On last week’s episode of the new Lifetime Television series “Dance Moms,” a 13-year-old dancer named Brooke lamented missing opportunities to hang out with friends because of a rigorous dance schedule.
Seems friends had invited her to the mall during a week full of dance competition rehearsals. It didn’t help that Brooke had a painful hip injury or that most of her friends do cheerleading rather than dance.
If your son or daughter is a serious student of dance, competitive or otherwise, you’ve likely encountered a similar issue. I remember Lizabeth having several hours of dance classes or rehearsals up to six days a week when she trained with the School of Ballet Arizona in Phoenix.
Often there’s little time for friends outside the dance studio, unless you’re keen on skipping homework, family time or sleep. So I asked Sharon Seder Meko, founding artistic director of Ballet Etudes in Gilbert, for her take on letting young dancers quit lessons if they want to.
Seems there’s something we parents can do long before it gets to this point. “Children,” says Meko, “should be brought slowly into the dance world.” She notes that most 7-year-olds who take five days of classes a week will “be burned out” by the time they are ten.
It was hard to tell last week whether Brooke was considering leaving dance altogether or merely wanting the freedom to miss a few rehearsals. In the end, her mom Kelly made her go — and the team performed well in competition. Certainly that helped Brooke feel better about showing up.
Meko notes that if a dancer makes a commitment that effects other dancers or a group of peers, the dancer must learn the hard way that commitments should not be made lightly. “In my company,” says Meko, “we only make these allowances for matters of life or death, sickness or school grades.”
From my own experience with the “real dance moms of Maricopa County,” I can tell you that there are teachers out there who feel illness is a poor excuse to miss dance — and who aren’t inclined to excuse an absence when major exams or papers loom. I suppose it’s good to ask about such things when researching various dance options.
So what does Meko recommend for parents of children who want to take a break from the dance world? “See them as a child first,” she says. “And, possibly, a dancer second.” Meko adds that “very often a dancer needs time off to recuperate their mind and/or body.”
“If the child truly has the passion for dance,” reflects Meko, “then they will realize the void they have in their life without dance and will want to return.” She describes dance as “highly challenging both emotionally and physically” and notes that it effects not only the dancer’s time, but that of family members too.
“If your child does not have the passion for it,” says Meko, “then to make them continue to pursue it is unhealthy.” Meko believes “there is a select three percent who know in their heart that they want to be dancers” and says those who don’t know “need to experience other outlets before they can make a sound decision.”
So what does Meko think of “Dance Moms” on Lifetime? “All in all,” she says, “I enjoy the show.” She notes that “many of the children do have good technique” and says “Dance Moms” demonstrates “just how difficult dance is, and how much time is required for successful training and excellence.”
“I am thrilled,” says Meko, “that inappropriate dance moves and costuming is finally being brought into the limelight in a negative way.” She feels that children are too often “put into situations where they are required to dance and act like young women” when it’s their “youth and innocence that should be highlighted.”
Meko recalls an episode where some of the dance moms “stood up to the instructor” for choosing revealing costumes for young dancers. “Hopefully this will give mothers around the country the courage to stand up for their children in similar situations.”
Sadly, Meko shares that the sterotypical “stage mom” behavior seen on “Dance Moms” is “a common occurence throughout the dance world at all levels.” I suspect it doesn’t help that the moms featured on the show are rarely shown leaving the dance studio to pursue their own interests. It seems, during most episodes, that each desperately needs to “get a life.”
She’s not a fan of their negativity, childishness or cruelty — especially towards the parents of other children. Meko hopes that the “plain negative behavior displayed by these mothers will help act as something of a mirror” for similar “stage mothers” who watch the show. Then, perhaps, their “behavior patterns will change.”
I’m less optimistic. Dance just happens to be the glue sticking these parents to their captive children. If they weren’t “dance moms” in the worst sense of the word, they’d be something equally awful. Clingy chess moms. Bossy basketball moms. Seething soccer moms.
Still, Meko’s point is well taken. Those of us who fancy ourselves “stage moms” do well to measure our own attitudes and behavior. In the end, most get passed along to our children. And a mean-spirited child is no joy to behold.
Note: All photos, which feature Ballet Etudes dancers, are courtesy of Sharon Seder Meko
Coming up: “Pay for play” theater, Summertime meets Shakespeare, Andrew Lloyd Webber alert!