A studio owner’s non-dancing daughter tells all
By Diane and Siobhan Gudat
I have read wonderfully insightful articles about the struggles of children whose dance teacher is their parent, such as “My Life as a Studio Owner’s Daughter,” in the January 2009 issue of this magazine. All children who live in the shadow of a parent with a dance studio experience both struggles and advantages. But what of their non-dancing siblings? What kind of pressures and problems do they face when they don’t share that world?
I have a dancing daughter, Caitlin, who was constantly by my side at the studio. She received her BFA and now teaches dance and performs in Chicago. When she was a student, we traveled the world together, with Caitlin competing and serving as my demonstrator at conventions and workshops.
My other child, Siobhan, does not dance at all. As a young child she took class and performed; she was possibly more talented than her older sister. But when we began to clash in the classroom, I realized that although she loved being at the studio with her friends, she did not love dance. During a year off she tried school sports—basketball, kickball, volleyball—along with piano and gymnastics (not at my studio), before finding her passion on the field in a summer softball league.
My husband was thrilled. While he supported our dancing daughter, to him softball was a real live sport, something he could understand. After causing Siobhan much embarrassment, her sister and I eventually learned the rules of the game and what to yell from the sidelines. We ate “walking tacos” and cheese dogs and did our best to embrace her world.
With this change in our lives, I saw Siobhan only in the mornings before school and briefly in the afternoons before I left for the studio, and perhaps at the end of my day if she was still up doing homework. I missed some weekend games and tournaments because of rehearsals or competitions. Attempts to get the family together at summertime national conventions sometimes clashed with events at home that were more important to Siobhan.
Luckily, my husband—a wonderful, nurturing parent—has a flexible job, allowing him to manage Siobhan’s life and social activities. With personalities that complement each other, they have a comfortable, loving relationship. Siobhan, who plays softball year round and trains younger players, has the best bat, cleats, and gloves we can afford and a top-rate batting coach.
My sporadic attempts to coax Siobhan back to dance class were not successful. Like most working mothers, I have bouts of guilt about the limited amount of time we shared while she was growing up. But Siobhan brought a quality to my time that dance could not. Having such a strong-willed, focused daughter flips my world upside down. She has taught me that there is infinite value to a day spent in a lawn chair and that thousands of people live happy, healthy, and interesting lives that contain no dance at all. I am grateful to have seen so much of the world outside the dance studio through her eyes.
Still, I often wondered what she thought about it all. So I sent her a questionnaire, though I wasn’t sure I wanted to know her answers. As it happens, I had nothing to worry about. And one thing is clear: I made the right decision in not forcing her down a path she wasn’t inclined to take.
What is the hardest thing about being the non-dancing daughter of a dance teacher?
My mother tends to apply dance terminology to my sports life. She always tells me to work hard in “class” (ball practice), do my best at “auditions” (tryouts) and wishes me good luck at my “competitions” (tournaments). She asks me to make sure I have my “costume” ready when she knows it is my uniform!
What’s good about it?
By playing sports, I bring something new to the family. And my dad can feel like a “normal” father. At a softball tournament, he helps drag my equipment bag and cooler full of Gatorade instead of hairspray, costume bags, and Caboodles.
What are your memories of being a young dancer?
I remember an awesome trip when I performed at Disney World; a regional dance competition where I stayed with friends at a hotel; interview practice for a title competition; and many, many, many car rides. I also remember all the fun with friends in class, dancing to songs like “Disco Inferno” and “Deep in the Heart of Texas.”
What does recital and competition season mean to you?
Recital season means total chaos at home. Costumes and boxes everywhere, papers stacked on papers, music and dancing in the living room, and constant projects to complete. Competition season means chaotic weeks but calmer weekends when Mom goes out of town to judge, and maybe some extra spending money. (So it’s not all bad.)
Are people surprised that you don’t dance? What are your reasons?
Yes! Dance world people who know me as Diane Gudat’s daughter consider it a sin that I do not dance. As for my personal reason, I am not the dancer type. People I know now find it very funny that I used to dance.
Do you have any “outsider” impressions of the dance world?
Sports people are always competitive, yet dance people often work for their own satisfaction. They are artists first, competitors second.
How is your house different from your friends’ houses?
My friends come over when they need glitter, fabric, a mom who can sew, French braids, fake eyelashes, a costume for Halloween or spirit week, puffy paint, Sharpies, or stickers. They never understand why all of this stuff sits permanently on our kitchen table, along with thousands of papers and costume catalogs.
Do you think your life is better or worse for having a dance-teacher mom?
It’s better, more interesting. I may not be able to ask for help on my chemistry homework like kids whose parents are chemists, and my mom and sister may not really understand sports, but life is sure out of the ordinary.
When you were dancing, did you ever feel different?
Yes, I remember being yelled at in dance class or on the car ride home because I was talking. But if I wanted to work on something in the studio in our garage, Mom would help me. That’s how I received some of my favorite solos.
Do you sometimes wish your mom and sister were in another line of work?
No, it’s what they love, so why change it if they’re happy? Sure, they may have some personality quirks no one but a dancer can understand, but that’s half the fun.
Are your mom’s and sister’s friends different?
My mom’s dance friends are the strangest yet funniest people I have ever met. The dance world is something you are drawn to—like a person who spends his entire life in a laboratory. That person would use weird scientific terms, make dorky jokes about the Greek alphabet, and solve ridiculous math problems in his head. Dance people are the same, except they use French terms, make jokes about dancers and songs, and can figure out 32 counts of ridiculous tap choreography in 10 seconds.
How did growing up with dance shape your future?
When I was 3, I saw myself becoming a dance teacher. That’s changed, but I still love children and want to work as a physical trainer for kids—which is like being a dance teacher, but with less glitter.