One of my favorite blogs to read as a mom of dancers is Dance Advantage, which is a creation of Nichelle Strzepek. I have been reading this blog for a little over three years now and I have found it to be a great resource for all things dance: whether you are a dance mom, dancer, dance teacher, or just plain interested in learning about dance related topics, you can find what you are looking for here. Nichelle writes great articles and often has guest bloggers write about various topics for her website. I know that whenever I have questions or concerns, I can go to her blog and get some answers. I have even emailed her a few times when I wanted advice from someone that I feel is an expert on something that is still fairly new to me, and from someone that didn’t know me personally. She has been helpful more than once and I am forever grateful for her willingness to help someone she doesn’t even know.
So naturally when I saw the post on “Why Dance Matters” pop up a month or so ago on Dance Advantage, I took notice. Dance is a big part of our family and I knew this is something I wanted to take part in. “Why Dance Matters” is an “event” of sorts to bring all kinds of people in the dance community together to share why dance is important to us. During this event, dancers, dance teachers and dance moms alike can all share why dance is such an important part of their lives. If you want to find out more about this project, click here or check out my blog roll on the side. I know Nichelle wants to keep this going beyond just this one week, so even if you think you are late to join the cause, you are not.
So why does dance matter to me? Well for starters, as you may already know if you’ve read my previous posts, I am the mom of two dancers, ages 9 and 11. Both of my girls, (I will call them C and B for privacy reasons) have been dancing for many years. My 11 year old, C, has been dancing since Kindergarten and my 9 year old, B, since she was in preschool. They both started out with creative movement type classes, mostly focusing on tap and ballet, and have since grown to love dance more than just about any other activity. But it didn’t just start with dance class. C has loved dancing even before she could walk. I remember when she would pull to stand at a table and bounce up and down as soon as she heard the music. Her younger sister has pretty much followed suit and so naturally when I felt they were old enough, I signed them up for dance classes.
They are very different dancers though. C’s passion is ballet and B would much rather take tap. C is completely committed to dance and has little interest in other activities. She “hates” most sports and would much rather spend her days in dance studio than on a soccer field. B loves to dance, but she has other activities she enjoys, including basketball.
B is my tap dancer. She has always loved tap, I think mainly because the loves the noise so much. I’ll never forget when she first started taking classes, she’d “tap” all around the house. She had these shoes that clicked clacked when she walked and treated them like tap shoes and shuffle-stepped her way throughout the house, always with a big smile on her face. The first time she participated in a school talent show, she chose to perform a tap dance with her sister, her favorite dance partner. She does enjoy ballet, and I know taking classes has helped her become more graceful and confident, but it doesn’t make her as happy as when she takes her tap class. She is different from her sister, because even though dance is one of her favorite activities, she has other interests that she likes and she doesn’t like it if dance gets in the way of her doing those activities.
C is my ballet dancer. She started out in combo tap and ballet classes when she was five. Initially tap was her favorite but it only took one viewing of a live performance of the Nutcracker to change all of that. She was only 5, but once she saw that ballet, she was hooked and told me that she wanted to dance in the Nutcracker someday! We were unable to audition for a few years after that, but since then C has been a part of three local Nutcracker productions and in addition, has been in local productions of Cinderella and Coppélia (B has also been in two Nutcracker productions -although she missed her actual performances the first year due to illness and Cinderella). Last year, C tried out for, and was invited to join, a local pre-professional ballet company. She started as a member of the Youth Company and will now move up into the Junior Company starting this fall. Being part of the company is a big commitment and involves being at the dance studio several days a week. I used to worry that C would burn out and grow tired of being at the studio, but it is exactly the opposite. She would go there every day if she could – it is truly her favorite place to be, besides at home with us.
Which brings me to another reason dance matters to me, to our family. This past year of school, 5th grade was a very difficult one for C. As excited as she was to start 5th grade last fall, she was equally excited for her year to end this past May. Just a few short weeks into the school year, she started having a hard time because there were boys in her class being mean to her, which continued on and off throughout the whole year. C also experienced friend troubles for the first time ever (no joke). Because of a move to a new school, which consisted of only 5th and 6th grades, she was separated from many of her closest friends, who in turn made new friends. C did manage to make a few new friends, but then later in the year, a disagreement with one of those girls ended those friendships and subsequently she felt very much alone at recess, lunch, and on the bus.
C would get up in the morning crying that she didn’t want to go to school, and then go to bed doing the same thing. The saddest part is that this is a child that had, in the past, always loved school. She used to cry when she had to miss school because she loved it so much. Now all of that has changed and even though I knew this could happen, it just breaks my heart. C is friendly and has never before had trouble making friends, but as we all know, making new friends when you are 10 or 11 years old is much harder than when you are 5 or 6. Intermediate and Middle school are some of the most miserable years of anyone’s childhood, so it didn’t really surprise me that she had so much trouble. She can be fairly outgoing but in new situations she is often quite shy until she feels truly comfortable and I am not sure she ever felt as comfortable in 5th grade as she had in previous years of school.
The bright light in that awful year was dance. No matter how bad of a day she had, C could go to her dance classes and forget about all of it for a while. She could go to the studio and be herself and let all of the frustration and disappointment go. She could put her emotion into the one thing she loves the most – dance. I will never forget the day she came off the bus and said she did not want to go to dance class. That was such a unusual thing for her to say, so I was shocked. I asked her why and she said it was because she had such a bad day, and she proceeded to tell me why (kids being mean). She was very upset. I told C that she could not miss dance class just because of a bad day, and that if anything, she should go since she always enjoyed her class and seeing all of her dance friends. She agreed, a bit reluctantly, but she went. When we arrived at the studio, C walked in the door, shoulders a bit slumped and just looking defeated. But that changed in an instant when she saw her friends. They all waved to her and called her over to join them. I heard one ask her what was wrong and she told her friends about her day. Two of the girls put their arms around her shoulders to console her and then joked with her to cheer her up. In a matter of minutes she was smiling, something she hadn’t done much of recently. I was so happy to see her smile that I almost cried.
Later that night I asked C how class went and if she felt better. She said she loved her class and was so happy she went. She then danced away from me, smiling, thinking about her class and her friends at dance. I knew right then that dance was her happy place and if nothing else went right in her day, she’d could go there and forget about her troubles for a while. I can’t imagine how different things might be if C didn’t have dance. As I said before, she doesn’t really enjoy anything else as much and she pretty much hates sports. She summed it up best recently when someone asked if C might ever quit dancing. She scoffed at the idea and said “But then what would I do? Dance is the only thing I really like!” Needless to say that was the end of that discussion!
So why does dance matter? Dance matters because I know both of my girls, especially C, will always have a place to go where they can just be who they want to be, doing something they enjoy, with friends and teachers who accept them for who they are. And as a parent, I couldn’t ask for anything better.