My mother was passionate about dance and studied it through early adulthood. I did, too, though I didn’t inherit all of her natural talent. So it wasn’t a huge surprise when my daughter took to dancing lessons immediately. I would bring her to a toddler movement class, which was the highlight of her weekend, and when she was 4-years-old I enrolled her in a beginner combo ballet-tap class at the same neighborhood studio where I had taken lessons for 12 years as a kid. The next thing I knew, I was a dance mom. Guys, I’m not mad about it.
If all you know about dance moms is from the reality series on Lifetime, I definitely don’t fit that mold. Dance — like acting, and soccer, and piano, and all the activities our two kids enjoy — has its place in our lives. Homework still has to get done. My partner and I don’t pull our daughter out of school for more intense barre classes. I don’t miss work on account of getting my kid to the studio. As a working parent and a dance mom, I need to earn a salary to pay for the classes, so I call on my parents to help out with dropping and picking up our daughter. But I want to make it work because I loved taking dance class as a kid. I mean, it was freeing. There was a time and space where everything but the music and the mirror (catch the reference, A Chorus Line fans?) fell away. I was a chubby kid but I was never made to feel like I didn’t belong in a leotard among girls of all shapes and sizes who shared my passion. Knowing how it feels to love something like dance, I have been encouraging of my daughter’s interest in the art since day one.
As much as I consider myself a dance mom, I probably fall short of the requirements other self-proclaimed dance moms have. My husband and I don’t travel to competitions and we don’t spend money on new costumes constantly. I define “dance mom” as being 100 percent supportive of my daughter’s efforts and ambitions when it comes to her extra-curricular activity, which is, in this case, dance. So if you’re wondering if you’re becoming a dance mom, here are some telltale signs:
You Find Bobby Pins Everywhere
They’re in drawers, bags, bathroom vanities. I find them poking out from the corner of the rug or spilling out my change purse. When you’re a dance mom to school-aged kids, bobby pins are your new Cheerios.
You Can Sew Ribbons Onto Anything
My mom packed me a little sewing kit when I went off to college, you guys. She even wrote my name on the Tupperware top… in Sharpie (totally didn’t get teased for that). But my stitching skills have come in handy. I don’t freak out when the recital costumes need the straps shortened. And if my daughter moves on to taking pointe, I know I’m in for long stretches of ribbon-sewing (as my dance mom friends of older girls tell me).
You Know There's No Such Thing As "Too Much" Hair Product
To tame flyaways when pulling my daughter’s hair into a bun, I use mousse, gel, spray, and whatever frizz-fighting substance I can find. While I can’t be bothered dealing with my own wavy hair in high humidity, I am committed to working my kid’s head over until it’s as smooth as a bowling ball. This is not cruel because I only do this at the request of my daughter and, well, she has high standards.
You Can Fix Anything With A Safety Pin
Torn tutus, busted slipper elastics, frayed costume straps: I’ve applied first aid to all these dance wardrobe malfunctions with nothing but a safety pin (and warnings to my daughter to, “Be careful!”). This has taught me to carry safety pins with me always, and they’ve been useful when purse handles, coats, and bras have died on me in the middle of the workday.
You Know Dinner Is Whenever Dance Class Isn’t
I don’t like to eat early, but I also can’t feed the kids too late because then it butts up against bedtime, and I’m kind of a stickler about our nighttime routine. They need sleep, and I need non-kid time. But if dance class goes until 6:00 p.m., then that’s how it is. I think we can handle it because it’s not every night, but even if it was, as long as my child maintained her love of dance, then turkey burgers right before bed is how we’ll have to roll.
You Give Up Entire Weekends To Rehearsals
I don’t see rehearsal weekends as a chore. It’s a privilege. I get to watch scads of excited, starry-eyed little dancers doing the thing they love, over and over, driven to get it “just right” or at least “good enough” in anticipation of showtime. I love that my daughter knows I’m there for her. Before I know it she won’t want me hanging out in the dark theater with the other moms, our faces bathed in the blue light of our smartphones as we pass the hours, waiting to be called to swap out the ballet slippers for the tap shoes, to refill a water bottle, or just to be asked “Did I do OK?” from the kids who need to know we see them.
You Consider ‘Black Swan’ A Horror Film
And not just because Natalie Portman isn’t a dancer. For a dance mom, watching your ballet-obsessed daughter pirouette into the darkness of a passion that consumes her, until she loses herself to the part, would be a straight-up nightmare. Also, I just wanted to feed those starving bodies on the screen.
You Allow Tap Dancing In The House
My partner and I used to live on the top floor of an apartment building and it was really hard not to be a nuisance when we our kids were little. They may have been small, but they came down hard when they ran (and of course, they were always running).
So after years of shushing my kids and padding the floor with carpets and foam mats, we finally moved to an apartment on the first floor. And we did so just in the nick of time, as it coincided with my daughter learning time steps in tap class, and if you’re to be good at anything, you must practice. So yes, she is allowed to tap dance in our dining room, though not when we are eating.
You Never Miss An Airing Of ‘The Nutcracker’
While we have the privilege of living in New York City, where the New York City Ballet performs The Nutcracker annually, it’s not like we can spend the money to go frequently. My daughter’s grandparents are generously gifting her with tickets this year, and I am excited for her to see it live. I experienced that as a kid and it truly was magical.
But it’s just as delightful to tune in to PBS every December and watch American Ballet Theatre’s rendition of the ballet from the 1970s. If I catch it while I’m channel surfing, I am hooked… every time.
You Love Every Freaking Second
I really do. Watching my daughter enjoy herself in class, and on stage, means the world to me. At this point, she has no plans on becoming a professional dancer, or even a competitive one. She is happy enough dancing for a couple of hours a week, mastering new steps, and striving towards the approval of her dance teacher, whom she so admires and respects.
While I want my daughter to succeed at whatever she sets her hopes on doing, I recognize how difficult it is to sustain a true “dancer’s life” because I loved dancing just as much, but it never solely defined me. Dance moms like me, who still have jobs and other obligations and who have not let their children’s after-school activities dominate the family’s dynamic, love just being a part of something that makes their kids happy. If my daughter no longer wanted to dance at some point, I wouldn’t question her decision. It only means that dancing no longer fulfills her in that way. And I guess I’ll just have to become some other kind of mom, in support of her next interest.
I’d rather my kids try many things, and gather experiences, than focus, at such young ages, on one very specific thing that, with a twist of a knee, could vanish.
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