What it’s Like To Competitively Dance

Picture Caption: I am a Hoarder. Saving it all for the baby girls!

Let’s learn about the world of children’s Competitive Dancing shall we?

Photo Caption: I still have this skirt. It was $300. Now it waits for Halloween.

My first hand insight into this crazy sport and hope anyone who is considering this “lifestyle” for their daughter/son or already has, reads this for a good laugh or cry.

Recreational dance classes just weren’t good enough for me….

I remember feeling so envious of the “Comp girls”coming back from weekend competitions: talking about shopping, swimming in the hotel pool, their medals and performances; just thinking/feeling:

ME:

So that should be me….Mom! I want to do this too!”

All summer long, I tried convincing my skeptical mother that I belonged on the Competitive team and it was so pathetic looking back:

ME: “I will look like LOSER if I don’t go competitive after four years of Rec!”

Or “I’ll only compete in ONE group so it’s cheaper!”

My poor (not literal poor – yet), single mother had two other kids to consider but I was convinced this was the way to go.

After 4 years of recreational dancing from the ages of 7-11 along with Ballet training from the age of 2 – 5 – it felt like a now or never moment.

Finally – Dance Registration Night, Fall of 1995, my mother and I walked into my dance studio and signed me up for the Competitive program.

I remember wearing one of my mothers sweaters and my hair was greasy from too much LOREAL OUTRAGEOUS hair conditioner, but I felt so high on my horse.

When we signed up for this, I committed to:

  • 2 ballet classes: technique and syllabus with an annual exam to pass my current grade (Primary to 6)

  • Jazz: the whole reason I wanted to compete. I loved Jazz class

  • Acro: acrobatics; back/front walk overs, hand stands, etc.

  • Tap: you know, with the shoes

  • Lyrical: slower movements where you “dance” to the emotion of the song

  • Pointe: self-explanatory; ballet class, you know with the shoes

Each day after school, my mother would pick me up and drive 20 minutes so I could start my first class of the night around 4 pm.

She would usually pick me up around 8:30/9 pm. This left NO time for any thing else like home work, social events or relaxing.

I literally had a full time job but I LOVED it – until the choreography of my dance numbers began and my teachers turned into “Abby” from Dance Moms.

There were a few bumps along the road:

  • Being a TIP TOE Walker my entire life, I had ruined my Achilles’ tendon to the point where I couldn’t plie like the rest of the girls. They could make full triangles when they bent their legs down into position. I could barely fit a piece of paper through mine.
  • The “Teacher’s” were all former dancers: the owner was a former Miss. Canada, Ballet teacher was an examiner for the National Ballet of Canada and my favourite was an aspiring Girl Group singer. Sadly the first two kids could be extremely controlling and mean on a personal level. They yelled like so loud if you didn’t do what they deemed “right.” This caused me a lot of anxiety and stress.
  • It’s a BUSINESS at the end of the day and if you “suck” – they have no problem telling you that because you are standing in their way of having a 1st place number vs. a 3rd place one and that’s how people make money in this business.
  • Going through puberty can be a problem: while dancing so much and so often, it literally kept me from developing, while my school friends were getting their first bras and periods, I was still shopping at NORTHERN GETAWAY (RIP). There were girls in my Dance school who DID develop and It affected costumes, so it was like the end of the world.

Within a year or so, I went from an ambitious and hopeful new competitor to a doubtful, anxious mess constantly worried about EVERYTHING.

BUT I didn’t quit….

Nope, I refused to quit because I had what we now affectionally call: “FOMO: Fear of Missing Out.”

When you sign up for this, your whole family becomes part of it in a way because your new life revolves around dance classes, competitions, costumes and how to pay for it all.

Oh and the MOM CLIQUES!

My mother was NOT a Dance Mom….she was a HOCKEY mom and it showed. She didn’t kiss the teachers asses so I could have a “solo” or a “duet,” she didn’t hang or gossip with the other moms who stayed all night with their kid at the studio.

Nope, she dropped me off with $5 for dinner and said “See ya! Grandpa is picking you up!”

