If you’d have told me five years ago that I’d be a dance mom, I’d have given you side-eyes with a firm, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” It’s funny how unexpected things end up happening in life.

Fifteen competitions, dozens of tights, countless dance shoes, bun after bun after bun, and many pointed toes later, I am officially a dance mom. Me. The ungraceful, only-took-dance-in-kindergarten, no-time-for-drama, foodie, writer, social media geek.

A. Dance. Mom.

I’ll tell you what. I’ve learned something over the past five years about dance moms, dance studios, and dance companies. The biggest lesson being this: award winning dance companies are often NOTHING like the TV show phenomenon Dance Moms, despite all the heavy press it gets. All the yelling, the crying, the yelling, the weekly competitions, the yelling, the catty moms – and did I mention the yelling? UGH.

9 Things You Should Know Before Becoming A Dance Mom (it's nothing like the TV show!)

The dancers I know aspire to head off to college, major in dance (or something completely different than dance), land a professional gig, or maybe even a spot on So You Think You Can Dance. Or they want to teach dance. Or, they simply enjoyed dance while going through school, and then they’re done. It’s a relief, and also inspiring.

Do you have a kid who has his or her heart set on joining a dance company?

9 Things You Need To Know Before Becoming A Dance Mom

1. YouTube videos are your friend.

Whether you’re trying to decipher the difference between a ballet bun, a low bun, a middle bun, a flat bun, a left side part bun, a right side part high ponytail, a low side ponytail, or simply need a few tips to keep your daughter’s hair slick and all the flyaways at bay, there are two words you need to remember: YouTube Videos.

I feel somewhat like a seasoned pro at fixing dance hair these days, but even I lose track of the intricacies involved in making a bun flat instead of round. Plus, now that my daughter is approaching 11 years old, she’s able to do most of her company competition hairstyles all by herself, thanks to YouTube!

Related: Even though I hate the TV show Dance Moms, I still couldn’t help watching this video (featuring 11 year old Maddie, one of the show’s dancers) hundreds of a few times. It’s amazing to think she was about the same age as my own daughter when she filmed this video!

2. Your daughter will start speaking French.

“Mom. What do you mean you don’t know what pas de chat is?” Ummm…. Not the cat?

(My six years of French classes are clearly not showing their worth here.)

Along with saying strings of classical ballet terms – in French – my daughter also has a journal where she writes the movements down. She creates dances. Choreography. IN FRENCH. I’m equal parts amazed and fascinated, and maybe even a little jealous of her ability to retain and apply the knowledge!

By the way, the term pas de chat means cat’s step, as in the likeness of the movement to a cat’s leap. So, there you go!

3. Also? It’s cool when there are boys!

I love that there are an increasing number of boys joining my daughter’s studio, and not just for hip-hop classes. (How cliché.) These boys do ballet, lyrical, jazz – all of it! It’s great for partnering during certain pieces of choreography, and also adds another layer of diversity to what’s normally a mix of girls. There aren’t many other sports where boys and girls can continue to play for the same team, but dance is one where it’s encouraged.

4. Company dancers work hard. Like, really hard.

Last year my 10 year old daughter took three techniques: ballet, lyrical and jazz. She was at the studio two or three nights a week, for a couple of hours each time. There’s stretching to do, movements to practice, choreography to master, and other exercises (sit-ups, anyone?) to complete. They work hard, and as the dancers get older, their classes get longer and tougher. Often times they’re at the studio six days out of the week, and practicing at home, too. It becomes a way of life! (And they love it.)

5. It’s more about technique than turns.

If you watch Dance Moms, you notice that many of the dancers often do never-ending pirouettes in their numbers. Continuous turns, around and around and around and around. It’s become a “thing” for many competition dancers, but not for the girls at our studio. Endless pirouettes give a wow factor, for sure. And many dance companies have very young girls and boys who know how to do a bunch in row, with precision. Yes, it’s impressive; there’s no denying that.

What’s also great, however, is finding a studio that focuses on a variety of techniques, and that impresses upon its dancers the importance of understanding the intricate pieces to a wide variety of choreography and genres. Like, pirouettes are meant to accent a larger piece, or to showcase the prima ballerina in a number; not to stand alone and be the focal point for five whole minutes. There’s a reason why you don’t see dancers doing that on So You Think You Can Dance

6. Less is not more.

As in, dance gear. Find a studio that takes pride in age appropriate costumes for girls. Enough said.

7. Buy stock in hairnets, bobby pins, hairspray and flesh colored hair-ties.

Even though every year I purchase enough hairnets, flesh colored hair-ties and bobby pins to prepare a ballet army for Swan Lake, somehow as competition weekends get closer, they are all missing. ALL OF THEM. Last minute drugstore runs to restock are a must, and I always hope some other dance mom hasn’t already stripped the hairnet section clean before I arrive. Because, hairnets aren’t easy to come by at the last minute if they’re not at the drugstore!!!

(And some dance moms are known for scraping an isle clean of hairnets. That’s never me, of course.)

Also? SO. MUCH. HAIRSPRAY.

9 Things To Know Before Becoming A Dance Mom

8. Make-up skills for days.

After half a dozen YouTube tutorials (ahem, #1), and several years of practice on my daughter, it’s safe to say that I have make-up skills for days. STAGE make-up skills, that is. On girls. Are they translatable to my daily life as a grown woman? Nope. Although, I have been known to borrow her concealer now and again (it’s really good).

9. Dance moms become a tribe – and so do the dads.

The group of moms and dads at my daughter’s dance studio get along famously. This is especially important for those of us with kids in the dance company, since we spend A LOT of time together during competition season. We’ve become a tribe! We laugh, we support each other’s dancers, and we help out when one of us isn’t able to be there. It’s a great support system in [what can be] a very chaotic, emotional and busy world.

So, Now What?

You and your dancer have to love the studio where he or she will be spending hours and hours. You need to respect the teachers—not only their dance knowledge (yes, that’s important), but also their teaching style and focus.

Are there girls and boys of all different shapes and sizes?

What do the costumes look like?

Where do their graduating dancers land?

How many get dance scholarships?

Do they get selected for professional companies?

And most important of all, are the dancers having fun? AND is having fun encouraged? Is having fun given more weight than winning?? Because dancing should be fun most of all!

 

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