Advice From Dance Moms to Dance Moms

At Ballet Shoes & Bobby Pins, we often get questions from parents who are at a crossroads. Their daughter or son has been taking dance for awhile, and it's time to make a choice: "How serious are we going to take this dance thing?"

Decisions must be made. Pre-professional dance training, and competition dance teams, are a large time and financial investment. There will be hours and hours of classes, rehearsals and traveling. There will be tuition, travel expenses, competition fees and costumes. Your child will be dealing with the stress of handling school work and dance work.

Questions must be answered: Is your child ready? Is it too much? If you don't allow them to do the pre-professional or competition track, are you holding them back? Is it too hard? Is your child emotionally able to handle it? Will they still perform well at school?

So Ballet Shoes & Bobby Pins sat down with some moms who have been in this exact spot. And all they all admitted one thing: It's a stressful place to be in!

Dance moms Gina (mother to Robbie Downey, or @balletbabble), Tori (mother to @real_world_ballerina), and Angela (mother to Sheena Jeffers, content creator for Ballet Shoes & Bobby Pins, @balletbobbypins) talk about their experiences at the "dance crossroads."

So here it is, straight from dance moms: Advice from the hearts and minds of moms who have been exactly where you are.

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Photo: Liza Minnelli as a child (daughter of Judy Garland & Vincent Minnelli). She went on (and is one of the few artists) to win four Tony Awards, an Oscar, an Emmy Award, two Golden Globes, and a Grammy Legend Award.

How did you know your child was "good enough" to invest the money?

@balletbabble's Mom: As a parent you do often wonder! Most of us question it… usually around the time it starts getting really time consuming and expensive. I like how you phrased the question because dance IS for everyone but how do you know when you should keep it recreational or really start investing towards your child's future as professional dancer? For Robbie, it came down to summer intensive auditions. They are a good indicator of where your child is compared to their peers. Also, feedback from very qualified teachers. But even teachers have made mistakes in deciding who they think will make it. Also, it doesn't hurt to know what you yourself are looking at technique wise. I have actually learned A LOT about ballet since Robbie was 4. Try to look at your child objectively. Also, don't expect to know at age 10. It never hurts to just ask, probably without the child present. Try to find an unbiased third party. Go to workshops and master classes. A lot of ballet comes down to physical attributes and facility which is why it can be such a cruel profession to choose. Teachers do not often gush all over their ballet students. So often parents feel in the dark. Just ask for their honest opinion and remember not everyone has to dance to go pro. It can be just for fun.

@real_world_ballerina's Mom: In my daughter's case, I just noticed that from an early age she had a love of being on stage and performing for people. It was different in the sense that she preferred structure and rules along with a deep feeling of story telling through music. This is why I think she identified with ballet from an early age. She was so dedicated, driven and expressive that her instructors would always gravitate to her and single her out. I listened and and asked direct questions to her instructors , not afraid of the answers, good or bad. That's how I knew that this was something that would benefit her on many levels.

@balletbobbypins' Mom: My daughter consistently was chosen to be in the front of the group for others to follow. She was one of the few selected to do small groups over and over again. It was evident that she was improving with each class she took. She had the potential and the desire.

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Photo: @real_world_ballerina and her mom

How did you decide to allow your child to do a competition / pre-professional school?

@balletbabble's Mom: We left the competition decision up to her coach, Maxim Tchernychev. He is not a teacher that will just enter anyone and he has very realistic expectations about their first time competing. Robbie trusted him, and waited until she was 13 for her first YAGP, which was a great experience. I actually tested the waters and asked her if she wanted to enter younger with someone else and she refused. I was proud of her. You will find a lot of serious dancers are very logical and level headed from a young age. They know what they need better than you do sometimes. It's almost like a calling with these kids… as cheesy and over the top as that sounds. They will tell you, "I need this teacher. I need this studio." And they will leave their friends. While we are not really focused on the competition circuit we understand the personal growth she will get by participating in them. To enter too early is just a waste of money and you don't want to present yourself too soon. No on should feel rushed to get into them or even pressured to do them at all. But I do think it helps kids prepare for a career in dance. If finances are an issue, skip the finals and stick to your regional competition until your child is looking for a specific contract or scholarship.

@real_world_ballerina's Mom: For many years of her early training I was a single mother, and couldn't afford a full-time schedule for her. But I made sure she was in the best school in our area with amazing instructors, consistently going to her classes so her technique was formed from an early age. After I remarried, it was an easy decision. One we were very grateful for! We enrolled her full-time, and it just blossomed from there. But I am so thankful for those early years of good, solid training, even if it was only part time. It made all the difference.

