It sounds funny, I know, but it really is so. I’m my own dance mom. And, while I’ll admit that it does sound immensely funny, I also want to put it out there that I have gained a huge amount of respect for dance moms the past couple of weeks. (The term “dance mom” is often used derogatorily to refer to the mother of a dancer, who is perhaps more than a little insane. However, in the case of this blog post, I use the term simply to indicate the mother of a dancer, regardless of sanity.) I recently began taking Irish dance lessons through the O’Hare School of Irish Dance up here in Northeastern Ohio, but before I talk about dancing now, I need to provide a bit of a background on dancing then.
Back home, I danced for just shy of a decade with the Shanahan School in Columbus. Unfortunately for my unbridled potential, the school disbanded in 2008, the very same year I graduated from high school and first moved up to Oberlin. Without a car in Oberlin or a familiar dance school to return to over the summers, I found myself in that awkward position of…well…not dancing. Dance, which had, honestly, been such a non-thing in my life, suddenly became the keystone to my contentedness. At college there was nowhere to practice hardshoe without either annoying my co-op or being yelled at by the administration for ruining the floors in the studios. (The whole ruining the floors thing still confuses me–isn’t that what dance studio floors are for? To dance on?) At college, there was no one to dance with, no one to yell at me to turn my feet out, no performance team, no beginner class to teach, no competitions or feis friends, no awesome Irish ladies to slip me free bits of scones and soda bread. After my hard drive crashed and I lost all my files, I didn’t even have music to practice to.
Basically, everything about dance that I’d complacently taken for granted was suddenly half a state away. The leather of my dance shoes stretched and tore; my beautiful solo dress fell out of fashion; my wig frizzed and frayed. The kids I used to teach began dancing at different schools and advancing through the levels. I tried to keep in contact, but life got in the way and then the point just seemed moot. (I just want to say, they’ve all grown up into such amazing young adults. I’m so proud of them.) I’d spent ten years complaining about dance and wanting to quit, and when not dancing became a fact of life rather than a vague choice I might make someday, I couldn’t handle it. I clung onto the last vestiges of my step dancing career: six-year-old reels, stained poodle socks, and half a bottle of wig conditioner. I guess cliches are cliches because they’re true. Absence really does make the heart grow fonder.
Anyway, fast forward to the present day. I’m dancing again, this time with the O’Hare school up here in Northeastern Ohio. Honestly, I leave every class goofy, high on endorphins, and with an intense desire to eat every single thing that exists in my kitchen. I wake up the next morning and revel in the muscle aches and the blistered feet that let me know I’m getting better and stronger. The music fills my veins and pulls me along like morphine, and when I jump, I soar. (Disclaimer: when I jump, I actually look and sound like an elephant in a too-small too-too, but it doesn’t matter. I’m still soaring, okay? It’s poetic hyperbole, okay? OKAY???) Call me crazy, but there is nothing quite like having one dance teacher screaming at you while another grabs your arm and forces you to push yourself to the edge of the floor, which at any given moment during your dance can feel like the edge of the world…
Now, before I get carried away and start comparing moving across a stage to Ferdinand Magellan circumnavigating the globe, let’s segway into the actual point of this blog post. For all that dancing again fills me with warm nostalgia and a feeling of accomplishment, it’s still not the same experience. It’s different and, if anything, even more meaningful than before, because now I know what goes into it. When I was a kid, I just got in a car and ended up at the studio on time. My dance bag was in the back seat whether I grabbed it myself or not. If my muscles were sore, they were massaged. If my spirits were low, they were raised. All of this happened because my mother is an amazing human being who got me where I needed to be, offered encouragement and comfort at every turn, and paid paid paid for everything I needed. Guess where mom is now? Back home in Columbus. (I miss you, mommy!)
That was dancing then. This is dancing now. After working an 8 hour opening shift at Agave on Tuesdays, I bike home like my life depended on it. If I can find my car keys, I might have time to eat dinner, but not really because the chances that there is gas in my car are slim. I grab my dance bag regardless of what is in it, throw it into the car, and drive to BP. My own debit card goes into the pump, and it’s my foot that’s tapping impatiently on the ground while the tab shoots up and up and up and away with all my money! (It’s my lips that are cursing when I drive past a gas station twenty minutes down the road that’s twenty cents cheaper.) I get to choose what I listen to on the radio, how loud it is, how fast I go…but I also have to pay attention or I’ll miss my turn and end up lost on the other side of Medina again. If I arrive on time, it’s a prayer answered. If I’m late, I’m the only one to blame. There’s a check in my back pocket that will cover a month of classes, but only a month, because a girl’s gotta eat. (Also, because I’ll need new shoes eventually.) There’s no one familiar watching through the window and smiling at me. When I come home, I have to remind myself to ice my shins. When I practice (if I practice) there’s no one to perform for but myself. If I’m discouraged, I’m the only one to say “Chin up, it’s hard to learn after so many years. Give it time.” And on top of all of this, I have to remember my steps.
So, there you have it. I’m my own dance mom. It’s hard, but I’m proud. The world may think we’re crazy, but we’re just good people trying to give our dancers the best we have to offer. There’s a lot more that goes into being a dance mom than cattiness and petty feuds, anyway. Dance moms are like thick, Grecian pillars, taking on all the shite of dance lessons so that their children can be free to enjoy themselves and focus on what matters. There’s a tenderness and a loyalty that are priceless to a young athlete run raw under the pressure of competition, expectation, and aspiration. Even if you’re not a dancer, you should go ahead and call your mom (or any parent that has filled the sort of role I’ve just described) and thank her. Chances are you wouldn’t be where you are today without them.