The dance recital

by Mémé

We often spar on the Totebag about what is Middle Class, invoking regional and educational differences in raw income numbers and in cultural markers of that status. But recently someone remarked about dental health that an astounding percentage of US kids now have braces at some point in their lives. So straight teeth are a fairly universal middle class marker.

I recently had the opportunity to observe another of those universal middle class markers. The end of year Dance Recital.


A neighbor suggested that they take my eldest granddaughter to dance class along with their same aged girl. Her Cambridge/Portland alternative style parents had no idea what they were getting into. Coco and Ella (assumed names) ended up on stage for 130 seconds of a 2 ½ hour extravaganza in 50 dollar gold and sequined tutus stomping their tap shoes to a cover version of The Lion Sleeps Tonight. I knew enough to bring several wrapped and beribboned roses for presentation to the young performer.

The school is clearly the secondary “fun” one in their area – the only marginally competent numbers were adult tap and the break dancers. But all was forgiven after the chubby mentally handicapped teen with glasses and a diaphanous gown glided across the stage with her group as best she could to Every Little Thing You Do is Magic.

Totebaggers, please share your recital stories from your children’s or your own life. Parents of physical or mind sport athletes, feel free to weigh in on sports banquets and the like.


59 thoughts on “The dance recital

  1. Dance lessons are pretty universal. Even little girls from poor families take dance lessons, often through a Y or community program. Dance lessons and team sports may be the only universal, non-class-based childhood experiences that are still out there.

  2. Oh, man, DD *loved* the dance lessons at her Montessori — they brought in a lady who ran a studio, and she taught funk and hip-hop as well as the standard ballet and tap. DD *loved* the funkier, more modern stuff — not that she was particularly good at it, but she was, umm, highly enthusiastic, which just made it fun to watch. Unfortunately, we couldn’t make it work when we switched to the public ES — studio was too far in the other direction, and class times were in the 4-5 PM after-school timeframe.

    Our markers have now moved on to the band concerts and school plays and awards assemblies and the like. Which are even less fun — at least when the kids are 3 and 4, even when they’re horrible, they’re fundamentally adorable. MS band achieves only the first half of that.

  3. The Montessori my kids attended brought in a woman for dance class, so at the recital it was primarily just Montessori kids and alums. My daughter was in numbers for ballet, tap and whatever else they do. When she was around four, the teacher did not tell me in advance, but she was in a duet with the lead dancer, a girl about 5 years older. Apparently it was supposed to have been all of the white swans out there, but my daughter was the only one who could do it. I was so delighted to see her in that number. At that age, they can be just heartbreakingly precious. My daughter was a nut, though, stopping in one dance to meticulously fold her scarf when they were done with them, while the rest of the class danced in. She stoppd another year to stage whisper to her picture-taking father to “use the flash” multiple times. Another year she stopped dancing to adjust the red sparkly belt of the girl in front of her, and would tap past us doing the sign language sign for “I love you”. So I loved recitals, but not just for the dancing.

  4. My daughter is totally against dance lessons, but when she was 4, we hauled her off to Chinese folk dance lessons. All the little girls at Saturday Chinese school were doing it, so we figured it must be Culturally Important. Now my daughter at age 4 was (and still is) the ultimate tomboy, with very short hair. When it came time for the recital, which was being held at an outdoor Chinese festival, she realized she would have to wear a costume and makeup. The poor teacher struggled and struggled to get all the hair doohickeys clipped into her short hair. She kept wiping the lipstick off. But finally they got her assembled. We proud parents took photos before they went on stage. All the other girls had huge smiles. But in the photo, which I still have, there is my 4 year old, in a complete Tang dynasty princess getup, with lots of brocade and beaded tassles hanging from her headpiece, GLOWERING at the camera.

    And then they went on stage. My daughter kind of stood there as the other little princesses glided and swayed to gentle lute music. And then she started scratching her backside. The teacher waved hands at her several times. My lovely little Tang princess then loudly announced “It ITCHES”. Everyone started laughing.

    That is the last time she took dance lessons.

