Dance Mom in the Making

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Are you ready to be a rockstar dance mom? Don’t worry, we’ve got your back. Here are a few quick things a newbie dance mom can do to pretend like you’re a pro already.

Get your terms down.

Leotard: That’s what goes on your dancer’s body – like a swimsuit. And just like a swimsuit, dancers don’t actually wear undies under their leotards – but we don't want to scare you off, so the undergarments lesson can wait for another day!

Tights: These go on your dancer’s legs – like pantyhose (does anyone wear those anymore?). And they go underneath their leotard.

Bun: That’s what goes in your dancer’s hair, not just on their hamburger patty.

Slack: What every dance mom should give themselves when your dancer refuses to have any of the above on their body and comes to class in their pjs instead.

Label Everything.

Your dancer’s ballet slipper will run away from home – and join the one missing sock from every pair that they own. The problem is, it looks like every other tiny adorable ballet slipper from the dozens of other dancers. Please put their name inside their shoe (not on the outside or the bottom of the shoe) so we can help it get back home safely! While you’re at it, label their waterbottle, jacket, and anything else you can slap a sharpie in to!

Let them see your eyes, not your iphone!

We know you want to capture moments of your little one dancing – and we want that too. Take lots of photos before and after class. But during dance class, if your child is dancing for you, put the phone down and look them in the eyes. Clap, cheer and smile. Dance is a performance art and meant to be appreciated by a live audience, not just for filming. Live in the moment with your little one.

Praise the Process.

Remember to give your new dancer lots of love and encouragement. Being a dancer is hard work and takes a lot of bravery to try new things. The best thing you can tell your dancer is “I love watching you dance.” Leave the “point your toes” corrections to the professionals!

Reality is not real life.

In real life, dance moms are supportive, kind, loving, and treat their dance friends like family. If you’ve seen any other “reality” than this, you’ve been misinformed. If you need a bobbypin or a Starbucks run, we've got your back! Some of my very best friends were found on the dance floor – we hope you feel the same.

Welcome to your new official Dance Mom Status. We’re glad you’re here!

 

 

How to Blow Us Away on Audition Day

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It’s that time of year! During the summer, we hold auditions for our annual Nutcracker production. We also audition for our company placement for the following season. For those of you new to the audition process, here are some tips to help you be your best self in auditions.

Dress for Success: Know what the expectations are for attire. At my studio, female dancers know that to win me over, they should wear a solid colored leotard, tights, dance shoes, and a clean bun. Tights should be free from rips, stains or holes. Leotard should be well-fitted so that you aren’t concerned about straps slipping off. Undergarments should not show underneath your leotard – no bra straps, etcetera. Male dancers should come in form fitting dance attire, preferably in all black, with appropriate dance shoes for the role they are auditioning for.

Come Prepared: Know in advance what you are asked to present. For our Nutcracker auditions, dancers are asked to have a 90 second piece of choreography to present. Practice well in advance and match the style of choreography that you use to the style of the role you would like to be considered for. Don't show us skills you haven't perfected yet. Clean, simple technique that showcases your strengths is the best choice.

Introduce Yourself: When you enter your audition, you should give your name, age, and role you would like to be considered for. An example of a great introduction is: “Hi, my name is Jillian Jones, I am sixteen years old, and I would like to be considered for Black Licorice or any other available role.” Be sure to smile, make eye contact with your evaluators and say thank you at the end of your audition.

No Excuses: If you are having a bad day, feeling under the weather, or didn’t get a chance to review – DON’T announce it! Otherwise, our first impression is being put on notice that you aren't prepared. Chin up, do your best, and if it doesn’t go well, you’ll have learned lessons for next time.

Make Music Easy: Bring your music on a device that can easily plug in to a sound system. Turn your passcode OFF, so your device does not get locked. Remove your case (most cases prevent a tight connection with an auxiliary cord). Download your music on to your device. Do not use YouTube or anything reliant upon wifi connection.

Adjust your Expectations: We should all have goals in mind and work hard to achieve them. However, you also need to make sure your expectations are realistic. You should go in to auditions excited about the opportunity to audition, but understanding that there are many dancers and parts are limited. This should not discourage you from auditioning, but remember to embrace the experience whether you are cast or not.

Handle it with Humility: If you are cast in the role you wanted – hooray! It’s important to celebrate your success – you worked hard for it. Remember though, there are other dancers who wanted that part who did not get it. Be mindful of their feelings as well and be careful not to brag or make others feel bad. If you didn’t get the role that you wanted, you may start to wonder what you did wrong. The answer is, probably nothing! You might be tempted to compare yourself to the dancer who was cast, but nothing good can come of this. There are a hundred reasons why that dancer may have been chosen over you and honestly, none of them are going to make you feel any better. Take time to be disappointed, then dust yourself off and get back in to the studio. Remember that you dance because you love it, and that is the biggest reward.

What we hope happens on recital weekend

There are so many things that will happen during dance recital weekend. Some will be expected, and some will catch you by surprise. They are all part of this wonderful journey we call DANCE! As your teachers, here are a few things we hope happen for you on show day.

We hope you make a mistake. Mistakes happen and if you miss a step on stage and keep dancing, that is a huge accomplishment. It helps teach you that when a mistake in life happens, you hold your head high and keep moving.

We hope you look up to someone. The dance studio is filled with incredible role models. The dancer who is older than you, who has the skills you wish you had, worked hard for that position. We hope you look up to them and that you are inspired to emulate their passion, dedication, and work ethic.

We hope you are humbled. There will always be people who are “better” than you at anything you pursue in life. You are not perfect. That’s okay. We hope you never feel like the "best" - because once you do, you may lose the fire to become better. There is always something to learn and we hope you are reminded of this at least once this weekend.

We hope you are praised. You have worked hard. You are worthy of praise. We hope your friends, family, teachers, and classmates congratulate you – not just for your performance, but for the work you put in to make it to performance day.

We hope you have learned. We hope that the lessons you learned throughout this season come to life on the dance floor. We know that dance lasts longer than any other sport – it’s not a season, it’s a lifestyle. We know that what you learn in dance class far surpasses one final show. We hope those lessons continue to shape you long after the curtain closes.

We hope you are inspired. You are fortunate to be a part of this beautiful gift that we call dance. You are surrounded by music, by movement, by passion, and by artistry. We hope you embrace every moment and that you are inspired to dream big.

Good luck, break a leg, merde! Let the curtain rise, for you are ready.

 

 

 

Feet In Eugene, Hearts In Cambodia

Each year, our studio chooses a cause to support and hosts a benefit concert to raise funds for our chosen focus. This year, we selected the Esther House – a home for children in Cambodia. This cause was an incredible opportunity for our dancers to be reminded of how fortunate they truly are. Without focusing on the horrors that happen to children throughout the world, and certainly in Cambodia, suffice to say that our dancers have no concept of that level of need.

