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Dance Mom Fails and Dreaming the Impossible Dream

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One of the most rewarding parts of parenthood is seeing your children wade through the wall of clutter to discover their talents and passions. We tried it all–soccer, gymnastics, swim team and upside-down basket weaving. She had marginal successes but there was one activity that was a complete flop: dancing. You see, my daughter Hadley has inherited my lack of rhythm. Instead, she has a raw, aggressive athleticism that makes her adept at climbing mountains, careening down a ski slope, scaling large buildings and reducing her competition to tears at any sign of weakness.

When she was three years old, she had her first – and last – dance recital. We invited the entire family out for the occasion, an event we knew would go down as yet one more painful chapter in the Johnson Family History of Dysfunction.

I hoped an early intervention would counteract her lack of groove but I was wrong. Early on, it became painfully clear that she is not made for the dance floor. Her only redeeming quality is she loves an audience, as was evidenced by her performance at the recital.

While most of the little girls timidly and gracefully danced, Hadley did her toe-heel kicks like she was crushing a philandering ex-boyfriend. She spun like a rabid Tasmanian devil. And then, when all the girls were linking hands in a circle, Hadley decided this was her moment and she brazenly improvised a solo performance. Until those lacking in vision reeled her back in, that is. (The legendary dance has likely gone viral somewhere on YouTube).

We laughed until we cried but quickly acknowledged that this is not her passion and so our quest continues to explore and discover her talents. To encourage, not crush The Dream because believe me, I know all about the crushing…

When I was young, I dreamed of singing on Broadway and would perform to my Annie and Sound of Music 8-Tracks for hours. The problem was I couldn’t carry a tune but that did not dissuade me. Until Lisa Low came on the scene.

Lisa was a girl at church who was the complete antithesis of me. She was petite, sweet, sang like an angel and was a fantastic actress. I was also extremely jealous of her. Whatever athletic or academic prowess I possessed seemed to pale in comparison to her gifts. One Sunday when I heard her song-bird voice, I snapped. Suddenly, it became the most important thing in the world to out-sing her the only way I know how: in volume.

As I sang louder, she rose to the occasion matching me with her melodic voice. Back and forth it went until we were both practically shouting. Exasperated, she finally turned to me.

“Amber, will you please stop? You are singing way too loud!”
“You are singing just as loudly as me,” I pointed out.
“Yes, but I sound good!”

Maybe I should give ballet another try. 

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  • comment avatar Heidi April 14, 2008

    I bet you would OUT-FUNNY Laura any time of the day 🙂

    And seriously, that picture of Hadley is just beyond adorable, and I’d be loathe to give up her dancing attempts just yet. How can you NOT want to see her little tutu’ed self again and again and again?


  • comment avatar Heidi April 14, 2008

    Laura=Lisa. What can I say, it is waaaay too early for me!

  • comment avatar alex April 14, 2008

    Oh I was like that with dancing….
    I did ballet till I was 11 and was okay…but I was not lithe and naturally graceful.

    Only when the biggest girl in class said she was quitting did I decide to stop…because being the next in line for biggest girl…I knew then I didn’t want that title.

    I also did this with Piano and violin. I was fine not being the best…I just didn’t want to be the worst.

  • comment avatar Carol April 14, 2008

    She DOES look adorable! And those stories are just tooooooo funny!

  • comment avatar MommyTime April 14, 2008

    I love that you are letting her give up the ballet for something else. I tried ballet, ice-skating (too expensive, rink too far away), brownies — all the girly things. BUT I ran races at the busstop every morning, could beat all the kids on my street including the boys, was BORED at ballet. It was not common way back then to put little girls into soccer. I vowed when I got to college and discovered that I loved running (d’Oh) that I would put my little girl(s) if I ever had any into sports if that was their inclination. It can only make for more happiness, not less. And the adorableness of a tutu? Well, it can be overrated. They’re itchy. And tiny little pairs of cleats are pretty adorable too… 🙂

  • comment avatar Amy April 14, 2008

    It’s OK . . . we song-birds are jealous of you athletic types too . . . dancing, singing, acting . . . that I could always do, but the most athletic I ever got was figure skating and cheerleading . . . I WISHED I had the prowess for volleyball, tennis and ice hockey . . . heck, even now I YEARN to play hockey, so while you were pining for pipes and grace I was pining for speed and agility. Maybe we could share??

  • comment avatar Lisa April 14, 2008

    Can’t wait to see the video!! She looks adorable!

  • comment avatar Leslie April 14, 2008

    My 4 year old has her first dance recital coming up next month…she is such a ham and loves an audience too, but she is terrified of the recital! We’ll see what happens…Hadley is way, way cute…you may say she doesn’t have the moves…but she sure has the looks!!!

  • comment avatar Richelle F April 14, 2008

    Oh, but she looks so cute!

  • comment avatar kim April 14, 2008

    She is absolutely adorable!!! She stole the show – I love it!
    🙂 I think it is great that you are so open to letting your children define their own passion. I can totally relate to you with the athleticism thing ~ but have somehow spawned a little songbird/piano playing/dancer!? 🙂
    Life’s a real box of chocolates, isn’t it Forrest?

    🙂 BTW: You are a stitch! I so enjoy your writing.

  • comment avatar Melissa April 14, 2008

    So is soooo cute in that toto! Seriously adorable!

  • comment avatar Lisa April 14, 2008

    They are too cute! My girls never went in for the girlie dance class either. They took Tai Kwon Do! Now they spar with each other and their Dad. Once a year they suck it up and admit they are girls, and wear fancy dresses to the Father & Daughter Ball, where no sparring is allowed.
    It’s good that you are letting Hadley try different things, and not encouraging her to live out your dreams, but reach for her own. Way to go, Momma!

