Confessions of a Stressed-Out Dance Mom

By Christine A. Krahling

I found a shirt that illustrates “how to tell time at a dance competition.” At 8 a.m., there’s a photo of a coffee cup, at 2 p.m., a can of soda and at 11 p.m., a martini.

You get the idea.

Two years ago my daughter’s dance teacher asked if I’d ever given thought to putting Caitlyn on the school’s competition team. At the time, a little voice inside my head replied, “Well, I’ve thought about not putting her on it.”

Don’t get me wrong:  I love the fact that my daughter is a dancer, and it’s a prideful moment when an instructor recognizes your child’s potential and wants to nurture it. But I began having nightmares about toddler-and-tiara-like hair and makeup, crazy stage moms and the daunting task of twisting my daughter’s extra-thick hair into a bun. (We’ll get to that later.)

My husband and I deliberated quite a bit over this decision. Our older daughter would be leaving for college soon and we had just gotten a puppy. Did we want our weekends to be tied up traveling to dance competitions? Did we want to leave the dog for extended periods?  Did we want to spend our extra cash on hotel rooms that would basically serve as crash pads/dressing rooms? Though the answer to all of these questions was, “No,” we felt that Caitlyn was presented with this opportunity for a reason. We agreed to put her on the team for one year and reassess the situation later. After all, how bad could it be?

Flash-forward to press-time and I’m currently finishing my second tour of duty as a dance team mom and wondering if there’s a support group for people like me. Here are some highlights:

• First competition, April 2010: Team to perform ballet first, roughly 8 a.m. I rise and shine at 6 to get ready and allow time for a pep-talk about how I really can make a perfect ballerina bun without having a complete meltdown. Five thousand bobby pins and a shot of vodka later (I’m kidding!), we’re out the door, tutu in hand. The team takes home high gold in all three numbers (ballet, tap and jazz). We buy the program (Caitlyn’s name is spelled wrong), order the DVD and pick up some new dance clothes. Credit card in hand, I find they only accept cash and checks. I wonder if there is a dance mom handbook I should have received but didn’t.

• Second competition, May 2010: Needless to say, there’s nothing “magical” about the “magic bun roller.” It doesn’t tell you on the package that if your daughter’s hair is as thick as the day is long, you’re on your own. The team does so well in their tap number that they win a special judges’ award plus they take the top award of the day which results in A FREE TRIP TO WILDWOOD NEW JERSEY TO PERFORM IN THE REGIONALS THE WEEK OF THE FOURTH OF JULY!  Big stuff. But while we’re all jumping up and down, screaming like crazy people, no one realizes that we now have to rework our summer vacation plans to squeeze in a three-day stint during the busiest (and probably most expensive) week of the year at the Jersey Shore. In the end, the only “free” thing about the trip was the entrance fee for the team’s winning number. Again, handbook, anyone?

• Regional competition, July 2010: It’s 102 degrees, and we wake to find a chair floating in the hotel pool. We must have missed quite a party the night before. And, while you’d think my bun-making skills would have improved by now, they’re really hit or miss. This time, there was crying involved (both Caitlyn’s and mine), and it wasn’t even 8 a.m. And, while the girls’ previous win that earned them this trip was buoyed by lots of enthusiasm, the actual competition was pretty anti-climactic. Between numbers, we head back to the hotel, where I do some copyediting and the girls enjoy the pool (the chair has since been removed).

• Fourth competition, February 2011: Okay, it’s a new year, and I’ve got a new attitude. I’m going to remain positive, live in the moment and not get stressed out. Two nights before the competition, I review my checklist. Costumes: check. Tights: check. Three pairs of dance shoes: check. Red lipstick…red lipstick?? For the past two years, regulation lipstick has been dark pink, so of course I’ve got two tubes of that. I quickly check my Halloween makeup stash, but no luck. I add red lipstick to my shopping list. Caitlyn’s hat (part of the tap costume) needs an elastic strap stapled inside so that it fits snugly under her chin. I’m thinking if it flies off mid-number that would certainly cost the team points. No pressure, though.  About fifteen staples later, a friend jokingly asks if Caitlyn’s tetanus shot is up to date.

The next evening—the windiest night of the winter-while I‘m checking us in at the hotel, unbeknownst to me, Caitlyn’s lily-white tutu is flying across the hotel parking lot while she and my husband chase after it. Clearly, you can see the need for a support group.

Cut to the next morning in the hotel room. The bun’s not going as well as it did during the dry run at home, and there’s the concern of the tiara flying off mid-number. (Did I not mention the tiara?) “About how much do you actually jump around during this dance?,” I ask Caitlyn. She looks at me, rolls her eyes and says, “It’s fine, Mom.” I take a deep breath, step back and admire my work. Not bad, though there’s enough hair spray on that kid’s head to shellac all of the Miss America finalists. Off we go.

In the end, the hat stayed on, the bun didn’t fall out (hello—hair net!), the tiara remained intact and so did my sanity. My heart swelled with pride watching Caitlyn perform. I realized that the whole experience is part of a lifetime of memories we will treasure for years to come. It’s all what you make of it, really. By the time you read this, I’ll be on my way to the final competition of the season, tutu in one hand, flask in the other. (Just kidding.)

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