I was a Horrible Dance Mom

I woke up this morning and logged onto my computer life. Google decided to give me all the fuzzy feels by showing me a throw-back picture of this day 9 years ago. It was my oldest daughter during of her very first ballet classes. She was practicing one of those fancy ballerina-like poses. You know, with her arms and legs in certain ballerina-like positions? Okay, okay. I’ll admit that I honestly have no idea what the name of the pose actually is because, quite simply, I was a horrible ‘dance mom’.

When I found out I was pregnant with a girl 12 years ago, I was totally thrilled! Finally, a little human I could dress up – pretty rompers, frilly dresses, sparkly shoes, painted nails and big hair bows! I wanted to give her the most girly life a little girl could dream of. I was raised in a single parent household so “extras” were far and few between for my brother and I. I didn’t have a lot of pretty outfits to choose from, I was never a Brownie or Girl Scout, I had one pair of dress shoes and a handful of hair bows. I could only sign up for activities if they took place right after school (to alleviate the need for a ride anywhere) and they had to be no cost. I’m not saying I had a horrible childhood because I certainly didn’t. To be honest, I didn’t even really realize these things until I was much older.

But, I decided my daughter was going to have a different experience.

I was going to let this little Barbie-doll of mine do all the girly things her little beautiful heart desired. As soon as she was old enough – I excitedly signed her up at the nearest dance studio for her first (of many, I was sure) ballet/tap combo classes. I had so much fun shopping for her pink leotard (“leo” is the term in veteran dance mom circles, in case you didn’t know), her little shoes and her sweet tights. I remember being so nervous before the first day of class. Would the other moms like me? Would we hit it off? Would they be intimidated by my daughter’s totally remarkable and natural dance abilities that would take her into years of intense training to eventually be the Lead role in the Nutcracker Ballet?! Okay, I got that last part from her fave book at the time Ballerina Bear (and maybe added a bit of the Flash Dance movie?) regardless, our lives were about to change. I just knew it.

I vividly remember sitting in the ‘parents room’ after all the little girls were dropped off in the ‘dance room’ that first morning. No one made eye contact. No one spoke. Someone may have coughed. That was about it. When the instructor came out to tell us the first class went “amazingly well” and that we all had “sweet girls with so much inner talent” we all breathed a sigh of relief, happily grabbed our tiny dancers and left as quickly as we could, making as little eye contact as possible. This same scenario went on for weeks. Weeks. Occasionally someone was on the phone and everyone acted as though we were otherwise occupied while we were actually a captive audience to the private, echoing conversation. The bathroom was located directly behind the ‘parents room’ with a dividing wall that must have been made of cardboard. When the inevitable happened and someone had to pee after sipping on their coffee the whole class, you awkwardly pretended to not hear the sound of the urinator or the loud, messy flush that followed out of respect for the brave soul that couldn’t hold it. God help the poor lady that had to go #2 – that was a rough one.

Eventually we began to relax around one another after unavoidably sharing so many personal affairs. Small talk ensued in our little Tuesday morning group and we all got to know each other a bit. I didn’t become everlasting friends with any of these ladies and I honestly cannot even remember their names, but they were a nice enough fellowship of mamas. Most had ‘dance mom’ experience with their older daughters so I was the novice in the room. Every once in a while someone would be telling a story of a past dance experience and I would secretly question if I was cut out for this. Quickly I would assure myself that of course I was going to be good at this. That I would eventually find myself in the ranks with these moms with so many years under their belt.

Boy was I wrong.

The day I really began to sweat and question my inner ‘dance mom’ was when the time came for Dance Recital preparations. We were given a telephone book sized packet of information regarding costume measurements, professional picture order forms, rules and regulations for proper dance attire and appearance as well as ticket ordering. Wait, what? I was paying monthly for an entire year of lessons and I had to pay to watch my daughter perform the dance that I had already paid for her to learn?! It must be a mistake, I naively thought. This must be the order for for additional guests. Obviously this would not, could not, apply for her father and I!