  5. This is timely. My 6 year has asked for years to take dance. We gotten out of it because is was Saturday mornings, a time reserved for swim classes. We no longer will be taking swim, which frees up Saturday. It seems that all the dance studios that her friends are in require a Sept – May commitment and I just dread the idea of recitals, costume purchases, and professional photos. I’m also curious if starting dance years after her fellow classmates means that she won’t be in a class with her friends (which aside from the sparkle outfits, is the reason she wants to do it). And, the Y and community programs have classes, but the hours are not work parent friendly.

  6. The dance recitals are out of the this world and way beyond what is reasonable. We did it when my daughter was maybe 4 or 5 and the amount of money for the outfit was ridiculous. Then the 2 hour rehearsal where they kept all the kids in the back. Then the 2 hour recital. Oh and you can’t take your own pictures you need to buy the video and pictures from the studio. It was insane and no more fun than something less extravagant. Everyone has become Dance Moms now! Daughter didn’t like it. Glad to be out!

  7. DH update. Finally spoke to the cardiologist. His heart is pumping at 50% of expected. More tests will be required, some of which can’t be done until Monday when the blood thinners wear off – nothing to do with the holiday . They are leaning toward keeping him in the hospital over the weekend, which is easier for me, not much fun for him. He has a private room, tho. No more updates planned for you all.

  8. My kid is apparently a combination of MBT’s and Mooshi’s. Definitely the one who was intent on doing whatever *she* thought was important (we had a similar incident when another dancer lost a piece of her costume, and DD insisted on getting it all fixed and back in place, actual dancing be damned). And with little to no patience for anything itchy/scratchy/uncomfortable. This discussion is making me totally verklempt.

    Meme, wow. Sending more good thoughts.

  9. We only did a year or two of dance with my daughter. Fortunately, my entire playgroup of four moms all did it together, so at least we had the convenience of car pooling. I do remember driving there with 4 girls + a toddler + a napping infant. I’d usher the girls in and then figure out how to kill an hour. Toddler DS loved to “drive”, so I’d find a big parking lot and he’d “drive” while I worked the gas and brakes. The recitals weren’t too bad, and my nieces were also in them, which was fun. This was a laid back dance program, and there was also a group of moms that took dance lessons which looked like fun. On the way home, I’d purposely adjust the stereo speakers so that it was quieter in the front and louder in the back. The girls had to raise their voices to talk over the speakers, and I could easily eavesdrop on their conversation. They were a funny bunch of girls.

  10. Meme. The hospital actually sounds like a better option for BOTH of you.

    Somehow I doubt the majority of all kids have access to these activities, but I’m thinking of my own childhood a long time ago so I’m probably out of touch.

  11. CoC, back in my day, we could take tap dance or ballet after school, at our public school. This was not a wealthy school district. The lessons were really cheap (otherwise my parents would not have sprung for them) and there was a sliding scale for families that could not pay. These were not fancy lessons, and there were no costly costumes or Dance Moms. In fact, the tap class was my only dance class experience as a kid

  12. I have had to teach a class in Microsoft apps a couple of times at my school (to business and sports mgmt majors, mainly). As you guys know, many of our students are from poor families. One of the things I had them do was to create a PP presentation on some hobby or activity important to them. I noticed both times, that the girls overwhelmingly chose dance, and said they started as kids. I think particularly among families from the Caribbean, dance is seen as a norm for little girls. I doubt any of them were doing high cost lessons – I think a lot of this happens in the community centers, or even more informally – a mom who has dance experience might teach the kids of her friends for a cheap price for example.

    Notice that dance is part of this afterschool program in the Bronx, clearly aimed at high need kids

  13. No dance classes for my two boys. BUT, their afterschool program has a year-end show and each year (3 now) I have LOVED it. 5-7 year olds are adorable! Singing, doing karate moves, some dancing, all the parents trying to take video and pictures without getting other parents in the shot. Its freakin’ ridiculous, and fun. This year one of mine got to be center stage during the last number – a hip hop dance – doing (what I’m told) is the “ne ne”. He was AWESOME! Clearly takes after DH’s family, who is full of performers. I had NO idea he was going to do that. He only practiced at school and, as is par for the course with my guys, did not tell me a thing about it.

