On rare occasions, a doting dad gets a sliver of airtime during Lifetime television’s “Dance Moms” — which broadcast the first show of its second season just last night.
Usually it’s the dancers’ moms — who sit for hours on-high, watching through a large window as their daughters get berated by a bristly dance teacher.
Sometimes they break to throw barbs at one another, but rarely do any of them seem to notice that the world their window opens onto is small, skewed and downright scary.
The most together of the misfit moms is a woman named Holly, a mother of three whose only daughter Nia dances with the Abby Lee Dance Company in Pittsburgh.
She favors modest dance attire, healthy lifestyle choices and putting school before stage. She attempts logical, civilized conversations when Abby Lee pushes her buttons, and seems to have fewer buttons than other cast members to begin with.
Holly seems to spend a bit more time in the real world than others featured on the show. She’s a working mom who trusts her daughter to develop without all that nasty hovering that seems to fuel some of the other girls’ neuroses.
But last night’s episode got ugly when Holly told Abby Lee she’d be working over the weekend rather than joining the caravan for yet another dance competition.
I chatted a while back with Elye Olson, a dancer with Ballet Arizona in Phoenix. His wife, Katrina Olson, also works for the ballet company — and they have two young children, including a daughter who takes classes with Betsy Bradley Kammerle.
I think of Kammerle each time I watch the “Dance Mom” series because she’s the polar opposite of Abby Lee Miller. Kammerle is disciplined and has high expectations for her young students. Her respect and fondness for them bears no resemblance to Miller’s brash barking out of orders and cascades of criticism.
Parents are welcome to wait for their children in the school’s lobby during classes, but they’re invited to watch their children’s classes just a few times each year — on special viewing days. It’s part of what separates recreational from pre-professional dance classes, according to dance dad Olson.
“The hobby dance moms seek out after-school activities in which they can play an active role,” observes Olson. “They want to have something to say, at all times, about what their kids are doing.”
It’s a problem, says Olson, because “this activity interferes with the ability of the child to take ownership of her accomplishments.” I was reminded of Olson’s comments after seeing Holly’s daughter Nia react to the news that her mother would be working rather than attending her dance competition.
Nia strikes me as a strong and confident young woman, a mirror of her mother in many ways, who doesn’t need constant praise or attention to feel valuable or empowered. Nia seemed perfectly fine with her mother’s choice until Miller proffered her pessimistic spin.
Olson hails the School of Ballet Arizona approach, saying the “closed door policy fundmentally incubates young artists.” Take note, dance moms — and pageant moms too.
Being in the room with your child, especially while performing your child’s routine from your chair, isn’t helping. And some of us just don’t have the stomach for it.
“Parents should unquestionably play a role in the development of children,” says Olson. But “the successes and failures of the students belong only to the students and the hightly-qualified teachers.”
“When a young artist succeeds, it is because she did what she and her teacher pushed her to do,” says Olson. “When she fails it’s the same.” Either way, he says, “her mother or father plays a merely marginal role in the outcomes.”
“In the creation of an artist,” adds Olson, “every parent should respect the autonomy of her child.” Olson says he “puts a lot of energy” into raising his children — which means “being vastly tolerant of their activities.” From dance studio to kitchen.
He describes a scene from their own home – complete with toy castle coated in pancake mix, designs drawn into more mix surrounding it on the floor and the sound of children squealing and laughing.
“You know you’ve respected their autonomy and empowered them.” Sure, you taught them not to spill things because it’s a pain to clean them up. “But it looks good,” he says, “and it was fun to make.”
“From this,” quips Olson, “art is born.”
Note: Click here to learn more about “Dance Moms” on Lifetime television and here to learn more about Ballet Arizona (which presents “MOMIX: Botanica” with the Desert Botanical Garden in January and “Sleeping Beauty” in February).
Coming up: Ode to joy?, Good chemistry, Playwright tales