Dance moms don’t exist! Let me tell you why?

There is an article circulating about dance moms and how the experience of a dancer and their family is bound by mean spirited encounters laced with disappointment and hurt. I am here to say that this is such crap! The only thing that exists are bad people…and the truth is that they are everywhere. There is ….AGAIN …. a lack of understanding as to why certain dynamics exist and how we can develop better communication habits and coping mechanisms in order to either avoid or defuse certain situations as well as educate ourselves on how to create a meaningful and positive dance experience. In this blog I will shed some light as to why dance moms do NOT exist and how to create or take back your power as a parent of a dancer in order to have the experience your child has always wanted.

I think it is so ridiculous to use reality TV shows as an example of how ANYONE behaves. Heck, those parents would most likely not behave that way under normal circumstances. There are several things people need to keep in mind when watching a TV show:

  1. It is always semi scripted regardless of how real you may think it is.
  2. These people are paid actors. And I use the term ‘actors’ loosely, but nonetheless they are being paid to create ratings.
  3. Drama is big business.
  4. No one would watch it if it reflected the actual experience of the vast majority of dancers and dance families.

I am a mother of a dancer as well as a dance professional.  Calling me a dance mom in the context of these shows is like calling a detective Sherlock Holmes. How many times has a real life detective had to solve mysteries that involve mystical plots and far fetched outcomes? Never! So using dance moms as an educational tool is as useful as watching Lord of the Rings to help solve our current world problems; Just find that ring and we will save humanity..Right?!

Obviously something helped to create this stereotype so lets have a look at why this term and the situations surrounding it exist:

  • In any situation where people are looking to succeed you will get a natural tendency towards competition. This is, again, natural. There is healthy competition and there is unhealthy competition. Good people with good parents handle this competition in ways that include supporting their team mates and celebrating other peoples’ achievements. Just because someone wants to be the best does not mean they are bad people. It is how they deal with others wanting the same things that defines them.
  • Parents that treat their dance school and peers with disrespect most likely treat other businesses and people with disrespect. It is simply that you don’t tend to see them in other situations that leads one to believe that it is only the dance environment that brings this out in people.
  • Any sport performed at an elite level will attract a certain personality type and so clashes are more likely to happen. It is proven that if you do not like something about someone it is almost always because that is the trait you dislike about yourself. So all the type A personalities that would otherwise not be friends may have a hard time dealing with THEMSELVES on a daily basis.
  • Dance has many uses and not everyone has an appreciation for that. Some children with disabilities uses it as therapy. Some children use it for fitness. Some children use it to make friends. Some use it for something to do. Some use it to be good at something now. Some use it as a means to a future in dance. I think depending on your use of dance you will place expectations around it and see all others as potentially wrong uses of dance. For example, I have heard moms say “I can’t believe so and so dances 4 nights a week. She is only 5!” Just because a fairy ballet class once a week works for them it does not mean that they are an authority as to how others should incorporate dance in their lives.

I am sure you can think of many others reasons why the term dance moms exists but I thought these were the most important ones to discuss.

I think what was most annoying about the article is that it spoke about dance being only for the elite. People are making assumptions that because we can afford to dance at a very high level that all of the sudden it’s because we have money.  I have been in this industry for 30 years. I never danced with a rich person. I have very very rarely taught a child from a rich family. It’s called priorities. When you prioritise something it normally means you have to sacrifice other things to obtain the thing you want. Ultimately, anything you do will almost always have the same qualities:

