I have a hard time advocating for myself. I don’t like to rock the boat and the thought of saying something that could possibly offend someone and/or make them angry with me makes me feel physically ill. And so, for the most part, I tend to accept things without question.
(This, of course, applies to the general public and not my family and closest friends because don’t we all feel more comfortable and secure expressing ourselves with the people we know and love the most?)
It’s easier to advocate for my children because I am absolutely a mother bear and ain’t nobody gonna mess with my kids. However, in certain situations (the ones where I can’t help but wonder if it’s more about me than my kids), I am hesitant to assert myself. I have to get riled up enough to believe that my opinion counts for something before I can go ahead and express my concerns.
Case in point:
My daughter Lily is turning 7 on Friday. She has been taking dance classes since she was 4. (For those who are math challenged like myself, this year is her fourth year in dance). In life, she’s shy and nervous and ever-worried, but get her on a stage and she glows from the inside out. She loves it.
For the first two years of her dance training, she was in preschool classes, ones that were focused on ballet, tap and jazz, on a weekly rotating basis. These classes were lighthearted, fun, and very basic. She loved them enough that she was more than happy to go each week and life was good.
At the end of her second year, when she was 5.5 years old, each child in the class was issued a recommendation – either move into the competitive program or continue on in a non-competitive class. Lily’s teacher recommended that she move into non-competitive jazz only, as she didn’t seem to be focused and disciplined enough to take ballet. I was fine with this because, at age 5, I didn’t feel it was necessary for my child to have to choose a specific activity to be “the one”. She was doing other things as well, such as t-ball and swimming.
Things went very well in in the 6-7 age group non-competitive jazz class last year. Lily had a great time, she had a sweet instructor and some very nice girls in her class. She flourished and by the end of the year, her instructor recommended that she move into ballet , as ballet is a requirement for competitive dance, as well as a non-competitive jazz class. The recommendation would be to have her move to competitive once she’s decided whether or not she loves ballet enough to continue.
The ballet class is wonderful but the jazz is, well, not. Based on her age, she has been put back into the 6-7 age group class where she is re-learning the same steps she learned last year. For a price tag of $500 plus costume fees. She is, in a word, stagnating. Lost in the cracks. Not moving forward. According to Lily, the hardest part of the class is the stretches.
This is not okay. For a variety of reasons. I’ve been unhappy about it for awhile but haven’t asserted myself because I didn’t want to come across as pushy. Or as a “my child was born to be a staaar” living-in-denial mom diva.
At the beginning of the year, I asked Lily’s instructor to watch her and see if she would be a good fit for the competitive program. (Now, just to be clear, I am not a stage mom or one of those crazy Dance Moms you see on TV. I am a mom who wants the best for her child. I want to see her grow and learn and continue to be excited about her hobby.) Her instructor was very dismissive and gave me a pat, “yeah, sure, I’ll watch her” answer. I was unconvinced but let it go.
Fast forward to the beginning of October. The month where I expected to see my daughter move into a class where she was actually learning something new. I approached her instructor and asked how things were going in class. The response I received was, “good”. When I mentioned that Lily was complaining about already knowing the steps, I was told that things would get harder. Hmm. Fine. I don’t think quickly on my feet and, not having a thought-out response in place, I let it go and spent the next two hours raging to my friends via text message about my frustrations with the class, the instructor, and the studio in general.
I decided on Friday that I would try again. I approached Lily’s teacher and flat-out asked her if it was possible to move Lily to a more advanced class. I was told no. The excuse given was that the classes had already started learning their routines and so it was too late.
I asked if the goal with these girls was to have them move forward and be able to experience entering competitions and continue to grow and learn. Again, I was told no. At the age of 7, she is officially too old to make the transition from non-competitive to competitive and it’s “too late” for her.
Cue my jaw hitting the floor.
Too late? For my not-quite-seven year old? Too LATE? Oh, I beg to differ.
I am not interested in turning my child into the most amazing and special dancer to ever walk God’s green earth. I am interested in giving her the opportunity to actually learn some new dance steps and not some old broken-down repeat of what she learned last year. It took me a long time to realize it, but this is not an outrageous request.
I decided that I was going to go straight to the top and email the owner of the studio Lily dances at. I would voice my concerns and outline my expectations. I would advocate for my daughter.
It was at about this point that I hit a standstill. If I sent an email to the owner, she might *gasp* judge me. Or be ticked off that I had an issue with her studio. I didn’t know if I could go through with it! What if I sounded unreasonable? Oh noes!!!
So I decided to pump myself up. I vacuumed the bonus room. Then I vacuumed the rest of the house. Then, because I still hadn’t fully worked up the gumption to plunge into the land of diva-dom, I cleaned all the bathrooms. All the while, I was working out in my head what I was going to write.
Once I had finished cleaning the house and had made myself some lunch, I sat down to write the email. While I was at it, I queried a few other dance studios in the area, outlining my concerns with my current studio and asking what was available elsewhere.
To my surprise, I received an email back from another studio almost immediately. The owner told me that she believed all of her students deserved the right to enter into competitions if they wanted and she placed students into categories based on skill. We are booked to go try out a class there on Thursday.
I sent the email to Lily’s current dance studio and the next time I checked my email, I had received responses from three other studios. All three stated that their goal was to have all students who were interested be able to compete in jazz and/or ballet if they felt they wanted to. They design their classes around skill level and make sure that no child is lost in the shuffle.
The positive responses I got from the other dance studios made me feel so much better about standing up and demanding more for my child. It is not okay for her to be stuck stagnating in the same class she took last year. Her current studio has experienced a huge increase in competitive girls coming in and I don’t believe they can handle the volume. But it’s no excuse to treat the non-competitive kids like they’re second class and not offer them the opportunity to actually learn something new.
Our current dance studio is not a good fit. By finally getting up enough gumption to find (and use!) my voice, I am going to ensure that my daughter is given the chance to enjoy dance, as well as learn new technique, for as long as she wants to do so.
I am now a bit tired and a lot headachey, but I’ve stood up for my daughter and I see great things happening on the horizon. We’ll be checking out three of the four studios I heard from this afternoon and then switching over to the one we like the best.
Plus, my house looks frigging fantastic. Two birds, baby. Two birds.