Throughout the process of creating a concert, we discussed themes of poverty, need, neglect – and also hope, love, inclusion, and compassion. We presented our dancers with a breath-taking hip hop piece that had been performed by another group as a social commentary on orphans. It began with the astounding statistic that every day 5,760 more children become orphans. This reality is heart-wrenching. We tasked our dancers with creating a contemporary piece using the same movement motif in honor of the orphanage they were supporting. In a few hours of rehearsal, these dancers created a moving piece of art to present in their benefit concert. The results of the concert and their hard work was a record-breaking $ 3,000 raised for the Esther House.

Most dances performed in our benefit concert never see the light of day again, but our girls connected to this particular piece and asked if they could perform it again at a local dance competition. We agreed. A few days ago, we received the devastating news that the husband of the husband/wife missionary team who runs the Esther House died unexpectedly of a heart attack. Stefan was not only an amazing man, who did incredible work, he was also the best friend of one of our studio families. One of our dance moms, Lara, immediately booked a flight to Cambodia to provide comfort and mourn her friend. She took along with her our thoughts and prayers, and unexpectedly was able to hand deliver our donation to the home.

Lara asked if there was any way she could share the benefit concert with the Esther House children and we hastily loaded videos to YouTube for her to access over the weekend. She wanted the girls who were in the home to feel the time, love, and artistry that was created in their honor. At the same time, back in Eugene, our dancers took the stage to dance the piece “Putting Down Roots” one more time. This twist of fate joined these two groups of young women in a way that I hope each will remember far beyond this weekend. Our dancers danced a piece that was never intended to be performed again, as the Esther House buried their leader and mentor. Feet on the stage in Oregon and hearts half a world away in Cambodia.

 

Band of Brothers

Kaelen and Coleman (my own twin sons) have danced since preschool. I often joked that they didn’t have a choice, but to be honest, I asked them every year if they wanted to enroll in dance and braced myself each season for them to tell me they were done. That day never came though and they happily danced their way through high school and have even voluntarily continued dancing through college.

In sixth grade, they met Logan and became fast friends. Logan joined their dance class, and together with two other guys their same age, they formed a hip hop group entitled I.C.U. Crew. They named the group themselves with the acronym standing for In Constant Unity. Their name summed up their relationship as these three danced together, went to school together, played football together, did track together – and spent many a day catching rides in each other’s cars and weekends flopped on each other’s couches. When it came to Homecomings and Proms, their dates certainly learned that it was a package deal and their trio experienced all the highs and lows of high school life together.

Senior year, the three amigos decided to step in to the next chapter of life together as well. After graduation, all three headed to Western Oregon University, trading in their parents’ couches for their own as they shared a three-person room in the dorms. They continued to dance, branching out to sign up for Modern dance class while running an impromptu hip-hop group on campus. The school turned out not to be the right fit for any of them and the three headed back to Eugene after the first year, with lessons learned. Each of them took hip-hop at Lane Community College and finished up their Associates Degrees there. Logan went on to OSU with our love and support - and Kaelen and Coleman stayed in Eugene where they have been working with the studio’s boys’ hip-hop program for the past two years.

My boys have been an integral part of our dance studio family taking care of everything from costume ordering, prop building, teaching, cleaning, corralling toddler princesses – and keeping their mother sane. They have approached every task with humility, humor, and a willingness to help. This past month, Kaelen and Coleman were both approached by a private Christian university in California about joining their track team. After a lot of thinking, planning, and praying – they decided to take the offer and are heading down to Concordia University Irvine this weekend.

A few weeks ago, I got a text message from Logan asking if we could connect. Over lunch, he let me know that he has really missed dancing and will be moving back to Eugene and would love the opportunity to be involved in the ATD studios again. I couldn’t have been more thrilled as he has certainly been missed this past year.

So, this band of brothers is certainly on different paths now, but I would like to believe that dance has woven their journeys together in just the right way. Even though our studio will not be the same without Kaelen and Coleman, we could not be more excited to welcome Logan back to the family. The boys who dance with us are lucky to have all of these great young men as role models not only in dance, but in life. As all of them grow and progress, the studio doors will always be open to them and we hope the dance floor always feels like home.

Note: Not to leave the other two "brothers" out of the story - Jourdan is now at Portland State University and Aidan is pursuing a degree in Musical Theatre at the University of Michigan. Both are certainly doing us proud!

Teaching Dance - it's more than meets the eye

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As a younger version of myself, I often felt the need to apologize for my career choice. It began when I entered college with a full ride academic scholarship and chose to pursue a dance degree. I often heard, “what a waste,” or “but, you’re so smart,” -- as if somehow my high IQ was being squandered in the performing arts. When I opened my studio, I often felt that I didn’t deserve to make money since I was pursuing my passion. Fast-forward two decades and I now not only know the insane amount of work that goes in to this passion of mine, but also the true value that dance teachers provide to their community.

As I am now a seasoned member of the dance education industry, I often hear from my colleagues about how their work is constantly undervalued. Parents who pay rates equivalent to daycare then question why they have to pay “so much” for dance classes. Dancers who expect to be able to message teachers at any hour of day or night never think that their time is worth compensation. Teachers who are burning the candle at both ends, working twelve hour days, and sacrificing their own family time often make less than a full-time minimum wage job. I see these stories time and time again.

I am extremely fortunate to work in an environment where my studio families and dancers are incredibly supportive 99 percent of the time. I know they value the experience their children are receiving through dance education. Even the strongest supporters though may not realize everything that goes in to a one hour dance class. So, here’s my short list of a few tasks that you may not have realized are on your dance teacher’s to do list.

Keep on the lights. When parents calculate the cost per hour they pay for dance, they often don’t consider everything that goes in to running a studio. Monthly rent, electric, gas, water, internet, garbage, office supplies, print costs, mailings, insurance, payroll, website, cleaning…the list goes on and on. When you consider that a studio is typically only open after school hours, five days a week, nine months of the year, it’s a miracle our industry can survive at all! I once told a parent my monthly cost in toilet paper alone and she was shocked. That’s what happens when 300 girls a week pass through your doors!

Music, music, music. Did you know that studios pay a high annual premium just to play music in performances and events? Our studio pays out thousands in annual fees to two different music organizations and I know some studios who pay even more. That is not counting the cost to purchase all of the song files for music used – and the time, energy, and money spent editing all of those music files.

Costumes for Days. The single most time consuming task in our studio is costuming. Unlike many other studios, we do not do a retail mark up on costumes (something I’ve been scolded about too many times to count by every studio owner I know). The time spent measuring dancers, finding a costume that works for each class, ordering the costumes, tracking the orders, receiving the boxes, inventorying the items, hanging the costumes, and distributing the costumes is mind-boggling! We estimate 2-4 hours of administrative work per costume for our orders and we order in the thousands of costumes. Not to mention making sure that Mary Jo’s costume for her solo doesn’t look like Betty Jane’s costume and that Lulu’s costume isn’t the same color as Lola’s! Those adorable looks on stage are the result of a maddening amount of preparation, so appreciate every sparkle!

