Parenting a Dancer: How To Take Care Of your Dancer Kid

How To Take Care Of your Dancer Kid

One of the best things you can do for a child who is deeply involved in dance is to stay levelheaded. By creating a grounded home life, you are supplying a solid support system and a constant and dependable environment. Even when everything is going well, the serious pursuit of dance can be physically exhausting and emotionally draining. Coming home to a nurturing environment will be a welcome respite. Dinners and family discussions, beyond the topic of dance, will help keep your child’s feet firmly on the ground. This does not mean that you should ignore the accomplishments or disappointments your child may experience in dance; it means that those experiences should not hold the full focus of the entire family.

At some point, classes and rehearsals may dominate your child’s life, but when he or she is not expected in class or rehearsals, going to the movies or to a concert that has nothing to do with dance can add to your child’s development as a happy, healthy human being. Allow your child the opportunity to experience life outside of dance.

Parental Etiquette in the Studio

Just as there are socially accepted behaviors in a restaurant, there are also appropriate behaviors for parents in a dance studio. Some people feel that because they paid for their meal, they should be able to behave any way they wish. Some parents of dance students feel that because they are paying for classes, they may behave as they please. In neither case does the poor behavior turn out well for offenders or for people with whom they are associated

Do your homework before choosing a studio so that you have an appropriate level of respect and confidence in the program and its’ staff. Then, let the staff do their job. Be aware that the studio is attempting to teach all students to the best of their ability. This does not always translate into teaching everyone in the same way, because each student has a different combination of gifts and needs.

As previously stated, parents have the right to seek knowledge about their child by asking questions, as opposed to demanding or making personal attacks on the studio staff.

The choreographer decides the casting. Parents do not have a voice in these decisions. It is not unusual for schools to give graduating dancers special parts, regardless of their level of talent, as a reward for being with the studio for years.

This is not always the case. If your child is not as talented, or is not deemed right for a particular part, then he or she may be passed over for another dancer, whom you, as a parent, may not consider as deserving as your child. Watching your disappointed child may be difficult, but it is not appropriate for you to make demands. Instead, think of this as an opportunity to sympathize with your child, comfort his or her hurt feelings, encourage hard work and perseverance, and compliment his or her progress.

Criticizing the dancer who got the part, or the choreographer who made the decision, may cause a rift between people who have to work together. It also shows a lack of respect for other people’s perspective, experience, and expertise, and it encourages excuses and blame rather than self-examination and determination.

Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, parents do not always recognize the flaw in their child’s performance that a teacher or choreographer may see.

The specific skills for the dance, and the proper dancer for his or her vision is recognized by the choreographer or director alone, not the parents. A gifted dancer will end up on top. All types of studios want to show off the talented students they have painstakingly developed. So, while a lesser talent may take the place of your student in the back row, stage right, they most likely will not take your gifted child’s role as the lead.

The Hardworking Child

Passion and hard work are essential to success in dance, but they are not always enough to create a professional. A person can give it their all, show up to every class and rehearsal, and still realize that another student is more talented. This is part of the heartbreak of any art form.

Supportive and well-meaning parents see the hard work and desire their children have for dance. They also see the beauty their child creates. They may miss the flaws a teacher or choreographer sees that keep that child from earning solo roles. These flaws may include feet that are not stretched fully, or are slightly sickled, lack of stage presence or emotion, lack of strength and endurance, unflattering lines, or an inability or unwillingness to take correction and make improvements.

Some parents are under the impression that when the star of the studio moves on, whether to another studio, to college, or to a professional career, it means everyone moves up the ladder.

That is only partly correct. Your child does not magically improve to star quality as a result of the exit of another student. Your child’s skill level may not be affected by others at the studio. On the other hand, taking classes with other hardworking and focused students may improve your child’s focus, and that may or may not translate into better technique.

Your child may be in a position for consideration for more or different roles, but there are no guarantees. If your child is of an equal or higher level of talent than the exiting student, he or she may step into plum parts after the other student departs. If the school does not deem your child as being at the same level as the departing student, they may alter the parts for his or her level of accomplishment, or they may not open the opportunities to your child at all.

Some studios reward their departing seniors with a special role in their last performance; although not necessarily the leading part. Studios do not usually give out parts in a show; particularly lead parts, based on loyalty to the studio or seniority. They award these parts based on ability and talent.

Here again, it is your job as a parent to console your child’s disappointments and to encourage that child to do his or her best with the role he or she has received. Help your child to emotionally deal with the disappointment so it does not stand in the way of his or her enjoyment of dancing.

The Studio Star

You may be lucky enough to have the star student in your family. Your child may be the one who gets attention from teachers and great parts from choreographers. Of course, your family’s values will help dictate how you and your child behave in these circumstances. You may enjoy bragging rights and encourage your child to do the same.

