It’s happening: your child wants to enroll in a dance class and now you must evolve into a stereotypical super-pushy and over-competitive dance mom or dad. Thankfully, that’s not the reality. Whether your child is taking dance for the first time, or fills every week with multiple classes, being a parent to a dancer isn’t as complicated or dramatic as you may think. Dance adds countless joys and teaches valuable life lessons to children, regardless of the age they begin dancing. Understanding what will aid in healthy development in such a specific and physical art form is important because parents are as essential to a dancer’s growth as their instructors and peers. Dance moms and dads may feel certain behaviors are helpful, when actually they could unknowingly be contributing to a stressful home environment to the dance student. There are many positive and supportive ways to successfully parent a dancer, whether it’s for their weekly 1-hour lesson or for a lengthy career in the dance industry.
Learn about dance
The wide world of dance can be overwhelming for parents who feel they don’t know the first thing. There’s plenty to learn but you don’t need to be an expert (that’s what their teachers are for!) Instead of a defeated attitude where “you’ll never understand it,” gathering some basic knowledge can make life easier for both of you. Listen to your child talk about their class and ask questions if you don’t understand. Dance teachers are always a valuable resource, as well as other parents who have been in your shoes. Occasional articles or books about aspects such as nutrition and injury prevention will help your dancer with the right tools at home to be well nourished and keep their body safe. If your child becomes more serious about dancing as they mature, you’ll be a better equipped support system to help them make the bigger decisions if you’ve paid attention to their field thus far.
Share responsibility with your dancer
Adding weekly dance classes to your mountain of responsibilities and financial costs as a parent can seem like a tough addition. To ease your stress, your dancer can be responsible for some tasks such as packing their own dance bag with both shoes (they are commonly forgotten!) and getting themselves ready for class. But if they’re ready for class on-time, you should also be ready to drive them on-time. Both the parent and the child agreed upon signing up for the class, and it’s a team effort to make it work in your family’s weekly schedule. Realize that the more classes, performances, and competition teams that are added, the more responsibility will have to be given from both of you. If your child isn’t taking their part seriously, dancing may not be a priority for them. If you’re the one not making it a priority, you could be the one piece that’s hindering your dancer’s growth and success. The more your child becomes involved in their own preparation, the less on your shoulders and the more responsibility they learn. It’s a win-win situation!
Dancers don’t always need an extra set of eyes to find more corrections but do need their parents as an endless support system and a never-ending cheerleader.
Meet their teachers
Dropping off your student for the first time is never easy. You may be asking yourself many questions, but “who is their teacher?” is an important one. This is someone you’re trusting to spend many hours with your child therefore it’s crucial to always be on the same page. The dance teacher and dance mom or dad should always be a team that works together to better the child. If your child is young or a new dancer, feel free to ask for feedback about their class behavior. You can later have a conversation with your child about ways they can improve their class etiquette, which can set them up to accomplish the most in every lesson. The time in-between classes can be tricky because teachers may quickly start the next class directly after one has ended. Studios should typically have open houses, have teachers present for registration, or offer email addresses if you have any further questions.
Allow them to make the choices
In a perfect world it would be 100% the dancer’s choice on how much or how little they want to be at the studio, but these are obviously family decisions to make. Dance classes are chosen considering family finances, scheduling transportation, and available time with homework and other extracurriculars, but as much as possible, consult your dancer about what they want for themselves. When the time comes to register for classes for the next season, have a discussion with your dancer about what they liked or didn’t like about their last season. If you favor your child as a tutu-donning ballerina but they actually enjoy tap more, that should be your child’s decision to make. Don’t automatically assume or force your child to fill their schedule with classes (even if they’re very talented) when they may not want to make dancing a serious priority. This could remove the joy and potentially make them resent dance. On the other hand, if they later regret not taking more classes or rejoining a competition team, they’ll know it was their decision and can make a different choice in the future.
I vividly remember overhearing a conversation at a dance competition between a member of my team and her accompanying parent. This parent stressed about the other dancers being better than hers, and then pointed out a talented dancer and said, “She dances right before you for your next solo, that’s not good at all!” Needless to say, these conversations didn’t help my friend’s confidence before performing and created a comparison that didn’t need to exist. Appreciating the strengths of other dancers can be positive and important, but never in a way that will bring your child down. On the other hand, trash-talking other dancers can also feed dancers an unnecessary competitiveness. Your dancer’s focus should stay on themselves: doing everything they can do to dance their personal best, instead of measuring themselves by the strengths and weaknesses of others around them. This will teach the life-long importance of achieving feats for oneself, and not just to beat the competition.
Don’t get involved in “drama”
Whether you’ve seen them or not, there are television shows based on dance studios’ “drama,” but these are, in fact, television shows. Argumentative behaviors from teachers and parents don’t have to be a standard in the industry. In reality, many dance studios are devoted to keeping a professional and healthy studio environment. Differences are always going to arise in any setting, but studios can choose to discuss problems in a professional manner, which shows a much better example to young dance students. If you find yourself at a studio that appears to foster personal problems and excessive gossiping, this may not be the healthiest environment for your child. Even if it doesn’t involve the studio’s faculty, parents may still want to gossip about other dance moms, dads, and students; but that doesn’t have to include you. Your behavior can reflect poorly on your dancer and distract both of you from the real reasons why they are taking dance class. Children should never have to suffer the consequences of adult arguments and should be able to enjoy their classes without worry of a fight breaking out.
Take your child’s concerns seriously
If your dancer has any concerns about their class, listen and try to pinpoint what it is that is bothering them. Their happiness should be the priority, especially at an activity where they are choosing to be there. Whether it’s with students in their class, their instructor, or the difficulty: many problems can be solved by having an additional conversation with their instructor or studio owner. Sometimes a teacher and a student aren’t the best fit for each other, and it can be hard to pinpoint if your child has only had one dance teacher their entire life. Trying other genres, classes, and teachers shouldn’t be a problem, because finding the best fit for your child is the first priority. While there are countless incredible dance teachers, some toxic behaviors slip through the cracks and are tolerated by students and studios. If your child tells you they feel bullied, their dance teacher “doesn’t like them,” or they don’t feel safe; listen to them and take action to try other options.
The dance teacher and dance mom or dad should always be a team that works together to better the child.
Be an endless support system
Dance is a detailed art form and teachers give plenty of corrections in classes and rehearsals to improve each dancer’s technique and performance. Dancers are constantly practicing and applying corrections to improve themselves and tend to put pressure on themselves to have their best performance every time. The addition of an audience is always an added stress, and their original love of dance can get lost with the pressure of not making any mistakes on stage. Dancers don’t always need an extra set of eyes to find more corrections but do need their parents as an endless support system and a never-ending cheerleader. Instead of pointing out mistakes in their performance, bring attention to everything they did well and remind them of the reasons they love performing. This can make a world of difference because no matter how nervous they are, they’ll always know they have someone nonstop rooting for them in every audience.
Parenting a dance student for the first time may seem overwhelming but will get easier once you understand that this new territory can be a very healthy path for a child to greatly enjoy. With these few dance parenting tips, your dancer will feel well-supported but never ignored, judged or micro-managed. The joy that performing will bring your child is priceless because dance is an art form that instills confidence, body-awareness, responsibility, and problem-solving skills, among countless others. No matter how long your child wants to take the stage, dance will begin equipping a young student for all they want to accomplish in the future.