You are sitting in a convention room or outside an audition room surrounded by what seem to be the most talented children and polished parents that you have ever seen.
As a dance mom (or parent – dads, this could apply to you, too), all of a sudden you are overwhelmed with insecurities about yourself and your dancer, “Look at that girl, she has amazing extensions!” “Wow that hairstyle is gorgeous. How did that mom do that?” “Look at those feet (legs, splits, back handsprings)!” Before you know it, you are wondering why you came and worried that you have set your dancer up for failure.
I know these feelings all too well. I have experienced them many times. However, I have learned that out-of-town dance events are often full of parents who are ready to connect with others. Most are experiencing the same fears and emotions that I am and they are seeking camaraderie, advice, and friendship more than cutthroat competition.
A dance mom captures her performing child on an ipad
Why interact with and make friends with other dance moms?
To Expand Your Dance Family
It is true. The dance world is small. If you are actively attending events with your dancer, the chances are you will see the same people again and again. Inevitably, you will be standing in line with them at the summer intensive registration table or sharing a dressing room back stage at a competition. Most other dance parents are just like you, might as well make friends!
Meeting other dance moms has actually come out of necessity for me. We live in a small town and I frequently attend events alone. I learned early on that I might as well make events fun, comfortable, and enjoyable.
These friendships, formed beyond our dance studio walls, have come about in many different ways. Sometimes nervousness and worry have actually created bonds. I remember hovering with another dance mom at the back of a regional dance convention while our daughters auditioned for scholarships. The experience of biting our nails and cheering for each other’s kids made us buddies.
Connecting with other dance moms helps me to understand that I am not alone in my concerns, worries, and joys.
For instance, when I took my daughter to a summer intensive, I talked with several other small town moms who shared my concern about finding quality training.
Making dance friends has enhanced our lives. It’s fun to connect with them over a meal when we are in town for an audition or competition. In fact, we enjoy returning to certain events because we know we will see friends. By “friending” dance mom buddies on Facebook I can keep up with their kids and share my own news. As we have expanded our circle, we have also enjoyed seeing friends featured in magazines, winning awards, or being highlighted on websites. It’s now become commonplace to flip open Dance Spirit and say, “Look! It’s ____! Wow!” This makes us feel part of a “dance family” that extends beyond our little town and studio.
To Build a Dance Mom Network
I have to say that early in my career (in a non-dance field) I thought that “networking” was the shameless schmoozing that career-climbers did to kiss up to their higher-ups.
Networking is essential but it need not be fake, gossipy, or snooty.
Good networking is nothing more than connecting with others with whom you have a shared interest. It is authentic and natural.
Through my dance mom network I have learned all kinds of information that I would not have been privy to otherwise. For instance, when I wanted to know how a particular ballet intensive ran its auditions, I had a friend living in the city auditioning ahead of me who could tell me. (Yes, they do take pictures at the audition). When I wanted to know the format for one of the national dance competitions, I could talk to another friend. (Yes, the competition does include class auditions).
Networking is also about giving and readily volunteering information. When other dance moms ask me a question, I try to provide accurate information. If I don’t know the answer or feel that my information might be biased or incomplete, I am honest. Sometimes I will meet a dance mom and immediately think of another friend who lives in the same region of the country or who has a shared dance interest. It is rewarding to introduce people who could help each other.
There are some people who will advise parents to guard information closely in order to give their child every possible advantage. Although hoarding information might provide short-term benefits, it backfires in the long-term. By hoarding information, you will eventually shut off possible opportunities for information to come to you. But by sharing information and being helpful, you create a culture that will cycle back to you. I call it the “karma principle.” Naturally connecting with other interested moms, and nurturing those connections can increase your access to information and make you a much happier person, too.
To Get an Objective Opinion
I have a trusted dance mom buddy who lives in another state and I confer with her regularly about dance issues. She is smart, insightful, and she understands dance. I regularly call her to get advice about parenting a dancer because I agree with her wisdom, not only in dance matters, but also in parenting matters.
Usually I call her when I am in the middle of some imagined crisis — friendship friction at the studio, class decisions for the next year, or casting for a show. Because she is not in my area and does not have a history with the people involved, she is able to give me objective advice. She will often ask me questions that help me to frame the situation calmly and realistically. Because her daughter is not directly involved in the studio I can be honest with her knowing that I will not hurt her feelings or be misunderstood.
Often she is removed enough from the situation to give me some perspective. Once during a conversation I was venting about my 11-year old dancer’s desire to do her own stage makeup. “It takes forever and she won’t listen to me,” I complained. “Well,” she said, “that’s of course what you want her to do, learn how to do things on her own? Be independent? Right?” Gulp, yes.
I am also ready and willing to field calls from her. It’s been nice to have someone outside my own studio to talk with about dance. By being open to meeting people at dance events and ready to lend an ear I have made a great friend.
To Be a Role Model
Getting thrown into the regional, national, or international dance world can be overwhelming and intimidating for both dancers and dance moms. Rooms at auditions are filled with talented and driven students. Competitions routinely have students who blow you away with their talent. This is the reality of the dance world, and sometimes the stress of encountering many other talented dancers brings out the worst in parents. Without realizing it they create a toxic, distracting environment for their dancers by modeling patterns of interaction that are not positive or productive.
Showing your dancer how to meet friends, learn from them, and make connections is just as important as getting them good dance training. Success in the dance world, like any other professional community, is not just about dance. Work ethic, respecting others, communicating well, and networking are skills kids need for success in dance AND life.
I don’t know a dance mom alive who hasn’t had her own set of less-than-perfect moments. We are all just trying to figure it out and we are making many mistakes along the way. By paying attention to my better instincts and connecting with other dance moms I have modeled for my dancer how to do the very things that will make her successful and happy in life—make friends, network, get advice.