My daughter was barely 4 when she decided she wanted to be a dancer. When I say she decided, I mean that we fastened a pink tutu around her waist and she offered little objection. Dancing through the living room didn’t interfere with her agenda of watching Dora the Explorer or hosting doll tea parties. Plus, a pink tutu apparently goes with everything.
Flash-forward to the present and her enthusiasm has only broadened. In fact, her love of dance might be the only thing that remains unchanged. The tutu is gone, replaced annually by a dozen new costumes that improbably bridge the fashion gap between West Side Story and The Matrix. The tea parties have given way to a quick snack and a smoothie while doing homework.
At 15, Sadie is way busier than I ever was as a teenager. And, at 46, I can tell you way too much about what you are getting yourself into if you buy your little girl a tutu.
I have my sister to thank—or, when totaling the expenses, to blame. She had enrolled her daughters at Tawn Marie’s Dance Centre in Liverpool and encouraged us to do the same with Sadie, selling it as a cousin-bonding adventure. It became exactly that, a cherished family experience on which it would be difficult to put a price tag. (My sister seems to agree with this because she has so far ignored the bills I keep sending her.)
As with any child activity, the cost is certainly something to consider before getting in too deep. Those early ballet sessions lead to tap and contemporary routines, then private acrobatics lessons. Soon enough, your child owns more shoes than you and her closet glitters like that of a Las Vegas showgirl. The classes and the outfits seem expensive until the competition fees start rolling in and you find yourself inquiring about a second mortgage.
I’m not trying to scare anyone. Every youth sport or interest will cost money. But I recently heard figures for college tuition and responded by saying, “Yeah, that sounds affordable.”
The other big factor is time. Early on, you will log many idle hours in the dance studio, waiting to assist with a shoe change and offer gentle words of encouragement: “No, we went to McDonald’s last night. Stop fidgeting. Where are your socks?”
But the evening ritual is nothing compared to the competitions, which can last all weekend and might be in another city, or even another state. Imagine a soccer game that stretches for two and a half days but during which your child only sees the field for a collective 20 minutes. My advice: Bring a book—a long one.
I can only speak from a father’s perspective. I mostly play the role of chauffeur, photographer and cheerleader (although, for a short time, my hair bun skills were the envy of the other dads).
Dance moms are on a whole other level. On a moment’s notice, they must be able to shift from stylist to trainer to therapist, whipping out eyeliner or granola bars or tissues as if from some Batmom utility belt. They do this all within the dimly lit confines of the backstage area, weaving through a fog of hair spray and drama, navigating a minefield of used Band-Aids and tears.
If you’re not sure you’re up to it, a good test might be attempting to reattach sequins to spandex while convincing a tween that the world is not going to end if she doesn’t land her aerial.
So, is it all worth it? Yes, without question. I see the benefits easily in the smile Sadie wears each time she steps off stage, and even more so in the poised young woman dance has helped form.
Over the years, Sadie’s dance teachers have taught her the importance of things like discipline, preparation and humility. The workouts have instilled a respect for fitness, stretching and proper nutrition. And with her fellow dancers, she has discovered the ultimate team sport, filled with a competitive spirit and also a unity that’s difficult to match. Dropping a touchdown pass is nothing compared to dropping a teammate.
The most striking change actually appears once the music stops. The experience of performing solo in front of hundreds of people offers lessons that can be learned but cannot be taught. The result is self-esteem and confidence that I wish I could have had at her age. She exhibits nerves of steel, seemingly immune to the common anxieties of teendom, a character trait that is ever more important today, given the often-judgmental world of social media.
I can’t imagine the alternate reality in which my daughter never became a dancer, and I don’t want to. I have always known she was beautiful, but dance has cultivated an environment that encourages her to believe it, too. If it’s true that all the world’s a stage, then perhaps a stage is one of the best places to prepare for the world.
Despite the obstacles, I give my highest endorsement to anyone looking to start his or her child down the same path. And if you want to jump right in, I have a slightly used tutu you can buy.