It’s dance recital season — that amazing time of the year where parents, grandparents, and the bravest of family friends crowd into high school auditoriums and watch children in what is often one of their very first times on stage. Moms have battle stations with bobby pins and red lipstick, safety pins and hair spray, ready to doll up their children for approximately three minutes of pizzaz, tears, or a little of both.
For approximately 10 years, I put my family through the dance recital ringer. There was my 1991 recital that my uncle volunteered to attend and videotape (he was the only person we knew with a camcorder), not realizing it was three-and-a-half hours of repeated “Little Mermaid” songs. There were the years a growth spurt meant the costume ordered in December no longer fit in June, causing my mom to get creative. And there was the year with three recitals in one day, and either I or the 4-year-olds I taught had a dance in every one of them, meaning my family was stuck there from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
To all the families who stick it out in stuffy school auditoriums to cheer for your tiny dancers on what is usually the first warm Saturday of the year, we salute you. You know why? Because I’m 37 and I can tell you that everything I learned in life I learned at a dance recital.
My best friend, who I danced with my entire childhood, is preparing for her daughter’s upcoming recital. She sent me a photo of her setup for the dress rehearsal earlier this week. She had EVERYTHING — two mascaras, bobby pins, safety pins, a needle and thread, a few different hair sprays. It was a pint-sized Sephora. More than half that stuff won’t be touched, but in the event it’s needed, it’s there.
Years of that type of preparation taught me well. I’m that person who always has a bobby pin, safety pin, Shout wipe, lipstick, and seven pens in her bag. At work, I stash an extra pair of pantyhose in my office. And I always have a backup for any piece of equipment I have to set up that day. It all stems from those dance recital days, where you might not touch that extra, but it felt good to know it was there if you needed it.
Think on your feet
In the dance studio ecosystem, if you stay around long enough, you might get a solo. It feels like you become a woman the first day you get a solo. Real life isn’t Lifetime’s Dance Moms. You usually get months to learn a solo and perfect it. But if stage fright causes some memory lapses, your teacher will always tell you: “Don’t stop. Just make something up. The audience doesn’t know your dance.”
I tell that story now to colleagues who do a lot of public speaking. No one in the audience knows your speech word for word. If you misspeak or lose your place, don’t stop and announce it to the crowd. You’re bringing attention to it. Pause and keep going, and if you can do so with finesse, it’s even better.
Perseverance, independence, and teamwork
If I struggled to learn a step or a piece of choreography, it was on me to fix it. My mom couldn’t do it for me. I had to physically do it. And if I didn’t learn that piece of choreography to the best of my ability, it would let down the other girls in my class.
In an era where many complain about “coddling” and “helicopter parenting,” dance is one arena where at the end of the day, the child has to go up there and just do it. Sure, plenty of parents give dance teachers grief. But no parent can go up on stage in place of their child. There is some onus on them to learn it, do it, and work as a team to get it done.
To this day, one of the most vivid memories I have is from my last year dancing. A teammate skipped recital. She was with us at rehearsal, but on recital day, she was nowhere to be found.
With our teacher busy running the recital, the 12 of us dancers huddled in the hallway of the theatre, figuring out who would take her individual part and how we could spread out across the stage to cover for her absence. We ranged in age from 12–17, but we worked together to solve the issue. After a decade of dancing, it was the best possible way I could have gone out, using all the qualities I learned dancing to solve a giant problem.