What do you want?
That was the question I asked of Sam when we were driving down from Seattle to Vancouver, WA for his 3rd Monsters Dance Convention.
When your kid tells you that they feel like “This” is their year and they have hope and excitement in their eyes – you embrace it.
This year, Sam was really hoping that he could EARN a scholarship but really, most kids hope for that don’t they? It’s an honor to get a scholarship (free conventions and more ) and he’s never earned one so this was a goal he set for himself.
He’s only ever been to 4 Dance Conventions. 3 Monsters and 1 at Tremaine last year. He has seen other kids he knows earn scholarships and he’s always been happy for them but longing to get one for himself. Monsters is solely a Hip Hop based convention whereas Tremaine has multiple dance styles like Tap, Ballet, Jazz, etc. Monsters is a fun, upbeat event where the instructors are all positive, uplifting, have high expectations of the kids and it’s a great learning environment whether you have little or lots of hip hop experience.
The 2nd thing he hoped for was to get called up on stage for the 1st time. He’s never been called up on stage by an instructor. That basically means that during the class your choreographer/instructor will do break out groups to better see all the kids dancing to the piece they just trained on. If they see kids that they feel were doing something special or nailed it or just really liked watching them, they will pull them and have them dance on stage for all to see.
Sam was hopeful that he’d been progressing enough as a Hip Hop dancer (and with his confidence and personal style) to have a special moment like that.
And third, he really wanted to dance his heart out. He wanted to leave it all on the floor and really take in everything being taught. Hanging out with his dance friends and meeting new ones was also on his to-do list.
For anyone thinking that Sam should just enjoy the experience and have fun learning in the classes – of course that is the main objective. He does love the classes. Sam wants to be a professional dancer so those special moments can boost a kid to be more fierce, practice even more than they they already do at home and in the studio. You never know when a kid is at a point where one look from Napoleon (from NappyTabs) can give you that extra push you need to keep going hard.
A bit of Sam’s dance History
Sam’s been dancing since he was 10yrs old. He didn’t actually want to dance. He went to a single hip hop class because I forced him to. Until he went to that class he thought that dancing was really only for girls. Boys dancing seemed ‘weird’ to him and he didn’t want us to tell anyone.
It’s only been over the last 6 months though that Sam’s had real self confidence about his dance skills. He started in Hip Hop for his first 2 1/2 yrs and always felt that the other kids (who were exceptional) in his classes, and even on his dance crew, were better than him. Sam danced at an elite Hip Hop Studio where most of the kids not only have natural musicality but they also seemed to have natural confidence or at least didn’t wear their heart on their sleeve like he did. He didn’t give enough ‘face’; wasn’t sharp or fierce enough; wasn’t smooth enough; he needed to work on his levels; etc. What he didn’t seem to hear much of was – what he was doing well. He was so focused on what he wasn’t doing well that it was impossible for him to even know what he was doing good at or improving with. I’m not blaming the studio. There are a gazillion dance studios out there. Really, I’m blaming us, as his parents, for not checking around to see if there was a better fit for Sam either from the beginning or before things got really bad for him.
This studio wasn’t a nurturing and warm kind of environment. It was great training but it was hard, competitive and they were training professional dancers for careers in the industry. Looking back, it was a great studio for Sam to start with because he did get a lot from them. He grew a very strong work ethic and was surrounded by top dancers of all ages in the hip hop genre from the Northwest. Kids from all over the world came to his studio to take classes. Sam knows what a great routine looks like compared to a poorly done routine because he worked with some of the most talented choreographers and dancers around.
After 2 1/2 years we left the studio. Sam had lost what little confidence he had started with. He lost his love of dancing and even developed a nervous tick in his eye because he was so stressed out. We knew Sam loved dancing but he went from being at the door ready to go to dance telling us to hurry up to – crying and pretending he wasn’t feeling good. It was a very tough time for him emotionally and as parents we just couldn’t keep him in an environment that he wasn’t thriving in.
Just so you know, It wasn’t all bad. There were some great experiences for sure and Sam learned a ton about himself as a person and as a dancer. We, as parents, also learned a lot about dance, competitions, training, what goes into being on a dance crew, other parents, and so much more. We made some friends along the way and I saw some of them at the convention this weekend. I miss hanging out with them but it’s great to know that when we see one another we can connect. Same with Sam. He was excited to see a few of the kids he danced with for years and catch up with them a bit too.
We found a studio nearby that offered Hip Hop but also all other genre’s. He’d taken a little Tap before but that’s about it. After checking out the studio and taking some classes, Sam told us that he felt really welcomed. Thank goodness. He had a hopeful spark back in his eyes again.
After a few months of taking classes he stopped chewing on his fingers. It was a nervous habit he picked up. He also started looking up more when he danced. He’d had a hard time looking up while dancing before and a lot of it had to do with confidence. Then, he started to make friends at his new studio. He didn’t really have friends at his old studio as he just really didn’t connect with most of the kids there because he never felt good enough. That was on him, not them of course, but it was his reality.
