Switching gears on this blog, I wanted to be sure I had a “how to survive” series for dance Moms.  See, you sign your kid up for dance, no problem right?  They are going to be cute, it will be so much fun, and everything will be easy.  Yes, if you know how to survive.  I have been doing this for 24 years (I have t-shirt proof!) and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

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In one year, this vital part of me will be over, this identity, this way of life.  The sadness that surrounds that thought is pretty intense.  While being a dance Mom can be overwhelming the goal is not to make it on reality TV or in the hospital with stress symptoms and some easy steps can help prevent this.  In the age of blogs, Pinterest and internet, here is a handy guide to help you.  Since I am writing this in November, let’s start this series with ‘How to Survive Nutcracker.’

Soon I will be listing things for you to remember and bring to help make the performance weekend easy and fun.  But let’s start with you.  First off, Nutcracker is a seasonal favorite.

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Your dancer has the privilege to participate in an event that not every dancer in each studio gets.  This, like every performance opportunity, is a chance for your dancer to show off what they have learned.  It needs to be a stress free and happy and a memory that you and your dancer will cherish forever.  Some good planning and organization on your part can really help make this weekend one of your favorites.  I’m going to start with attitude.  Both dancer and parent need to understand that regardless of the part your dancer has, every part is essential.  What a boring production for Sugar Plum to be dancing alone on a stage.  From Bon Bons to Sugar Plum, every part is important, even if this is your 5th year in Snow or Flowers; the production needs these elements to engage the audience.  And guess what?  It’s not about you or your dancer, it’s about engaging the community in the arts and the Nutcracker is the most likely to bring through the door people who would normally avoid ballet.  Those little, tiny eyes staring at you in that beautiful tutu or in your male attire leaping skillfully across the stage is forming a dream and you and your dancer are playing a part in sharing this joy and magic with the world.

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Take complete joy in that and your attitude will be set for the weekend.  If you attend a studio where you have the privilege of formal greeting of audience in your costumes, I’m sure you will get a much better sense when that little one asks for a hug!  I always wished our studio would do that.  Additionally, I always cringe when I hear a dancer or parent complain a part is too easy.  The purpose of recital is to show off the skills you have learned through the year.  The purpose of Nutcracker is to tell a story with grace and beauty.  Most dancers struggle with dance acting, which is a big part of Nutcracker, so embrace this opportunity to improve those skills.

To survive any long weekend of performances, there are some basic things you need: health, knowledge, and organization.  I will be addressing information specific to my studio Nutcracker’s venue in this blog, but be it can most certainly be adapted to other studio situations easily.

Health:  Why start here?  If YOU and your dancer are not healthy, then your stress levels will be higher so there is more likelihood that things will go wrong.  It is also more likely that tempers will rise and tears will be shed.  This, above all, needs to be a weekend surrounded by positive energy and memories.  Now picture this is me, looking at you straight in the eye, a Mom who has 3 out of 4 of her kids gone and watches dance videos when she gets nostalgic.  YOU WON’T HAVE VERY MANY OF THESE.  TREASURE THEM!  You will get to the point where your kids think you are stupid and they resist your every suggestion, so make the most of this time now.

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If you and your dancers are not properly fueled, no one can survive the higher, more demanding expectations.  Dancers are athletes.  They need to eat and drink like athletes preparing for a marathon, just not as many carbs as say swimmers or runners need.   They don’t burn that many calories.  While we all admit we should eat healthy all the time, let’s be real.  So be purposeful about one week before a big performance weekend.  Start with your drink: water, water, water.  No sugar drinks.  Sugar gives your dancers a high and the crash is not pretty. Not for you, not for their fellow dancers and not for the poor volunteer Mom in charge of the dressing room.  So be nice to everyone and have your dancer drink water all week, especially the day of the show.  Reward them with sugar after the show, if you must, while they are solely on your time.

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Eating, that again, protein (nuts, cheeses, and lean meats), some carbs, but not overload as carbs turn to sugar in your body, vegetables (preferably dark green!)  Keep in mind, if your dancer uses vegetable dip, check how much sugar is in what you choose; consider a homemade yogurt/cucumber based dip.  Be a label reader, if sugar is in the first five ingredients; place it back on the shelf.  It’s the Nutcracker; all the good luck gifts will be candy canes!

