Growing up in dance can look differently from state to state, studio to studio and kid to kid. In the past several years dance has made a comeback in the mainstream spotlight of television and film. While this pop culture reboot has done some great things for our art, it has also given rise to some negative trends for both youth and adults. This is one reason why it is so important to take time to find the best dance school for your family. It didn’t occur to me that parents are actually afraid of their children becoming commodities or exploited through dance until I had a lengthy and honest email conversation with a father concerned about his daughter choosing dance as her passion.
It’s worth noting this conversation was with a prospective client whose daughter danced at another school. For anonymity and brevity’s sake, this is only an excerpt of our conversation. The only thing altered is I have used pronouns where names had been. Do his concerns in yellow ring true for you? Or do you relate more to our responses? Both sides are valid and worth discussing. We’d love to know your thoughts on this important issue!
“But at the same time, I play it out in my head of what a life of dance would look like, and what message does that convey to our daughter of what we value.”
So this makes me wonder, what movie is playing in your mind when you picture what a life of dance would look like? I hate to answer your question with a question, but it is important to know what you’re picturing here. For me, a life of dance has looked like:
- A lifetime sport- everybody dances throughout life at school, parties and weddings. I have built the confidence to get out on the dance floor until I am at least 100 years old.
- Life skills that have led to my success in life- discipline, work ethic, physical exertion, nutrition, balance, stamina, time management…
- Growing up I loved performing. Then I joined a competitive team. (This is no longer a part of my value system and my school won’t be competing. We focus on performances.) In high school this led to me forming a dance team. In college, this lead to me forming another dance team. I also performed in the Dance Collective show in college. As a young school teacher, I joined a professional dance team and performed at games for two years. Highlight moments there included dancing at a game with Bon Jovi and John Elway present, flying in US military Chinooks to land on soccer fields and talk to kids about not doing drugs, and performing in a packed Mile High Stadium on the 4th of July- they were such rare experiences, and SO exhilarating. I also coached and taught dance all throughout my college and “real job” years, where I created dance scholarship programs and put on some amazing shows to raise money for awesome causes. I have seen some of my dancers go on to become professional performers, others who have become dance instructors, and still more who have gone on to do nothing with dance but still be amazing at life and come back and share how dance shaped them as adults. I have performed with bands and choreographed flash mobs. When I was in high school, there was a death in my family- a child, my nephew. It was heartbreaking for my whole family, and I firmly believe dance saved my life back then. Today, my mission is to change lives for the better through dancing. THIS is what a life of dance means for me, and it’s pretty similar to what most of my colleagues and dance friends would say too. Is this what’s going through your head when you picture a life of dance?
I have a message that plays in my head that goes something like “If you get into dance, then you are placing a high value on how you can move and use your body, and you learn to move your body in a way that gains attention and appreciation from other people.” Now I know that this is incorrect, and maybe you could help me out with what value is being conveyed to the dancers with the time and energy they invest into this.
Well, I’m not sure you are incorrect on this. I think it’s absolutely true. HOWEVER, I imagine that this has a negative connotation for you. Perhaps you are picturing a tiny little outfit and some sexual movements in a dimly lit room. If so, these are terrifying thoughts indeed. For me, my perception of the same sentence is 100% positive. I am completely fascinated with what the human body can accomplish, and I think it deserves the attention and appreciation of others. This is no different than how I appreciate the amazing feats of a football player’s body rushing the passer, a gymnast’s body in a double tuck, the baseball player’s body that swings the bat so hard the ball leaves the field, a wrestler’s body who gets a reversal and pins…. I could go on and on.
I know our daughter loves to dance, I just need to ensure that the time investments and values we lift up and tell her to aim for are good and pure. The last thing I want to be is apathetic and indifferent.
I completely agree. Apathy and indifference will convey a horrible message to your daughter. However, you might just have to fake it until you make it on that one. It will take some time for you to buy-in. Frankly, it could take years for you to appreciate the life changing magic that happens when a child who loves dancing finds the right fit in a studio. That’s okay, and I promise you’re not the first dad to feel this way. You won’t be the last either. You are probably the only dad who takes the time to think through it this thoroughly though, and THAT in and of itself puts you miles above apathy or indifference.
In all honesty, I don’t think it’s the art of dance that scares you. I think it’s all the potential environments you are wary of. You don’t need to worry about that with us, and I don’t think you need to worry about it for your daughter in general. It seems to me you are working hard to raise a values-driven adult. No matter what she does with dance or where she goes with it, she’s not going to make decisions to disappoint you.