Parents talk about the realities and rewards of the competition experience
By Julie Holt Lucia
What is so compelling about dance competitions? There are probably as many answers to this question as there are competitions. For most studio owners and dance teachers, the answer is simple: the performance opportunities. We love passing along to our students the excitement of performing in a competitive environment, and we’re as energized by the learning process as we are by the results.
But what about our students’ parents? What do real dance moms and dads think about having their children participate, and how has the competition experience changed their lives?
Five dance parents open up to Dance Studio Life about their experiences with dance competitions—including their sacrifices along the way, their opinions on how competitions can improve, and their thoughts about what their families have gained.
“When Christine started competing, we just wanted the experience to be fun . . . It has since taught both of my daughters discipline, pride, and diligence.” —Staci Caulk
For most families the decision to compete is an easy one, and it has a lot to do with how their dance studios approach competitions. For Vicki Wade, whose son, Jonathan, 13, dances with Dance Unlimited in Miami, Florida, the decision to compete came from her trust in the studio’s director and founder, Danie Beck, who is now retired. Jonathan began dancing when his parents looked for new ways to support his love of theater and were referred by friends to Dance Unlimited. Beck’s professionalism and willingness to give Jonathan a scholarship helped convince Wade that dance would be great for her son. An offer by Beck to have Jonathan compete soon followed, and since the initial commitment was minimal (attending only one competition), the family was able to ease into the process.
“We thought it would be fun, and he seemed eager and excited to compete,” Wade says of Jonathan’s first experience. “We were new to the world of competitive dance, so we were totally clueless about all that it entailed. Of course, after that first competition, our son was hooked.”
Staci Caulk, whose two daughters, Christine, 14, and Jessica, 11, both dance at Innovative Dance in Wilsonville, Ohio, gives credit to studio owner and director Molly Kaleikilo for offering her girls the right kind of competition opportunities with the right kind of teaching philosophy.
“She believes in striving for excellence while allowing kids to be kids,” Caulk says of Kaleikilo. “When Christine started competing, we just wanted the experience to be fun and see if this was something that she really wanted to do. It has since taught both of my daughters discipline, pride, and diligence.”
Even though the time and financial commitment has grown for Caulk as her daughters take on more dance classes, she believes that the decision to compete was the right one.
Competition sounded great to Susan Schneider too, but it took her daughter Crystal, now 15, a couple of years to warm up to the idea. Crystal, who dances with Tonawanda Dance Arts in Tonawanda, New York, was asked to be a part of the competition team at age 10. Although she wanted to participate, she decided to wait because she was worried about making the extra commitment and missing out on time with her friends and family. At age 12 she decided to go for it, and she has been competing ever since.
“We were thrilled that she was ready,” says Schneider, explaining that her daughter has matured a lot since joining the team—maturity that shows at home as well as at dance.
The value of dance competitions, according to these parents, rests primarily in the high standards for discipline and commitment set by their dance schools. They agree that the preparations for competitions (and the competition environment itself) offer their children opportunities to fulfill those high standards—and to experience the satisfaction of hard work paying off, along with the challenges and exhilaration of performance. In a positive, supportive environment, positive results abound, no matter the dancer’s age or experience level.
Dave Robison has seen his three oldest children achieve his expectations and more. Sons Charles, 28, and Henry, 18, and daughter, Grace, 17, formerly trained or currently train at Debra Collier’s School of Dance in Warsaw, Indiana. Robison believed his children would experience great things by participating in dance competitions; he thought they would gain confidence, stage presence, maturity, and teamwork skills. The results were even more rewarding: Charles is pursuing a degree in dance performance at the University of Minnesota (on scholarship), Henry is considering pre-law for his college major, and Grace aspires to be a professional dancer and studio owner.
“[Competing] is a wonderful character-building experience,” Robison says, highlighting perseverance as one of the best qualities his kids have learned over the years.
Amy Stoeckly’s daughter, Kate, may only be 8 years old, but Stoeckly says she’s noticed big changes since Kate started competing two years ago.
“She gained such confidence in herself as a dancer and a person,” Stoeckly says. Kate even started choreographing routines for her friends at recess. Her confidence skyrocketed so much that she even chose to participate—by performing a solo—in a community talent show, sailing past the audition round. Even during that first competition, Kate and the rest of the 6- to 7-year-olds were expected to abide by the studio’s high standards for behavior and performance. And Kate’s sportsmanship and leadership skills only continue to thrive.