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Talk to your dancer beforehand about not eating candy treats until after the final performance.  Think ahead to what you will eat between performances as it needs to be brought into the venue and consumed in the hallway.  Fast food is around the corner, but that is not the best choice, consider packing lunch that is more healthy or buying ahead better food.  Not to mention this year’s cast had 80 students so that’s 80 people going to the nearby restaurants to get food all at the same time.  For older dancers with more intense lead parts that expend quite a bit of energy, they will need snacks.  As you can have no food by the costumes, consider a small cooler in the hallway with nuts, cheese, and dried fruit – things that will not dirty hands when they are quickly grabbed.  I find Sargento’s Balanced Breaks awesome for this purpose.

Now, specific to the Nutcracker I experience, another key factor is knowledge of what is going to happen.  I guarantee you this applies to every studio doing this: THE DIRECTOR HAS WRITTEN IT DOWN.  Before you approach a teacher or director with questions, check everything you have been sent.  It’s probably written down.  Next step is to go another parent to see if it was written down and you missed it.  Some studios assign parents as ‘Costume Mistress’ or ‘Parent Mentors’, so seek that person out, that is their role.  The director has 10 gazillion things to accomplish and answering 80 questions about what color tights goes with what costume when it’s been written down for the entire season is not one of them.  If your studio does not have that role assigned, then how you identify the parents in the know is this:  look for the parent whose dancers are organized and have everything they need all the time, they are always there early, and the parent is sipping coffee and reading a book or magazine casually while everyone else is snipping nastily at their kid.  That is the parent that can answer your question.

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Our studio has ‘dual casts’ meaning Sugar Plum, Snow Queen, Dew Drop and Clara (sometimes Rat Queen) are double cast in order to give more dancers more opportunities.  That means that dress rehearsals need to happen for cast one and cast two.  Costumes are checked in and out at rehearsals and performances and need to be kept together with all of the pieces.  The Moms who are volunteering for the position are not in charge of tracking down mouse gloves or snow head pieces.  Be sure you and your dancers say thank you to the volunteers.  At the venue, dancers’ costumes will be waiting for them in their assigned dressing room on costume racks with their names.  Dressing rooms are small and there are volunteer Moms who will be in charge of the room, so you, MOM, don’t fit; however, there are room Moms for the show, not dress rehearsal necessarily though some Moms do take the role for both, so hang for a second at dress rehearsal and see what is needed.  If you are in the way, just go to the auditorium and watch rehearsal quietly, clapping and cheering to add energy.  (Be sure to check my blog on when it’s good to clap during the Nutcracker).

On the day of the show, bring your dancer to the venue, makeup and hair completed, carefully following the director’s instructions so that all dancers are uniform, drop them at the dressing room, having your dancer check their name off on the door as present, and leave them be.  You can double check that the room Mom role is covered and you are not needed before you head out.  Have all the essentials (see below) in a small basket to allow you to refresh between shows.  Pre-talk with your dancer’s regardless of age about listening to the parent volunteers and telling them to say please and thank you.

If you have not volunteered, please move to the audience if you bought a ticket or elsewhere if you have not.  Side note: just because you know how to sneak into the auditorium to save three thousand seats for your family, doesn’t mean you should do that.  Get in line like everyone else, this show if for the community, NOT THE MOMS.  It turns off guests if they are first in line and they enter in a room with coats all over the choice chairs.  You represent the studio too and you need those little eyes to want to take dance classes so that the business will continue to stay open, so guests should be a priority.  Remember, we are all working together to create a magical experience for the community.