Sam found his happy place. He started practicing at home all the time. He was loving learning Tap, Lyrical, Tumbling, Jazz, even ballet – though he still hates wearing the boys leo and tights. The Hip Hop teachers he had were actually teachers who he’d known from his old studio. They were great and he started to really gain confidence as a dancer overall.
Last year, after being at his new studio for 4 months, we went to Monsters for the 2nd time. I’m not going to lie. It was a horrible experience for him. When he saw most of the kids he’d danced with for years completely ignore and dismiss him (as well as some of the older kid’s he’d always looked up to, he reverted to being totally insecure and second guessing himself. He cried a lot that weekend. He was a hot mess and wasn’t dancing at all there how he had been at his new studio. Let’s just say that his expectations of himself and his hopes of proving himself as a good dancer totally backfired because of his emotions.
It took a long time to come back from that experience but, it was the beginning of Sam’s transformation.
How do you convince a kid to just ‘let it go’ and dance for themselves because they love it?
Over the last year Sam has been involved in a great theatre program and has been in 3 shows. In one of the shows he was a named character and was one of the best dancers. This experience over the summer really helped enhance his dance by making him a stronger performer. Acting, singing and dancing go hand in hand. Acting helped his dance as well as his confidence so his showmanship has been shining through more during his dance as well as his theatre performances.
The past 6 months he’s been confident. Confident in his overall dance abilities. Confident in his showmanship. Confident with his body image. Confident with his ability to memorize choreography and insert more of his personal style. These all have come together for him just recently and it’s been really wonderful to see.
He is part of his studio’s dance company. He earned a Tap Solo, a Hip Hop duo and a spot in 3 group dances. He has some great friendships at his studio and loves going there. The instructors are tough but loving and teach from a place of positivity. This has made all the difference in the world to him as he is a feeler. He has no problem with hard training, critique, strict teachers, focused environments, etc. and actually loves being challenged and leaving class sweating. He’s never been adverse to hard and even grueling work but, he also needs to know what he is doing well at too.
He knows he doesn’t dance in Hip Hop as many hours as he use to, probably just 4-6hrs a week total in this genre now as opposed to 16hrs a week at his old studio. However he’s dancing now about 22hrs a week and getting training in all areas of dance.
Sam is now graceful. He’s found a passion for turns (constantly spinning all over the house), is getting more flexible and is only days away from getting his Aerial. Lyrical is one of his favorite dance styles and he just conquered a tough tap sequence. Sam LOVES all dance now and looks forward to pushing himself each day in his classes.
Now, back to our 3rd Monsters experience
Our confident boy decided to take this convention very seriously. He wanted to dance where he wanted to dance in the room, meet new people and hopefully hang out with a few of his friends from his studio who also attended – outside of classes.
There were at least 600 kids in the Intermediate room with him. I would say that at least 100 of them were AWESOME. Not even gonna lie, some were just amazing. This one 12yr old girl was easily the best dancer in the room. The average ages in the group were 11-15 with about 3-4yrs Dance experience. Some were older and some had more experience. Some kids had less experience but were too old to be in the beginner room while some kids were too young to be in the advanced room but were so good they should’ve been.
Competition was fierce this year. I’ve never seen so many talented hip hop dancers at Monsters Dance Convention. It was crazy to watch these kids dance. They came down from Vancouver B.C. and up from California to attend the Vancouver, WA convention. Everyone danced at least 5-6hrs straight each day with challenging and high energy choreography. There were only lunch breaks and most classes were back to back.
Most of the kids there they were loving it at Monsters whether it was their first time or their 11th. They were tired, challenged, having fun, sore, happy and meeting new people.
And Sam? He was in heaven. He LOVES dancing and being pushed.
That night was the Freestyle Battle for each level. Sam is not a great free-styler. It’s a skill set that he doesn’t work on much and also, if he’s not feeling that song, he just goes sort of blank. Sam knows and admits that free-styling is not his strong suit but each year he gets up there just to try and do better than the last time. He did do better than last year but again, didn’t like the song so there ya go. And the kids who made it to the 1st and second cuts were Excellent. They had attitude, style, knew the music well and were great performers. Congratulations to all the kids who put themselves out there whether they made the cuts or not. That takes a lot of courage.
He had a great first day but he was a bit disappointed that he didn’t make an impression on the instructors as a standout to those bringing kids onstage. That was a great thing. It made him take note and get determined to push himself even harder to make sure he was performing each piece to the best of his ability and personal style.
Day 2 Sam woke up exhausted and sore. It was also the day of Scholarship Auditions.
As he left our room to go down for his audition he hugged me and said that he was going to really go for it and do ‘him’.
Now, the last 2 times we went to Monsters Dance Conventions, he’s never made it past the first round of cuts. Ever. Once you get cut you know you won’t earn a scholarship.
I was waiting in the lobby with the other parents anxious to see how their kids were after auditions. Sam came bounding out of the doors and practically knocked me over. He was SO Excited.