I innocently walked up to the dance studio’s office window. The office was an area on the other side of the building. It was set-up similarly to a bank teller (which was quite fitting) complete with limited operating hours, a sign posted indicating the enforcement of late fees for past-due accounts, threats of violence and acts of embarrassment if your daughter tried to dance without a current, paid account (okay, I think I made that one up), and a sliding window that only opened from the inside. I stood at the window staring at the woman sitting on the other side of the meticulously clean glass. I waited. And waited. She must have been writing something extremely important because I cleared my throat and fixed my hair in an attempt to make movement and sound to gain her attention. She eventually looked up, acted surprised to see me and opened the window with a huge smile that screamed “What do you want? It’s not a billing week.” So we were going to play the fake happiness convo? Awesome. I’m a total rock star at this game.

I plastered on a winning smile and pointed out that a mistake was made on our alphabetically-ordered and professionally bound dance recital manifestation. I’ll never forget this moment, friends. She smiled at me with one those “Awww. Aren’t you sweet?” smiles. It was a “Honey. Let me explain the ways of the dance world” smiles. I remember feeling scared. And weak. She proceeded to explain that there is no error. That, of course, the words on those pages are truer than the words of the Holy Book itself and “as a gentle reminder, don’t forget the due dates for the costume down-payment and final payment as there is, unfortunately, no grace period. Okay, sweetheart?”

Later that night, with an over-sized glass of wine in hand and a mouth-full of goldfish crackers, I began reading the mini novel-like ‘Book of Dance’. There were signatures needed for photo and video permissions and due dates. So many stinking due dates. Picture dates, picture pick-up dates, non-mandatory but strongly encouraged additional practice dates, costume measurement dates, costume try-on dates, costume pick-up dates, ticket order dates, ticket pick-up dates, rehearsal dates and of course an entire weekend of Recital dates. And the money? Holy crap the money! I decided it would be easier to hand over full access to my checking account and just have them let me know how much of a balance is left for grocery shopping at Aldi. The house could be refinanced. No biggie.

You would think that all of this would have broken me, but I’m stronger than that, my friends. The straw that actually broke this camel’s back, the actual final straw itself, was ‘The Makeup Requirement’ chapter. Red lipstick, face foundation and “colorful” eye shadow – preferable blues and greens – to ensure “standing out” and “being seen” while on stage (spray tanning and glitter spray optional). What in the ever-loving-Elmo’s-World? I didn’t even wear red lipstick or colorful eye makeup and spray tanning and glitter spray were pretty much never optional in my life. They were actually quite nonexistent in my life. What type of Showgirls-esque performance did I sign my innocent girl up for? I mean, chapstick had never even graced her adorably perfect little lips and the only covering that had ever been on her face had an SPF of 50. This was not going to work. For as much as it broke my heart, my ‘dance mom’ dreams and I were going to have to break-up.

Now, we aren’t quitters. My husband and I raise our children to follow through in their commitments and this was no different. We made it through the 3 months of dates and deadlines. We didn’t eat for months paid all of our dues and we bought our over-priced tickets. We attended all 3 mandatory performances and even purchased a memorable picture package. Here’s what we didn’t do. We didn’t put on red lipstick, colorful eye shadow or foundation. We didn’t spray tan or glitter spray. I firmly believe that some rules are meant to be, practically begging to be, broken. All of the other girls and mamas in her group followed the rules to a “T”. Those fellow princess dancers were more bedazzled than a bag of swarovski crystals. And I don’t say this meanly. Truly. Some moms are meant for this dance life. They thrive on the competition, the costumes and the recitals. I am not judging and I certainly do not see them as lesser mothers. They are just different than me. I wasn’t cut-out for that world. I am a self-professed, horribly horrible ‘dance mom’.

After all of this deep reflection today, I have decided to give myself my own title. I have concluded that I am more of a ‘makeup free, dance party in the living room, pants optional’ kind of mom. And I’m not ashamed.

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