In 2016, I became a “girl mom.” But I was determined never to become one of those “Dance Moms.”
I was already mom to a little boy. He was innately a lover of all things trucks and trains. He’d schooled me on the correct terminology for every kind of construction vehicle by the time he was three years old. I never had to do anything more than stick a hat over the top of his messy little head of hair on a morning when we were running late. He was easy-going, tenderhearted, and drama-free. I kind of had the “boy thing” down pat.
Then There Were Four
Then, in late June, after four-and-a-half years as a family of three, my daughter came screaming into the world. She has held her own from the get-go, and was entirely different than my son as an infant. She screamed the second she emerged, screamed during her first bath (and just about every bath thereafter), and we practically ran out of the hospital like we stole her when it came time to take her home because she screamed as soon as we strapped her snugly into her carseat.
Four years later, she still holds her own: a free-thinking, shoe-loving, princess dress-wearing bundle of glitter and sass. She gravitates toward all things pink, and directs me in styling her hair each morning. She already has a “drink” at Starbucks–an iced, almond milk chai. If you forget to order it with almond milk, you might as well not bother. And she’s quick to put me in the doghouse if she finds out I’ve gone to get my nails done without her.
I’ve never steered my daughter down the Barbie aisle at Target. I’ve encouraged her to be active in all of the ways her older brother has been. Enrolled her in a toddler basketball class, made trucks and trains and LEGOS readily available to her. Chosen books of all topics and genres to read to her. Her girly-girliness has been self-led. So, you’d think I would have been more prepared when she asked me to sign her up for dance class.
Ready, Set, Dance
Against my better judgment, I did. I bought the ballet shoes, the leotards, and frilly tutu skirts. I wrestled her wispy hair into a bun on top of her head, hairsprayed the heck out of it, and she posed like a pro for the obligatory “first day of dance class” pictures. And I found myself swept along in her enthusiasm and excitement. Until we walked into the lobby of the dance studio, and suddenly I felt like I was living that nightmare where you leave the house without pants on. You have that nightmare too, right?
We stood in the middle of a swirling, tulle-skirted sea of little ballerinas with French braids and oversized bows in their hair. My daughter fit in well enough (though to this day I can’t craft a successful French braid to save my life). But what had me wanting to make a run for it were the grown women forming the perimeter of the room. The Dance Moms.
I’ve seen the show on Lifetime. I knew what I was getting myself into. The drama, the competition, the backstabbing and badmouthing. Women living vicariously through their prima ballerinas. I just didn’t expect the breeding ground to be a toddler dance class.
The teacher led the hoard of tiny dancers down the hallway. I admired my daughter as she pranced in formation toward the ballet studio. Fearless. Unlike her mother.
Down with the Dance Moms!
Taking a deep breath to calm my nerves, I turned back around to find a spot at the window to watch. Rookie mistake. The Dance Moms had already staked their claim. Three or four sat on stools at the counter directly in front, while the rest fit themselves into the remaining space around the glass like Tetris blocks.
The swarm at the window buzzed with remarks about how well the teacher was managing the herd of cats, tips on where to buy the best dance leotards, and scattered laughter when one of the dancers did something particularly cute. I felt awkward. I couldn’t see anything through the window and I definitely didn’t have any advice on where to buy toddler dance gear. So I shrank farther into the corner, fiddled with my phone for the rest of the half-hour, and then scooped my daughter up in my arms after class to be the first ones out the door.
From then on, I learned to bring a book. I would sit in a chair and read, trying to ignore the chatter around me. And as a result, I made zero effort to join the Dance Mom community.
Swallowing the Jagged Little Judgement Pill
One day, a few months–and books–in, another mom introduced herself to me. She was a friend of a friend who’d told her we might have daughters in the same dance class. She was warm and genuine. And she sought me out, even though she didn’t have to. Even though I was the sullen mom sulking in the corner, emitting seriously unapproachable vibes. And she completely debunked the Dance Mom myth I had been buying into.
I started leaving my book in the car. And as I opened myself up to forming a friendship with one Dance Mom, the other women became less threatening, too. I would creep closer to the window, peering over their shoulders, listening in on their conversations. Realizing that their tips were helpful, that we had shared experiences. That French braiding wet hair is easier than dry hair and that their daughters didn’t sit still for it, either.
While I had been pouting in my self-inflicted corner, I was just as guilty as I’d perceived the Dance Moms to be. I labeled and judged and treated them unfairly. I allowed my preconceived notions of the Dance Moms to get the better of me.
Dance Moms Are People, Too
So if I’ve learned anything, it’s to give the Dance Moms a break. They’re women. They’re human. And for the most part, they’re helpful and gracious, considerate and kind. They are not confined within the walls of the dance studios, either.
We’ve all got Dance Moms in our lives. Those we judge before we know them based on categories we’ve put them into for as long as we can remember. We are quick to preach about supporting other women; about building each other up and not tearing each other down. But it takes action on our part to rip up our lists and labels. To be welcoming and accepting, and to be accountable for our underlying judgements.
So let’s make a pact. Let’s redefine the “Dance Moms.” Let’s BE the Dance Moms. Ballet pink can be the new black, and the Dance Moms will be the new-aged cheerleaders. The ones who spread true kindness and acceptance, celebrate each other’s successes, and throw the Burn Books out the windows for good. We owe it to ourselves and to each other and to the next generation of Dance Moms we are raising.