by Sheena Jeffers
Dance training is strenuous; it’s emotionally trying, physically exhausting and it’s relentless. There are always classes, rehearsals, corrections to be made and shows to prepare for. There is very little “down” time, and dancers are always expected to be “on.”
Dance training is tough, especially on young students. They depend on their families and friends to serve as a support system during times when they are feeling insecure, tired or overwhelmed.
Below are some tips on how to be a strong support system for your dancing child.
DO: Be Their Rock
With all of the spinning and whirling, jumping and twirling, dance can send a little heart and mind all over the place. Tears will be shed during times of exhaustion or casting. Serve as their solid foundation. Be the person they need when they’re looking for a shoulder to cry on or a hug. Your support in their training will reinforce all of the hard work they are putting into it.
Fun tip: When they are having a bad day, find something that you can do together to calm the mind and heart. It can be as simple as getting ice cream together, or taking a picture together of a hug.
DO: Trust and Support Their Teachers
Dance educators know when to push and when to pull. This means, your child may not always have a “great” day in dance class. Some days are difficult. Some days your child will get frustrated. Some days your child may be upset. This is emotional work that comes with trying to learn and achieve something difficult. On the difficult days, trust that your child’s teacher knows what they are doing. If you have questions, go ask the teacher, but deal directly with the teacher. You want to appear to be a united front in the eyes of your child. Being on the same team as the teacher will show your child that you are taking their dance training seriously.
Fun tip: Find ways to track your student’s progress together with the teacher. You can do this by having a dance journal that you work on together and share with the teacher.
DO: Create an Organization System
Dance comes with a lot of “stuff.” There is scheduling, certain required clothing and shoes, certain snacks that provide more healthy energy than others, certain cross-training that is more beneficial than others. The lists go on and on. Create a system that will allow you and your student to work together on keeping everything straight. Have a calendar available for your child and your family to review of rehearsals, shows, private lessons. Create a snack list with your child so they can pack healthy food. Creating an organization system will help you and your child stay on top of all of the details involved in dance training.
Fun tip: Paper calendars allow for creativity. You will be able to see what is important to your child by how they write or draw on their calendar when writing out their schedule.
DO: Teach and Stay Positive
While your child is learning from dance teachers, they are also learning from you about how you approach learning. Your child is listening to the comments you make, the questions you ask and they way you interact with the teacher, the other parents and dancers, and the demands of the stressful dance world. Your child is noticing all of the details. Help your child walk through the difficult times of not making an audition, or being left out of something that was important to them by using it as a teaching moment. Work with other parents or teachers if you need backup. In the dance world, everyone works so closely together, so it’s important to remember that other dance students are watching how you react too.
Fun tip: Sneak inspiration quotes into their snack bags or their shoes. Staying positive will remind them to stay strong during trying times.
DO: Attend As Much As You Can
It is important to children to dance for their parents. They look forward to showcasing their hard work. Attending their shows will reinforce your support of their work, and it will continue to light their flame for dance. Excitement follows when they see their parents enter the room to support their work.
Fun tip: If you cannot attend something, talk with your child about the reasons. You could send a photo of yourself with your child, and when it’s time to “show” they can set the picture out front.
DO: Hold Them Responsible
If your child wants to dance, hold them to the responsibility of learning to dance, at least until the end of the season. You paid for their classes, and they are now in a dance routine with other dancers. The other dancers are depending on them to be there every class to learn and also to perform in the show. Hold them to their commitments. It teaches them to stay true to their word, to follow through and to not quit.
Fun tip: Make a “contract” with your child to finish out everything they commit to. Have them sign the “contract” so you can teach them following through with commitments in a fun, light-hearted way.
DO: Be Extra Hands
A bobby pin needs placing, a safety pin came undone, a costume needs hanging. These are all times when extra hands are a huge help. Be prepared to help any child when the moment is rushed. Being a dance mom and dad can be an extremely busy job, but you are helping a show go on. Your hands are what helps keep everything rolling smoothly. Your job is important and extremely necessary.
Fun tip: Put bobby pins and safety pins into empty Tic Tac containers. They are easy to carry, and you’ll always have some ready.
DON’T: Don’t Fight All of Their Battles
This is a difficult call for parents. You want to fight battles for your child, but sometimes they have to fight their own battles. For example, if they were misbehaving in class, have them apologize to the teacher instead of you. As parents, you aren’t always going to know the details of what happens in dance class (for example, if so-and-so hurt so-and-so’s feelings), but these are life lessons that your child has to learn to deal with. They may ask for your advice or help, but they sometimes need to swim into deep waters on their own in order to work through it and learn the tough lessons. Be there for them, and be there for advice, but remember that you can’t always fight their battles. Sometimes, they need to travel alone.
Fun tip: If you notice your child is having a difficult time, have an outing with them to talk about the difficulties in a neutral place.
DON’T: Don’t Demean Their Teachers
As students, they look up to their teachers. They need your approval of their teacher in order to fully listen and learn from them. If you have a problem with the teacher, discuss it with the organization but not with your child.
Fun tip: Get to know your child’s teacher. Look them up online, read their credentials and ask questions. Stay involved and you will begin to see how they approach dance education.
DON’T: Don’t Gossip
It’s difficult in the dance world not to compare your child with someone else’s child. In dance, some children may advance faster than others, and they may receive featured roles in performances. It sets the environment up for it to be easy to gossip. But remember that your child is hearing and seeing everything you are choosing to do. Even on days when it’s difficult, try your hardest not to gossip about so-and-so receiving a solo, or so-and-so getting more to the more advanced class. When you choose not to gossip, you are teaching your child not to gossip.
Fun tip: Remember the three golden questions to ask yourself before saying something: “Is it kind? Is it true? Is it necessary?” Teach your child not to gossip by running them through these questions and opening the doors to discussion, parent-to-child, and not the entire studio or dance school.
DON’T: Don’t Try to Take On the World
You cannot do everything: Fact. Remember this when you are running back and forth and taking on the entire world. Pace yourself and ask for help when you need it. Carpooling with other dance parents can help alleviate some of the travel pressure. Asking for scholarship help can help with tuition. Most importantly, when you need a day off, take it. Ask for help from a family member or family friend. Since your role as a supporting parent can be draining, don’t be afraid to re-charge.
Fun tip: Schedule yourself “Dance Mom Days” or “Dance Dad Days” when you are not responsible for any transporting, costume sewing, hair pinning duties.
DON’T: Don’t Pester
Is it easy to get caught up in the competition and pressure of dance. You want your child to be good, no, great and you will do anything to make that happen. There is nothing wrong with that desire and that drive, but you want to make sure you aren’t taking it to unhealthy levels. Stay in close communication with your child, but also be aware that some days they may not want to talk about it. They may be working through something on their own, and they may simply need space. Same understanding applies for the teachers. Teachers are more than happy to discuss your child’s progress, but sometimes there is nothing to discuss and they are simply waiting for time and practice to pass so that your child can understand how to execute something properly. Sometimes, it has everything to do with time and nothing to do with anything else.
Fun tip: Keep your own dance journal as a parent. Write down the questions, concerns, thoughts that you have and you want to share, but marinate on them a while before immediately bringing them up. Allow for time and then re-evaluate your thoughts through your own journal when you see progress.
Your role as a dance parent is extremely important. It is something that is necessary in order for a child to stay focused, determined and dancing. Be a positive force at your dance school for not only your child but for the teachers, the other parents and the other children. Your positive energy will go a long way in supporting the arts.