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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

What do some dance schools really teach?

Hi readers.
I had posted this blog Sunday and took it down soon after.
My father advised me against posting it. He said,
"What's this doing on a sewing blog?"
He thought I might offend some readers who have their daughters in dance.
After receiving a letter from a reader who was disappointed that I removed it, I thought,
"Well, it is my blog and I am allowed to post my personal opinions that don't have to do with sewing or crafts once in awhile , right?"
It's not like I'm getting paid to do this.
Plus, I'm not putting down dance at all, it is a viable and beautiful art form.
Just some of the people who profit off of those eager students and parents.

I am new to the dance mom world.
 My nine year old has a talent for dance so I put her in a dance class a few months ago. She picked it up right away and I was pretty impressed by her ability to remember all of those steps. 
 Before we get started I have to tell you my daughter is in a hip hop class. I know a lot of parents out there think hip hop is inappropriate for children but Lily has been dancing to that WII video game for awhile and we often dance together on the wood floor in the kitchen. 
She is good at it and wanted to take the class. And the song they did their number to was innocent enough.
After enjoying this form of dance she now wants to study ballet. I think that will be a good balance. Some classical dancing, and some fun, show off dancing.

 My experience with her dance school is this:
 It is a money machine that exploits well meaning but unaware parents.
The sad thing is since we live basically in the middle of nowhere, we don't have any other schools to choose from that aren't over a half an hour away.

 Twice a year there, is a show the children are expected to perform in and parents have to buy expensive costumes for every number their kid is in. One mom I know has two daughters who were in numerous numbers last night and she spent 800 dollars on costumes!
Most likely the school is getting a good percentage on the sale of the costumes.

Each costume costs around seventy dollars and the child only wears each costume for one song.

As a seamstress, I know how much work goes into making these costumes . The girls end up having dozens of costumes sitting in their closets, each being worn three times. Once for the required and expensive photoshoot, another time for the dress rehearsal, and again for the performance. It is so wasteful.
I make costumes for the theatre. The budget is small so we try to reuse costumes often by altering or reworking.
Some of these costumes from the dance school are beautiful but they only get to see two minutes of performance time before they are retired indefinitely.

Not only do you have to buy costumes for the show but you have to pay fifteen dollars a head to see your child perform.
And you can't film your child during the performance. You have to buy a 35 dollar DVD! There are also flowers and photos to be bought via the studio. I have to spend thirty five dollars so I can fast forward the entire DVD just to get to the two minutes my child is dancing? Hmph!!!!

This is a mainly working class community here folks! Why are all of these parents shelling out such big bucks for this?  

As you can probably tell by now, I was not on board with all of the pressure to spend, being the thrifty (cheap) mom that I am . My daughter was in only one 3 minute number/ song and the show was 2+ hours long. 
Her number was after the first intermission. No way was I going to pay seventy dollars for the family to see Lily dance for two minutes!
But I wasn't going to miss her performance for the world, so during the intermission we snuck into the auditorium through the exit doors which were very crowded with people walking out. We walked in seperately to avoid notice and since some people had left during the intermission, we sat ourselves down in great seats to watch the second half of the show.
I was prepared to pay if we were questioned but we were lucky. There were guards everywhere at the performing arts center, but the one at our door must have taken a bathroom break at the intermission.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Yes, you may think that antisocial behavior, but the punk rocker still lives in this almost middle aged lady.
 I hadn't seen all of the costumes except Lily's late eighties style MC Hammer type hip hop knickers and vest which were quite modest.

So I was shocked to see very young girls in suggestive outfits with lots of makeup dancing to songs with lyrics like "I'm a bad girl..."

What the *%#@!?... 

My husband and I squirmed in our seats. What happened to the cute little tap dancing outfits I had imagined?  These little girls were shimmying their hips and wiggling their derrieres in a very mature way.
It was like an audition for a Vegas showgirl act!
I can assure you, it was NOT appropriate for 10 year olds.
If my daughter had been in some of those numbers I would have wanted to grab her off of the stage. I wondered if the other parents had a problem with this too.
In defense of the school there were many numbers that were very well danced and not inappropriate at all.
But those previous ones mentioned ruined the performance for me.