  14. And as an aside, a lot of the hobbies were quite entertaining. It was a fun assignmen for me. I can remember one guy who played in a steel drum ensemble that often performs at festivals and even museums. There was a girl from China who did Chinese opera, and one with ancestry from Hong Kong who was a serious dragon boat racer. One guy chose “collecting sneakers” as his passion.

  15. anothertwinmom, when my two oldest were both in daycare, in the same preschool room, the end of year show was a performance of The Three Piggy Opera. Talk about cute!!!!

  16. When I was a teenager I went to the ballet recital of a girl I babysat for; she was about six. The recital was nearly five hours long, with at least fifty acts. I couldn’t understand why they didn’t split it up into two or three performances instead.

  17. MooshiMooshi, on the upside, if the Huns ever invade (from Canada?), your daughter can save us all.

    We’ve sat through many ballet recitals, although in our case the older kids were always more than competent so it was pretty watchable. Once when my youngest was ~5 he was partnered for some part of the dance with his ‘significant other’ and we could see the two of them chatting and laughing as they danced, looking for all the world like miniature extras in a Pride & Prejudice ballroom scene.

    Our middle school’s band is much better than I remember being as a first or second year band student. Their teacher does an amazing job with them. So even the December concert where the beginning students are playing in public for the very first time is not all that painful.

  18. I did dance as a kid – 5 thorugh 18. My first school was set up to do ballet, tap and jazz. We moved when I was 12, I had to choose as the studios there all specialized, I took ballet. Yes, recitals, yes costumes and pictures, but no flowers. We worked on our routines for months, which shows how long it takes to get 20 in a class to look somewhat cohesive.

    My girls – one took dance for one “semester” at age 5. It was an after school program, and she wanted to take karate instead the next semester. Neither one really worked out at that age. Their first “real” activites were band starting in 4th grade, followed by (younger only) school sports team in 5th grade, and kung fu (same time – DD#1 in 6th, DD#2 in 4th).

    The band concerts, they have played between 10 and 30 minutes depending on the type of performance and the band director. Sports banquets – the MS makes it more of a party – have been informal – buffet, atheletes from each grade get a tshirt (different for each grade), the 8th graders make a funny movie written and directed by the coach who directs the musical. And, major accomplishments – winning district or state is noted. Eat cake and go home.

  19. I couldn’t understand why they didn’t split it up into two or three performances instead

    That’s what our studio used to do — the older kids would be in both the morning and evening recital, but the younger kids would be in one or the other, so the total length was kept down. Maybe for the one you saw, they could only get the theater for one show time?

  20. I’m reminded of my Dad’s comment about getting dragged to a high school’s stage production of “The Diary of Anne Frank.”

    “I never thought I could be so relieved when those Nazis broke down the door.”

  21. I never danced, but went to a few recitals for family members. Lord help me, ipads and tablets were made for those events. Even split up, it was still 3 hours (this was a very good/huge school… the son of the owner/principal instructor was a child actor so they made a big deal out of him every. single. year.). Those events confirmed in me that I would never be a dancer. At least not like that. I swing dance and don’t compete, so it’s not a big deal.

    I vaguely remember sports awards dinners… I think they were pizza and ice cream in the gym. People got trophies, and we moved on with life. This was a rec league with no traveling team.

  22. “Dance lessons and team sports may be the only universal, non-class-based childhood experiences that are still out there.”

    Not piano lessons? At my kids’ piano recitals, most of the kids have been public school students.

  23. at least when the kids are 3 and 4, even when they’re horrible, they’re fundamentally adorable. MS band achieves only the first half of that.”

    Even if your kids’ band isn’t as good as HM’s kids’, if you stick with it into HS they can get quite pleasant to listen to.