“Backstage, she hangs out with all of the others she is competing with, and they all wish each other the best before they go on,” says Stoeckly. “She also has learned to help out backstage with the younger dancers.” Her daughter has become a better dancer through her competition experiences, Stoeckly says. But equally important, she’s also become a better friend.
Time, money, and sacrifices
But high expectations alone are not enough to guarantee great results; dance teachers and parents alike know that achievement in the world of dance competitions requires a lot of day-to-day work. The commitments for some parents can seem endless—extra classes and rehearsals, travel requirements, additional expenses, working around siblings’ schedules—not to mention the long event days. The weight of those obligations can feel different to different families, but one thing remains the same: parents believe that their investments and sacrifices are worthwhile when they see their children succeed.
At Tonawanda Dance Arts, Susan Schneider usually feels well prepared with regard to the requirements surrounding her daughter’s competitions. “We always know about the expense and time commitment in advance,” she says. “Our studio does a lot of fund-raising, and that helps defray the cost.”
Crystal also has a job assisting with dance classes, a first job experience that allows her to contribute to competition costs as well. Schneider says the family’s sacrifices have been minimal, since they usually try to turn dance competition weekends into extra family time with her husband and son. She has also adapted to frequent carpooling; the parents of the dancers on Crystal’s team help each other out with transportation whenever needed, and Schneider has yet to miss any of her son’s activities because of a dance event.
For the Stoeckly family, sacrifices have been minimal so far since Kate is still young and her additional commitments for dance are few. Even though expenses have been manageable, Stoeckly says that she and her husband must stay on top of the costs.
“My husband and I both work in school districts,” Stoeckly says, “so coaching and any extra income opportunities that come our way go to support [Kate’s] dance.”
Vicki Wade, on the other hand, concedes that she can feel overwhelmed at times with the demands of Jonathan’s competitions.
“Although we try to budget in advance for upcoming competitions, that doesn’t always work out so well,” Wade explains. “It depends on how many competitions, classes, and workshops our son takes, plus the cost of travel, meals, gas, and vehicle maintenance.” Wade’s family makes numerous sacrifices for Jonathan: she uses vacation days to shuttle him to events, her husband sometimes takes on odd jobs to help with extra expenses, and her daughter has had to forgo involvement in conflicting extracurricular activities.
“At some point, each one of us has made sacrifices so Jonathan could honor his commitment to his dance team and the studio,” Wade says. “However, our family is all about that—supporting one another as we work to achieve our goals and realize our dreams.”
Although there are times when the demands of dance competitions can feel intrusive on the family, Wade points out that Jonathan has had his share of making sacrifices for other family members too. For example, because his parents feel that spending the holidays as a family is important, Jonathan has never participated in a competition/convention that happens around Thanksgiving.
All of these parents agree that having their children participate in dance competitions yields numerous benefits. And all of them praised their own studios for having teams that value good judgment and respect for both performers and audiences when it comes to costumes, music, and dance moves. But many parents expressed concern about the inappropriateness of other studios’ teams and how it affects competitions overall.
Staci Caulk, whose two daughters attend several competitions per year (sometimes including nationals) feels strongly about the issue of appropriateness at competitions. “The one thing I would change about dance competitions is that they hold true to their rules and reinforce them without hesitation,” she says. “Many times we have been in the audience when a dance was inappropriate, and at awards it is given a high score and/or a judge’s choice award.” She would like to see rules enacted (or enforced) that would bar judges from scoring (in effect, disqualifying) teams that use inappropriate music, costumes, or moves.
The same frustrations are echoed by Dave Robison, who says he wishes dance competitions would insist on “family-appropriate” costumes for all participating groups. His daughter’s team is called Class Act Dance Troupe, and he’s proud to say that the dancers live up to their name and wear it well.
Robison wishes the same could be said about all the teams he has seen over the many years his children have competed. “Sometimes even very young dancers look like ladies of the street,” he says. “I stopped asking my elderly parents to attend one of the competitions because of the inappropriate costumes and some of the dance moves being performed.” (He says his studio has since stopped competing at that event because it no longer fit their “class act” image.)
The biggest gains
For these parents, the success their children achieve through dance competitions isn’t measured by the number of prizes they win, or by the number of pirouettes they can perform. They all view success in more meaningful ways, such as when they see their children light up during a performance, or ace a test at school, or make new friends. They know in those moments that their children have won something worth more than any trophy.
“For me as a mom,” says Amy Stoeckly, “I have gained a daughter who tries her best, is relentless in refining her dance skills, and is a good friend to others.”
