Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Secret Lives of Dance Teachers

There’s nothing that America loves more than to sit on their couches eating junk food and watching staged fights between insane dance teachers and their psychotic clients. The dance world has been both slaughtered and glamorized in one fell swoop; it has been embellished with lavish drama, soulless instructors, and flawless dancers. Unless you’re individually involved in the dance world, you might be tempted to believe these tall tales of grandeur. However, due to my personal experience as a dance teacher, I can definitely understand why the entertainment industry has to work to glamorize the dance world. As for real dance teachers, our story is another one entirely. And let’s just say that there’s a reason TLC doesn’t follow us around for a raw and uncut documentary on the dance industry. The real dance world is much less glamorous than what this Dance Mom loving country would like to believe.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love my job and have the best students and parents I could ever ask to work with, but living in the dance world provides plenty of opportunities to people watch and acquire some very interesting, and often humorous, insight.

Something that they never reveal on Dance Moms, or other dance-related television shows, is that every studio has That One Kid. You know what Kid I’m talking about: the one that always shows up with a snotty nose and jam on their face. The one that, even though they’re in kindergarten, still can’t form a coherent sentence…

“Miss Hannah? Feuy lourne blehn agh.”

“What, honey?”

“Feuy lourne blehn agh. AGH!!!”


It’s the kid that wanders around the room aimlessly, staring at the ceiling and running into walls while little trickles of drool soak the neck of their leotard. The one that, as soon as the sparkly costumes are tried on, gets on their hands and knees and licks all the glitter off the floor. While all the other little children are obediently going through their dance, That One Kid stares at themself in the mirror and practices different ways to wear their tutu around their face.

It’s That One Kid that who when you ask them what pliĆ© means answers, “JESUS LOVES ME CAUSE I DO SUBTRACTION!!!!”(actual real life scenario) That Kid who wears their underwear over their ballet skirt and who tries to stuff their entire tap shoe in their mouth.

I don’t know where Abbey Lee Miller hides That Kid…but I’m telling you, she must have at least one hidden somewhere.

Yeah, yeah…the competition world is super fabulous and all that jazz (no pun intended) but behind the stage (and the cameras) is another story. No producer has been courageous enough yet to brave the dressing room where dance moms are threatening to shank the other dance moms with bobby pins and sewing scissors in order to get a spot to set their stuff down. People are stealing costume pieces and the occasional snack from the unattended dressing stations. The hairspray fumes alone are enough to knock someone out. In the corner some poor dance teacher is fifteen minutes into a wrestling match with a five year old in an attempt to get fake eyelashes to stick on her tear-soggy, glitter-stained face while her mother sits on top of her to make her sit still. Girls are being taped, sprayed, poked, and prodded into costumes. Babies are crying, moms are crying, girls are crying, but most of all the dads are crying.

Now, I love competitions and one of my favorite things to do is just sit and watch routines. And by “favorite thing to do” I actually mean, “favorite thing to make fun of.” You see, when watching a show like Dance Moms, you only see a couple of the competition dances performed that weekend and the excerpts you see are phenomenal. What they don’t want you to see are the 38 routines in which all the girls are in full bird costumes or the school showcasing all of their kids in two piece costumes. They don’t want you to know about that one dance where all the girls were dressed up like giant chickens and pulled fake worms out of their butt feathers (real thing), or the dance where all the girls were in skin colored body suits with hoods that made them look like faceless Barbie dolls with surgical markings (also a real thing). They don’t want you to have to see a group of white girls with curly ponytails, jazz pants, and fake tattoos “hiphop” to bad 90’s rap. They try to protect you from the 10 minute long production of Oliver Twist which includes elevator music and giant brooms dipped in paint. I mean, WHY ARE THERE GIANT BROOMS? They intentionally hide the songs in which all of the girls are dressed like aliens complete with tin-foil cone hats wrapped in blinking lights. They try and cover up those male dancers that go on stage in shorty shorts and need (and wear) a sports bra under their shirt (yeah…that one happened too).

The dance world truly isn’t what it seems. And while it’s wonderful and I love it more than anything, it’s not for the weak of heart. But at the end of the day, even after all the snot, eyelashes, tears, bird-themed dances, and man-boobs, it’s all worth it to see the joy on their faces as they grace the stage. The real dance teachers and dance moms have the most difficult, messy, chaotic, and rewarding job there is and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.