  24. No dance or music performances yet, but my kids’ preschool does yoga with the kids and had a little yoga exhibition. 3 and 4 year olds saying namaste and doing their downward dogs. It was the cutest 15 minutes of my life.

  25. My kids’ school has a really big dance program featuring the entire dance school that is so big they only do it every 3rd year, but because it’s such a BFD, they have shows every night for a week so all the parents and grandparents can see their kids. DD last participated in it when she was in 2nd grade, when only one girl in her regular school class wasn’t in the dance program. A lot of the girls dropped dance right after that, having been in the program just long enough to be in that recital.

  26. MIlo that is the funniest thing I’ve heard all week! More quotes from your dad!

    I like the band concerts. One hour in and out. I always say it is the night when all the sounds you have been hearing from your living room get put together with the sounds from all the other living rooms to make beautiful music!

    For dance I too would rather watch a bunch of sill 4 year olds that a bunch of middling teens do ballet.

  27. Mémé – so sorry about your husband. When were you supposed to go on your trip> Is he terribly disappointed? I guess better for it to happen here than in Mach Picchu or wherever you were going. Thinking of you!

  28. When I was a kid, I think I was pretty solidly middle class, and the only dance classes I knew of any of my classmates taking was hula. Non-hula dance classes, private music lessons other than piano, and private athletic coaching (for pay) were all pretty much unheard of.

    The ubiquity of such opportunities now, and the participation rate among my kids’ peers, is an indicator that we’ve moved pretty solidly into the UMC.

  29. Finn – my oldest DD has expressed a desire for hula ever since she saw hula dancers at the opening of a special exhibit at the zoo. I looked into lessons, but there are none offered near by (shocking I know).

  30. No dance so far, but our preschool does a few small dance numbers through the year at a holiday dinner, Mother’s day dinner, etc. No real costume issues, and they are about 15 min of songs and small dances and then they’re done. Super-cute. My oldest did a couple of gymnastics “exhibitions” where they demonstrated skills to music for the recreational kids. (The team girls did competitive stuff, but we weren’t doing that.) I am now a softie who got all teary just at seeing them adorable, nervous, preparing, and proud. There’s something about learning to get up there and perform/speak/whatever that is a real marker of skill development as they grow up.

    One of my other favorites is her school has an after-school drama program. Kindergarteners move around to a story ready by the teacher. For first grade they each had one to two lines. Difficulty increases as they get more capable.

    My dh remembers several piano recitals where several kids would each play the same song, one right after another. It sounds unutterably painful. Why not at least give them different songs?

  31. Lemon, perhaps not in your area, but there are hula halau all over the world. I know there are quite a few on the west coast and in Japan, and when Obama was inaugurated, we heard about halau in the DC area. Outside of Hawai’i, I think halau are your best bet for learning hula, vs. a hula class in a dance school or studio.

    This brings to mind a friend who is an accomplished hula dancer, and also an entrepreneur (one of her businesses is selling hula implements online). I should suggest she consider recorded lessons online, or perhaps Skype lessons (a local cello teacher I know travels to China frequently, and continues to teach her local students via Skype).

  32. Some of these dance recital comments make me, again, appreciate my kids’ school. Besides not subjecting us to them so frequently, they go to great lengths to make the big dance program watchable. A lot of effort is spent in tailoring the choreography to match the kids’ abilities, and to keep the program moving without gaps.

    The older kids are pretty much a self-selected group that is very serious and/or talented and are thus quite watchable, and get more stage time. A number of alums of the dance school have gone on to professional careers; one summer, DD’s dance teacher was an alum home on break from her job as a Rockette.

  33. Less than half the little girls around here take dance lessons, though I don’t know how many Hispanic girls attend dance “co-ops”. Either dance lessons or swimming lessons cost $40-$50/month (through park and rec) and most parents we know choose to afford swimming lessons over dance lessons. Dance is still pretty popular, and for girls who like it, parents will often alternate dance lessons with swimming lessons.