Vicki Wade voices a similar idea, saying, “Dance is a discipline, and the values and positive habits [my son] acquires through his time spent at the studio and competitions will benefit him throughout his life. The friendships and relationships we each have formed will last a lifetime—and that, as the saying goes, is priceless.”
Dave Robison says that the most rewarding part for him is the joy of watching his children develop important life skills, and then seeing them carrying those skills throughout their lives regardless of the professions they choose.
With outcomes and experiences like these, it’s easy to see why these parents would encourage other families to get involved. Their advice? Have a positive attitude and know what you’re getting into.
Competition, of course, requires a big commitment from the children, Caulk points out, “but the parents have to be 100 percent committed as well. I would encourage others [to compete] if it was right for them and they were in it for the right reasons.”
“I would encourage others to give it a try,” agrees Wade. “It’s not for everyone, but they just might discover, as we did, that the benefits far outweigh the costs, time commitment, and sacrifices.”
Susan Schneider sums up the sentiment: “You must approach it as a positive experience. It’s not all about winning; it’s about having fun and enjoying what you do.”
Dance Masters of America is publically disassociating itself from Abby Lee Miller, the infamous dance teacher from the Lifetime series Dance Moms, a reality show known for its trophy-obsessed teachers and scheming stage mothers.
In the 2012 spring newsletter emailed to DMA members this week, Phyllis R. Guy, DMA national president, makes the following statement:
“To date, Dance Masters of America has not taken a public stand on the Dance Moms reality show. We had hoped the show would just fade away. As many of you know, the Lifetime video crew appeared at our Orlando National Convention and were immediately turned away and refused any filming of our convention workshops or competitions. Parents and students attending the convention were immediately notified and were discouraged from any participation with this program. DMA feels this is a total misrepresentation of our dance educators and their students and is detrimental to the dance profession.
“Abby Lee Miller is no longer a member of Dance Members of America. Her membership was terminated through her chapter. Quality dance education is very important to each of us and our students and our goal is to provide the best dance education in the most loving atmosphere.”
The Lifetime television network has picked up six hour-long episodes of a Dance Moms spin-off titled Dance Moms: Miami that will go behind the scenes at the Miami-based Stars Dance Studio, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
The school is owned by renowned contemporary dance instructors Victor Smalley and Angel Armas. The New York Post reports that TV dance fans might recognize Smalley from his stint as a contestant on Season 6 of Fox’s So You Think You Can Dance. (He was eliminated midway through the season.)
“Dance Moms quickly became a stand-out hit for Lifetime last year that we knew would be perfect to build out and franchise into other series,” said Lifetime Networks general manager Nancy Dubuc, referring to a series that recently returned for its second season with 2.5 million total viewers tuning in. With a median audience age of 37, Dance Moms is Lifetime’s youngest-skewing series. The show has stirred controversy for its depiction of conniving moms and ruthless competition.
To see the story, visit http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/dance-moms-spin-off-miami-lifetime-282750.
Lifetime’s Dance Moms will begin its new season January 10 at 9pm, and fans will be relieved to know no one has matured. The Pittsburg Post-Gazette TV writer Rob Owen reports that dance instructor Abby Lee Miller hasn’t improved her listening skills or had a makeover of her abrasive personality. The show is as much a train wreck as it was in its first season.
Filmed largely at a Penn Hills dance studio, Dance Moms has a few new Pittsburgh beauty shots, but the most time is still spent in the claustrophobic viewing booth at Miller’s dance company. “Perfection is our goal. Excellence will be tolerated,” says one sign on a wall there.
In an effort to stir the pot, the producers have Miller stage auditions for a new dancer, but they’re really auditions for a new dance mom. The winning mom is Jill, who gets called up with daughter Kendal. Jill buddies up with Melissa, the dance mom most in thrall of Miller’s teaching style. “You save those tears for your pillow when you’re in your room at home!” Miller yells at one dance student.
The producers behind the Lifetime reality TV show Dance Moms have been banned from one of the biggest children’s dance competitions in the country after event organizers complained about the way the event was portrayed on the show last year, according to TMZ.
TMZ spoke with StarQuest associate producer Michael Ian Cedar, who said producers did not air the true results of the competition and edited the footage in a way that misled viewers into believing certain dancers were competing against each other, when in fact they were not.
Cedar also told TMZ that Moms producers misled him into thinking the show was about young girls in the competitive dancing world—not about their pushy, sometimes obnoxious mothers. He said he had rejected Moms producers’ request for permission to feature a StarQuest event on Season 2.