@balletbobbypins' Mom: Her teacher encouraged her. The teacher told me and I quote, “I could get your daughter on Broadway WITHOUT taking her clothes off." While that was said jokingly, we knew it meant she saw potential.

How did you approach that kind of financial commitment / time commitment with your child?

@balletbabble's Mom: There is no approach! At least not for me. I have always been a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of person and I feel where there is a will there is a way. To me it was the same as having a baby. You are never ready for something that major. You can't wait for everything to be perfect you just have to do it. So we just jumped in and started doing. It is a progression over time. We had no idea how time consuming and expensive it could get. But here we are. Both kids understand we have to give up other things to make it happen. Also, it just feels right. I think you just know. I've always trusted my intuition and my gut and it has never felt questionable. I'm pretty internet savvy and we have found some creative ways to make a few bucks here and there to go towards her training. In that same process, we are documenting the progression. We have been doing that for four years and will continue to run her YouTube channel, MyDanceTv, for as long as possible. She is definitely not doing it to impress anyone. Usually I upload stuff and she thinks she looks terrible =) But it has inspired so many kids I can't even tell you. That alone right there is worth it. It will be fun to look back on and it pays for pointe shoes here and there! It's actually a lot of work but I can do it late at night. I have been very privileged to have access inside rehearsals, class and private lessons. So, as a bonus, I have incorporated my artistic side into this insane schedule. I love taking photos and we love sharing everything with everyone!

@real_world_ballerina's Mom: I won't say that it has been easy. We would not be categorized as "well off." We take a "this is what our child needs" approach. We have a younger son as well. So we decided on a more traditional lifestyle. I stay home with my kids and my husband works. This is what works for us. There is a huge time commitment involved in the ballet world. Balancing her school with ballet every day, privates, rehearsals, auditions, shows, summer intensives every year, competitions, ballet shoes and clothes! It's a lot of driving, and sewing, not to mention the emotional support that a child needs to perform at this level.

@balletbobbypins' Mom: It was difficult. I could not afford it; my husband did not support it and thought it was a waste of money. He thought the teacher was just after money. The time commitment was difficult as well since I had a younger child. Her poor brother had to spend a lot of time waiting for her to get out of dance. I spent many hours in the car trying to entertain him and sleeping while she was in class.

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Photo: @balletbobbypins' and her mom

What thought process did you go through to arrive at a decision?

@balletbabble's Mom: The way I justify it is this, Robbie does very well in school but she does not like school. All she wants to do is dance. Period. So really, it's like paying for college but sooner than you thought you would have to. We went and saw the movie "First Position." Someone asked the director (Bess Kargman) a question afterwards. I can't recall the question but the answer made perfect sense.

She said something like this: "If your child can even imagine doing something else, this probably isn't for them. Ballet is a very, very difficult path. If they think there is anything else they might want to do, they should go do it." Bess has a great insight to the real world of ballet. It's hardcore, but it's honest. -Gina

Robbie cannot see herself doing anything else. She has known since she was 10, maybe as early as 7. If for some reason she does not obtain the job she wants, she would be in love with teaching 5 year olds ballet. She just loves ballet and if you told her right now that you saw her future and it was not in a company, she would not quit. I know she will teach or direct someday. Basically knowing this helped me decide that no matter what this is what she wants to do. It isn't based on any outcome or being the center of attention. It's a genuine love for ballet. So I am going to support her 100%.

@real_world_ballerina's Mom: It sounds odd maybe to some people, and not so odd to others, but we pray a lot! We ask God to provide what we need for ourselves and our children. And to give us more, to help others around us who are in need. He always does.

@balletbobbypins' Mom: She was good and she loved it. It was so exciting to see her grow and improve. The better she got, the more I wanted to keep her in it. I kind of got caught up in the process and it’s hard to get out. Part of my thought process was that if I had to “force” her to go to dance, I would not have done it. When she started getting a little “sassy” to her mom at competitive events, I told her she would not continue to compete. It was not for ME. It was not MY DREAM that I was living out in my child which is true of many parents. She loved it. She ate, drank and slept dance... and still does!

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Photo: @balletbabble with her mom and sister

What was difficult about this decision?

@balletbabble's Mom: It actually was not difficult at all. I have always put my kids first and it comes very natural to me and I assume to most parents. There has been a lot of self sacrifice but if you aren't doing that for your kids, whatever path they are on, you need to get with the program. If your kid is asking you to let them try ballet. Let them try it! We get so many emails from kids that say their parents won't support them or let them take class.

