Do kids do better with their parents in the wings, on the sidelines, or on the other side of the observation window? A former childhood ballerina tackles this tough question by taking a good look at her past — and how it relates to her own ballerina-daughter’s experience today.
By Katie Femia
Every time you take your kid to class, you’ve got a big choice to make: Should I stay or should I go? The Dance Moms show serves as a cautionary tale for some moms, but others want to see every fan kick. So the question is, which mom are you? Do you fear leaving your child for safety reasons? Or perhaps you just want to see everything she is working on. Are you more comfortable sitting out in the hall? Or maybe you know your child can learn better if you aren’t watching. When your child is a dancer, soccer player, singer, or even a Java programmer, you will have to figure out which sort of mom you are. And while no decision is better or worse than the other, my recent run as a dance mom has given me the chance to ask myself this very question: Should I stay or should I go? And if I did stay, how much should I watch? Before I could answer these questions, I had to rewind to my own childhood.
The Ghost of Dance Class Past and Present
At the age of 6, I began lessons in classical ballet — a passion I pursued for the following 15 years. In that time, the studio always operated on a closed-door policy. Parents were not permitted to watch classes, and instead they were encouraged to watch their child’s progress at the yearly recital and predetermined observation days. As a young dancer, I was always pleased with these guidelines. After all, I was a preteen still getting comfortable with myself and my body, so the idea of practicing my dance moves in my leotard and tights in front other parents wasn’t exactly appealing to me. The closed-door policy allowed me to focus on my craft and the instructor … rather than worry about eyes watching me. I was able to focus, and that was important.
Twenty-five years later, I am now a mother and raising my own ballerina. The studio where she dances implements the same closed-door policy as mine once did. For the comfort of all of the dancers, parents are asked to wait in a common area until class is over. For as much as I would love to watch my child’s class, I know that I would only serve as a distraction to her, and my presence might intimidate other students. That would never be my intention, as I know how important this rehearsal time is … as well as how important it is for the dancers to be comfortable.
One might ask if I feel any safety concerns with not being allowed into the room. My answer is no. The door to the studio remains unlocked during rehearsal, and there is window on the door that makes the room viewable at all times. Should my child need me, I am just a few yards away. Should I have an urge to quickly peek in, the door window allows me to do that without drawing too much attention to myself.
Perhaps a More Important Question…
For me, I think this is an issue that comes down to trust. Do you trust the instructor and staff that has been put in charge of the care and training of your child? If so, respecting their studio and the other students who use it is important. One of the best ways you can do this is to step outside of the studio and allow them to do their job without the distraction of your presence. And while most parents would insist that they wouldn’t be a distraction, you would be surprised. In a wide-open studio where every sound echoes, your smallest movement is amplified. Even if you should manage to sit perfectly still like a statue, you can’t be guaranteed that another student won’t feel uncomfortable with you watching her in training.
If you can’t answer yes to this question of trust, you might want to find a studio and instructors that you do trust. That sort of relationship is vital whenever anyone is teaching your child a physical activity, and your child can best learn when all adults — you and her instructors — are working cohesively as a team. The instructors you pick to train your child are the professionals, and just as you wouldn’t want them to come to your job and observe and intervene, they respectfully wish the same from you.
Waiting in the Wings Lets Kids Find Their Wings
Dancing is a very personal craft, and one that requires the participant to feel their movements deeply and put heart and soul into their steps. A dancer can only indulge in this way when they feel comfortable with their surroundings and the instructor is allowed to teach without distraction. Waiting in a nearby hallway or common area is a great way to still be available during the rehearsal without being intrusive. In the case of emergency, you are available … yet at the same time you are still allowing space for your dancer, as well as privacy to other students.
I am lucky in the sense that my daughter’s dance studio has made this decision for the parents. But I would have to say that even if the choice was my own, I would still choose the same way. It truly is a wonderful experience to watch my child dance on observation days and during performances, when she is ready to perform and has perfected her steps. She never ceases to surprise and inspire me.
So when rehearsal is about to begin and you are faced with the question of should you stay or should you go, think about yourself at that age. How comfortable would you be rehearsing in front of peering eyes? Sometimes, it is best to let the professionals do what they are trained to do, while you stay in the wings and dream about the beautiful performances to come.
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Calling All Dance Moms (and Dads): Do YOU Stay or Drop Off … and WHY?
Is there a reason you love to watch your child’s dance class, in spite of what our author says? (Maybe it helps you learn key dance terms so you can “talk dance” with your child?) Or do you have a different reason to drop off and go run errands? Maybe you’re in a studio where everyone’s parents watch. What do you do if you’re the only parent not watching? We want to hear from you in the comments below!