I had perhaps the WORST experience in my nearly-nine-year "life" as a parent on Saturday night. Truly horrible. What happened? Dance recital.
That's right - I went to my daughter's first dance recital and it. was. truly. horrible. No, no. She was fine. About as good and talented as a nearly-nine-year-old who has only taken classes for four months can be, at least. She and her cohort of six- to nine-year-olds danced a ballet-ish version of the Cinderella-taken "Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo" and I was proud of her for being an un-official leader of the other girls on stage.
Nope. The HORROR of the night came at the general experience. So - I've decided to lay out ten rules for "teaching" my tween daughter so that the grammatically disastoursly named MGM Studio of the Dance (the horrible place that it is - I watched one of the co-owners tell her husband she needed him to "step up and parent for a friggin' hour" a week or so ago) and I are on the same page when I yank my kid out of their strip mall purgatory when/if they violate the rules.
- These are our daughters (and sons - there were a handful of boys, much to my delight, in the production). They are not "PRINCESSES". Princess, you see, is an actual title "earned" when a female baby is born in to actual royalty. There is no "Princess Matilda of North Oliver and 29th Street". Just use their names. No need to cutesy these kids up with monikers and modifiers. The horrible, garish make up they are plastered with makes them "cute" enough.
- Choose music that is appropriate for these kids and their life experience. NO tween should ever dance to "Get Up Offa That Thing" the 1976 James Brown instruction manual on how to prolong the male orgasm.
- Let me repeat - Choose music that is appropriate for these kids and their life experience. NO tween should ever be asked the execute choreography of her giving away her heart to a man or demanding a ring and flowers and other things like that in exchange for her buying groceries (are you familiar with "Dear Future Husband" because it has quickly become my least-favorite thing in the world). It's not cute. No. It is NOT.
- Encourage the teachers/choreographers that put together these routines (that will, in the future, be set to age-inappropriate music) to at least take the edge off with appropriate "moves". When a tween puts her hands on her hips and dips and shifts her hips/pelvis in front of a few hundred strangers - that's a you problem. You're exploiting that little girl. Thing I'm being melodramatic? Have a kid do that any place other than a dance stage and watch the horrified reactions roll in.
- To that end, instructors/keepers of the class - Keep these KIDS off their backs (or at least restrict the thing where they are on their backs, legs in the air, and they are smiling back at the audience). There were sixteen different instances of little girls on their backs with their legs in the air in about two hours of dance last night. Once or twice? Maybe contextual. Sixteen times . . . hack crap. Teachers should expand the mind and skill set of dancers - not work their abs. I would encourage the "Age of Consent" rule to your productions. If a young person can't give themselves to another (sexually) under the eyes of the law, a dancer should not be sexualized at an even younger age.
- Costumes and make up are certainly important. I'll give you that. But how do you arrive at the thigh-high boots and thigh-long flight attendant costumes the six year old girls are wearing while doing the hands-on-hips-dip thing? Don't say that it fits with the music. I saw the flowing tool skirts for the "Let It Go" medley. You have options. Use them. Want proof your costumes are inappropriate? There were parents making these nervous, involuntary cat calls and yelps when these young people took the stage. Know where else they do that? Strip clubs.
- Be fair and consistent. Don't set one girl's solo performance to Lorde's "Yellow Flicker Beat" (complete with lyrics about every person that "ever laid a finger on me") while she rubs her blossoming bosom under spandex but have your own daughter, wearing something that looks like a first communion dress dipped in turquoise floating gently about (never touching her own chest or hip grinding - to her credit/praise) to "My Father's Heart" (a love letter to G-d, Jesus, and the miracles of nature and beauty). When are your kids above teen exhibitionism and gross feelings? Why aren't our kids?
- Stop pushing the notion that all you need is more money to excel in this world. Your dance palace is barely better than a pyramid scheme where parents scrape together nickels and dimes for every routine and opportunity for their kids and there is no direct feedback on how they are doing. They are given no critique. No insight in the value of time and progression of skills. Just another opportunity to spend $20 more (per kid) to participate int he "finale" (which, to clarify, is them running out on stage to free dance the final verse to the almost-too-fast-to-trite "Uptown Funk")). You're the "At the YMCA Everyone Gets a Trophy for Trying" of the dance world. Let kids realize life is hard, people have talents and abilities for some things and not others. Have hard talks with them about the need to practice, focus, take it seriously, etc. The quality of the evening would soar - and you can upsell more private/extra lessons/sessions. Ca-ching, ladies.
- Teaching should be about the potential of tomorrow at the expense of today. To that end - shame on you for charging parents $50 tuition/session for for "pre-dance" (Mommy-And-Me escapism with more expensive costumes) and don't make toddlers come out to blinding spotlights and chaos after their parents paid at least $100 for the class, costumes, make-up, etc. only to be dragged away by a grumpy older kid when they don't do their planned routine on the masking tape "X" at center stage. You call them "Future Stars" so you should eat the cost of their involvement. PLENTY of time to milk the teats of their parents in the decade to come.
- Make us proud. My ex-wife (one seat over from Special Lady Friend) tried - to NO avail - to make the point that I should stop complaining about, rolling my eyes at, and deep sighing in the direction of these songs, routines, costumes, and choices because there were "lots of proud parents" all around. I am going to argue they weren't. Or should not have been. Just like "Krystal" on Stage Two at the Spotted Llama Steakhouse and Dance Club doesn't invite her parents to see her dance - these parents were LIKELY uncomfortable to see their kids laying on the floor, feet in the air, lyrics about "bad girls" and "octopussy" thumping over their young heads and over-sprayed hair. Make us all as proud as you probably were to your daughter's Ode to Christ.
And before any of you (readers or defenders of dance classes in general) accuse me of prudism or being out of touch - I TOTALLY get that my child will, in due time, be a fully awake and aware sexual being. She'll have all the time in the world - as that happens - to make informed, consensual, intentional decisions on how to dress, how to dance, what songs to dance to, and who to pelvic grind in front of.
I don't, as a father "like" the thought of it and I'm in no rush for it but I've got a father's daughter living with me and I'd be a hypocrite if I told you we only dance to Michael W. Smith with ankle-length tool costumes on - zipped to the chin. My disgust comes from the tone deaf nature of dismissing these songs and costumes and routines as just being part of "music today" or part of "kids maturing faster" or whatever other simple, casted-off dismissal you can give me. If the girls who danced to "Kinky Boot" asked why the lyrics talk about boots making an ass look perfect - would you explain it to her?
See you next semester, "teachers".