The following is a guest post by blogger and dance mom, Mariangela Abeo. She shares her experiences and thoughts on fostering your child’s love of dance, providing a supportive environment, and maintaining a positive relationship with your young dancer.
Life as a Dance Mom
We buy their first ballet shoes (and dozens thereafter), their leotards, tutus, warm-up’s, bags and other gear. We take them to classes – lots and lots of classes. We do their hair. We volunteer at their performances, doing makeup, folding programs, ushering patrons, sewing costumes, doing anything we can to make our child’s experience with dance as fulfilling as possible.
We are often the forgotten heroes, the cheerleaders taken for granted. We get nervous with them before performances and auditions, and we are always there for the triumphs as well as the heart breaks.
Encouraging Arts Activities in a New Age
I have been a “dance mom” for 9 years now and I have learned that there is a fine and delicate line between a supportive and encouraging parent and the dreaded “Stage Mom”. It is my hope, in this space, to give you some tools to help your dancer become whoever he or she wants to be, while helping you to maintain your sanity and their love. So no matter how far they decide to take their dance career, they will value the support and encouragement you gave and thank you for it.
“If my parents had only encouraged my (insert personal childhood passion here), then I may be doing something different as an adult.” Sound familiar to any of you? I know I have said it myself many times. Our parents’ generation focused more on the basics; work, bills, bowling league, bridge club, etc. Rarely did they think of altering the family’s life style, budget and time for the sake of the children, much less for something like DANCE!? In my family, it was just unheard of.
Times have changed, and this new age of parents is encouraging art in their children’s lives. Ironically (and unfortunately) it’s at a time when the Public Schools are discouraging them by cutting funds for extracurricular programs, but I digress…
So what can you do to be supportive of your child’s love for dance? How can you nurture the LOVE for dance and still encourage the discipline side of it when they hit a certain age, and WHEN do you know what age to take things to the “next level?”
One Mom’s Nine Thoughts
Here are my opinions, and they are simply my opinions – a humble offering to you from a mother who has literally driven thousands of miles down this long road; no laws or written rules, just personal experiences of things I’ve found to “work.”
- When they are young, be sure to find a school that fosters and nurtures your child’s LOVE for dance. A lot of parents seem to think they need to find an “accredited” or “professional” school when kids are young and displaying an early penchant for dance. I disagree; if they love it, find a school that caters to your child’s passion with gentle discipline and fun activities.
- “Check in” with your child regularly, each semester perhaps. As often as you’re paying tuition, it’s important to know whether or not your child’s love for dance is still there; ask them if they have any issues or concerns. If at anytime dance is no longer fun, it’s time to reassess the value of the classes.
- Resist the urge to live vicariously through your dancer. What mother/girl (or rare breed of dad) did not entertain the idea of being a dancer for at least a moment during their childhood? Few, if any I’d bet. Don’t try to relive that through your child. This needs to be THEIR dream and THEIR desire. And if it’s less than a desire, consider what or who else is pushing them.
- Be an honest critic, be realistic. The dance world is extremely competitive. If your child is at an age when things are getting serious (4+ days of dance a week, hundreds and hundreds of dollars in annual tuition costs, etc.), don’t be the parent that thinks their child is the best in the class. Talk to your child about their teacher evaluations and help them remember the importance of solid fundamentals like stretching, rehearsing, practicing.
- During their teens is when kids either phase out of dance or become obsessed with it. Leave that decision up to them, but be sure to support it. They will NEED someone to remind them to do tedious and important things if they stick with it, and they will need someone to help them find a new path if they quit. BE that person.
- When they are showing promise and are ready for more work and commitment, THAT’S when its time to find an “accredited” school. Do your homework and find a safe and healthy environment that kicks up the level of classes and discipline.
- Prepare them for the rejection that comes with auditions. Let them know how proud you are of them no matter what the outcome, and be the consolation and shoulder to cry on for those hard falls (they get harder as they get older).
- As they get older, try not to enable. Make sure that they learn to do their own hair, care for their shoes etc. Some schools make it a rite of passage, so that a girl cannot go onto point until she learned to sew her own shoes. Encourage these rites of tradition.
- Prepare for your dancer to want to be a “fireman” one day. I say this to people who tell me “it’s amazing that your daughter already knows what she wants to be at this young age!” I am totally prepared for her to change her mind. She is only 12! Even if she was 16, 18, 20! Some of us don’t discover our path until later in life! Point is, don’t pressure them!
In closing… this 10th is #1
Be sure to love your child unconditionally. It’s easy to judge and criticize when we invest a lot of our time and energy (and money) into something. At the end of the day, they are your babies, your child before anything else. So they forgot their cue in the Nutcracker and messed up the timing, life goes on. Make sure the hug after the show is even bigger, they will need it. And if, one day, they are fortunate enough to become professional dancers and you are lucky enough to see them in their prime, on stage, dancing the most beautiful Pas De Deux ever seen, you can be proud knowing that you played a part in making this healthy, beautiful dancer. More importantly, your child will realize it and thank you.
Mariangela Abeo is a mother, wife, entrepreneur, volunteer and friend. Her first and most important job is as a mother. Her other jobs consist of working with her husband in the Seattle music industry, doing dreadlock maintenance and writing for her blog, Dinner and a Movie, and taking her child to and from dance 4 days a week. You can also follow Mariangela on Twitter!