When my daughter became a competitive dancer, I struggled with the reality that I’m not your typical dance mom. There are stereotypes that all dance moms are crafty queen bee types obsessed with winning, popularity, and bent on having their child make it to Hollywood or Broadway. I decided M would dance because she has been dancing since she was an infant. She took her first steps to a video of Michael Jackson moonwalking. She loves all kinds of music and all types of dance. I always want to encourage that. We dance because I love to dance. We dance because she loves to dance. I support her participation. I’m not a stereotypical dance mom. I ‘m not particularly crafty though being a carnavalesco has helped with being more creative. I’m no queen bee. I was a social misfit as a young person. Those experiences have been important for me as an educator, writer and parent; they have informed the choices that I make today.
I struggle at the competitions and the weekend long conventions. It’s wonderful to have M take different workshops and compete with other studios. It’s hard to stomach some of the costumes like the little girl dancing in a polka dot bikini to “California Girls,” Black Swan makeup on 6 year olds, or the five year olds twerking in booty shorts.. Then there’s the choice in music. I have been done with Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” since the 80s. I love Johnny Cash’s version of “Hurt” but should a child do a solo to a song about heroin addiction?
Then there’s the other dance moms and dancers. Some of the behaviors from kids or parents is inappropriate. At our first convention, a group of moms, in matching tees and lip color, were loud during class and used profanity towards their children. One evening this year, an older girl, maybe 12 or 13 years old, walked past our dancers as they posed for some quick snapshots before their competition. She said, “ugh, didn’t I see those costumes last year?” She got the sideeye from me. Gracias a Dios I don’t show my pettiness to kids. Her behavior can be attributed to being a teenager but I also feel that the competitive dance environment can foster some of those attitudes.
I also struggle with the lack of diversity. Children’s competitive dance is not diverse; it’s meant for those who can afford it. Sometimes this lack of diversity leads to questionable choices from teachers. During a convention this year, there was a dance number that ended up winning high scores. It was a musical theater piece set to a gospel house song. Three of the dancers wore Afro wigs while the rest portrayed gospel choir members. While the judges and many audience members clearly enjoyed the number, I felt it was cultural appropriation. While it was a technically impressive piece, I feel that part of teaching dance is teaching students to respect artists, music, and dance styles. The afro wigs were indicative of the lack of cultural sensitivity that I have found at these types of competitions.
So why do we stay? My daughter has been at our studio since she was three. Our commitment to a sense of family and community isn’t lip service. My daughter loves her dance sisters. I love our group of moms; we are friends who are always ready to mend a costume, fix a hairstyle, or take one of the girls to the studio or home at a moment’s notice. Ademas, my discomfort with the traditional dance world doesn’t affect my willingness to support my daughter. I will continue to help her experience these opportunities to grow as a dancer. I won’t hesitate to run home in the middle of a competition to get pair of fishnets or to wake up early on a weekend to struggle through yet another hair bun. En nuestra casa, dance is life.