Ask the Experts: Competitive Parents


Q: I have several parents at my studio who are very competitive. Unfortunately, their kids—though talented—are laid-back. These parents will tell me, "Push her! Make her do it!" It's frustrating. How should I handle this?

A: Over the years, I've found that it's not uncommon for competitive, go-getter parents to have children who are the exact opposite. In many cases, the parents' attitudes are so overpowering that their child's personality seems to get lost. It's frustrating and unfair to hear parents say things like, “This is going to be her year, Joanne—make her do it!"

Here's how I handled one of these moms: One evening, when I knew she'd been watching her daughter in class, I asked her to come in and talk with me. I told her that her daughter had potential and was making good progress, but that we—me, my staff and her—needed to focus on growing her daughter's confidence. I explained that pushing her daughter too hard and too quickly could have a negative effect on her confidence. Instead, we needed to let her know that we support her—and that her parents support my training methods. That's how to help her succeed, going forward.

No teacher can make a dancer perform; we can teach, motivate and encourage our students, but it's up to the dancer to put it all together. It can be a challenge to convince parents that this process takes time, but the reward of having a happy child who loves what she's doing is worth the wait.

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Courtesy Lovely Leaps

After the birth of her daughter in 2018, engineer Lisa McCabe had reservations about returning to the workforce full-time. And while she wanted to stay home with the new baby, she wasn't ready to stop contributing financially to her family (after all, she'd had a successful career designing cables for government drones). So, when she got a call that September from an area preschool to lead its dance program, she saw an opportunity.

The invitation to teach wasn't completely out of the blue. McCabe had grown up dancing in Southern California and had a great reputation from serving as her church's dance teacher and team coach the previous three years (stopping only to take a break as a new mother). She agreed to teach ballet and jazz at the preschool on Fridays and from there created an age-appropriate class based on her own training in the Cecchetti and RAD methods. It was a success: In three months, class enrollment went from six to 24 students, and just one year later, McCabe's blossoming Lovely Leaps brand had contracts with eight preschools and three additional teachers.

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Courtesy Shake the Ground

Dance competitions were among the first events to be shut down when the COVID-19 pandemic exploded in the U.S. in mid-March, and they've been among the last able to restart.

So much of the traditional structure of the competition—large groups of dancers and parents from dozens of different studios; a new city every week—simply won't work in our new pandemic world.

How, then, have competitions been getting by, and what does the future look like?

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Getty Images

Despite worldwide theater closures, the Universal Ballet Competition is keeping The Nutcracker tradition alive in 2020 with an online international competition. The event culminates in a streamed, full-length video of The Virtual Nutcracker consisting of winning entries on December 19. The competition is calling on studios, as well as dancers of all ages and levels, to submit videos by November 29 to be considered.

"Nutcracker is a tradition that is ingrained in our hearts," says UBC co-founder Lissette Salgado-Lucas, a former dancer with Royal Winnipeg Ballet and Joffrey Ballet. "We danced it for so long as professionals, we can't wait to pass it along to dancers through this competition."

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