I’m not going to lie to you all, I make some questionable television choices. You can judge me all you would like, but let’s just admit that I’m not exactly high-brow in my selections. I spent the summer obsessing over So You Think You Can Dance and The Challenge: Rivals. Whenever they pop up, I’m thrilled to see Project Runway and Top Chef. I try to balance all that wonderful reality out with Rizzoli & Isles and The Big Band Theory. Obviously, I don’t have the most discerning taste.
So it may come as a surprise to you that there’s a couple shows I utterly refuse to watch. It all started with Toddlers & Tiaras. I realize that its just another group of obnoxoius crazies vying for attention, but their exploitation of their children just took it too far for me. I still haven’t brought myself to turn it on. I see clips or quotes on websites and I cringe. The whole idea makes me annoyed and angry.
Then, it just wasn’t enough. Lifetime decided to come out with Tiaras 2.0. They started a new program called “Dance Moms”.
If it wasn’t bad enough with the pageants and the spray tans, now they have to ruin my favorite childhood past time! Honestly, I’m past irate at this point. Want to know what’s even worse? Just from clips on the internet, I know that I knew moms like this when I was a dancer.
I started dancing at a studio in second grade. I was always the tallest girl in my class, no matter what age I was. My mother figured that dance might be help her lanky, awkward daughter learn a little coordination and grace. Soon, I was dancing competitively. Our summer vacations revolved around the location of Nationals. I started taking classes on the weekends, as well as during the week. Suddenly I had more leotards than socks and my hair never left a bun at the top of my head. I was one of those girls.
And ya know what? I got a firsthand look at stage moms and their effect on young children. Without ever seeing “Dance Moms”, I know the type of women they’re portraying. It’s ladies who put every ounce of their effort into making their child the biggest and brightest star on the stage. Its the moms whose self-worth seems to be directly linked to her daughter’s placement in the rankings. Its mothers who become more emotional, moody and disturbing than any tween could hope to be. Yes, these moms definitely exist in the dance world. And I guess I can understand why people enjoy making fun of them. I did it, even as a teenager.
But at the same times, these women are someone’s mother. They have little girls in those competitions, working their butts off to perfect difficult and intense choreography. Dancing at that level is not easy. During my last couple years of dance, I used to have to take bathes in epsom salts whenever I came home from Saturday practice. My whole body would ache. My doctor was terrified that I had rheumatoid arthritis. In the end, I had stretched my muscles and joints so far that my joints were routinely falling out of place during the simplest of activities. It’s something known as hypermobility and its apparently quite common in young dancers.
Despite all those intense and psychotic parents, despite the injuries and aches and despite the all-encompassing pasttime that dance can become, my daughter is starting tap classes this fall. It’s something she’s interested in. And for all its faults, its something that I enjoyed and cherished when I was growing up. Any activity can be perverted by obsessive parents trying to live vicariously through their children. I hate that this image of drama queen mothers and puppet daughters is the only one that’s going to be seen on television. Because for every stage mom plastering her daughter with make-up and bedazzling bra tops while she screams at her little girl to work on her triple pirouettes, there were loving and supportive parents like mine who showed up to every performance with flowers, telling me that I was amazing no matter how on earth I finished.
Competitive dancing is another showy minefield of perfectionist parents and the offspring they create. I can see why it makes mockable entertainment. But its also near and dear to my heart and I hate to see its worst side displayed like its the only angle.