This is a guest post I originally wrote for St.Louis-based blog The Life of a Sippy Cup Mom. At the Patch's request, and with Melissa's (@sippycupmom) blessing, I have done so today. Enjoy!
Let me start this off by saying that this may ruffle some feathers, but I’m not going to apologize.
I am all for competition amongst kids. I believe that when they start playing t-ball or soccer at age 4, they should play in games that, after the set hour, declare a winner and loser. None of this “everyone is a winner just for participating” stuff. No. It’s a fact of life — you win some, you lose some — and kids should be taught this as a young age so there aren’t any rude awakenings when they get older. Plus, competition drives people to succeed. It makes people want to try harder and do their best.
And while learning all about competition, kids should also be taught about respect. Respect for themselves as an athlete and as a person, as well as respect for your teammates, and those you compete against.
But, this new show on Lifetime called Dance Moms throws everything that is good about competition out the window.
In an article by Media Life, writer Tom Conroy says it best. “It’s become cliché to describe something or someone as being wrong on so many levels. It’s rarely so true as in the case of Lifetime’s new reality show Dance Moms,” he writes.
The show is about a Pittsburgh-based dance teacher who is nothing short of a bully. She berates her students, shouts at their moms, and is so unbelievably cruel that I can’t believe someone hasn’t knocked her out yet. Rather than offer constructive criticism that could help her students learn and become better, she embarrasses them in front of other students and has them so terrified to go against her that they are practicing sick, hurt, and in tears. She compares them against each other, making them jealous of another’s talents instead of encouraging them to be stronger as a team. They are taught that anything other than first place is an embarrassment. And the costumes! She puts nine-year-old girls in outfits that would get them arrested if caught wearing them on a street.
She says she does these things to make the girls better dancers and prepare them for the “real world of professional dance.” Really?
This is all so wrong. But what’s even more wrong is that the parents of these young girls are allowing all of this to happen. While the moms sit and watch this instructor shout at their kids, they gripe about it to the other moms but not one of them has the courage to stand up to this monster. Let me tell you, if someone talked to one of my daughters like this, it would happen once and never again. The mama bear in me would definitely come out to protect my cubs! And if my child walked out of a dressing room looking like a “prostitot” she wouldn’t go any further and she certainly wouldn’t be getting up on stage like that…never mind wearing it while performing a dance that is better suited for a gentlemen’s club stage. And where in the world are their father’s?? All of this would make my husband absolutely lose his mind! The problem is that these moms are trying to live out their dreams through their daughters, losing sight of what is best for the child.
I am a former competitive dancer. For 10 years I danced for several hours a day, seven days a week. I wore sassy, flashy costumes, and we competed internationally. During this whole time, never once did my instructor make me feel bad if I didn’t perform perfectly; dancers were never compared to each other in a way that would hurt one’s feelings; and everything we did was always age appropriate. We won many, many awards, but we lost just as often. Second or third place were okay — it just made us work harder to do better at the next competition. Not placing at all? Well, basically it just sucked. But it made us really evaluate what we did wrong and what we needed to do so it didn’t happen again. I had instructors who genuinely cared about us, and thankfully, when it wasn’t fun anymore, I had parents who let me move on to other things, no questions asked.
Now, 30 years after putting on my first baseball glove, and 22 years after slipping on my first ballet shoe, I am trying to teach my young daughters about competition and trying your best. My four-year-old has tried gymnastics, t-ball, soccer and swimming…she loves them all. This winter she is determined to play hockey, just like her daddy. She tried dance. Like most moms of little girls, I had big dreams of seeing her twirl around the stage in a pretty tutu, and of her being the Sugar Plum Fairy in a performance of The Nutcracker (well, okay, not really). But she hated dance, and that’s okay. Because it’s not about what I want, or about her living a dream of mine that I couldn’t achieve. It’s about her finding her place in life and doing what she thinks is fun, whether that is athletics, music, art…whatever.
Unfortunately, like most reality shows, Dance Moms is such a train wreck that people will continue to watch, however I will not. As a mom…no, let me change that…as a human being, it crushes me that these very talented little girls are treated so harshly and that this mean, mean woman will financially profit from her bullying.
What are your thoughts about competition amongst kids? And, if you’ve seen Dance Moms, please share your opinion.