Attending Performances. We do many community performances and events throughout the year for our dancers. We never charge parents for these extra opportunities, but we as a staff are spending valuable hours attending. My husband once joked, could you imagine if you asked your attorney to just come on down to a business meeting but you weren’t planning on paying them anything to be there? This is what happens every weekend throughout the nation as dance teachers show up to performances, competitions, and showcases without charging for their time, simply because they love seeing their students shine.

Creating Art. Every concept that you see come to life on stage is a result of hours of thinking, planning, scheming, sketching, and often crying. The perfect song does not just jump in to the top of the Itunes list (oh how I wish!) and is usually the result of days and days and hours upon hours of scouring obscure music lists and more google searches than I’d like to admit to. Then inevitably the song is five minutes long and the maximum time limit is three minutes, so the planning and listening and editing and re-editing begins. I often have ten or more versions of the same song on my playlists before creating the right cut. One of my dancers teasingly started labeling the final version the “Apocalypse” cut to signify the end of all editing.

Carrying It All. While most people clock out at the end of their work day and can go home to relax, dance teachers typically eat, sleep and breathe their work. A middle of the night thought wakes us up to quickly scribble down a new combo. We worry about our dancer who was having a bad day. We precariously scroll through social media trying to keep in touch while not intruding in the personal lives of our dancers. We get texts and Facebook messages at all hours and as hard as we try to ignore them, we are often caught returning messages and emails at midnight. Often our own children become “wards of the studio” and spend their after school hours in a corner of the dance studio as we attend to the needs of other people’s children. And we love every student as our own. Their successes and failures become ours and our hearts are inextricably woven in to their journey. Our jobs can be physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting.

Now even with all this said, I would never trade my profession for any other job in the world, and I know my colleagues feel the same. We are blessed to not only do what we love, but be surrounded by amazing dancers and to grow our families with theirs. There are more benefits than I can list (that’s another blog!) – but next time you see your dance teacher, give them a hug and let them know you appreciate them. That’s worth every hour of song searching and every pile of costumes sorted. When it all comes down to it – it is all a labor of love and we hope you love every moment of it as much as we do.

The Magic You May Not Have Noticed

This weekend, we wrapped up our annual production of the Nutcracker Remixed. The show was conceived years ago as a way to allow our dancers to connect to the story of Clara and her Nutcracker Prince, even if they weren’t pursuing classical ballet study. From there, it has grown and evolved in to a beloved holiday tradition for our ATD families. Our first shows featured selected studio dancers and played in our own community theatre with 100 seats. This past weekend, over 300 performers took the stage at the Silva Concert Hall to a crowd of well over a thousand supporters.

While we know that the magic of the show happens on that beautiful stage, we believe there is quite a bit of magic in what happens behind the scenes as well. So, here are a few things you may not have known that brought the story to life.

Two days before show, one of our beautiful dancers dislocated her knee during rehearsal, ending her opportunity to dance in the show. Her teammates not only rallied around her with hugs, love, and a few tears – but they also restaged six dances in the show to make them work with one less dancer.

Courtney Weixelman was our perfect Clara this year. Courtney has danced at ATD for ten years and auditioned for Clara for three years before getting the role. She prayed all summer that she wouldn’t grow because she didn’t want too look too old for the part. Hard work pays off and we could not have asked for a better Clara than this lovely girl.

The day of show, one of our leaders in Ballroom broke his foot. Another ATD dancer, who was taking a year off due to a back injury, was helping out backstage. She learned the entire jive routine in the hallway and went on to the stage to dance it in the show so that no one was short a partner.

The beautiful couch in the Stahlbaum home was a coincidental find. On the day of our promotional photo shoot, our original location was unavailable. We scrambled last minute and our photographer suggested a wedding venue she had used in the past. When we arrived, the beautiful couch was sitting out on the porch in front of their barn. We immediately knew it was a perfect setting for our photos. We later called the venue and they allowed us to use their “porch decoration” for the actual show.

Our Icecream dancers were in the wings waiting to go on when we realized their Icecream hats were missing. ATD staff member Kristie ran from the stage (gracefully in heels), sprinted to the dressing room to grab them and a team of ten older dancers snapped their hats in to place as they were walking on to stage. Now that’s teamwork!

Miss Jaylene’s Bubblegum Machine was much smaller in our minds, but once we measured the tallest dancer in the class (that would be my daughter), we realized that in order to make the proportions correct, the bubblegum dispenser would need to be twelve feet tall! Miss Jaylene also stood on stage perfectly still behind one of the legs of the machine during the entire dance so that she could help distribute the Bubblegum balls.

Our Nutcracker Prince, Carson, had only performed in Tap before this season. Knowing his work ethic and ability to learn quickly, he was invited to be the Prince for this year’s show. He learned ballet steps, waltz, and lifts in preparation for this role and handled it all like a pro.

Our Ice River fabric arrived much later than planned, giving the dancers only one class to set the choreography with the fabric. Since the sixty yards of material was too large for the dance studio, they never rehearsed the actual look until show day. After seeing the white fabric, it looked too harsh, so Marie and I took a Rubbermaid tub outside, filled it with water from the hose, dumped in blue dye, and found an old baseball bat to stir it up – voila! Your beautiful ice river emerged just in time for show!

Makayla Rice, one of our beautiful Sugar Sisters, has danced at ATD for eleven years and this was her seventh Nutcracker. Her first role was as a little Lollipop. This year, she set our show record by appearing in nineteen dances in the show!

There are many more special moments that make the Nutcracker Remixed so much more than just a great show. We watch our students bond together, grow in confidence, handle disappointments, problem-solve, cheer each other on, and communicate through artistry. Now that is true magic.

Lessons learned from the bench

I’m sitting on the cold bleachers as the pelting rain makes me thankful for my extra layers. Concession stand hot chocolate clutched between my gloves, I cheer for the home team. Looking down the sidelines and seeing number 22 is bittersweet. He stands, shifts, stretches – ready to go in to the game at any time. But that time never comes.

My son has been an athlete since he was old enough to clutch a ball. It is who he is. He eats, sleeps and breathes sports. He will watch a twenty-year-old superbowl or a volleyball match with equal enthusiasm – he simply loves the game. He was also blessed with a high level of athleticism that ensured lots of attention, starting spots, and points on the board nearly his entire life. But for whatever reason this year, this season, this game, this coach didn’t see what was so clear to everyone else – this kid was meant to play.

I dreaded the end of the game, bracing myself for the disappointment that I was sure he was feeling. After all, this is a kid who had never sat the bench in his life. As I tentatively approached the field, I saw my boy grinning, punching his friends, tossing the ball around – and lit up in the way only sports can for him. I was humbled.