Keep in mind several things, including that your child may be at the top in your local studio but may not be the top of his or her profession should he or she choose a career in dance. Should your child go on to pursue a dancing career, he or she will have to deal with directors and choreographers of stature who, for the most part, do not enjoy working with dancers who behave as if they are superior to others in the performance.

You can help your child balance success with humility. Do you really want your child to be the best but have no friends or support system outside the home? Eventually children move away from home and have to live in a world of people who do not love them as their mother and father do. If you want to raise a successful dancer, help your child enjoy dance not only when achieving the top spots; help your child appreciate the process of working with other dancers to achieve a successful performance.

A Word for Fathers of Male Students

At this writing, a boy in dance, to the uneducated, still holds a stigma of not being “manly” enough, despite the fact that it takes strength and talent equal to, if not greater than, that of any athlete in any sport. A father’s bond to his son is special and important to a young man’s development into an emotionally healthy adult. Standing behind your son who has found an interest in dance is a gift. If he has the talent to back up the desire, you are luckier still. Like with sports, one does not have to be the team star to benefit from the experience.

In the United States, many male dance students do not talk about their studies outside the dance studio, and they often hide the fact that they dance from their friends. Whereas girls may be envied for their grace and coordination, boys feel the judgment of age-old prejudice.

Gay Men in Dance

Dance has a reputation for having a large number of gay men. The percentage of gay men in dance is greater than in the general public, as is the number of gay men in every art form. This could be because there is comparatively little prejudice toward homosexuals in the arts. Dancers are judged by their talents and artistic contributions, not by their sexual orientation. This creates a welcoming atmosphere not always found in the “outside world.”

Dance is also a boon for straight men because it is filled with beautiful women. More than a few male dancers entered the field of dance so they could mingle with the lovely ladies.

Bullying

The issue of bullying has gained attention in public and private schools, as well as in dance schools. This behavior, once brushed off, as “kids will be kids,” is no longer ignored. The true and lasting effects of bullying, both physical and emotional, have become glaringly apparent.

Boys seem to take the brunt of harassment outside of the studio, while girls are more apt to experience it within a studio setting. How bullying affects your child depends as much on his or her personality as it does on parenting.

Sometimes children will not bring the problem to their parents because they worry that any parental intervention will make matters worse. If bullying becomes a serious problem, children may give other, less straightforward clues. They may look and act sad or experience outbursts of anger. As these are also signs of adolescence, it can be hard for a parent to know the difference. Students may be more prone to confide in a friend.

It is your responsibility to keep your children emotionally and physically safe. Doing so may require extra effort for you and your family if your student truly wants to pursue dance but is being bullied or relentlessly teased at school. Frequently, communities have many educational options that you will probably be able to access a safe environment.

Most public schools have a zero-tolerance policy against bullying; however, the size of a school may make enforcement difficult. Private schools can offer an alternative for those with the funds to pursue them. Charter schools have taken off across the country, and many restrict the size of the classes and have strict and enforceable rules and codes of conduct. There may be an arts school in your community that caters to students pursuing training in the performing arts.

If these opportunities are not available where you live, homeschooling or online schooling may be viable options to keep your student safe.

Quitting

Imagine that your young child has put in a year or two at the dance studio and is not interested in continuing. Now what? It is important that you listen to what your child is saying to you. Know his or her patterns of behavior, parental manipulation, and truthfulness. Regret that you never had the opportunity as a child, or because you wish you had continued studying, is not a valid reason to pressure your child to remain in dance. A child who is not interested in studying dance will not be happy in class and will distract other dance students.

Children who do not enjoy dance should not continue. For students younger than eight years old, there is plenty of time to come back to dance with professional aspirations, without a significant interruption in their potential success, assuming that the lapse does not last more than a year or two and that when they return they are ready to work hard. It is never too late to come back to simply enjoy dance.

It is difficult for a parent who has invested many years and much money to have a student who suddenly wants to stop dancing. While parents are open to having their children stop studying dance at the end of high school, they find it difficult to understand children who stops just when they seem to hit their stride.

In these cases, compromise is often the best answer. If your child wants to quit midyear, make an agreement to finish out the year and see if he or she feels the same at the end of the year. A successful performance in the recital may reenergize an ambivalent student. This approach also teaches the value of commitment and team effort. If your child decides to stop dancing at the end of the year, after the performance, suggest taking the summer off and revisiting the choice at the beginning of the school year. Absence may make the heart grow fonder.

If your student is truly set on discontinuing dance studies, take a deep breath and respect that decision. If you fear your child will fall into sloth, you can broker a deal that once out of the studio, your child needs to choose an activity to take its place. If your child worked at the dance studio six days a week, do not expect that level of dedication to a new endeavor right off the bat. Your child may choose a couple of new areas to explore. This is a natural part of discovery of the self and of life goals.

Dance study may take time, patience, and money, but it pays dividends later, when your child is a happy, well-rounded adult with wonderful childhood memories of dance and supportive parents.