 It got me  thinking that one of the reasons I love vintage sewing and especially vintage children's patterns is the innocence of the drawings of the children and the sweetness the clothing itself conveys.
Of course, almost anything gets me to thinking about sewing....

The sexualization and objectification of children is everywhere. Shows like DANCE MOMS and Toddlers And Tiaras  indulge some of the worst aspects of our culture here in the good ole' USA. Mothers on these shows don't think it odd to parade their innocent children onstage fully made up, in sexy and revealing clothing, and with pounds of hairspray on. The infighting, unhealthy competition, and unfriendliness on these shows doesn't show our society in a very good light.

But by showing shows like this on TV our culture is condoning the sexualization of our girls.
How would we feel if there was a show about 8 year old boys lifting weights to try to be the hottest dudes around?
It would never even make it on air.

 Are your daughters in dance school?
 Do you think my daughters school is unusual or typical?
Just curious.
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  1. I like hearing about your experience with dance school. I know I could not afford what it would cost to send my daughter to dance school. That is just nuts! I do know after several years of having a kid in the high school band what I experience. Money is everything. If your kid took lessons out of school they got ahead in the band and most likely had first chair. If you donate money to the band your kid got recognized more. If you just volunteer its means a little bit of something but not much depending on how much of your life you want to give to volunteer to the band. From talking to other parents things like cheer leading has big costs, sports also has its big costs. Dance here is like what you experience from knowing a young lady who took lessons. Costumes they wore once cost big bucks for parents. And we are a blue collar community as well. I know it was a struggle to keep my kid in the band with just the basic expense. What gets me is they charge you to watch your kid perform!!! I watch that Toddlers show and can not get though a whole show of Dance mom's. Truly it could be just me but there are so many ways to teach your kids and expand their talents. And big money does not have to pay for it all. I know once I found out all the expense of the lessons I would of not taken her back for the next season. I would of also snuck in the exit door and not pay the 15.00 for tickets. I would indulge her talents in another way or find another dance school that is more budget friendly. From a mom who's kid loves her music and instruments we find ways to keep her interested with out going broke. She might not of gotten first chair all though school. But she did play in the band with second hand instruments or school instruments. She is graduated now and is looking into a community band to play in. :) She can learn some older members who would love to show others what they know and for nothing other than enjoyment. It can be done just have to look for the opportunity's.

  2. Glad you reposted, as I said before my experience was almost identical to yours! Needless to say, we don't dance, we play sports which in our area does not cost near the price of "dancing"! BTW, it is your blog....write what you want & feel! Rhonda

  3. I'm glad you posted this. I haven't seen shows like "Dance Moms", just the commercials and I will NEVEr watch a show like that. I think the way that teacher yells at the students and the parents is verbal abuse...and it's not okay.

    I was in dance school for four years. The head dance instructor had inherited the school from her teacher. The school had been around since the 1930s...and we learned all kinds of wonderful dances, and none of them inappropriate. The costumes were awesome. She had a huge backroom with all these costumes that would be used over and over again :) :) in fact, one set of costumes were made from sailers costumes of the 1930s :) :)

    So I think it's really sad that they force the parents to buy new costumes every year. I could see buying one new costume every year...but not three. In any case, my dance school experience was really good...and I would wish the same for other kids, too :) :

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. I agree with you. Love and hugs from the ocean shores of California, Heather :) :) :)

    1. That's a wonderful story Heather. You are so lucky to have been apart of the true spirit of the art of dance. It reminds me a little of Miss Lily on Angelina Ballerina!

  4. It's pretty hard to keep our children innocent these days. They are hit with sexual situations everywhere they turn, even on the so-called 'channels for children'. Why can't we just let our children be children? They will be adults forever, childhood is so short.

    Good post Justine!

  5. I had my child take the lessons but didn't put her in the recital which she was very sad about. 70$ a costume for a 5 minute performance? Crazy.

