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Lessons From a Former Dance Mom: Volunteering

My daughter started dancing when she was three-years-old and continued to dance for fourteen years. During all fourteen years, I volunteered in many different positions at the studio and sometimes not even for her performances. I’ve been a back stage volunteer, I’ve helped bedazzle costumes and props, I’ve handed out programs; I’ve helped with quick changes (for my daughter and countless other dancers); I’ve done sign-ins and check-outs; I’ve been a runner, signaling and walking groups to the wings from the dressing room and making sure they were ready and accounted for; I’ve unpacked costumes and steamed costumes; and I’ve burned myself with a hot glue gun more times than I’d like to admit.

Not only have I served in the various volunteer positions, but I’ve also worked behind the front desk and was the backstage manager for several years. So I understand how much work, organization, and dedication goes into planning where and when volunteers are needed, and making sure that the dress rehearsals and performances run smoothly. But I also know how it feels to be a new dance mom, volunteering for the first time and feeling inexperienced and slightly out of place.

Since I’ve seen and worked both sides of the aisle, I’d like to share what I’ve learned with you, whether you’re a veteran dance mom like me or you are new to the experience.

Determining where to volunteer and how much volunteering is right for you and your child can be tricky. It’s a delicate balancing act. You want to support your child and the studio, but you also want your child to spread their wings and grow on their own—or as I like to put it, you never want to feel as though you are hovering, ready to swoop down even though your child is fully capable of handling situations on their own.

If done for the right reasons, volunteering can be a rewarding experience for both you and your child. Volunteering allows you:

  • To make sure your child is comfortable and has a good time (because, above all else, you desperately want your child to have fun experiences doing an activity they love in a safe environment).

The first time I volunteered, my daughter was four-years-old and it was her first performance. My main goal that year was to make sure my daughter felt safe and comfortable in her surroundings, and had a positive experience. However, it was my first performance as well and I didn’t know all the moms or dancers. So I needed to see with my own eyes that my daughter was safe and I could trust her surroundings. As my daughter got older, and we both had a few performances under our belts, I was able to branch out and volunteer in positions other than a ‘dressing room mom’.

  • To experience the performance from the dancers’ side with your child.

When you volunteer backstage, the energy and excitement you will witness and feel is amazing. A young dancer will be joyful and nervous, but they are also acting as children do—making new friends and playing simple card games as they wait for the performance to begin. They also watch the older dancers closely, sometimes being brave enough to ask the older dancers questions about their costumes, makeup, or part. This is a wonderful situation because not only can your young dancer learn by observing the older dancers and veteran dance moms, but you can also learn so much just by observing –pointe shoe care, pinning buns and head pieces, securing leotards or tutus, and even quick change techniques.

  • To show your child that you support their interests.

Volunteering was my way of showing my daughter that I understood her love of dance. I was proud of her dedication and determination, so I wanted to go the extra mile and support her by supporting the studio. My husband and I both helped when and where we could.

  • To teach your child the value of helping others.

As I said earlier, I didn’t just volunteer to help with the performances that included my daughter. As she got older and didn’t need me as much, I decided to go where the studio needed me and helped with the children’s division costumes, rehearsals, and performances. My daughter also started to volunteer with me. Sometimes she was designated to a certain group backstage and other times she was a runner. She loved talking to the younger dancers, and by simply being backstage and involved with their production, the younger dancers began to recognize her and she quickly became their friend and mentor. When she became one of the older dancers, she decided to give back to the studio that had given her so many life lessons and irreplaceable experiences—and I couldn’t be more proud.

Here’s what I’ve learned as a former front desk employee and backstage manager:

There are plenty of areas for both moms and dads to volunteer. You just need to find what you are good at and what you are comfortable doing. My husband is a software engineer and a tool man. He is a very busy guy but he would find time to help. He knew what he felt comfortable doing and he would help make props sturdier; he would roll, load, and unroll marley; he would cut music; and he even created a digital backdrop for a show.

Some people can volunteer more of their time than others, but all help is needed and appreciated. Some help is needed throughout the year and sometimes help is just needed during the performances and rehearsals.

If you have volunteered in one position, don’t expect to always be in that position. Be willing to go where the help is most needed. This not only helps the staff, but it also gives you a chance to learn from others and meet more parents.

Be willing to go with the flow. Just because you have done a job a certain way a previous performance does not mean that there isn’t room for improvement. The studio might want to try a new way of setting up promotional material or organizing the groups of dancers in the dressing rooms. Remember that the staff has their reasons for every decision, change, packet, and volunteer meeting. They’ve done this before and they want to make the experience smooth, fun, and functional on all levels.

If you volunteer to do a job, commit to it. Unless there is an emergency, you need to be punctual and present. When volunteers didn’t show for a rehearsal or performance, I remember having to scramble to fill or trade positions at the last minute; and if positions went unfilled then this just left the children without the help they needed. If the position requires you to be at both the dress rehearsal (at the theater or even one of the dress rehearsals at the studio) and the performance, you need to be at both. The dress rehearsal is your dress rehearsal too. It allows you to get the timing down on quick changes, gives you ample time to ask questions, and gives you an opportunity to better prepare yourself for the main event. Plus, by being at both the dress rehearsal and performance, it allows the dancers to know what is going to happen on performance night. The more comfortable the dancers are backstage, in their costumes, or with quick changes, the better they will perform.

Once you’ve worked backstage for a few years, don’t forget that there are new parents each year. They can learn by observing and talking to you. Sometimes new dance parents need a mentor too.

Remember, in the end, it’s all about the children. Performances are a time for them to showcase their talents and what they’ve learned throughout the year. And by being involved, the whole dance experience can be even more amazing than you or your child could ever imagine.

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