Enrichment, Stage & Screen

The Truth About Dance Moms: Uncovering the World of Dance Competitions

The benefits of enrolling your child in dance classes are many: while they are being physically active, they are also making friendships, learning important life skills, and establishing routines in their young lives. If your child loves these dance classes, you may want to consider enrolling them in a competitive dance team. Competitive dancing is a big, yet rewarding, commitment for dancers looking to take their passion to the next level. You may even find it rewarding as the dancer’s parent. Amy Foreman, our associate publisher, discusses what it means to be a “dance mom” and what it takes to be a competitive dancer.

A Day in the Life of a Dance Competition
“Kylee has been dancing since she was two-and-a-half years old, and she’s been competitive dancing for the past two years,” Amy says of her daughter, who competes with DeFrances Academy of Dance. Her competitions range from local to across the South, from Biloxi to Texas or Florida. No matter where they take place, they are an all-day affair.

“It’s months and months and hours and hours of prep,” says Stephanie Simeon, director of LA Dance. “I like my kids to have a home-dance balance, so I don’t have them rehearsing every weekend, but it’s somewhere between four to seven hours per week of technique and choreography training.”

Kylee has four to five competitions per year. On top of that, she has two conventions where she learns different dances. The competitions require about three days of practice per week, but for a national competition, they are practicing for two weeks straight, four hours per night.

For the big day, dancers will perform the routines they have worked on all year in front of several judges, depending on the competition. Dance competitions are undoubtedly an exhausting sport, but the hard work pays off when your team is awarded a trophy, medal, or even a scholarship. Even if you don’t win, there are still plenty of benefits to being a competitive dancer.

Understanding the Benefits
Speaking of winning, your dancer will learn all about how to handle life’s wins and losses as a competitive dancer. They’ll learn how to take turns, build tenacity, and develop empathy for those who aren’t on their team. An even greater development takes place within the team.

“They learn teamwork and how to work out conflicts,” Amy notes. “They are constantly critiquing each other and building each other up.”

Competitive dancing will also help your child develop social skills by interacting with other children. This camaraderie will in turn give your child a confidence boost as they develop a support system that will extend beyond the studio. Plus, your child will be prepared to take on life’s challenges.

“It’s lots of team building and creating relationships with each other,” Simeon says. “They get to hang out with each other, win together, lose together, and also learn about how to take criticism. There are lots of life skills that go into the competitive side of dancing just because they are dancing more often than those who come to class once a week.”

The cons, however, should be considered as well. Dance competitions are a big financial and time commitment. So, if you have the funds for your child to enroll in a competitive dance team, keep in mind that your child will be spending more time away from home and in the studio or at a competition, which can take place over the course of multiple days and require them to miss classes.

Debunking Stereotypes & Myths
The biggest stereotype of parenting a child who dances competitively is that you are a “dance mom,” which refers to the TV show, Dance Moms, in which moms are notoriously too demanding of their daughters, who participate in dance competitions across the world. However, this doesn’t make the reality TV show, well, a reality.

“It is not this Abby Lee situation,” Amy laughs. “I have only encountered one group of crazy ‘dance moms’ in the last two years, and nobody liked it. We did our changes and got out as fast as we could. Otherwise, I’ve made a lot of friends with these moms. We are there to support our girls, even if we are on different teams.”

“Because of Dance Moms, that’s what most people think of when they think of dance competitions. There is some truth to it, and some scripted parts as well, but as far as the overall cattiness, for us those attitudes don’t normally happen,” Simeon notes. “Moms can take it to heart if their child doesn’t do well, and the stress of the whole weekend can bring out that cattiness, but I don’t personally do that to my students. I don’t even give them critiques until we get back to a studio space. If a parent is concerned about that kind of atmosphere, my advice is to interview the studio before you enroll your child.”

Mental Effects & How They Combat These Issues

Being a dancer requires a lot of work on your self-esteem; you have to build yourself up and accept critiques of your craft. These critiques will ultimately make your child a better dancer and learn that nobody is perfect, but it can be detrimental to a young person’s mental health if you are not careful.

“Kids get up there and get personally critiqued by three  to four people they don’t know,” Simeon says. “Nowadays with social media, the stress can be a lot for some dancers because they compare themselves to others.”

Simeon has witnessed a few dancers battle depression-related illnesses and emphasizes the importance of open communication and sitting down with the student to figure out what is best for them. “Sometimes it’s not the dance aspect that’s stressing them out,” she says. “Most students find dance as a release, but they need some kind of help. Parents or teachers can push them to learn all these dances, but we need to step back and figure out what’s best for that student.”

It’s important to understand that winning isn’t everything because dancers grow in technique, strength, and confidence whether they win or lose. If your child is ready for the commitment, dance competitions can be a rewarding experience, even if you don’t bring home a trophy.

This article was originally published in August 2023.

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