  6. i am a DANCE MOM :) not one of the crazy ones though. my 12 yr old has been dancing for 7 full years and for the past 2 years, she spends 20+ hours at the studio (we are home schoolers). i am also a SUPER thrifty momma. and dance... is primarily why i am so thrifty. we spend around $6,000 a year on dance. now, she does not do hip hop. she has tried it, but rather she is a competitive ballerina. with hip hop the music choices are 'those' songs. you may seek a jazz or broadway jazz class and she will get the similar ability of moves with less....of 'that'. now... back to the insanity of mine in spending that money... as that is probably all anyone reading this is thinking. my daughter has several learning disabilities and this is why we homeschool. we have a hired tutor that helps with her schooling that has been amazed at my daughters strong will to learn, not give up despite the struggle with academics. she has remarked that students she has tutored in the same situation as K have behavior issues and throw in the towel. however, K pushes through with confidence. dance has created this strong work ethic (for life) and has built her confidence because she DOES have something she can accomplish with fabulous results. our family looks at dance as college in reverse. this level of dance will help her get a scholarship or a major dancing contract (fingers crossed) possibly. this IS her passion. she also gives back to the studio in the form of assistant teaching the little bitty kiddos. in the future, if we want to get around those ticket prices at recitals, sign up to be a parent volunteer backstage. i thoroughly enjoy making costumes for the studio and working backstage...and (the thrifty self) get to watch all performances on the wings of the stage for free :) in exchange for volunteering. shows like dance moms... while studios like this DO exist, its a poor demo of the dance instruction world. just like with all things, there are good examples and bad ones. dance is an art and your daughter may have a huge ability with that passion. and that ability may give her the chance to support her one day in a manner which would delight her to no end... to wake up every day and perform dance/ teach dance and be paid. as K said with this possibility... 'mom i want to dance as a grown up with OUT a paycheck' . also....if she does continue dancing, i strongly suggest her studying ballet. ballet is the foundation of all forms of dance. ballet creates flexibility and a strong center core/balance.

    1. Wow thanks Melanie, that is a great story. It is so inspiring to see a child like yours have such a strong vocation. I think we will look around for a less pressured dance studio. I love dance too and was just curious how these places operate these days. There are so many good things the discipline can teach.

  7. Thanks! :) also, most studios will let you opt out of the recital, however getting stage time is important. i would suggest looking for a studio that does not have a competition team. once a studio discovers there is $$ to be made from the competition side, it all slides down to the non competitive students ;) good luck with your daughters dancing! there is no greater reward than being your kiddos' #1 fan! no matter what gift they have they are demonstrating!

  8. I took jazz dance at a dance school in Santa Paula - and had a very similar experience to yours. My number was OK, but the dances performed by the older hip hop classes had twelve year old girls in slashed fish net and strapless black bras dancing very provacatively right there at the County Fair for any pubescent boy, creeper, or young child to see. My mom was not a fan, needless to say.

  9. Hey Justine,

    I have to say that your post wasn't inappropriate at all. My children are grown now and we now have 2 granddaughters, ages 6 & 7. There is so much in this world that is compelling them to become too mature too quickly. I'm with you on trying to help them maintain their innocence for as long as possible. Anyone who would allow their little girl(s) to dress like a full grown woman in a suggestive manner needs to take into consideration what and/or who is watching their little ones. And also to have their heads examined.

    You see, I work as a paralegal for a criminal defense attorney. We see things from a different perspective and it makes me extremely protective over any child. The things I see and hear in my line of work would make most folks sick to their stomachs. This includes dealing with accused pedophiles, rapists, murderers, etc... As far as I can see, there is no good reason in this world to put a little girl in the position of an adult female.

    I sure hope that your statements will open the eyes of parents world-wide. Thanks for speaking out on this subject. Keep up the good work!