    One colleague’s son took ballet lessons till he was 5 or 6. He was a good dancer but he wanted to quit, explaining to his Dad that “Boys don’t dance.” His dad insisted that boys did dance, and that they’d watched them on TV. Son responded, “But that’s on TV.” It was about the age when my son switched his favorite color from pink to orange. It’s interesting to watch your kids absorb norms about girl/boy behavior and figure out that not everything on TV is “real”.

    Mr WCE went to school with a boy (one of six kids) who went on to a professional career in ballet, followed by a career as a math professor at a well-ranked eastern school, since ballet careers don’t last a lifetime. We’ve talked about his good choices, probably influenced by his parents, that allowed him to use his body in his 20’s and his brain in his 30’s and beyond.

  34. Or Dr. Frank Ryan, PhD in math, quarterback of the last Cleveland Browns team to win an NFL championship.

  35. OK, the most impressive thing to me about john urschel is that he capped off that whole article with the proper use of both “its” and “it’s” in that tweet. Math, English, and football, all rolled into one? Holy freaking cow.

  36. WCE, I ran into a lot of sexism while DD was taking dance.

    E.g., their big dance performance had shows daily for about a week, so DW and I took turns getting DD to the performance and ready to perform. There was an auditorium designated for the dancers to get ready as well as wait comfortably and do homework before and after their turns to perform. Except, as I found out while walking in with DD to get her ready, males were not allowed in the room (during the parent information session prior to the rehearsals leading up to the performance, no one seemed to even consider the possibility). I was left to scramble to find an appropriate place.

    I found a family restroom, but it was occupied, so we waited quite a while for it. When the door finally opened, out came… a girl dancer and her mom. At that moment, I wondered about the selfishness of the mom who chose to not use the designated auditorium, but instead to monopolize the one place suitable for a dad to prepare his DD. To minimize the time we’d make it unavailable to anyone else, I just got her changed there, and did her hair and makeup in the parking lot.

    When I heard some dance faculty lamenting the lack of boys in the program, I marveled at their obliviousness.

  37. LfB, didn’t you already know about Urschel and his math prowess? I would think that would be old news in your neck of the woods.

  38. DD danced for 16 years. 16 recitals and 9 years of competition. One year she was in 14 numbers. At that level, it’s like a premier travel team in terms of commitment.
    While I regret very little of it (the time I yelled the f bomb backstage was not one of my shining moments) I would have been just as happy had she chosen soccer.

  39. I still have dreams where somehow I’ve been sucked back in and I’m backstage at the Nutcracker again.

  40. HM, are your kids no longer active in dance?

    DD finally stopped dance last year, when softball practice and dance class were at the same time. She, and one of her best friends in dance, chose softball, and a semester later, their other two best friends from their dance class also chose softball.

    Not many kids stay with dance into HS, and of those that do, it seems like a significant %age are there for the dance part of musical theater/

  41. Finn, your dance mom story is disappointing but not surprising. Women, including me, tend to think about ways we are excluded but not the ways we exclude men. I’ve held a variety of opinions on this over time, and today’s opinion is that I make the choices necessary to make my family run well over time and other people have to just deal with it.

    We have similar issues with same-sex parents hogging the family restrooms here. Mr. WCE does more than half of the swimming lessons because my sons are too old for the women’s locker room but can’t be trusted to behave themselves en masse in the men’s locker room.

  42. “I make the choices necessary to make my family run well over time and other people have to just deal with it.”

    Ouch! A big problem today is that many people follow the same rule. Maybe, even, same sex couples using family restrooms. But then again, what are family restrooms for?

  43. Finn, like your daughter, they’ve chosen other, time-conflicting activities. I could see them going back to it on a casual level when time permits, but not seriously.

  44. “I still have dreams where somehow I’ve been sucked back in and I’m backstage at the Nutcracker again.”

