In Defense of Dance Moms

Pea at T-ballMy daughter and I were catching up on one of her favorite shows last weekend — DVR’d because she can’t watch on weeknights – when her 17-year-old brother sauntered downstairs and joined us.

On screen, a handful of well-dressed, heavily made-up and cleavage-exposed women – apparently in their early 40s – sat on banquettes in a small room, which overlooked a dance studio where their preteen daughters were rehearsing.

Within a minute or two, my son caught quite a few catty, competitive and even downright nasty comments between the women, who were discussing the dancers, the dance teacher and the other moms.

“What is this crap?” my son asked. “And why are you letting Pea watch it?”

“It’s Dance Moms,” Pea and I replied in unison. I went on to explain that the Lifetime show (http://www.mylifetime.com/shows/dance-moms), now in its third season, is instructional because…well…I am a dance mom, too.

However, I’m not at all like Melissa, Kelly, Jill and the other moms. And Pea’s studio is nothing like Abby Lee’s.

At least I hope not.

Being a “dance mom” was never my intention. I didn’t grow up with the benefits of Title IX, which makes more sports accessible to young girls. I ran track, swam and enrolled in a few dance and gymnastics classes, but wished I could have done more.

I wanted Pea to have more opportunities, like her ball-crazed older brothers, so signed her up for every sport imaginable:

– In Tee Ball, at age four, Pea cried at practices, whether or not I stayed to watch. At bat, she cried if people cheered for her, and, if she miraculously managed to knock the ball off the tee, she slowly walked to first base, helmet covering her red eyes. After a few excruciating weeks, I let her drop out. Later, when one of her ex-teammates asked why she had quit, Pea replied, “I didn’t like the hat, I didn’t like the bat and I didn’t like the shirt.” After all, the team uniform wasn’t pink (see Pea scowl, certainly because of her shirt, in the team photo).

– That fall, she gave micro-soccer a try. Again, we saw tears at practice and half-hearted attempts during games. Pea liked talking to her friends on the field, but recoiled if the ball came her way. She refused to let me enlist her the next year. And then, a few weeks ago, she said, “I wish I played soccer.” The nerve.

– At six, she gave basketball a try. In a show of support, her three brothers filed into the gym for the first game. However, it soon became clear that 1) Pea couldn’t catch the ball, 2) she couldn’t pass the ball and 3) she wasn’t strong enough to lift the ball for basket attempts. As the game progressed, the boys started cringing every time a ball headed towards Pea. They never watched another game, and Pea announced it would be her first, last and only season.

– Next came lacrosse, a sport my boys loved. I was thrilled it was available for girls, and thought that Pea might enjoy and excel at it. Sadly, her hand-eye coordination lagged behind her friends’, and she soon gained a healthy fear of hard rubber balls. In fact, it appeared that Pea was praying that balls would not come her way, or that someone else would snag them. Coupled with Seattle’s soggy spring weather, it was a long, painful season.

– The summer swim league was a bit more successful, but when I signed Pea up for a pre-competition team during the school year, she was miserable – primarily because she was always freezing. I understood.

Soon after, Pea asked if she could take tap lessons. She convinced me that she would 1) not cry at practices and 2) stick with it. It wasn’t what I had planned for the girl, but I realized that it wasn’t “about me.”

Pea loved her classes. She certainly wasn’t a prodigy, but she learned quickly and loved every minute. The next fall, she added jazz class to the mix, and a year later, she tried out for, and made, the studio’s competition team.

After years of watching soccer, football, basketball, baseball and lacrosse from the sidelines, my husband and I were shocked by the dance-competition world.

It’s a bit off-putting to see nine-year-olds with false eyelashes, lipstick and provocative costumes, and even worse to see your own daughter – the baby of the family – dressed that way.

However, it quickly became clear she loved dancing in class and on stage, and much preferred creative costumes to Tee Ball t-shirts.

Pea has just completed her third year of competition, and I have embraced the sport.

I appreciate that through dance classes, performances and competitions, Pea has learned confidence and charisma, has built character and courage and has gained moderate success doing something she loves. She dances three hours a day, and she’s happy, healthy and very fit.

We are fortunate that her studio is well-run and the other girls and moms are kind and well-meaning. However, we do see and hear about some awful dance moms from other teams. So, when I watch Dance Moms with Caroline, I remind her that we all have a choice of how involved to get in our kids’ activities, and how to behave when we do so.

Linda Williams Rorem, 1 April 2013
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Comments

  1. Laughing out loud! You’re an awesome Mom…I hope I’ll always remember it’s not “about me,” whatever it is!

  2. Carolyn says:

    That picture is too precious! Love that girl!

    • The entire photo is even funnier. She would only agree to be photographed if she could sit on my lap. You can probably tell from the swollen face and red eyes how long it took to even strike that compromise!

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