5 Things I Learned About Crushing Adult Life as a Dance Mom

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I am a Dance Mom. That label comes with a fair few comedic references, and a history connected to a reality TV show that has long passed. My life as a Dance Mom doesn’t compare to a reality tv show, but it is rich and complex and has become an integral part of my parenting journey over the last 9 years. As a Dance Mom, I have come to realize that the challenges dancers face – and the lessons they learn in response – actually relate well to that challenges I’ve faced and continue to face as an adult. 

The dance competition season is ending for the year, and I find that I’m a Mom walking away with new insight. Here are 5 things I’ve learned about winning at adult life from watching a team of young dancers… 

1. How to Lose Big – and Win Big

Did you know that as a competitive dancer, you will sometimes have to compete against your own teammates? It’s a thing, and something that is prevalent in our adult life too. What happens if you lose your job at the exact moment your friend is advancing their business? Or you are starting a new relationship while your best friend is getting a divorce? Welcome to mid-life and the question encountered so often within it: how do you win or lose – and do it with empathy for others and yourself?

When you are part of a dance team, you are pushed to praise and support your teammates when they win – even when you lose. A lot of adults can’t do that! As a young dancer you practice understanding and empathy, learning to reach out, connect, and be humble. You learn to appreciate the strengths other people possess and celebrate them – instead of letting jealousy take over. It is HARD, but it is an incredibly valuable skill. It teaches you that is is OK – and normal – to feel both sad and happy at the same time, and that it’s ok to communicate those feelings to your friends and partners. I’ve witnessed 12-year-old dancers do just that, and equally watched other adults fail miserably at it. 

2. Handling Criticism Well 

During class and competitions coaches and judges give dancers constant feedback. Judge’s verbal critiques are recorded for each dancer so they can listen again after their performance. Yet, dancers don’t – and can’t – walk away feeling attacked. They don’t take the feedback as an insult; using it instead to increase their awareness of their performance and drive them to their next goal. The ability to be coached and taught is a skill! Adults need this skill in all aspects of advanced education and career development. In order to achieve, you must first be willing to learn – and to realize that someone else may know better than you.

3. Feeling ALL the Feelings

In our world of high-achieving hustle, plentiful screens, and instant gratification; it’s easy for us to live just rushing from one place to another and not feeling much. Our lives are filled with to-do lists, events, work, and chores as adults. Mental Health concerns are on the rise as we deal with traumas large and small. Dancers learn to feel their choreography and to emote that feeling on stage. They practice feeling while they perform. Developing a story and theme as they move, dancers use empathy and feeling to share their art with the audience. We are learning more and more about the human brain, and the impact of mental health on the physical body. Ignoring feelings can be bad for your health! Dancers get extra practice with feeling it ALL. 

4. Combining Art and Music in a Transformative Way

Feeling stressed or overwhelmed as an adult? When was the last time you played, exercised to the point of being focused on nothing else but your breath, or created something meaningful using just your own imagination? Dancers do this as a daily practice. They use art and movement as means to express their feelings and create choreography. Both of these things are used as therapy for overcoming anxiety and depression. The Arts (fine arts, theatre, dance, poetry, movement, music) are all INCREDIBLY important to our children’s lives, and can be the only reason that some want to go to school or learn at all. I learned that in graduate school, and it still holds true in my personal experience as an adult. 

5. Learning the True Value of Teamwork 

Dancers must work as a team, even when dancing – or competing – alone. On stage or in life, when you are surrounded by those who lift you up, challenge you, support you, cheer you, win and lose alongside you, ANYTHING is possible. Your circle of friendships actually functions better as a horseshoe – allowing for an opening is a way to include those who come in and out of your “team”. People enter and leave our teams both professionally and personally. When we lead with a teamwork mentality in our relationships, we help cultivate success for all. Dancers are given opportunities to work with different teammates and coaches, but everyone must work as a team to ensure the success of the whole group. 

Not up for taking a dance class or joining a dance academy as an adult? That’s ok. You can still benefit from the dancer mentality. Find a space where you can play some music, move your body and sweat. Dance like no one is watching! Or, act like the many dancers I know and dance like the whole world is watching. My daughter asked me recently if dance would ever be part of the Olympic Games. Though there is no real way to know that, my thinking is that maybe the meaning of this art is so much more than a Gold, Silver or Bronze. 
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When I was 12, I received a coveted writing award at my 8th grade graduation. So right about now my 12 year old self is super pumped to be writing for Seacoast Moms! Writing loads of poetry helped get me through many challenges as a preteen. Even as a poet, I also write in advocacy and about deeper challenges as a parent and as a woman. Expressing my feelings and writing about what I've learned while becoming a grown up may hopefully be relatable to others. In college I was set on a law career but took one intro to education class and fell in love. I received my Master's in Education from Lesley College through a life changing program called "Art Integration in the Classroom". During my years teaching 4th grade, I also coached for The Girls on the Run program and witnessed the importance of extracurricular activities, teamwork and movement for children. Once my daughters came along, I made the tough decision to pause my career and focus on motherhood. I became the organizer of my family (and chaos) as a stay-at-home mama. The trick I found to support my extrovert passionate personality was to not "stay-at-home". My children and I quickly became involved with our community in Portsmouth, NH. I suddenly found myself as a master non-profit volunteer, becoming skilled at event planning and fundraising and eventually social media marketing and management. I helped lead a nature playground committee at our local school which successfully raised tens of thousands of dollars over several years. Within our PTA, I've planned many events and led our group members to think of outside of the box while using ways to connect with the community and secure sponsorship for The Ecology School Fund as well as The Nature Playground Fund. I've dived in to Social Media management promoting kindness, connection and celebration. Motherhood has found me coaching a youth sport that I knew nothing about, navigating the health and special education field for both my daughters and advocating for enhancing special education and for invisible disabilities such as Dyslexia and PANS/PANDAS awareness. Over the last 12 years as a Seacoast Mom the one thing that I've learned is that kindness can go a long way and that you truly never know what another mom or family could be dealing with. So offer a helping hand when you can, a compliment or an unexpected smile. It can and will change someone's life. I like to speak up when it's important and believe we should skip the small talk and get to the grit of life. I love my family, friends and community fiercely.

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