Seeing your child face disappointment can be overwhelming as a parent, especially when they don’t achieve something that you know they have worked for. I have absolutely been there. I knew the hours of work my son had put in, every practice he’d shown up for, the hours conditioning, the time studying the plays – I knew he had earned it. But that didn’t mean that it was my job to try to change the outcome.

As parents, we may find ourselves on autopilot in our job as protector and champion of our child. There’s no guidebook on how to shift to a new role, so here’s my best attempt at one. Your child will be disappointed. They will be overlooked for something. They will not receive something that they worked for. Someone else will be better than them at something they love. That is the cold hard truth. So, as a parent – how to do we react?

1.     Fake it ‘til you make it. You may feel angry that your child was cast as a rock instead of a princess, but they are looking to you to gage their response. Paste on a smile and tell them how they are going to be the most amazing rock you’ve ever seen in your life and you can’t wait to paint them gray! 9 times out of 10, your child will adjust their feelings to your response. Make whatever role they were chosen for the most important role you’ve ever heard of.

2.     Take a breath. Whatever your immediate reaction may be – breathe on it. Will this truly matter a year from now? Five years from now? The opportunity they missed out on is not as important as modeling good behavior for your child. Show them how to handle adversity with humility and respect.

3.     Do not talk to their coach. As tempting as it may be, there is no good outcome here. If someone else was chosen over your child, it was for a reason. By confronting the adult who made that decision, you are in essence asking them to tell you why another child was better than yours. No one wants to be put in that position. Whether they are right or wrong, the decision is theirs.  

4.     Remember what it’s about. Your child loves what they do. Whether they are center stage or sitting the sidelines, they are following their passion. Remind them that their love for the game, or the dance, was never tied to where they stand on the field. Don’t let that change now.

5.     Life lessons are being learned here. As an adult, your child will not always get the scholarship, or the promotion, or the new car. What are they learning now that prepares them for that moment? We all hope our child gets what they want, but they need to experience disappointment now to help shape their future. You may think they missed out on an experience, but the experience of taking a back seat may be exactly what they needed.

I’ll admit, I was not always as wise and gracious as I appear now, and I may have muttered a few “that coach is crazy to not play you” comments to my son that year. However, I never once called the coach (my son would have killed me), my son did not love the game any less from the sidelines, and my respect for my son grew tenfold. He handled his position with grace, dignity, and a humble heart that forced me to grow as a parent. How could I have asked for anything more?

Olympic lessons are worth more than gold

I don’t know about your family, but our living room became downtown Rio this summer as the TV was tuned in to all things Olympic. There’s no doubt that we were in the presence of greatness each evening. Beyond the initial appreciation of athletic genius, there were so many lessons to be learned through the Olympic experience.

Usain Bolt is not only the world’s fastest man, he’s also a pretty class guy. After winning the men’s 100m, he was mobbed by reporters. During his interview, a medal ceremony began. As the strings of the US National anthem rang out, this Jamaican man immediately paused the interview to give his full attention in honor of the athlete and her country. His respect of a fellow competitor, another country, and for the event as a whole outweighed any need for personal attention. 

My husband walked in one night to find me bawling on the couch. As he rushed to my side, I choked out, “Brazil won!” I was watching men’s gymnastics and Hypolito had just won silver. The hometown hero was collapsed in a fetal position sobbing, and then fell into the arms of his coach as he was physically overwhelmed by finally receiving a medal at his third Olympics. The fact that another athlete had taken the Gold hardly mattered. In the dance world today, many have lost sight of the honor of being a part of something bigger. Many dancers want instant gratification and don’t want the struggle of not placing, or not winning “gold” at every competition. This man gave a lifetime of blood, sweat, and tears - and chased that Olympic medal for over a decade! Silver never looked so sweet.

My son is a hurdler and I have watched countless hurdle races. None came anywhere close to the women’s 100m hurdles in Rio. To be honest, it wasn’t the race itself. If you blinked - or loaded a plate into the dishwasher (this may have happened to me) - you could have missed the race all together. (Don’t worry, that’s what DVR is for!) But I did look up just in time for the finish. Three US women crossed the finish line within breaths of each other. And then….here’s where the real magic happened. These women embraced, clutched each other, and cried with joy and pride. The win was so much more significant because they crossed the finish line together. While it may be an individual sport, success is so much sweeter surrounded by your teammates. These women trained together, competed together, and won together. What an amazing experience. The sum will always be greater than the parts.

A simple act of kindness shows the heart of a true champion. During the 5000m, Nikki Hamblin of New Zealand and American Abby D’Agostino collided and fell to the track. D’Agostino quickly regained her footing, but paused to help her competitor to her feet before continuing. As the race continued, the American competitor crumpled to the floor with a ruptured ACL. It was Hamblin’s turn to return the favor as she stopped to help D’Agostino. The two women finished last, but what they may have lost in race time, they gained tenfold in respect from a global audience. Hamblin summed it up best in her own words, “When I look back on Rio 2016, I’m not going to remember where I finished, I’m not going to remember my time … but I’ll always remember that moment. Sometimes I guess you have to remember trying to be a good human being is more than, you know. If I hadn’t waited for her or tried to help her I would have been 10 or fifteen seconds quicker and what does that matter?” The trophies on the shelf will never outweigh the content of character that is developed through athletics. No win is greater than the friendships formed through mutual respect and pursuing your passion. Whether on the track, or on the dance floor, true sportsmanship is defined by moments that have nothing to do with wins or losses.

When your child is the one licking the mirror...

As moms, we all have great expectations of our child’s first dance class. Visions fill our heads of our little princess in a sparkly tutu and perfect ballet bun gracefully moving across the floor. She will listen to every direction, stand perfectly at attention, and graciously thank her teacher at the end of class. And then the reality sets in…her tutu is itchy and she doesn’t want to wear it, the perfect ballet bun didn’t even last the car ride over, and our princess is standing, arms folded in the corner refusing to participate. As a mom of four, I’ve been there.

My daughter’s first dance recital debut was an epic disaster. She walked out on stage, the lights came up, and she froze – she then ran to the back of the stage and stuck her head underneath the back curtain – apparently the standing theory was, “if I can’t see them, they can’t see me.” The only thing visible to the audience was her toddler tush in the air. I was on stage leading the class and helpless to do anything. My mom eventually walked on stage in the middle of the performance and drug her off the stage by her little pink ballet slippered feet. I was mortified. My daughter’s dance career, however, was not defined by this one preschool meltdown. From that humble beginning, she has gone on to be named as the top junior soloist for her age, dances on a competitive team, and danced the lead role of Clara in the Nutcracker.

