Why I will Never Force my Kids To Take Dance Classes

For, I think, six years, I lived and breathed dance. I had ventured to dance a little later than most, around 12, after various stints with volleyball, field hockey, and Irish step dance, which is dance, but I don’t qualify under this qualification. When I finally found dance, I absolutely fell in love with it and immediately signed up for almost all the classes offered. Tap, Jazz, Lyrical, Ballet, and Acro, and after I met all the qualifications my first year, I joined the Performance Team, which was essentially like three classes in one with all of the requirements we had. My studio was one of the only non-competitive studios in the area, so they heavily emphasized performing and teamwork. In my first years there, I took no problem with that, but I was 12. I was naive to how people acted and how dance can affect someone growing up.

The Issue With Body Image

I think since my studio was promoted as a noncompetitive atmosphere, I brushed aside what dance culture did to me. It really wasn’t bad like competitive dance or those scary Russian ballet teachers. I actually had great memories there, and I don’t blame (most) of them at all. I think it was a lot of smaller, more general aspects of dance. For example, I had to look at myself in a mirror for 6 hours daily with barely anything. Leotards don’t look great on 90% of the population, but no one around me told me that, so I spent so long picking myself apart. It was kind of hard not to- ballet teachers regularly ask you to look into the mirror to see what you need to fix. On top of that, the issue with roles came in.

We were never encouraged to be unhealthily thin, but the ultra-thin girls always got the good parts in the Nutcracker and the cool lifts in the ballet showcase at our recital. It wasn’t even always in ballet; it seemed to be the same thing in contemporary dances when they would occasionally throw girls and whatnot. I was never much of a contemporary person. And obviously, lifts need to be easy, so it would make sense to choose the person who can be lifted the easiest, but I still found it damaging as a young kid. In my eyes, I was being pushed aside to be a background character because I wasn’t thin enough. 

Neglecting Injuries

Dance is also an injury-ridden sport in an environment where injuries are shamed. It was my dream to get my first pair of pointe shoes. I always knew that pointe hurt- it was just the facts. Pointe hurts, and you don’t complain. But the thing was, my shoes were a step above “hurt.” I was in tears after almost every rehearsal because my ballet teacher would tell me to suck it up. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t handle the pain just like everyone else around me, so I let the pain get worse and worse until I had to be taken off of pointe altogether.

It wasn’t even me who made that choice; it was my ballet teacher who chose when she had the time to notice that I looked pained when I danced. If my pain were addressed earlier on, maybe I wouldn’t have spent years getting my hopes up about doing pointe just to spend the next months of dance miserable and isolated. Now today, I have extreme pain in my foot that has affected my running performance. The dance industry normalizes extreme pain as something you have to deal with, but I disagree.

The Overly Competitive Mindset

Even though I went to a physically not competitive studio, I was still surrounded by a competitive, toxic, and bullying mindset. We found out at the end of every year if we would move up to a ballet level, and somehow, all of our results went around the studio, whether we liked it or not. Due to my severe pointe pain, I stayed back quite a few levels. I remember the night I got a text from my friend that they had overheard people talking about how they would be embarrassed to be at such a low level at my age. Being put down for something entirely out of your control felt horrible.

The audition season was hell because there was always gossip about who got what role and who deserved the role. It wasn’t taboo to openly admit you thought someone didn’t deserve a role- this amazed me when I switched to track. While doing track, I was in the “worst” heat as I was the oldest because I joined late. But my entire team cheered for me. I didn’t win any points for the team, and I wasn’t expected to win, but they yelled for me like they did the person who won the race. At that exact moment, I realized that I had spent 6 years in a culture that normalized bullying and over-competition.

The Issue With Perfectionism

Dance is also a sport where you get one chance. And this one chance means that perfectionism is pushed to a point of panic. See, when I did track, there was always another meeting where I could start over. But dance always leads up to one performance, or collection of arrangements, or competition if you compete.

This means that rehearsals can nitpick you to the point of exhaustion. There were days that if my ballet dance didn’t look good enough for my teacher, we would have to redo the entire 8-minute dance until we finally did it well enough. This ruined my perception of the idea of opportunity. See, I take everything as a be-all and end-all. A book idea falls through? Suddenly, I am the worst writer I know, and I’m brought back to hour 6 at the studio, and my ballet class gets mad at me for not smiling hard enough during the dance, and we have to redo it yet again.

A lack of Encouragement

The eyes of dancers are not those of love but those of judgment. People will like you more if you get your triple pirouette before everyone else or if you can do your oversplits. Something about you needs to stand out at all times, and if you can’t stand out in a crowd of 20 people, you will always lack the compliments every other person manages to get for having a skill come easy to them. 

I don’t want to entirely bash dance. There’s a reason I stayed for 6 years. I truly love the sport and still look at my old pointe shoes and old videos of my shows. I miss combos and auditions, and I miss the friends I had while I was there. I’m trying to say that the dance industry is inherently toxic, whether we want to admit it or not, and until that is fixed, I will never make my kid sign up for those “tiny dancer” classes.

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