My daughter has been doing competitive dance for the last few years. The first competition was quite an eye opener. There are point scores, best in each category, division, and even judges’ awards. Everywhere you look, there are girls in enough makeup to make a drag queen jealous and enough glitter, sparkles, and bling that sunglasses are required indoors. My daughter, who may wear Chapstick on a good day has become an expert at wearing false eyelashes. It’s all very overwhelming. It is not, however, Dance Moms. Put that out of your head. These girls practice one dance, with one costume for months at a time. They don’t have suitcases that turn into fully-lit makeup mirrors. Instead, most of them have the family suitcase outfitted with some contraption made out of PVC pipe to hold all their clothes. They have teachers who love them and emphasizes substance over style. The parents support one another. At least that is what it’s like at her dance school. I can’t speak for others.
Last year, the costumes at competition were very risqué. Lots and lots of nudes, cut outs, and S&M wear - for tweens. I watched a child perform an exquisite ballet to Amazing Grace while wearing a vibrant red costume with nude patches over her genitals. The under-ten set embraced cut outs to show off their abs, but mostly just showed off their rib cages. This year, the costumes were very different. Gone were all the straps, leather, and nude patches that made the dancers look like the world’s tiniest people performing the world’s oldest profession. This year's overall theme seemed to be stripped instead of stripper. Instead of elaborate costumes in bright colors, we saw a lot of sack clothes in muted earth tones. Buns were out, braids were in. There were still lots of outfits you could consider pajamas, but instead of lingerie, they were closer to night gowns. One entire category of modern dance looked like the girls were acting out scenes from a play set during the 1930s Dust Bowl. Who knew they made so many shades of dirt brown? Flesh tone was also a big hit. I saw girls practicing in what could best be described as a nude bikini with nude mesh over top and was curious to see the rest of their costume. Turns out, there was no “rest” of the costume. That WAS the costume! With prop canes! I’m so bummed I missed that performance because I was dying to know what song required canes but not clothing? Our girls, in comparison looked like Mormons. They wore layers - nude leotards, nude tights, then fishnets, then their costumes. In terms of dance wear, they were dressed for winter in New Hampshire while the rest of the teams were on Spring Break in the Bahamas.
The music was similarly stripped down. There were so many muzak versions of songs that I wondered if I was trapped in the world’s loudest elevator. Every song has one instrument and one vocal. Or no vocals and all instrumental. I spent half my time desperately trying to name that tune because the venue had no wi-fi so I couldn’t use Spotify to save myself from going crazy. Did you know that there are slow, instrumental versions of Depeche Mode? I wish I didn't.
The worst part of competition is not watching my kid dance and get judged, which is super difficult, but keeping my eyes averted in the open dressing rooms. I obviously don’t want to see any part of anyone I didn’t help bring into this world, but its not that easy. I reached down to get my phone out of my purse, and when I sat back up, I was eye-to-thong with a dancer from the next company over. I heard the unmistakable sound of tape ripping and looked up in time to try not to see a teenager taping her breasts down. With masking tape! She held them up while two others taped them down and dear God, you know that stung when she had to rip it off later.
I know that judging is subjective and that its all relative to how many kids in each category and a host of other factors. So I’m not even going to touch upon that. What I do find most perplexing are the songs and themes chosen by the dance instructors. Last year, there was a song about drowned brides and another about dead babies. This year, we got a song about murder (complete with the onstage death), dead dolls, a funeral, zombies, and, I kid you not, an anti-Korean war song with a prop Army coat! There was a relatively brilliant song about depression where the major emotions all wore bright colored body suits and the rest of the team all wore black. There was a showstopper about the backstabbing inherent in a royal court that had the kids literally flinging themselves at each other and then there was the dance that won the crowd award. Reader, I was NOT happy with that last one.
The song was Can’t Stop the Feeling. Fucking Justin Timberlake! Again! The theme was “Night at the Museum” wherein a janitor starts playing that dreaded song and all the statues come to life. Each dancer had on a different costume. There was a Wonder Woman, a Blonde Ambition-era Madonna, Elvis, etc. (There was also a waitress, which I found odd, but I digress.) But I didn’t understand why the black girl was dressed as Marilyn Monroe. Why not let the black girl be Tina Turner or Whitney Houston or any number of famous black women performers? In fact, why make any of the girls into men? Couldn’t the song celebrate strong women of all colors? Did it need an Elvis or a Michael Jackson? Does anyone really think Prince is rising from the dead to dance to Justin Timberlake? Now, its possible that after three days of competition, I was just tired and cranky and hungry so that I was more annoyed than usual, but I think my point is fair. (Also, what museum was he IN, anyway?)
Overall, I’m glad the weekend is over. I watched roughly 24 hours of dancing over the course of 48 hours and my brain was turning into mush. My butt hurt from sitting, my ears hurt from the music, and my head was pounding from watching people spin over and over and over again. Thank God I have six weeks to recover before the next one and I can only applaud those parents who do this every single weekend and thank both the olds gods and the new that I am not one of them.