We all hope that your child’s first day of dance will go off without a hitch, and we have wonderfully skilled, educated instructors to help make sure that it does. However, it is absolutely normal for children to take time to transition. Many dancers stand and don’t participate in the first class – or even several classes. Countless parents have told me, “I don’t know why she won’t do it in class, she shows me all the moves at home.” I’m here to tell you, it’s okay. They are watching, they are observing, and they are learning. I have seen little ones hide behind their mom’s legs for weeks, and often those same girls grow up to be stand out performers.

We have one young dancer who started with us as a spirited little thing who gave her teachers a run for their money. I remember one day clearly when she ran up to her reflection and licked the mirror – she was being a puppy that day. Her mother was beside herself but I just giggled and brought the puppy over to sit with the rest of the class. This beautiful young lady is now one of our top competitive dancers and graces the stage with effortless beauty every time she performs. And I have had many mirror-lickers follow in her footsteps – all of whom have become graceful, focused, strong dancers.

The moral of the story is, the road to success is constantly under construction. What may look like a failed day of dance class could be guiding your little one to just the right path. There will be less than perfect hair days, itchy dance clothes that beg to be thrown off, open space that beckons them to spin, and mirrors that look good enough to lick! We are here to reassure you that it’s all okay.

Enjoy these moments, because soon enough that little ballerina will be doing her own bun and slicking every hair in to place without your help. Her itchy skirt will be transformed to pointe shoes and beautiful tutus and you’ll wonder when you blinked and missed the time in between. That mirror she once licked will guide her movements to allow her to take the stage with confidence and touch an audience in a way that is pure magic. So enjoy each step on that path – even the less than perfect ones. Success is a journey, not a destination.

It's Just A Grasshopper!

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“It’s just a grasshopper!” came the exacerbated sigh of a mom as she dragged her two young children away from the green delight.

We stood in Lincoln Park – listed the # 2 thing to do in Chicago, according to Travel Advisor. Trails twisted and turned in every direction featuring wild cats from leopards to caracoles; there were pools of water with furry otters and sleek seals; long-necked giraffes and bouncing kangaroos waited down the lane. I am sure that this well-intentioned mom started the day with great plans, a purse loaded with snack packs, and visions of smiling, cooperative children in her head. And here she stood, sweat dripping from the 91-degree day, empty snack wrappers strewn in her wake, and two children who wanted nothing more than to sit and watch a grasshopper.

If you are a parent, you’ve been there. We try to give our children the very best of everything – the best education, the best extra-curricular activities, the best vacations – the best life that we can create for them. And most days, we succeed! But there are other times that it feels like it’s all for naught.

As a dance instructor, I see how the ante has been upped in very tangible ways. Dancers used to order costumes from catalogs, now those costumes have to be custom designed and dripping with hundreds of dollars of Swarovski crystals. Dancers used to take class at a dance studio from their dance teacher – now they hop on a plane to attend conventions in a packed Vegas ballroom with TV stars. They used to perform at retirement centers for elderly residents who teared up and clapped in delight. Now, they take center stage at the Rose Bowl with fireworks and a live band in front of a national television audience. The bar gets raised higher and higher and I wonder how we will continue to boost our kids up to hold on. And to what end?

I’m sure in the mind of that zoo-visiting mom, the majestic lion was the best of that day’s adventure. Meanwhile, her two young children were perfectly content to sit and watch the mundane grasshopper jump from leaf to leaf. Sometimes, we are so busy trying to give our children the best of everything, that we forget that true wonder can be found in simplicity.

Do our dancers really need to dance on a stage that looks like it was prepared for Katy Perry at the MTV Music Awards? The simple joy of dancing is truly enough. We all want beautiful experiences and great adventures for our children – and we should revel in all that life can provide them. But every now and again, let’s just sit next to them, take a deep breath, and watch the grasshopper.

Lessons Learned

I am a dance teacher and I take that role very seriously. I can spot a sickled foot from a mile away - and don’t even try to sneak a dropped elbow past me. However, along with my bloodhound sniffing abilities to root out a technical mishap, I also have a heart for my dancers that goes far beyond their skill level. So as the dance season winds to a close, this blog is directed towards all my students. Whether this was your first class, or you’ve been dancing since birth, here are the things I hope you learned at the studio this year.

BE RESPONSIBLE. Show up on time, wear the correct dance clothes, and push yourself to improve. It’s no one’s job but yours to make you better. Be responsible for your own training -- and for packing your own tights! Your mom loves you, but she’s not your personal assistant. You can do this!

BE BOLD. Take chances. Go to the front of the studio -- even if you’re not sure you know the combo. Take a class from a teacher you haven’t studied with before. Push for the triple turn instead of the double. Make mistakes and learn from them.

BE HUMBLE. You’re pretty amazing. You have gaggles of little girls who think you walk on water. You’ve won trophies, performed on beautiful stages, and gotten standing ovations. Now let your dancing speak for itself. You don’t need to be front and center for every combo. You don’t need to tell people what you’ve done, what you’ve won, or who you’ve danced with. Lift someone else up. Encourage someone who might not have had their moment in the spotlight yet. Be better than a great dancer; be a great person.

BE JOYFUL. Dancing is pure joy. Leave your concerns outside the studio door and dance it out. Don’t bring negativity in to your creative space; instead, allow yourself to truly embrace the moment. Look around, see the smiles – and the sweat – and know that you are lucky. You are lucky to be where you are and to have the opportunity to do what you are doing – be joyful!

BE CONFIDENT. Walk on to the stage with the knowledge that you are prepared, you are ready, and you’ve got this! Let your teammates, your teachers, and the audience lift you up and feel the support of a community around you. Look up, smile, dance full out and go for it! No hesitations, no regrets – live life in the moment!

BE THANKFUL. Not everyone gets to do what you are doing. A lot of people have invested and sacrificed for you to be here. Thank your parents, thank your teachers, and thank your fellow dancers. They are all a part of this journey and they give to you on a daily basis. Thank them for their time and energy.

BE KIND. Think before you speak. Consider your words and your actions carefully. You have an impact. You can choose to make someone’s day better or worse by the way that you treat them. Very few of you will go on to be professional dancers, but if you are lucky, you will be lifelong friends with the dancers standing around you. There is enough judgment in the world - be a soft place to land for your fellow dancers.

BE YOURSELF. You are the only "you" there is. No one else has your unique set of gifts. Embrace them. Your leg might not be as high as the girl next to you, but she is wishing she had your clean turns. There will always be someone better than you, and someone wishing they danced like you – this is life. The only person you need to worry about is the dancer you were yesterday. Be better than she was and make tomorrow’s "you" proud of the work you did today. Don’t compare yourself – you are incomparable!

So that’s it! I know it has nothing to do with your turn out, or lack thereof – I’ll be back to pestering you about that next week. But for now, just take a moment to breathe it all in. Every moment, every triumph, every disappointment – they are all part of this wonderful adventure we call life. Now go out there and live it!

