We’ve all seen the television show. First, everyone arrives together on a luxurious bus where dancers and parents are greeted with cheers and fanfare before they get their own private room. The girls sit down before their lighted make up mirror suitcases and doll themselves up with a little help from mom and discuss a bit of drama. Then, they go behind the curtain to put on their costumes and they walk out to seated moms adoring their costumes and then the instructor runs their dance in the large space left in the room. There’s a little more dramatic dialog between the mothers and the studio owner, and they all appear again, seated in the prime seats for viewing their teams number and then head back to their private room to get ready for the next number. Lastly, everyone gets in a big tiff and goes home.
The truth is, the real world of competitive dance is nothing like that. Other than the girls dancing on stage with parents watching, none of the show portrays what a real dance competition is like.
So, if you’re just getting started and heading to your first dance competition with your child, let me give you an idea of what it’s really like, at least in my experience anyway.
If you’re lucky, you’re within driving distance of the venue. Most of the competitions I personally have attended are a pretty long drive and hotel stays are necessary. Sometimes there’s a pool and that’s a great place for the girls to unwind the night before or even afterwards. Just make sure nobody gets hurt. The last thing you want is an injury. You can share a room with another mom to save money, but I’d advise you to stay with someone who knows sleep is important and is not too frazzled on the big day, or days. I can’t stress this enough, do not stay with a mom who gets overly frazzled, because even if she’s not fussing over your child she will set the tone with pessimism and your nerves will be shot before you even get there. Speaking of getting there, you’ll want to know exactly where the venue is. Don’t get lost. That’s never good. Be two hours early, or as soon as the venue opens. Some competitions do run early and they will not wait for you.
When you get to the venue you have to look for your group’s dressing area. Usually there is a table set up where you can ask questions. Just head to your area and be prepared to squeeze in to set up and get organized before you start with makeup and hair (if it wasn’t done beforehand.)
It’s crowded. You don’t get a room specifically for your team, you share with about ten or more different teams in a cafeteria, gym, band room, or even a hallway. These rooms are filled with dream duffels and pack 2 racks, wall to wall and everywhere in between. The teams find their own space within that room and everyone just makes do with the space they have. You get used to it and it all works out well. Yes, there will be moms that will complain about it and say it’s ridiculous, which is more annoying than the crowd, but it’s not so bad if your expecting it. Just be prepared to fight a bit of traffic getting to and from your teams area and the auditorium. If the venue is a hotel, get a room in that hotel. It makes your life a lot more simple. It’s important to be patient and kind even if you’re getting stressed over it. You’re actions as a parent do reflect on your child’s team, so don’t embarrass yourself or your team by complaining too much or being too pushy. Besides, the dancers tend to feel anxious about performing and a calm attitude tends to help them feel less stressed. So just go with the flow and embrace the excitement of the day, or days.
Hopefully the instructor can find enough space to run the dance. There will be other teams doing the same thing, so it’s important to be respectful of their space. It’s usually a quick run through and it won’t kill you to move out of their way or wait for them to finish to move past. It’s easy to get frustrated at these events and you want to stay above it. Otherwise you’re looking at a miserable day.
Your child will go backstage about four or five numbers before her number and you head to your seat in the auditorium. Many parents have poor etiquette in the auditorium. Don’t be one of them. You don’t find a seat until there’s a break between numbers. People are watching their kids in there and they don’t appreciate the family of ten squeezing past them while their child is dancing. Typically you’re not allowed to enter or leave during a number but people will do it anyway, because there are always a few people who just can’t help but be rude. Speaking of rude, you do not make negative comments about other dancers. Remember that each dancer is someone’s baby. Even if they can’t hear you, it’s never cool to say anything negative about a child. It just makes you look jealous and petty, and it’s downright horrifying. Don’t do it.
It is absolutely okay to compliment other teams and dancers. They are all amazing and have worked just as hard as your child. Their costumes are gorgeous. I love hearing my daughter praise another dancer. It makes my heart swell for her. When someone compliments your child, teach her to smile and say “Thank you”, and maybe throw a compliment back. Having good sportsmanship will not hurt your child’s performance, and it will enhance his or her experience. Just get into the excitement of it. You just might make someone’s day.
There are usually several award ceremonies throughout the day. It helps break up the day before the finals scores at the end of the competition. Often you will not agree with the scores, because dance is subjective. There is no need to announce to everyone around you that you disagree with the judges decisions. Again, you will look petty and jealous. Do not do it in the auditorium, the hallway outside the auditorium, back in the dressing room, or on your way out the door. Whatever it is you feel you have to say, say it in the car on the way home. It’s not worth hurting any feelings. Besides, unless you’re a judge your opinions won’t change the results. You would think this goes without saying, but you would be surprised.
In a nutshell, take your child to a dance competition knowing it will be challenging and stressful. But I urge you to embrace the craziness and just have fun without worrying about scores or getting too upset with the crowd of people. Let your child’s instructor do the worrying. Help your child’s teammates with hair and makeup, lend out Bobby pins and blush, just enjoy the day. It really is exciting and seeing your dancer onstage is an incredible feeling.
I’m sure I will be adding more as the competition season progresses. Is there anything you would add? Please drop it in the comments and let me know your personal experiences.