  10. I'm so glad you re-posted this. One of my stepdaughter's was in dance when she was about 8 or 9. At the first recital we were appalled to see several little girls dancing provocatively in front of the audience, in next to nothing costumes. With the cost of the lessons, shoes, mandatory school leotards, not to mention costumes, we just could not justify spending hundreds of dollars a year just to see our child wiggle her behind like a stripper. Shortly after this recital I took my stepdaughter shopping to buy a skirt for school. She picked out the shortest one she could find. (I didn't buy it for her) When I asked her why she wanted that particular skirt, she answered, 'at dance we learned that we should wear short skirts so boys could see our legs better'. Now whether or not these were the teacher's exact words or meaning, this is what my daughter understood. Little girls seem to have sexuality forced upon them from a very early age, making many of these children believe that sex/sexuality and beauty equal friendship and acceptance. Whew! Sorry about the rant, it just really bothers me how a large part of society accepts children acting and dressing as sexual adults as 'normal' behavior.
    With that said, I think you should encourage your daughter to dance. All dance schools and teachers are not the same. Hopefully you can find a school that recognizes that your daughter is a child, not a young woman, and treats her as such. Because it is possible for children to be taught to dance without being provocative. Even Hip Hop.

  11. First, let me say bravo to you for posting your experience... However, I can say that my experience has been somewhat different. I'm a former dance mom (not in caps to emphasize my role as a laid back dance mom, not a stage mom) whose daughter went on to major in dance in college and become a professional dancer. Our studio certainly made money, but not quite like the one you describe. It was a family owned and run business which really cared (cares - they are still in business) about the kids. Costumes could be very pricey, but for solos we always had the option of making costumes, which of course, I did whenever possible. Dance can be a very disciplined art. It made my daughter confident, strong and graceful. The discipline carried over to academics in which she also excelled, winning large scholarships to help finance that college education. At our studio costumes were always age appropriate, though the competition team, of which my daughter was a member, did wear makeup and a uniform hairstyle. My daughter is a strong and confident young woman, at least partially because of dance. She is a member of a modern dance company, she teaches dance and Pilates and she is alive and vibrant on stage. She inspires me more than I can say. My recommendation is to find out who choreographed the inappropriate numbers and talk with that person, or with the studio director, in a calm and rational way. You may be able to affect change that would be good for everyone.

    1. Thanks for your story. It sounds like your daughter benefitted very much from pursuing dance. 
      I think I may shop around to find a different studio that will be a better fit for our family. 
      From reading everyone's comments I can see it might benefit us to look at the school closely since she will be there a lot.  
      You must be very proud of your daughter, she sounds wonderful.

  12. I'm glad you reposted this. I was going to comment at a later time and it was gone. I participated in ballet for years. It was even the dance school for Ballet West and it wasn't crazy like a "Dance Mom's" experience. Times have changed. When we lived in TX where football, marching band, and cheer leading were and still are everything, it was about 5000 a year to participate in public school marching band. The band would take trips out of the country to perform every year. It was ridiculous. I'm glad we moved before we had to participate.

    But nothing will change until the parents unite and say, "no more!" No more excessive expenses. No more girls dancing like they are adults performing in a strip club. No more expensive, suggestive costumes. Parents can effect change. This post is a start. I hope the other parents in your community can do something to change this.

  13. What a sad and infuriating story. You're justified in your anger, and how sad that the studio is run in such a way. I have a bit of a unique perspective. I am a dance mom. My daughter has danced for 13 years now. But her studio is a positive, amazing place. The studio focuses on classical technique, not "tricks" that are all too often seen in many studios these days. Moreover, the studio owner feels that her work is also her life's ministry, and she is always mindful to save parents money whenever she can. Costumes? The studio owns ALL of them, I've sewn many of them, and we reuse them over and over. The stash is large enough now that most costumes are only used every couple of years. One of the benefits is that the younger girls see the beautiful costumes the older girls get to wear, and they look forward each year to the rites of passage associated with finally being able to wear the blue platter tutu or the flowy, white ballet ensemble, for example.

    Additionally, my husband and I are photographers, and over the years, we have photographed several dance studios. We have been to many studios that are exactly like your daughters. Just last weekend, we photographed a "dance" studio that focused primarily on tumbling, and it was sad to see the girls fumble on stage in between "tricks." They had not been taught dance and did not know how to fill the beats between the handstands or the cartwheels. The one move they did know, sadly, was how to turn their backs to the audience and to shake their booties. Over and over and over. That, apparently, was the go-to move in most dances.