@real_world_ballerina's Mom: Stress does creep up now and then. Especially when you take in to account that most kids in any high performing sport or art are usually high performing students as well. These kids are usually very creative and talented, they have a lot of different interests, but usually not a big social life outside of the ballet studio to express them. That can help them on stage, but at home it can sometimes explode or implodes depending on the kid. That's a lot of pressure. There have been times when you have to sit them down to make sure they know that you, as parents, are not pressuring them to perform; that they can quit at any time. It's not about the money, it's about their well being and fulfilling their dream IF that is their desire. We have to remember that they are still just children, even though they seem more mature with all the daily pressures and responsibilities they handle. After all, if they don't love it, then essentially it's a job! Who wants to be working a 9 to 5 from that age to retirement!

@balletbobbypins' Mom: 1) Coming up with the money. I did a lot of sacrificing. 2) The time commitment. Her schedule was my schedule. 3) Having a second child to drag along and later have to juggle his activities too. 4) Not having any time for myself.

What helped with the decision?

@balletbabble's Mom: The rest of the family is supportive. I know sometimes they think, "Is this REALLY necessary?" But they are starting to see now that she is entering her mid-teens that she is on the right path. We all support her. She's not just a little girl in a tutu anymore. She's growing into a real dancer. The future looks promising. She is happy. We all want her to be happy. Having family tell you that you are nuts all the time would be very difficult. It is too bad that we get such a bad reputation as dance moms and dads. I think I am pretty logical. I do look for the best studio, the best teacher, etc. but really why wouldn't you? Also, the fact that she is a very dedicated, hard worker helped with the decision process. I would not be sacrificing everything if I did not see her taking it seriously. She is not a slacker or a quitter. She always keeps her chin up even when she doesn't get what she wants or thinks she deserves.

@real_world_ballerina's Mom: It helped to approach this with getting completely involved, that is, falling in love with the art of ballet! My daughter has taught me so much about her passion and I always try to be HER student in that department. We come together as a family, a big blended family, and we love to support her and her friends and ballet contemporaries. It's fun to see their accomplishments and goals reached. Ballet is everywhere now but it's a small world at the same time.

@balletbobbypins' Mom: Just seeing the excitement of watching her grow and improve. Also, her grandparents pitched in with some financial help and with babysitting her brother.

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Photo: Little @balletbobbypins

Did you ever have a moment where you felt "This is right. This was the right decision"?

@balletbabble's Mom: Not yet. I'm a little scared that now Robbie's 10-year-old sister is equally obsessed. And I certainly have broadened her horizons. She has ice skated, been national champion in gymnastics, she surfs, she has taken guitar, violin, rhythmic gymnastics, cirque, probably other things. I never wanted her to feel forced into ballet because we were at the studio all the time. But I did encourage her to stay in class because we were there anyway and it is good for you even if you don't want a career.

@real_world_ballerina's Mom: YES, when I realized that she was becoming such a well rounded person. She is able to maintain high levels at school, help her community, explore her creative comedic side with "REAL WORLD BALLERINA" and grow in her relationship with God, all while never stopping her constant drive for personal and pre-professional goals in ballet, even though she has sacrificed so much of the usual childhood and teenage social life. I don't think you can put a price on that.

@balletbobbypins' Mom: Yes. You'll feel it.

When you were at a competition or recital and felt the “rush” of how much she has grown, and how beautiful a dancer she is, tears come to your eyes and you think, “this is worth all the money and time.” You are so proud. -Angela

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Photo: @balletbabble and mom

What would you tell parents who are not currently in the competition or pre-professional dance world right now, about that dance world?

@balletbabble's Mom: Don't get too sucked into all that dance world stuff. What is really important is their training. If your child wants a shot at joining a big company someday, keep them focused on the training and find a good teacher and a good program. They need a solid base. Use competitions for stage time and scholarships but don't let their REAL training slide. If that starts to suffer cut back on the other stuff. As for pre-professional dance, don't compare your child to anyone else and don't let them compare themselves to anyone else. Someone asked Robbie on YouTube if seeing people be brilliant at age 11 - like Miko Fogarty - makes her want to quit? We get what they are saying, but everyone progresses at a different rate whether it is due to raw talent and ability or extra resources (like money or studio time). Just because you are not amazing at 11 or even 13 does not mean you won't be amazing at 17 or 18. Just don't let them do that to themselves. It is unhealthy and someone else's progression is no reflection on what your child is capable of. There is nothing wrong with slow and steady. It doesn't go by age and you can not rush ballet. Also, if you find a good teacher let them do their job and butt out. You will know when it is time to raise questions. And sometimes you need to. But in general butt out.