  • Time VS Investment
  • Quality VS Cost
  • Input VS Outcome

It is beyond frustrating when people believe that they should have access to dance at whatever investment level that suits them. The less you do something the less it costs. The less you do something the more likely you are not to be very good at it. The less you do something the more freedom you have to whatever it is that suits you. On the other hand, the more you do something the more it costs. The more you do something the better you are at it. The more you do something the more sacrifices you have to make in other aspects of your life. Apologies to anyone who already understands this but I think a lot of problems would be avoided if commonsense prevailed.  If you can’t afford dance than don’t get your hair done, like my mom. If you can’t afford dance than don’t go for coffee, like my dad.  If you can’t afford dance than don’t ask for new ANYTHING, like me. My parents even through losing their jobs in the early 90’s were able to pay for elite dance for both my sister and I. We gave up a lot to be great at dance. And when I won Miss Dance of America, 1998, in New York city in the seniors division against studios like Abby Lee’s than all of the sacrifices were worth it. Now, any parent that got mad that I won is a reflection of them. Any parent that wants to crap on my parent’s dedication and sacrifices which we made as a family is also a reflection of them.  Where the conflict arrises is that people judging from the outside will ASSUME that I have a silver spoon in my mouth. My cousins use to say this all the time to me. Little did they know that my parents sacrificed EVERY COMFORT so that they could keep us out of trouble and in dance. There are people who are really good with money and lots who aren’t. We live in a first world country. If you honestly can’t afford to do the things you want than, with the exception of some serious circumstances, there is a strong possibility that you are terrible with money. 47% of Australians are over debted. This means that lots and lots of people believe they can’t afford stuff and complain that everything is too expensive when in reality almost half of the population clearly don’t know how to manage their money. So knowing that there are two types of people in this world: those who are great with money and those that are not, it might be that those who simply can’t manage their money are complaining that only the elite can dance. I was never upper middle class. I was barely middle class. We did it and never complained. We did it and never expected people to lower their rates. We did it and never ever thought that our lives were more important than the collective dance community. So to anyone who thinks dance is for the elite you really need to stop making assumptions about those who manage to pay their bills for their children’s training, because its more likely they gave up that vacation like the one you actually took last summer that allowed them to pay for their year of dance.

Now, how can you avoid the bad apples in the dance industry? I think you need to ask yourself how you avoid bad apples in every other aspect of your life? Here are some things you can do or look for in order to ensure a better dance environment for you and your child:

  • A studio’s policies will tell you a lot about them. Look for studios that stick to their policies no matter what. This means they have integrity. So the parents that want special rules for them because their children are super special and their family is so much more important than everyone else’s won’t go there or won’t last very long.
  • Look for studios where the majority of teachers are slightly older. There are some great twenty something teachers but they lack experience and general knowledge simply based on their limited time in the industry. There needs to be understanding authority figures that can relate to life as a parent. That way you can effectively speak with them about your personal needs and will have the confidence to tackle problem children and parents head on.
  • Don’t get overly involved. Try not to create a parent committee or start fundraising or give class ideas or costume ideas unless you are explicitly asked. You are not on the pay role so enjoy dropping off and picking up in all its glory.
  • As a mom I have never felt like I know best . The whole point of trusting an educator is because I know they will do a better job at whatever it is than I will. So allowing the studio to do their job in its entirety is incredibly important. This means never b*&%^&*** about the teacher in front of your child. The second you undermine their authority you are teaching your child how to behave in their classroom. If a child is unruly in class it is almost always because their parents are knowingly or unknowingly disrespectful people. So parents take note of your child’s behaviour in a class setting because it is incredibly telling about our own.
  • Pair yourself with a studio that matches your goals. If your goal is to be the best dancer in the world than you need to surround yourself with other parents, children and teachers that will help you achieve that goal. When your results don’t meet your expectations you will be setting yourself up for failure and drama.
  • You don’t have be around each other all the time. My mom and I never stayed with my dance team at competitions. We couldn’t afford to stay at certain hotels. We didn’t eat out with everyone at the competitions because we couldn’t afford it. Also, it doesn’t make sense to force social situations when in any other circumstance we wouldn’t hang out. We limited our interactions to dance events only and it worked like a charm.

You will probably have many more strategies for creating a stress free dance environment. Like I said, make dance decisions based on your morals and values like you would in any other aspect of your life.

I think people really need to understand why they are dancing in order to set realistic expectations. If your goal is to make friends and within the first 6 months no friends have been made than it’s time to move on. I believe that when expectations do not match the experience is when a lot of drama occurs. Clearly stated goals however can help parents and children make better decisions that will allow them to have an overall better outcome.

I would like to end on the idea that you aren’t stuck anywhere. Be respectful of your commitments however once the year is done you should absolutely look for an institution that will help you have a great experience. If a school or group of people are pressuring you to stay than they do not have your best intentions at heart. The same goes for those pressuring you to leave. If you are happy somewhere than do not allow someone else’s drama to dictate your decisions.

Dancing is awesome. Most parents are great. We all love our children. Overall the world is filled with great people.

Happy dancing!



Published by everythingdancewithashley

Ashley Grottoli is an award winning dancer and choreographer who has helped thousands of students achieve their personal and professional goals. "Teach a dancer tricks and they are impressive on Instagram; Teach a dancer to harness their mind and body’s full potential and they can become anything they want to be" says Ashley.

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