With Love, Your Dance Teacher

It's Just Not My Style

            Last night, our studio hosted a guest instructor in our Contemporary class. This morning on the way to school, I asked my daughter, who happens to take the class, how it went. She said it was a lot of fun, but that she wasn’t very good at it because “it’s just not my style.” I cringed a little and then tried to explain to her why a dancer should never say anything is not their style.

            First of all, you are a kid; you don’t have a style yet. You should be a sponge, soaking up anything and everything around you. The moment you decide what “your style” is, you put yourself in a box and close off a whole lot of opportunities. I have seen this with dancers time and time again. Girls decide that they are only good at contemporary and drop out of hip hop class. Or girls think they don’t have great lines, so they drop ballet class. These decisions are limiting who you are as a dancer and each style can support and improve the others. Your hip hop class can help you understand musicality, rhythm, and isolations in a way that will inform your contemporary dancing. Developing core strength and flexibility in ballet class will serve you in every dance style. That musical theatre class may allow you to experience performance in a way that will change your presence on stage. Take it all!

            The concept of something not being your style is really an internal dialogue that you allow to control your movements. What is truly happening is that your body feels uncomfortable in the movement it is being given. My response to that is, “great! Then you are actually learning.” In order to develop as a dancer, you must be pushed out of your comfort zone. Every dance step you have ever learned was foreign to your body at some time. It is only through repetition, focus, and hard work that it now seems like second nature. When dancers are little, everything is brand new and they attack every movement fearlessly. As dancers become teens, they are often less comfortable exploring movement that they might not be good at. I want to encourage you to dance in ways that feel uncomfortable to your body because that is where real growth takes place.            

            My entire studio is built on the premise that all dance should be embraced, studied, and explored. The title of my company “all that” dance is a reflection of my dream of cross-disciplinary training and offering all dance styles under one roof. I still see studios who are known for one dance style. In any given town there may be a really great ballet academy, or a really strong hip hop company, or a fabulous musical theatre program, but it is only when we integrate these styles and give them equal importance that we are truly developing a complete dancer.

            So for my two cents, I don’t want dancers who have just one style, I want dancers who understand their bodies well enough to embrace any style. You are not a hip hop dancer, you are not a ballet dancer – you are a dancer, period. And dancers dance – any style, any movement, any music. You are more than just one style; you are a dancer.

 

One horrible handstand at a time....

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“I’m really horrible at these, but I’ll try my best!” These are the words I heard spilling out of my six year old’s mouth as her gymnastics coach asked her to practice handstands on the bright blue floor. Sandy blonde pigtails flopping, my little one proceeded to fling herself in the air, feet flexed, knees bent, tumbling backwards to her tush most of the time. I giggled to myself and thought, “those really are horrible.”

My youngest follows up a line of three older siblings, all three of whom are quiet, reserved, extremely coordinated, and people pleasers. The baby of the family is none of those things. She has been a whirlwind of energy, sass, and independence from the moment she arrived in the world. The night she was born, the nurses would visit the room each hour and scold me for my lack of swaddling skills. I tried to explain that this little wildcat would squirm, kick and fling herself out of whatever brand of wrapping I attempted. She simply would not be contained – and she still won’t!

As a dance teacher, I spend my life instructing young girls on how to be focused, disciplined, and in control of their bodies. I am good at what I do. Yet somehow I am no match for my own daughter. She crashes in to the room with an exuberance that is unmatched by any of my pretty ballerinas and commands attention in a way that I dream of seeing in my best performers. But she will not be contained!

I’ll admit, her personality can be extremely trying for me and I often believe that God is pushing me to be a better person with every horrible handstand. I am used to making girls good at what they do. In fact, I don’t even settle at good, I am driven to create greatness in every one of my dancers. I correct feet down to the pinky toe. I lift elbows, guide knees backwards, and rotate hips outwards – all in a quest for quiet and focused perfection. And in the midst of all of this, here is my amazing little daughter who bounces through it all in delightful imperfection.

She is a reminder to me of what it means to be strong, to be brave, and to be resilient. All traits that may not have made my top ten until she came along and tore up the list. But watching her, I realize how liberating it must be to simply do what you love, even if you aren’t good at it. How many girls quit dance because they don’t have the right feet, the right legs, or the right body style? How many other girls are afraid to try because they might not be good at it? It’s easy to do something that you’re the best at. How much bravery does it take to do something you are really not good at?

Each day as my bundle of joy swims upstream through the sea of perfect buns and sparkly pink tutus, I am reminded of her ability to blaze her own path. She unabashedly greets every person who comes through the door with a grin and often bounces up to a complete stranger to chat. She doesn’t try to be the best at anything, but instead loves everything she does – a reminder to me that I should knock a few things off of my “to do” list in exchange for some moments of pure delight. So in my daily quest for perfect dancers, with perfect bodies, and perfect technique, I think I’m going to make a little more room for some of my daughter’s brand of wisdom. I am going to do more of the things I love, care less about what others think of me, and allow myself the opportunity to make a mistake. I’m going to dance my way through life…one horrible handstand at a time.

 

A gold by any other name

Expressions Company at Nuvo Dance Convention competing with "Piano Man."

Expressions Company at Nuvo Dance Convention competing with "Piano Man."

I’ve been involved in the dance competition circuit since before there even was a circuit. When I started competing, there was one competition, run by a local family out of Portland and it was one time a year. We drove up with homemade costumes and high hopes. We sat on a stage and 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners were handed a trophy and everyone else was sent home with a participant ribbon. We were excited when we won, we were disappointed when we didn’t, but we had smiles on our faces either way.

I took a group of five dancers to the Nuvo Dance Convention in Seattle this past weekend. These girls are top dancers at my studio and have been to regional competitions in Portland multiple times, bringing home top honors more times than they probably needed to. In other words, they are used to winning. Nuvo, however, is a different level of competition. Conventions are ripe with some of the best dancers in the country and dancers were attending from throughout the nation.

For those of you who may not be familiar with dance competitions, each dance is scored against a point system. The system is said to be “bronze, silver, and gold” – but then they also throw in a “high gold” just to throw the whole system out of whack. And between you and me, I have never seen anyone get a bronze. I’ve rarely seen anyone get a silver. So, most of the competitions we attend the dancers are alternating between getting gold or even higher gold and my girls know that the “higher gold” is where they want to be.

As we sat in the convention center at Nuvo and awards began, I started hearing the word “silver” repeated over and over again. I was pleasantly surprised. There were multiple groups receiving a silver award, which immediately made me think, “oh no, my girls are going to get silver.” I started getting a little concerned thinking that they would be upset if they ended up getting silver instead of gold. After all, they’ve never received a silver before.

Sitting there in that convention center, I suddenly realized something. I didn’t care one bit about the color of that award, but what I did fear is that my dancers would let that color shake their self-confidence. And then I remembered something else. They can only feel less than if I make them feel that way. In my heart, I knew how proud I was of them, so why was I scared about the placement? As adults in these dancers lives, they look to us for validation. If we are truly, honestly, and sincerely proud of them, they will be okay. The same way that I was okay walking in to my mom’s open arms with a participation ribbon in hand all of those decades ago.