@real_world_ballerina's Mom: I would say, don't get caught up in the super competitive types, number one. All kids grow at their own pace and have different strengths. Your child's drive, consistency and passion is most important. Find a good classical ballet teacher and let them BE the teacher. Give your child some space, (i.e. try not to be a controlling stage mom), but do learn from other moms who are a little further down the road then you are. PLEASE take care of your child's body. Those feet hurt even if they say they are fine. I always forced my daughter, (yes, I preformed these treatments on her myself) to take Epsom salt foot baths, ice baths, foot massages and use the best footwear, ballet and street wear. ALWAYS practice good nutrition (they forget to eat the right types of food, though they are always hungry), and this is all to PREVENT injury. Make sure they are given proper warm up time before class.

Remind your child that their body does not know the difference between being nervous or being excited. So before they go on stage that feeling is probably just excitement! -Tori

@balletbobbypins' Mom: It's expensive. It's time consuming. It's very competitive. The dance world doesn’t play around, and it’s not gentle with your child’s feelings. I’ve already told you about my daughter’s skills and talent, but in spite of that, she was rejected many times, too. She would be devastated, broken hearted. I wanted to take away her pain, but couldn’t. The world gave her a real dose of reality.

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Photo: @balletbobbypins' and mom after a performance

What advice do you have for parents currently in this predicament?

@balletbabble's Mom: Pray that you win the lottery and try to stay objective. I think I do a pretty good job in identifying Robbie's strengths and weaknesses. I have tried to remain very realistic and not be one of those parents that thinks their kid is this prodigy that is better than anyone else. She is getting good but she works her tail off for that. Promote a good work ethic and don't accept any attitudes or diva behavior. Robbie is a very level headed kid and she knows she has to work hard, maybe harder than other people, to get where she wants to go. Also, don't forget to let them have regular kid fun. Sleepovers, beach time, mall time, etc. Their whole life will become about dance and most of their friends are dancers but they still do normal kid, fun things. Usually if Robbie gets hurt it is from doing something crazy with her friends. As far as money… creative financing is key! We raise money with Robbie's YouTube channel. We sell sweatshirts. We look for sponsors. We are really creative about it and it is time consuming but every bit helps. We have a long way to go to ever call it "affordable" but we will keep going.

@real_world_ballerina's Mom: Relax and enjoy the music, watching ballet is like therapy.

@balletbobbypins' Mom: First, evaluate your child’s interest. If it is more important to YOU than to your child, don’t do it. If you feel your child has potential (and we all think our children are great) and other people and teachers are telling you the same thing, then think about it. It is important to have your spouse’s support because you are going to need the help in many ways.

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Photo: @balletbabble and mom

How did your decision affect your life and your child's?

@balletbabble's Mom: It affects everything. It becomes the center of the universe and they are totally reliant on you for rides to and from the studio and rehearsals. The events just blob together. School and life sort of gets mashed in wherever it can and homeschooling is the logical option if you want them to be able to sleep ever. So it affects your work hours, which affects which jobs you can take, which affects your income to pay for it all. I am often trying to be two places at once. We cut out a lot of things like shopping sprees, vacations, movies, hair and nail salons. We just can't do it. Not if she wants to dance at this level. One thing I won't cut is good, healthy food. We buy everything organic, if possible. It is expensive and the girls eat a lot but you can't cut corners on stuff like that. I don't know how Robbie would say it has affected her life. I know that so far she has no regrets. I think she loves being a dancer. They are a breed of their own in a good way. Kyla, has been raised in a studio but she has the life! I do not think in any way shape or form she feels slighted. Sometimes she gets mad at me because she thinks I'm not backing her in the same way, and I try to explain that I just don't want her to feel pushed into it because Robbie does it. She can be very fickle and frankly picks things up quickly and is rather athletic. So I wanted her to explore other things. I can tell now that there is a genuine draw to ballet and I think she will excel at it and be amazing in her own unique way. It will be fun to see the differences between the two. But they are both free to pursue something else anytime they want to. This is their deal. I'm just the facilitator.

@real_world_ballerina's Mom: It got us through some tough early years by giving us a common interest and fun activity. Then it became a passion and love for both of us, but in different roles. Her as the artist and myself as someone who appreciates and supports this beautiful artist. It has opened up our world to an appreciation of the fine art of classical ballet in such an intimate way, and I get to share that with my only Daughter. No matter where it leads, I will never regret one moment or one penny spent.

@balletbobbypins' Mom: My decision affected my life in that my life was devoted to my children and their schedules. I probably neglected my husband and my own well-being to some degree, but that was because I had to do it all. My child’s life was enhanced by it because she gained great experiences, training, and instruction that she would not otherwise have gotten. It did consume her childhood, though. She didn’t have time to do much of anything else, including church sometimes, which I regret. However, she is still in the dance world, teaching children, taking dance herself, and loving it.

PARENTS: What do you worry about? Leave your questions and concerns. We'll try to guide you in any way we can.

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