Dance Moms. Just that simple two-word title triggers guttural reactions in most. It stirs up connotations of a middle-aged woman with frumpy hair and stretchy pants. A coffee in one hand and an extra-large can of extreme-hold hairspray in the other. It stirs up connotations of a once-was, or even worse, a never-was dancer way past her prime beaming on stage left, clapping emphatically and slightly maniacally for her daughter. It stirs up images of this shiny, bedazzled daughter of hers in a starch-stiff tutu adorned with silver sequins, hair in a high bun matted concretely to her head with an entire squeeze bottle of gel and bright pink lipstick outlining bright white teeth.
I know what you think. I know what you see. It makes me laugh, because at times, when I’m not paying attention, I could mistakenly see what you see. Those Dance Moms! But fortunately, I’ve realized what Dance Moms really are.
My daughter was five when she announced she was ready to join her friends in their rhinestone leotards accessorized with large, bobbing, sparkling hair bow headpieces on that dance stage. I shrugged my shoulders. It wasn’t different than anything else we had tried. A summer camp of basketball here. A community T-ball season there. A high school led soccer class there. Dance? Sure. Let’s do it. I went into it with no idea. I imagined it would be a class once a week, and an adorable recital at the end of the year. What’s the harm in that?
I imagine this is how most Dance Moms are created. Eager moms and dads in this helicopter-parenting era, ready to encourage their sons and daughters in yet another endeavor. Was I crazy to consider this? No. Ha. I was just a sucker like the rest.
And so it began as I expected. We signed up for a recreational dance class. One class once a week. A recital on the horizon. My son joined too. Why not? But it wasn’t long before my daughter was invited to join the competition world, and my son, wise beyond his years, sniffed that there was something not for him about this place we had been bringing him every Thursday, and graciously bowed out.
Competition dance? Most definitely! Why not? My daughter smiled from ear to ear. It sounded like a fantastic idea. Slightly more rigorous classes with a couple competition weekends thrown in here or there? Yes. She was on board. I was on board. This sounded like a great idea.
I’m not quite sure where to start without diving right in. Competition dance is not for the faint of heart. It is for the diligent, the passionate, the committed. Because there isn’t anything that I have done on behalf of my children in these early years as a parent that has defined commitment as much as dance has. It is a pure labor of love the things I have found myself doing that I never, in a million lives, would have imagined myself doing.
Putting 186 rhinestones on one dance outfit? Been there. Sewing appliqués onto sequined tiny tops? Done that. Wrangling my seven-year-old daughter’s long, straight hair into two perfectly tight buns on top of her head at 4 in the morning? Yep. I’m raising my hand.
But here’s the truth. The real truth. Underneath all those superfluous, flashy distractions you see on the surface is hard work. So much hard work. I’ve never seen girls this age work like this. These girls that commit after school evenings to dance class then practice at home on their days off. These girls that show up at 6:30 in the morning on a competition day and do not go home until 11:30 at night, only to get up at 6 am the next day, and do it all over again.
I remember one moment last year—my daughter was 7 years old. She had literally been at a competition going on hour 14. And there she was, doing cartwheel after cartwheel after cartwheel across the gymnasium practice floor. Why? Because she was loving every single minute of it. The early mornings, the late nights, the long days, the dance after dance with costume changes and intricate hair changes, she did it all because she was exactly where she wanted to be.
This past weekend, my daughter, now eight, had a full day of competition, snuck in a six-hour night of sleep, and at 6 am the next day, was up and ready for the next day of competition. There was no complaint in any of her still-waking-up muscles. She sat straight as I pulled her hair into a tight high bun. She proceeded to go on to stretch, practice, and compete, giving it her all. And every time I witness her in one of these moments, I just know.
This girl. This girl of mine has grit. All these dancers have grit. They have passion. They have so much love for what they are doing. They are determined and strong and have so much bravery to go on that stage with those blinding stage lights and perform. There is no doubt in my mind, that I am that mom standing on the sidelines, clapping emphatically, and yes, yelling slightly maniacally for my daughter. For my friends’ daughters. For my daughters’ friends. I do this not because I was never a dancer and I am living vicariously through the powerful grace of this gorgeous girl of mine, but because I know what it took for her to get here. The hours, the commitment, the practice, the right attitude.
I beam and can’t help bubbling over not because I see my life through her, but because I see the life this brings to her. I follow her around with extreme-hold hairspray, because that is the very small part of the competition that I contribute to in this bigger lesson I hope she is learning. Work hard. Work so hard. Don’t forget the details. Know that effort pays off. Acknowledge that you are exhausted, but continue to carry yourself with grace and do what needs to get done. And if your emotions get the best of you, let them come, and then let them go, and then pick yourself up and find your strength again.
This is what it means to be a Dance Mom. To be the grit behind the grit. Make no mistake—my daughter and her dance life do not define me, but part of who I am is most certainly Dance Mom. I am the support beam behind a very brave girl that feels empowered to live her passion and most importantly, is learning the importance of work ethic, a good attitude, and where it can get her on that stage and beyond.
To all my Dance Moms. I’ll happily and proudly be called a Dance Mom right alongside you.
And. Make no mistake. I am wearing stretchy pants.