Long story short, the girls actually walked off that stage with a gold level placement. Truth be told, they’ve received gold countless times and I often feel like “gold” doesn’t even feel like an accomplishment anymore since they have now gotten used to scoring “high gold,” “lightning gold,” “sparking gold,” or whatever the new catch phrase is for the highest scoring level. I wondered how they would react to their placement. I walked up all smiles and one of my dancers grinned back saying “we are really proud of ourselves for this.” As well they should be.

Your child knows the difference. They know when the competition is difficult. They know when the dancers around them are incredible. They know when the “gold” means something and when it doesn’t. Let’s start giving our children more credit. Let’s teach our dancers to be resilient and humble. Let’s teach them to watch other dancers score higher and walk away with admiration and a fire to work harder. Let’s start making “gold” really means something again.

She Don't Know How to Love You

Six year old Campbell competing her lyrical solo to "Castle On A Cloud."

Six year old Campbell competing her lyrical solo to "Castle On A Cloud."

I am sitting in a dark room, with LED lights flashing, slightly blinded from the flash of rhinestones, watching a scantily clad girl gyrate on stage. No, I did not take a wrong turn and end up in a “gentleman’s club” – I am in fact at a dance competition. A dance competition where currently girls ages 5-10 years old are competing. Their talent is unreal. These mini dancers are performing feats that ten years ago you would have only seen on a professional stage. The level of dance has increased exponentially over the past decade and I am proud to be a part of it. I wonder though, can little girls still stay little girls in this industry? I firmly believe that they can and I am challenging other dance teachers to make it happen.

In my mind, the key to keeping our little ones little starts with the music. As a choreographer, I listen to hundreds upon hundreds of songs. Each piece of music I listen to conjures images of what story that particular song creates. I see what type of dancer it belongs on, what they should be wearing, how they should move – a scene is instantly created in my mind. Which makes me wonder, who listens to the song “I’m Your Lady” and sees an 8 year old in a bikini? Yes, I did just watch that number.

One of my dance idols, Rhee Gold, spoke to this topic and his quip was so on point. He said, “an eight year old girl can’t dance to “she don’t know how to love you” because guess what?! She don’t know how to love you!!!”  Amen! Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t want my eight year old knowing how to love you, and I don’t want her dancing about it either.

Each dancer has a story to tell on stage. They must be able to understand the story in order to have a connection to their movement. My six year old dancer just performed to “Castle On A Cloud” – a song about a young girl dreaming about a better place. Admittedly, I wouldn’t have my little one watch Les Mis, but the song itself is sweet, haunting, and hopeful. The lyrics speak to a mother’s love and the dreams of a young girl.

Even with my teenagers, it is essential to choose relatable topics that allow them to draw on personal experience to bring the story to life. This encourages them to become artists, rather than just play a character on stage. The concept of relatable topics starts with our youngest dancers. Why do we feel like these little ones need to look like miniature versions of our teens? Don’t worry, they’ll get there, whether we like it or not. They will mature and they will be older than we want them to be faster than we want them to get there. As a mother of four, I have seen it first hand and Father Time stops for no dance mom. So let’s stop trying to shove those clock hands forward for our little girls. Enjoy every moment of their pigtails and curls!

I also just saw a beautiful lyrical rendition of “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” danced by three young girls in flowing chiffon dresses with gorgeous lines and emotions to go along with it. It was poignant, wistful, and perfect for their age group. It can be done people! So, the next time you are looking for that “perfect” song for your elementary school group, listen to the lyrics. In fact, say them out loud. Even better yet, would you hand those lyrics to the eight year old and have them say the words to their parent? If not, put the ipod down and keep looking!

Ties That Bind

I often say that I consider my dancers to be family. They each feel like my own children in a way, and although I’m happy to send them home to their real moms at the end of the night, a piece of them stays with me. I think every teacher can relate to the bond that is created with a student. The unique part of being a dance teacher is that rather than lasting one school year, our bonds are developed over years and years of training, often from preschool through high school. No other teacher will invest as much time in your child as their dance teacher. So what is the return on that investment? To some teachers, it may be watching the dancer develop, the awards or accolades they receive, or perhaps moving them on to a dance career. For me, the return has always been the joy of having these amazing, smart, witty, loving kids as a part of my life. And believe me, my investments have yielded extremely high returns.

Recently, I was reminded of the ties that bind these dancers to home in very concrete ways. I have many students who have since graduated and have been out of the studio for years living their own lives. Some have continued to dance, some have not, but they all find a way to stay connected.

The buzz in my pocket called my attention to a bright screen filled with a picture of jet black pointe shoes. I didn’t even need to check to see who the sender was. Hayley finished her degree in dance at UNLV this past term and was sending me a photo of her final performance where she was wearing the black pointe shoes that she had coveted since she was a little girl twirling across my dance floor.

From across the Atlantic came another message, “Tonight I got to see the Dutch National Ballet Company perform Giselle. It was truly amazing, and I was the hit of the night because I could explain to everyone who was who, and what was going on.” This one was from Courtney, a long-time dancer who grew up in the studio and attended Bunhead Bootcamp each summer, where we studied this exact ballet. She was studying abroad in Amsterdam, bravely going on an exchange program where she knew no one and diving in to Dutch culture. Her study of ballet was a lifeline that connected her to a foreign country, a teacher who supported her back home, and a legacy of art and culture that has spanned centuries.

A photo pops up of a dark night, with a few people in what looks like a giant red wagon…..the message is “I found it!” On closer inspection, it is Holley – one of my grads who was at that moment in Spokane, Washington at a conference. She convinced several of her school friends to go out that night in search of the giant Red Flyer wagon that is located in River Front Park -- the same Red Flyer Wagon where we took a team photo when our dance company visited Spokane nearly a decade earlier. Not only did she remember the wagon, but went in search of it, found it, and sent the photo to prove it!

I could fill pages with the texts, calls, and messages that I receive from my “former” dancers. Which only goes to show, there’s nothing “former” about being one of my students. They don’t need to be in the studio in order for those connections to hold because it was never just about the dance training. It was about respect, communication, support, and love. These are the ties that bind.

It's About So Much More Than Just Dancing

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If I had a dollar for every time I said the words “it’s about so much more than just dancing,” I’d be on a beach in Bermuda right now. Actually, let’s be real, the truth is I’d probably still be in the dance studio, but I’d be buying some amazing costumes for this year’s show. My studio building is a bit of a maze…stairways to the second floor, a catwalk over the main studio, a rehearsal studio over the top of the community theatre, which backs up to a costume room. I make my way through this path which whips and weaves through classes of bouncing dancers, racks of sequin-covered costumes, a black box stage with actors shouting out prose, a room full of kindergartners shaking maracas – I love the energy of this organized chaos. But the other day, as I walked this familiar trail, a few obstacles were in the way.