    Dance is an art form that teaches much, much more than dance steps, so I hope you're able to find another studio that will give your daughter an experience that will stay with her forever. She deserves no less.

    1. Its so sad that in our world today there are so many who dont mind taking advantage of others.

  14. My daughter is a 34 year old Nurse/Education.
    When she was 4 (so 31 years ago)we lived in a small town, with few activities available for Pre-School aged children. We enrolled our daughter in a "Beginner's Dance Class". We were appalled at the total sexualization of children!
    "Turn, glance over the shoulder and slap your fanny"
    Shameful, then. Shameful, now.

  15. Love your blog and Love this post. My daughter is 3.5 and she takes dance at the local Y. We are going to look into dance school next year. Her Y class is very innocent but if it weren't I would complain and find something else. That stinks that you guys had that experience! And I am with you about the money. WHAT A RIPOFF! Hope you find something else that is more innocent and accommodating.

  16. I happened upon your blog and enjoyed reading about your experience with dance. I happen to have all boys, so the sexualization of young girls affects my household in a different way - but it still concerns me greatly. My friend who has a son in 6th grade tells me that the girls have now become the pursuers at this age! and that they are quite aggressive. This is how we are raising our kids?!! Scary!

    I came for the sewing, but enjoyed this post as well!

  17. Glad you reposted that, Justine! It is shameful the way our culture sexualizes young girls like the way you mentioned all the way down to "cute" sayings written on the back of their sweat pants! We don't have any experience with dance (Mary would love to learn ballet), I have heard the same thing from other parents in this area that it costs a fortune for costumes and that they need several different ones.

    And making parents pay to see their kids perform is ridiculous! We encountered the same thing with our kids playing sports at the local school--where we already pay taxes and sports fees at the beginning of the season,and they don't even get to keep the uniform or anything for that matter (just the memories and experience!)

    Keep posting whatever you like--this is your blog!

  18. I am stepping up as the studio manager for my mom's dance studio this next year after being a dancer my entire life! And you are right, dance is expensive. The studio DOES have to make a profit, as it is a business, so there are fees outside of tuition, but our studio is also in a small town and the truth is that you can't pay your bills as easily in small towns, because the population is lower (usually). Being in a small town, you have to entice great teachers (usually from the city) to come ALL the way out to no man's land to teach at your studio, which comes with a hefty price tag. Commercial rent, even in small towns is so expensive! And then add on top of that all you have to pay to keep the studio running and the ability to pay so many different teachers that teach all different kinds of dance! And let's not even talk about the taxes you get charged by our government!

    As for the costumes, I really understand. Your studio costumes ARE overpriced unless a seamstress is making them for them. $70 covers TWO costumes at our studio. And each child is in TWO numbers at the recital, because we offer combo classes for the youngest kids. The studio does make money off these costumes, but you should see the charges that costume companies charge just to order them! (This coming from the sewer in me!)

    As for the Recital fees...Theatres around us cost close to $2Gs to rent for the recital, hence the lofty price to get in to the show, although at our studio we charge a $40 fee per family to allow as many family members that they want come to the show. That fee also covers the child getting a participation or X amt of years of dance trophy, so while it doesn't make sense for just 2.5 minutes each time on stage for someone like YOUR child that doesn't dance very much, it does make sense to others who dance a LOT more and are in a lot of numbers! I am still chasing down Recital fees from parents right now that skimped out on us and as a result, we struggled to get the theatre paid for! And the one we rent is just from a high school!!!

    With all that said, I totally understand everything you said and I didn't even touch on the "suggestive" area of what you said, as I completely agree! It's gross and ridiculous what some studios teach at such young ages! I'm glad you had a discerning ability to step in and intervene!

    I hope I didn't make you feel bad in anyway! It's hard running the numbers! We had to increase our fees this year because so many people just weren't paying for things like they should, so I'd rather just keep the people that ARE able to pay, so we can survive in this economy! It's tough, especially for dance studios!


Don't be shy! Your comments are really appreciated and fun for me to read! If you have a question I usually respond via e- mail which is easier for me, being a busy mom. Please don't leave anonymous comments, instead just put your name in the Name/ URL box if you don't have an account. Thanks.

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