February 26, 2020

My youngest auditioned and got into a competitive dance team. Automatically, I was turned into a dance mom. Dance moms get a really bad reputation because of that silly Abby Miller show and how they portrayed her studio.

Truth is, the dance team that my daughter is on is amazing. 

Absolutely wonderful people. More importantly, the coach of the team is a badass and an incredible role model for my daughter and her teammates. The motto of the team is “Dance strong” and strong they are. The dances and everything about them are rooted in girl power.

Her teachers are kind, and attentive, and the vibe at the studio is exactly what I want for my growing tween.

I’m proud of my daughter for doing this and learning this new culture.

I, too, am learning how to do the eyelashes and make-up. Well, actually, I didn’t really master that and ended up letting the sweet teacher do it for me.

We had our first competition a few weeks ago. There were hours of waiting, but an absolutely awesome vibe and a great sense of community between the dancers and the parents.

I drove carpool there. I wish I could bottle the giggles, the excitement and the conversations in my car. Although this was a competition, the girls were not catty or mean. They were supportive of their friends, perhaps a little critical of the other dancers from other studios, but everything about this experience was exactly the way it should be: light, fun, and exciting. As someone watching from the outside, it’s a great opportunity and learning moment.

I know that the four chatty, adorable girls in my car do not realize the incredible privilege they have, because when you have it, you can’t imagine not having it.

My youngest is already plotting for next year. What dances she will add, what technique she will work on strengthening during the summer. We are excited that the studio is moving to a new, bigger location. All the girls look forward to this. They have dreams, thoughts, and desires that are touchable, and, thank god, right there for them to be, to have, to take.

We, the dance moms and dads, will deliver. Because that is what we do. We do it with love, and care, and an understanding that this is our job.

I watch my students, some who are very young moms. Some who have had a child every year for the past 5, 6, 7 years. And then there are those who have been incarcerated, are now out and fighting hard to get their children back and to be the mom or dad they haven’t been in the past. I know that they want for their kids what I want for mine.

They might not have dance and the luxury of after school activities, but they are fighting for their kids’ schools to have basic things that we take for granted. They are fighting for their parks to be clean, and many things that we, on my side of town, simply have. 

“Ms.,” she told me, “I lost important time with my daughter when I was locked up.”

I listen.

“I can’t change that,” she says. “Now I am back. There is so much I want to give her. I don’t know where to start.” She is sad and seems overwhelmed.

“Well,” I say. “Maybe start with one thing,”

“What would that be?” she asks. “There is so much.”

This woman had been locked up for 5 years. Her daughter was a year old when she went in. Now she is seven. The child spent the five years the mom was incarcerated in the grandmother’s custody. Thank goodness there is a good relationship there and they are now all living together. This is a better story than most others I hear.

“I want to be a dance mom,” she tells me.

I laugh out loud. “That’s a lot,” I say.

She continues to tell me that she saw a show on TV and that she likes how the moms are all cutthroat and push their kids to be the champion.

“I wanna fight for my kid and show her that I’ll do anything for her,” she tells me. “And those costumes are dope!” (That means really good.)

So, I tell her, “You know, not all dance moms are like that. I’m not like that.”

She looks at me and says, “You are not a dance mom. You’re too nice.”

“Well,” I said to her, “Surprise, I am a dance mom!” which she thinks is funny.

“Here’s the deal. You want to show your kid that you care. That’s what this is about. You also need to make up for lost time. Maybe you can start with just spending time with her. That’s probably what she wants the most.”

I pause. I tell her what I assume she and her daughter need is to get to know each other a little better. My student got quiet and looked at me.

“I want to give her things that I didn’t have. I want to make up for the time I lost. I want to be a good mom,” she says.

I looked at her and smiled. “Honey, we all want to be good moms. It doesn’t matter if you were locked up or not. We can only do the best we can do. We can only be who we can be. And then, we pray our children understand our efforts.”

I think of my own inadequacies. I think how at times I fight, yell and get angry at my kids. I do things, say things to my kids that are far from what I teach and who I want to be. At the dance competition, I lost my patience and cool, and at one point I was unable to make a good choice over something silly and petty. Then my kid got edgy and nervous, a ridiculous moment that should have been avoided, but it wasn’t.

“You know what, Ms.? You are so right. I just need to be a present mom. I will be present. Hey, and that is a present!” 

Proud of her pun, she says, “How’s that one? Huh!”

We laugh.

“I ain’t doing drugs and I ain’t locked up. I am busting my booty working and doing good,” she tells me.

“That’s good!” I say.

“Do you think that is enough?” she asks me.

“That’s the big question,” I tell her. “It’s never enough, but actually, it’s always enough, all at the same time.”

She looked at me and started to cry.

“That’s the fucking problem, Ms. It’s so fucking hard, and it’s a lot.”

“I know,” I tell her and take her hand.

“Just do what you said. Be present and be the present. Let go of the dance mom. She is overrated. Just be the mom you can be. Listen, love, be honest. That’s all you really can do.”

Her phone rings. She wipes her tears, turns away to answer, and waves goodbye to me.

I collect my things and head to my car to start my afternoon mom-driver shift.

I try to remind myself what I just told my student. It really is never enough and always enough all at the same time.

Naomi Ackerman is a Mom, activist, writer, performer, and the founder and Executive Director of The Advot (ripple) Project a registered 501(c)3 that uses theatre and the arts to empower youth at risk to live their best life.

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