Behind the scenes your dancer’s room Mom will keep the dancers occupied and quiet as well as help them with costuming.  Next, a volunteer parent runner will gather the scene in the hallway where the dancers need to wait silently. Not “quietly.” Silently. That means no talking or even whispering. It will only be a few minutes.  Again, if you prepare your dancer for this fact, the day goes much smoother.  The young dancers are so excited and it is very hard to be quiet, but sound does travel and the audience can hear loud conversations.  At the right time, your dancers will be escorted to off stage and then on stage for you to enjoy.  Follow your director’s instructions for picking up your child after they dance.  Hanging around in the hallway is a problem at the venue because there is so little space and such a large cast doing the same thing.  You cannot bring your dancer to sit in the auditorium unless their costume is covered AND YOU HAVE BOUGHT THEM A TICKET.  Venues cost a great deal of money and that is what ticket sales are for.  Studios know how many seats they can sell and they need to sell all the seats to break even on the cost, so those seats cannot be occupied by dancers who have not paid for a seat or a paying customer is without one.  Parents are most helpful if they either remain in their volunteer area or out of the way.  Keep in mind, the instructions for parents are different depending on the age of your dancer.  Always follow what your director has placed in her notes.  After finale, be sure you talk with your older dancer about where you will meet them in costume to greet people (if your studio allows this).

Between shows, dancers are not to leave the venue, so their food should be brought to them.  Again, given the volume of cast members, I strongly suggest you pack lunch.  They will have to eat in the hallway, which is hard, cold floor so perhaps you can bring a blanket too.  Their room Mom has likely cued them to return their costume to the rack so they will be in basic dancewear.  Many dancers bring along a cover up or robe.  After the second show, volunteers will be lined up to receive your dancer’s costumes and return them to the studio for washing/cleaning.  Everyone wants go home or to their favorite restaurant too, so joining your dancer to help them gather pieces and pack up as quickly as possible is kind.  Be sure to have your dancer thank the volunteers and directors.

Now for organization:  The Nutcracker is different than other performances in that you are only in charge of the correct tights, shoes and undergarments.  Be sure your dancer’s name is on everything, yes, even the spare stuff.  Everything else is organized and waiting for you.  That being said, there is NO EXCUSE for you not having the right things!!!!  The director has this written down, I guarantee you, so check your paperwork.  Your tights and shoes not only need to be the color requested, but the brand as well.  Different brands have different shades and the one dancer who has bubble gum pink tights instead of ballet pink is blatantly obvious.  Teachers ask for uniformity in costume and makeup so that the audience can focus on the dance and not be distracted by the differences.  Always bring spare tights.  It is not another family’s job to supply your child with tights if holes form.  Men’s tights can be sewn so be sure you have needle and thread as part of your equipment for male dancers.  Ballet shoes should be clean and hole free.  Yes the audience can see that hole; it is important!

Here are the other things that are useful in your small basket to help:

  • Water
  • Small basket to contain everything
  • Bobby pins/ safety pins (medicine bottles work nicely for that)
  • Gel and Hairspray / makeup for touch ups
  • Hair nets
  • Deodorant and body spray; other essentials for ladies
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Make up wipes and tissues/towels to blot sweat
  • Needle and thread along with small scissors
  • Do not have phones or electronics as there may be times these rooms are left empty such as finale
  • NO FINGERNAIL POLISH

Cue your dancer to remain contained in this small basket space.  You moms know if your dancer will struggle with this, so be sure you are talking to them about not spreading out.  80 kids is a lot!  If you and your dancer are not getting along, don’t escalate to snippy or shouting; simply have another Mom take over dealing with your dancer.  I can assure you that not once have I had another Mom’s dancer ever be rude to me (not more than once that is).  It is better to let go, than ruin or stress a day.  Honestly, by no later than age 13, your dancer should be completely independent anyway.  Dancers are instructed to arrive with makeup completed, but some dancers won’t do this.  The dressing room will have lights; I don’t recommend leaving those on as the room becomes very hot.

Let me park a minute on the no fingernail polish.  It has been years since I have attended a show where at least one dancer didn’t have polish.  It catches your eye from the back row.  Many directors will allow nude or French manicure, but I can still see those and wish they wouldn’t.  It is plain rude to take a season of hard work of your directors and dance friends and distract the audience with your nails because you didn’t feel like following instructions.  Now is not really the time for the teenage I’m independent and can make my own decision stage.  Now is the time to create the magic for the community and that means uniformity so everyone can focus on the beauty of the dance.  Copy paste the same sentiment for not following your director’s color choice and style choice for makeup.  Be individual tomorrow, today be a ballerina.

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Now you are ready, believe it or not, to have the best weekend of your year!  Enjoy the Nutcracker and see it through the magic of a young child’s eyes.

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