  • comment avatar yvonne April 14, 2008

    She is so adorable. I think it is so hard not to crush their dreams, but it doesn’t sound like this is one of her dreams.

  • comment avatar Suzanne Bastien April 14, 2008

    Ok.. that was HYSTERICAL to read! Thank you so much for sharing.

    I think the pride in seeing your daughter to do a spin to out manuver another girl on the basketball court, or to slide under the legs of an awaiting base defender, or even avoid the tackle of schoolmate in “touch” football will be MUCH more appealing to you, than watching her twirl on stage.

    Life is a beautiful dance, and she will be as “graceful” as her mother, without the pink tutu!

    Good luck, and thanks for the laugh!

  • comment avatar Wendi April 14, 2008

    Too funny! I always enjoy the soloist the best.
    I am sure she was the hit of the recital! I shall wait with baited breath for the video.
    I too can not carry a tune in a bucket. I am a mean “shower singer” though. We all have our strengths, and unfortunately,we all have our weaknesses too.

  • comment avatar Angie April 14, 2008

    OH I SOOO agree with Amy’s comment. It was funny to read your envy of Lisa Low since Lisa Low probably coveted your outdoor athleticisms as she watched you.

    For my own boys, we try to expose them to whatever in reason. Only one activity/sport at a time. My youngest seems to have a knack for soccer, but my oldest likes to wait for the ball to come to him. In all sports. Some with less parential bias as I posess may call it cherry picking. To- MAE-to, To-MAH-to. whatever. So, we are trying my older one at less team sports and more individual activities – golf, BMX biking, umm what else? any suggestions?


  • comment avatar Anonymous April 14, 2008

    I wanted to be a corporate giant. I wanted to carry and brief case and work in a big city. I’m not sure why-maybe cause I went to work with my dad a lot in NYC and I thought it was cool. We just let our kids explore different things without pressure. They also just have fun being kids and we don’t sign them up for tons of stuff-sometimes we do have to “encourage” them to try things though.

  • comment avatar Elizabeth F Deane April 14, 2008

    sorry, that last comment was from me-forgot to sign in.

  • comment avatar Mel @ A Box of Chocolates April 14, 2008

    That’s it…I am totally not going to my daughters dance in June. I just can’t do it!!

  • comment avatar Guinevere Meadow April 14, 2008

    She looks deceptively sweet and ballerina-ish in that little tutu!

    PLEASE share that YouTube video with us!!!

  • comment avatar Amber Johnson April 14, 2008

    Thanks everyone for your great comments! Isn’t it funny how we so envy those talents we don’t have?!

  • comment avatar Tammy April 14, 2008


    I think you are ending her dance career a little too soon and here are my reasons:

    A. If she really doesn’t have rhythm then keep her in the class. You don’t take the class just because you have rhythm, you also take the class to learn rhythm (and yes my friend, it can be taught). That way she can actually enjoy her junior high school years without hiding in the bathroom for fear of attending the school dance.

    B. Others in the fam have suggested that they actually think she is pretty coordinated and does have rhythm. So make sure you aren’t judging this through “painful non-rhythm growing up glasses”.

    C. You can not tell at this age what she will like, won’t like, can do, can’t do. Believe me from an ex-dance teacher, give it a shot, and if she is apathetic to it, keep going. If you get to the point where she starts screaming and hiding from her dance lessons, then you finally can be sure this just isn’t her bag. Which is o.k.

    Just food for thought. I just felt so bad for those poor kids who didn’t have a clue what to do at a school dance. If their parents had just given them a little foundation of lessons when they were young and pliable, they would have been just fine.

    Your sister-in-law – Tam

  • comment avatar Melain April 14, 2008

    Oh-ho SNAP! That must have hurt.

    I wanted to be a famous singer/songwriter. I wrote my first song in the 5th grade. It was good! My mom, my brother and all his friends accused me of copying it from somewhere. I was so devastated I didn’t write again until I was in my 20’s. Isn’t that TRAGIC?! If only we knew as children not to listen to anything but the voice in our own heads. Then maybe our inner voice as grown ups wouldn’t be so negative.

  • comment avatar diana/sunshine April 14, 2008

    too bad she can’t dance ‘cuz she sure is cute in her tutu.

    after nearly a year of dance lessons for my 5 year old, it was evident that she didn’t have any talent and she wasn’t really enjoying it. it was time to sign her up for the next round of classes and i was hesitant to do so. i finally asked her what she liked about dancing and her answer was, “the little prizes the teacher gives us at the end of each class!” well that was enough info for me to make the decision that her dancing career was over.

  • comment avatar chel April 14, 2008

    She looks adorable!
    I can’t wait until it is on YouTube!

  • comment avatar Lauren April 15, 2008

    Lisa Low…I think we all have a Lisa Low..

    Seriously, I burst out laughing when I read the description of Hadley’s dancing style…her kicks…like she was “crushing a philandering ex-boyfriend” that was great!

  • comment avatar Damselfly April 15, 2008

    I don’t want to dissuade you or Hadley from doing something else, but I have to tell you a story. I was in dance classes until I was 14. From the time I started (a little older than Hadley), I had a dance pal who was so awkward and uncoordinated. Everyone wondered why she stuck with it. Apparently, her mother thought the dancing would do her some good — and it did! She took classes on through high school, and she ended up working at Disney World as a dancer in their parades and shows! So you never know…. 😉

  • comment avatar Youngland May 14, 2008

    Honetly, three-years-old is WAY too young to decide if Hadley should be a dancer or not. If she enjoys it, let her do it!