    When I was in HS, I stage crewed for the Nutcracker. 10 performances. I know every bar of the first act, because we had to make the tree grow at the proper moment, make the snow fall, and best of all, escort 20 little kids in mouse costumes back and forth from one side to the other. The costumes had red eyes so the kids couldn’t see a thing backstage. We had to lead them like three blind mice, and shove them out on the stage at precisely the right moment

  45. I’m the same way, except in my case it was because I had to wrangle an untidy tangle of little boys to ensure they were in the right spot in the wings at the right time, and were not in the wings at other times because inevitably they’d mess with the props or start arguing with each other and making fart noises when the audience could hear them. Best year was the onsite fistfight while I watched from the wings in frozen horror. When I hear the music I can see the performance unfolding.

    And my streaming music has just started playing Waltz of the Flowers. Thanks, Amazon.

  46. Onstage fistfight, I mean. I wonder if that’s identifying, or if such occurrences are par for the course?

  47. I’ve seen several Nutcracker performances (DD was in a few, and went to see her friends in others, and I’ve also seen it on TV), but I’ve never seen an onstage fistfight. OTOH, all of the performances I’ve seen live had a dearth of young male participants, so just your description of “an untidy tangle of little boys” might be identifying to someone who knows which performances actually include little boys.

  48. “We have similar issues with same-sex parents hogging the family restrooms here.”

    With parents and kids of different sex? I can understand that, to a certain extent.

    OTOH, if it’s male parents and male kids, I can see that contributing to the perpetuation of a certain stereotype.

  49. Big whoops! I meant parent is the same sex as child(ren) and uses the family change room. I’m typing from a fitting room where I’m feeding Baby WCE. My obnoxiousness only extends that far, and it’s a hundred degrees out so the car doesn’t work

  50. I get that, WCE. For swim lessons, if I take the girls, I take them into the women’s locker room. If DH takes the girls, he uses one of the family changing areas. They’re too big for the men’s room and too little to swing the women’s locker room without him.

  51. My D started dance lessons when she was in preschool and continued for a few years. That studio used relatively expensive (about $100 IIRC) costumes for its recital. More recently my D started taking lessons at another studio that is more low-key, with less expensive classes and costumes, which are incredibly only about $40 IF you want to buy them. Right now my D is at a sleep-away intensive dance camp in New England, where most of the participants appear to be boarding school girls. Surprisingly, my very non-preppy D seems to like her fellow campers. I guess they bond over their love of dance.

    While I think the little dancers are adorable, I don’t really care to watch them for an hour or more.

    Irish step dancers have to buy expensive costumes that cost up to $1000 or more. But then they resell them in most cases.

  52. The discussion of family changing rooms got me thinking about the times before family changing rooms. I distinctly remember (so I was 5 or 6) going into a men’s restroom with my dad. I’m not sure if he checked to see if the entire room was unoccupied, but he led me to a stall with his hands over my eyes. Then to the sink, and out the door. I remember one guy walking in then out of the restroom during that time. My dad thanked him for his discretion when we walked out. I honestly think that was the last time I went out solo with my dad until I was old enough to be trusted by myself in the bathroom.

    I don’t see this issue with little boys with their moms in women’s restrooms, but I think it’s probably because there are only stalls, so little chance for people to get embarrassed.

    Finn – your story reminded me of being backstage at my cousin’s recital. It was “women only”. And the principle instructor was definitely in the mindset of “women only” even though her son was a dancer in the company (the same child actor I mentioned above).

  53. Rhode, at least in my part of the country, men are much more aware of Dads caring for daughters than when I was a kid. Mr. WCE says that when a Dad is using the men’s room with his daughter, the other men use a stall rather than the urinal. Also, there are now diaper changing stations in many men’s restrooms. If we’re out as a family, diaper duty defaults to Mr. WCE on the theory that men’s room changing stations are likely cleaner than women’s room ones.

  54. The diaper changing stations in men’s restrooms that I’ve seen are usually just inside the restroom, so anyone there doesn’t necessarily see a lot of what goes on in there.

    “the theory that men’s room changing stations are likely cleaner than women’s room ones.”


    My guess is that men’s restrooms in general are not cleaner than women’s. OTOH, the changing stations do probably get less use, are typically not near the rest of the restrooms, and perhaps are only included in certain restrooms that are less likely to be frequented be certain types of men.

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