Lifetime’s new show: ‘Whitman Moms’

By Carolyn Freeman

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“Maddie, you have one number to dance, and that’s it. You’re going to deal with it. Be a grown-up.”

Such begins a recent episode of my newest favorite TV show, “Dance Moms.” This episode opens with dance mom Melissa chastising her eight-year-old daughter, Maddie. The show, which revolves around dancers at the ultra-competitive Abby Lee Dance Company in Pittsburgh, spotlights demanding mothers who encourage their children to dance up to fifty hours a week, at the expense of other activities.

Kelly, a "dance mom," prepares her daughter, 10-year-old Paige for a dance competition on the Lifetime show "Dance Moms." Although the moms on the show may seem pushy and demanding, they're not all that different from parents in this area. Photo courtesy www.lifetime.com.

Last night, I was watching the show when it struck me. The mothers on “Dance Moms” may seem overly severe and often insane, but the cut-throat atmosphere of the studio often resembles Whitman, where I’ve noticed students struggling under the weight of too many AP courses and too little time.

Though the mothers on the show are thinking less of Brown University and more of the Broadway stage, their ultimate goal is the same as many parents’ goal in this area. Both want their children to be the best, no matter the cost.

But pushing both students and dancers to the point of collapse is only a recipe for disaster.

“[At Whitman] the expectation is there for some students that they continue to take classes at a certain level,” counselor Jennifer Higgins said. “There are times when a student will want to take certain lower-level classes, but there is pressure to take more difficult courses that parents may perceive as what the college ‘wants’ to see.”

On “Dance Moms, parents force their children to attend seven-hour dance practices, even when the girls say they don’t want to go. This sounds familiar to some Whitman students, who are forced to take AP classes they may not be ready for or who feel pressured to take electives they may not be interested in.

The omnipresent pressure at Whitman skews students’ priorities. They often feel the pressure from parents to excel on the debate team or at soccer games, when they may want to try other activities instead. Though most Whitman students are not dancing competitively seven days a week, other extracurriculars can have the same impact.

In addition to extracurricular concerns, demands from parents can distort how students perceive their grades. Many times, after receiving a less-than-expected grade on a test, the first thing a student says is, “Oh man, my parents are going to be so mad.” At that moment, I don’t think students are thinking of the impact the grade will have long term, which usually won’t be too significant. Instead, they’re thinking of what their parents will say when they see the grade on Edline, even if it’s just a ten-point quiz.

The girls on “Dance Moms” have a similar issue. They are constantly worried they are going to disappoint their moms. But this problem isn’t limited to the Abby Lee Dance Company. Parents should ease off their children before Lifetime creates another hit show — “Whitman Moms.”

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