Don’t get me wrong! I fully support parents looking for performing programs that are less competitive. However, some parents want their child to access the stage, competitions, and performances regardless of the level of skill he/she has achieved. They want a studio where kids can go to class 1-2 times a week and be on the competition team; the competition team is usually viewed as the highest level of skill at a given studio. Doesn’t this devalue the process of growth? I’m concerned we’re feeding unrealistic expectations and an entitlement mentality when we take the blood, sweat and tears out of achievement.
Parents and students, alike, can develop the idea that they deserve a “win” just because parents paid for lessons. This attitude leads to a situation where no one wins.
“Winning” is a relative term, but I am adamant about explaining to our dancers the difficulty of competitions we attend; I want them to feel inspired and accomplished because of the level of competition they’re up against. I want them to know the value of fighting for growth and improvement.
Dance Moms in Our Studio
As for our studio, I am super excited to watch our Squad Teams attend the same competition as our Performing Company. Our dancers all support one another with true spirit and good hearts. The term “Dance Moms” as portrayed in the reality show definitely does not apply. I am very proud to say our Burns Dance Studio Dance Moms cheer on all the kids that train with us. Our observation windows are filled every week with parents whose kids are at many skill levels. I listen, observe, and at times, comment, on the dialogue being shared at the window. It is important to me that our dance parents know we want their support for all our dancers and families. The kids will act as they see the adults in their life act, and when the adults are modeling kind, supportive behavior to their children we will all see the next generation prosper.
As for reality TV, I would like to think we don’t have enough dance mom drama to be approached for a reality show. If we ever do, I’d hope to be a driving force in reducing it and not growing it. The end result is not part of our mission statement.
We want Burns Dancers to celebrate their hard work, recognize their achievements and THRIVE!