UGH the DRIVING. If I was picked up from school, my minor brothers came with us and driving during rush-hour traffic to Oakville with two 7 and 5 year old boys Is like dangerous.

Cest La Vie! I didn’t want her there anyway. It shames me to admit it but she made me feel inadequate around the popular Dance Moms who were total bitches and I just didn’t want to give them any thing to talk about.u

Let’s talk about the COST for my Dance “Career:”

If you have $35,000 laying around, go for it! (1995 dollars, not 2017 so add a few zero’s)

  • If not, you can expect at minimum a $500 per month investment for fees: dance classes, competition entry fees and costumes.

  • One ballet class, which they forced me to take, was $45 per month for the class and another $100 for the annual exam they force you to take and another $100 for the costumes alone!
  • You had to commit to 4 local competitions which meant days off school, food, gas, maybe a hotel.

  • THE MAKE-UP! It had to be MAC makeup. Kits for $300 were available for purchase every year through our team so of course I needed replenishments.

Every other summer, you had to travel to places like Florida and Ocean City, Maryland for “Nationals” which is like the Christmas of the dancing world. This cost would be at least $5000 for hotel rooms, gas or flights (we always drove) and of course my brothers had to come with us.

Photo Caption: this video cost like $20 USD for a 3 minute Dance.

  • $100-$200 monthly in fast food, lunchables and beverages to sustain me while I danced for 4-5 hours per evening and 3 hours on Saturday.

  • I don’t even want to tally the gas and lost opportunity costs my mother had to bear in order for me to “realize” my dream.

“MY RETIREMENT:”

All good things must come to an end some day and after 4 years, I had had enough.

I was 14, about to enter high school in September 1998 and I just realized after receiving my new 1998-1999 Dance Schedule with 3 more classes added and a request to join the Competitive Hip Hop team was just going to kill me.

NOT IN A LITERAL SENSE….but in the following ways:

  • No Social Life: life revolved around my dance schedule and activities.
  • Lack of Dedication to Education: kind of hard to do homework when you dance all night.
  • Questionable Talent: let’s just say I was never going to be a Principal Dancer or anything with the National Ballet of Canada and this was way before “So You Think You Can Dance?”
  • Self-Esteem Issues: Who wouldn’t have any after being told to “Suck it in!” A few times by a middle-aged, retired prima ballerina who then stood on your pelvis to “turn it out?”
  • COST: it wasn’t fair to my Rep Hockey playing brother who played House League. He actually had talent. It just wasn’t worth the thousands any more.

THE AFTERMATH:

I want to stress: it wasn’t all bad. Competing in dance and maintaining a strict schedule prepared me in many ways in terms of my career, self discipline and responsibility. Most of my memories are POSITIVE!

While I was in Competitive Dancing, I ate whatever I wanted because I would just burn it off and that on its own delayed everything development wise for me.

The months after I quit, it all came at once: 30lb weight gain, breasts (if youwant to call them that) and my first period. Within six months I went from looking like this in June 1998:

To this….September 1998:

I am not body shaming myself but it was a lot to handle and I was made fun of constantly in Grade 9 for my over the summer changes and it took FOREVER for me to get over this, I may not even be over it.

Basically, no one warned me this could happen or I should replace my intense physical activity with some thing else (or don’t eat 5 cookies at once?)

That refinement year was rough and I really did retreat into myself, often sleeping a lot after school and binge eating. <Future Post Alert!>

Final Thoughts:

Some of my favourite memories involve my dance friends, competitions and trips to Nationals in the USA.

I loved to dance on stage and be awarded for it but I was too young to realize some of the unhealthy behaviours and thoughts I developed from the pressure.

As I said before, the Competitive Dance industry for children is a PROFITABLE BUSINESS and everyone is replaceable so all of it needs to taken with a grain of salt unless your kid is the next Maddie Ziegler.

The cost itself is the size of a down payment on a house so consider that as well. I had to work part-time throughout College when I could have just not danced. Ah well.

Thanks for reading and always tell your girls/boys/self to Have Fun, and PRACTICE!

Just like me here in 1995, Dancing to “YMCA: In the Navy!” in my Living Room:

4 thoughts on “What it’s Like To Competitively Dance

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