I started in the back studio where my Mini Team was rehearsing. The teacher was having issues hooking up the music and it kept cutting out. As I helped, one little boy yelled out, “this music sucks.” One glance in his direction and he immediately wished he could suck the words back in to his mouth. I calmly walked him out of the classroom and knelt down to eye level. I explained that his comment was not an appropriate or helpful thing to say. He was immediately remorseful, walked back in and apologized to his teacher. He even freely doled out a hug with the apology. It’s about so much more than just dancing.

On to the student lounge, where the studio suddenly turns from a professional business to a teenage girl’s bedroom. The typical cast off backpacks, empty cups, and Birkenstocks (we do live in Eugene) littered the floor as two of my teen dancers lounged on the couch. “Look at all of these things looking for a home. I’m sure you can find a place for them to be,” I remarked as I walked through. I swear I could almost see the words “but it’s not my stuff” formulate in their brains, but based on failed past attempts, they knew better than to mutter them aloud. Instead, I heard “okay, no problem” as they hopped up and started putting the “not my stuff” in to cubbies where it belonged. It’s about so much more than just dancing.

Downstairs to the lobby, a mom looks frantic and a little girl is attached to the arm of the couch like it’s a life preserver in the middle of rough seas. As I meet eyes with the mom she blurts out, “I don’t know what’s wrong with her, she begs to come to dance class and now she won’t even go inside!” I laugh to myself, place a hand on her shoulder and say, “what’s wrong with her? She’s a toddler!” I sit down next to little Miss Obstinate and start chatting about her pretty tutu (the clench on the couch loosens), then her pretty new ballet shoes (she’s on my lap now) and finally if she thinks they are going to use the ribbon wands in class today (that closed the deal). Little Miss Thing grabs me by the hand and pulls me in to her classroom with hardly a wave to mom on the way in. As I tiptoe back out, mom hugs me saying, “thank you so much, this is the only time all week I get an hour to myself.” It’s about so much more than just dancing.

It's now been nearly an hour of failed attempts to actually reach the dance floor when I see one of my former dancers stroll in to the lobby. She says “do you have a minute to talk?” and of course I do. We go in to the staff lounge and she tells me that she’s heard from some of my current students that another dancer may be struggling with depression. This grad has had similar issues and has the scars on her arms to mark her battle wounds. I spent many a time holding this lovely girl’s hand and shouldering tears through her high school years, so she knows where to come when the chips are down. She looks at me with sincerity saying, “I just knew I needed to tell you, she really needs someone in her corner.” It’s about so much more than just dancing.

So you see, this particular afternoon, I never even stepped foot in the studio. So if I only included “teaching dance” in my job duties, I may have considered that day to be a failure. Instead, I believe my job description includes the words “leader, teacher, mentor.” I may not have taught dance steps that day, but I’d like to believe I taught a few things that matter even more.

Five minutes inside the brain of a choreographer....

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Maybe it's just me, but I think this is what went through the mind of every choreographer as they listened to Adele’s new song… It’s amazing. Oh my goodness. Are you kidding me? Her voice is amazing. I must choreograph to this. This song needs movement; it deserves movement. Do I have girls that can even pull this off? Wait, it definitely needs a boy. Do I have a boy that can pull it off? Ahhh…listen to the build, if she ran and jumped right here – yes! Oh....do you hear that? I’m feeling a lift on this section….oh geez, her voice is incredible. Should we use a physical phone on stage? No, too literal. How can I cut this down to three minutes? I am in LOVE with this song!!! I must choreograph to this song!

And then….

Wait, every choreographer in the nation is listening to this right now…they all are hearing how amazing it is. They all want to choreograph to it. This song is on every radio station right now….everyone is listening to it. It’s going to be used at every competition and dance performance I go to. It’s going to be so overplayed. This song would be the kiss of death. I can’t use this song. What was I thinking? But I still love it. I still want to use it. Why can't I use it?!?! Life is so unfair!!

…..Sigh…..

Sorry Adele, we could’ve been beautiful together.

Note from the author:

CLICK HERE to check out the class combo that I used to fill the void left by the harsh realization that I can not choreograph to this song.

Embracing the "reality" of reality TV

When one of my students was invited to participate in the filming of the reality TV show “Dance Moms,” I’ll admit I felt a little torn. On one hand, it was an amazing opportunity. On the other hand, the show highlights so much of the worst aspects of my business – catty moms, rivalries between studios, adults yelling and screaming at each other in front of children – I could go on. But in the end, I just couldn’t pass up a front row seat to the crazy chaos that is reality TV. Arriving at the filming, I wasn’t sure what to expect. As I stood backstage with my little six year old in pigtails, I watched her eyes light up as she saw the dancers who graced her TV screen waltz in to the wings. We stood quietly to the side as this group of young girls giggled, hugged, joked, and lounged to the side of the stage. There were dancers representing two different studios – the ALDC (the stars of the show) and BDA (their supposed nemesis). As I watched the two groups interact, it was clear that any perceived animosity was for show purposes only. The girls embraced each other like old friends, supported each other, and handed out “good lucks” and “congrats” on both sides equally. They carried themselves exactly as I would expect of any of my own dancers. They were kind, gracious, humble and sweet – until the cameras came out.

Once the crew stepped up, the boom swung overhead, and the cameras lit up, adults quickly ushered the groups in to their separate corners. A few dancers who were chatting with us were promptly pulled away and told to stick to their own group – one sweet teen even kneeled down and told my little dancer, “sorry we can’t talk to you, it’s not your fault” before she was whisked away. The girls were then given lines to repeat, scenarios to play out, and coaching to create great TV moments of drama, animosity, and discord.

In “reality” these girls are like any other dancers I’ve worked with. They work hard at what they love, they express their artistry through movement, they respect their teachers, and they lift up their fellow dancers. It is unfortunate that we, as adults, have decided that these sweet, humble girls are not worthy of air-time. Instead, a contrived version of these competition moments, featuring outlandish behavior by the adults who are supposed to guide them, are what makes it in to our living rooms.

Now we can blame the producer, or the crew, or any number of other people involved in the creation of the show for the moments of negativity that pepper each episode. However, the truth is that TV is a business like any other – they produce what sells. So perhaps we need to take a closer look at ourselves to explain why an hour long episode of Dance Moms features ten minutes of dancing and devotes the rest to drama. I for one would love to see the dance community represented as I know it to be – one of compassion, creativity, and inclusion. But I suppose that version of the show would be off the air in no time flat. In the meantime, I’ll continue to watch the dancing, and cheer for dancers both on the show and off. But as I watch the drama unfold on screen, I for one will remember the true “reality” of these dance TV stars – young girls like ours doing what they love and loving each other as they do it. Everything else is just for show.