TMZ quoted Moms producer Jeff Collins as calling Cedar’s editing allegations “nonsense” and saying, “We’re sorry he feels misled. We’d love to work with StarQuest again.”
Collins also told TMZ the show has not had any problems with any of the other competitions featured on Dance Moms, claiming the show has been welcomed back for Season 2 by every organization except StarQuest.
To see the original story, visit http://www.tmz.com/2011/10/17/dance-moms-lifetime-reality-show-starquest-banned/?adid=recentlyupdatedstories#.TqV1gdRzOVo.
The buzz was immediate for Dance Moms, the reality-TV show on Lifetime featuring Pennsylvania studio owner Abby Lee Miller—but it wasn’t the good kind. On July 15, Dance Studio Life publisher Rhee Gold posted this on the magazine’s Facebook page:
Abby Lee Miller has sold out herself and the dance profession. Her reality is not the reality for 99 percent of dance school owners (or the parents). Shame on all the people who created this farce—you are doing harm to the dance field and community. The moms look like fools sacrificing everything to make their children winners and allowing their children and themselves to be abused. This show is a perfect example of what not to be as a teacher, school owner, or parent.
And here’s a sampling of what people in the dance community said in response. (Some responses have been edited for length.)
- I was shaking because I was so angry. Dance should be fun; it doesn’t mean you’re compromising your talent or technique. We need this off TV!
- I somewhat disagree that she doesn’t represent the majority of studios. It’s harder and harder to find studios at competitions that act like dance is the most important part and not the tricks/costumes.
- I was appalled. I don’t know who was worse, the coach or the moms. I pray that people who are not in the dance field don’t think this is what being a dance teacher is. It’s offensive to educators who work hard to provide quality dance education. My heart was breaking for those sobbing 8- and 9-year-olds. No one, especially children, should be treated like they were. Lifetime should be ashamed to air a show like this.
- Learn a dance in a week and then compete? Interesting to watch only because I feel so much better about the way I run my dance studio. It’s not all about winning; it’s learning the art form of dance. Why does she have to be harsh to get the dancers to produce wonderful routines? She says she loves her career, but [she] looks miserable.
- I came away with gratitude that the teachers and parents I associate with understand that teaching dance isn’t all about perfecting athletic steps and pasting on a performance face. It is developing respect for yourself, your peers, and your art form. Thank you to all the wonderful teachers whose [students] shine brighter because you lit a passion in their souls!
- I cannot imagine that any parents who see that show will decide that is the studio for their daughter. She may produce winners, but at what price?
- Funny, after 21 years of owning a studio, I don’t recall having to go to a bar and reprimand any dance parents.
- I’m so disappointed that any dance instructor would agree to show the dance profession in such a bad light. And that parents would put their children and themselves through that kind of torture—for what? Big plastic trophies! It’s just sad.
- Parents and students complaining about a studio and the instructors but staying there because they are winning is something we see in our area. Either stop complaining or change studios.
- As a competition coordinator and dance mom, I am absolutely disgusted. This is not my reality at all! I have never seen anyone treat people or kids that way! I am horrified!
- If I ever become that type of teacher, just shoot me.
And Rhee responds: All of you make me proud to be part of the dance community that is not featured on national TV. Many posts say that the show is scripted, as though that would make it right. Dance Moms probably is scripted, but that doesn’t mean being part of it is acceptable. Once you know that your actions will hurt others, you jump ship. Dance is a soul thing first and foremost, an art form that must be respected. As a teacher/mentor, your priority has to be about what is right for your dancers (mentally and physically) and the dance community in general. Your reputation is a reflection on every other teacher in the field. That’s what you call responsibility for the greater good.
Lifetime has renewed its reality TV series Dance Moms for a second season, ordering 13 new episodes featuring tough-guy dance instructor Abby Lee Miller, her students, and their cat-fighting mothers, the network announced this week.
Dance Moms will air its season finale on October 5 at 10pm (ET/PT). Over the past four weeks, the show has averaged 1.6 million total viewers (up 62 percent from its debut week). With a median viewer age of 38, Dance Moms is Lifetime’s youngest-skewing original program.
The series is centered on Miller, who runs her school with an iron tap shoe while also dealing with impassioned mothers who go to great lengths to help their children’s dreams come true. The show’s combative, high-pressure atmosphere has raised eyebrows in the dance community (see “Thinking Out Loud: Dance Moms Sells Out Dance Education” in the October Dance Studio Life).
For more news, visit http://www.mylifetime.com/shows/dance-moms.