He made it through all the rounds. All 3 cuts and he made it! It didn’t matter if he ended up getting a scholarship, he was on cloud nine and just so happy and even proud of himself for making it that far with the amount of talent there.
As a mom, I was so happy for him. His excitement fueled the rest of his day and he just kept hugging me, smiling, and having fun.
Immediately after auditions was Rhapsody James’ class. She is pretty awesome and the group of mom’s I was sitting with all loved her class. The music was fun, the dance was really energetic and challenging too and some of us were chair dancing just a little bit.
Rhapsody broke the kids out into groups after teaching them the entire piece for the day. Other kids Sam knew were getting called up on stage during their group turns. I was sitting there watching these kids dancing on stage and hoping that maybe today would be Sam’s time to earn the honor of being picked – because it is an honor. He’ll never forget that Rhapsody James saw something special in him that moment. Ever. It meant the world to him.
Well, I swear that the look on Sam’s face when he ran to the stage stairs was something I’ll never forget. He made eye contact with me and I knew that in that moment, no matter what happened for the rest of the convention, his day was made. This is him on stage just a minute after getting picked. The group choreo starts at 12 seconds into the video:
He ran to me with the biggest smile I’ve ever seen on his face. He was glowing.
Some kids may be use to getting picked while others have never been. I hope that all dancers get to feel the way Sam felt that day. The confidence boost they get from it. The feeling of being noticed by a choreographer they respect and aspire to work with one day is a big deal. And also, everyone likes to feel special. Well, Sam certainly felt special.
Then, Kevin Maher came back to teach. The day before he had pulled a bunch of kids onstage and I know that Sam wanted to be one of those kids today because Kevin is someone he really looks up to.
And, then it happened. He was the only boy in his group picked that round. Could this day get any better for Sam? What a difference a year makes!
Basically, the rest of his classes went really well but the other two instructors didn’t bring any kids on stage. That didn’t matter though. Sam pushed and pushed himself. He was exhausted, sore, sweaty and totally spent after his final class of convention but he had a smile on his face.
I don’t really care if some of you reading this blog post think we are making too big a deal over all of these ‘stupid’ conventions that don’t really matter in life or being brought on stage. To our son, and many other kids, these conventions and competitions are a big deal. They are their world and just having the opportunity to learn from those they look up to is a big deal. Either way, if it’s important to my kid, it’s important to me.
And the Scholarships go to:
It’s funny, Sam was really hoping to earn a scholarship. That was his goal right? When that final envelope was given out and his name wasn’t called, I looked at him and- he was okay. I had my camera out just in case he or one of the other kids from our studio was named. Sam took it really well and will just work even harder to become the best dancer he can be. He and his friends were all cheering and happy for the earners. Not receiving a scholarship doesn’t minimize or diminish their love of dance nor their desire to keep pushing ahead. They are all very talented. There were a ton of super talented kids there who didn’t earn a scholarship either so Sam was in excellent company.
As we left to head home Sam told me he had the best weekend ever, that he was more determined to push himself and work even harder and that he appreciated us for taking and supporting him. He’s the most thankful kid and I honestly couldn’t be more proud of him.
He made a bunch of new friends that he has a lot in common with. The girls take Tap from Sam’s very first Tap teacher. The boy is actually 7 months older than Sam and is also in Musical Theatre. I got to know these kids’ parents as well and made some new friends.
Kids and parents should make sure they meet new people, not just those they already know from their studios. Our kids may run into one another around the country and other dance events in the future. How nice is it to have a friendly face in the room when you walk in? My advice is to sit with strangers and make new friends. Make your kids dance around other kids they don’t know so they can make new friends and see who they connect with. Sam has a bunch of new friends and he also spent Saturday night hanging out with 2 of his favorite friends from his studio. He had a great time.
In the end, Sam improved 300% from last year in terms of attitude, emotions, skills and confidence. Also, I had a good time this go round. Sam may never be the best dancer in the room but I guarantee he will be one of the hardest workers with so much heart and passion for dance. One day soon he will earn a scholarship and getting on stage will happen more frequently as his skills, personal style and confidence grow. I know that one day Sam will be a professional dancer. He will also be a singer and actor. He will do what he loves because he will never give up and will work hard for everything. He will make his goals a reality.
One of my favorite memories of this trip was when Sam and I were both soaking our feet during the dinner break on Saturday. I was cold and his feet and ankles were sore. So, we turned on a hot bath, rolled up our pants and just laughed, chatted and enjoyed one another’s company. Shawn had to cancel coming with us at the last minute because he was sick (he’s never missed a dance event of Sam’s so he was really bummed) so Sam was very concerned at my well being the entire trip. He kept checking on me to see if I was okay (um, yeah buddy, I’m all good), If I was bored (never), did I need anything (nope bud, I’ve got it under control) and then kept thanking me for coming with him. I love this sweet, empathetic, kind, caring and very loving boy.
I can’t wait to see what this next year brings for him as I’ve never seen Sam more focused and at peace with himself.