Dancing in the back row sucks.
It’s different when it’s a small group or when you’re in a professional company. At that point, you know you’re good. (Or at least, you’ve felt some semblance of achievement making it into that coveted spot.)
But when you’re a back-row kid in a company of 12 to 20 kids, you can’t help but feel like you’re at the bottom of the barrel.
And kids aren’t stupid. They catch on quickly when they feel they’re being hidden, or when they see the same couple of girls getting the solo parts in every dance.
But as someone who was a back-row dancer and made it out alive without any bitter feelings, here’s what I can tell you.
There’s a reason your kid’s in the back row
You may not like that reason, but there’s a reason.
Maybe your kid misbehaved that day — or your kid misbehaves nearly every day. We’ll talk more about this later.
Sometimes your kid is the tall one. Poor tall kids. Always getting back row so the shorties have a shot.
Sometimes your kid was just in the front row. Before you get upset that your kid’s in the back, make sure you recognize when she or he’s in the front and middle, too. Teachers try to move the kids around. You — understandably — typically only take note when your kid’s in the back.
Sometimes your kid’s technique is not quite up to par. Kids learn and improve at different speeds, and there is nothing wrong with that! If you’re not competing, this likely won’t be the reason. But when you agree to compete with a team, judges are grading students precisely on how well they execute these steps. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that students with strong technique are showcased.
Often, it’s that your kid forgets the dance or the counts. And it’s not always for a lack of trying. I can’t begin to explain how painful it is to see a student try so hard but still not quite get it.
Dance teachers, especially of competition kids, sometimes spend three to five hours a day with your child. So, we form a bond, too. Their pain is our pain. But putting a less proficient kid in the front is not the way to solve this. It will only embarrass him or her and confuse the other students.
And while I can’t speak for all dance teachers, I will say that when I have students who struggle with choreography, I try to make them feel extra special in other areas of class, like across the floor.
Be butt hurt, but don’t draw attention to it
Like I said, kids aren’t dumb. They know they’re in the back line. If you get upset and act like it’s the worst thing in the world, you’re going to make your kid feel even worse!
Instead, ask your kid how dance is going. Ask if he or she is learning the steps quickly and behaving in class. Also ask if your child likes the teachers and feels comfortable to ask questions.
Teachers aren’t perfect. We can care a lot and still make mistakes. But the good thing is, if you bring an issue to our attention, we’ll do everything we can to resolve it.
Don’t assume your expensive dance bill is a waste because your kid’s not the ‘star’
Quite the opposite, actually. Your child is learning resilience, work ethic, humility, the power and importance of teamwork and so much more.
And I’ll let you in on a secret: Sometimes the front-row kids have a harder time with defeat later in life. But your back-row dancer will know how to bounce back because she will have done it before. And when your back-row dancer gets that double pirouette or beautiful switch leap he’s been working so diligently on, it will feel even better because he will know he earned it.
And to know that you can achieve something if you work toward it? Few life lessons are better and more valuable than that.
If your kid is misbehaving
Dancers who misbehave (i.e., don’t listen, or talk when the teacher’s instructing) typically lack technique and have trouble picking up choreography.
But there are two categories:
- kids who struggle with the steps and get disheartened and resort to misbehavior.
- kids who misbehave first and then get can’t the steps as a result.
Try to figure out which applies to your child. Watch their class for a few days if you can. Ask them what’s difficult. Once you know the root of the problem, you’ll be able to help them improve.
If your kid wants out of the back row
Remember: There’s a reason your kid is in the back row. If you want that to change, check with the teacher. Ask what your kid can do to improve or how your child’s classroom etiquette is.
Also, check in with yourself: Is it your kid or you who hates the back row? Your kid may not mind! And to that I say, let kids be kids.
But if moving forward is important to your son or daughter, help your child practice. If possible, opt for private lessons.
My mom was the supportive type and always told me I looked beautiful. Every. Single. Time. I needed that, especially after leaving the studio crying at least one night a week.
But I also think it would’ve helped me to have someone pushing me in my private time. I was a kid who liked to watch cartoons, sing karaoke and build forts. I loved dance, but I didn’t love practicing. Yet I so badly wanted to be a front-row dancer! I severely lacked discipline.
If this is your kid, get on him or her! Encourage practice. And if they don’t want to, then that’s up to them. (It’s also totally OK. They’re just kids.) But tell them if they don’t practice, they can’t be upset about not dancing in the front row.
Finally: Give it time
You and your child must understand that dance is a lifelong practice. You never stop learning. Or improving. You have to keep working, and it takes decades to become highly skilled. It’s difficult; especially for children whose bodies are still developing. But don’t give up hope. Remind your child why he or she does it. And give them extra love when they hop in the car after class tonight. They might’ve had a really tough day.