On dance classes, motivation, & $50 costumes

Jen Bradbury
May 20 · 5 min read

At the start of the New Year, we signed our then 4-year old daughter, Hope, up for a dance class at the local park district.

Hope LOVES to dance. We’ve known that for a while and figured this would be a fun way for her to learn some skills and have fun.

Sure enough, Hope walked out of her first dance class ecstatic. On the way home, I heard about EVERY SINGLE THING they did during dance. Once we walked back into our house, Hope refused to change out of her dance leotard and ballet slippers until she’d shown Grandma & Papa her new moves.

While I loved seeing Hope’s joy, I left her first dance class annoyed rather than ecstatic.


Because at the end of her first dance class, her teacher told us they would be performing “Under the Sea” at the end-of-the-year recital.

And that there would be a dress rehearsal the day before.

And that there would be professional dance photos taken the day before that.

And that we’d need to give her $50 for their costume.

And with that, I nearly withdrew Hope from the dance class.

Why, oh why, can’t four-year-olds (especially those in a class with two and three-year olds) simply dance for the joy of dancing?

Why must every class culminate with a recital (which for me as a parent is ALWAYS super stressful)?

Why can’t kids just dance in their $15 leotard from Target instead of a $50 costume? (Keep in mind I’ve literally NEVER spent $50 on ANY one outfit for Hope.)

My goals in signing Hope of for dance were

- Fun
- Exercise
- A few basic skills.

As a career youth worker, I’ve worked with a lot of teens who began their athletic careers at Hope’s age in the hopes they would eventually win a college scholarship. In all my years in youth ministry, I’ve only seen two actually win those scholarships.

I am under no such delusions that this will be Hope. 

Hope has NO athletic genes in her lineage. My athletic career ended when I was (rightfully) cut from the freshmen volleyball team at my high school. Her dad’s ended on the soccer field in middle school.

The likelihood that Hope will become a professional dancer (or college athlete) is next to nothing.

Even so, I want her to dance because she loves it, it’s fun, and it just might help her learn to appreciate & respect her body.

I don’t need recitals, professional pictures, or expensive costumes to do that.

She doesn’t either.

In fact, dare I say: Recitals, professional pictures, & expensive costumes might just be counterproductive to enjoyment?

At this same dance class, Hope’s well-meaning teacher gave the kids a stamp at the end of each lesson.

You know what I noticed?

The longer the class went on, the less joy it brought Hope.

Our conversations changed from what she was learning to what stamp she’d get at the end of the day.

That broke my heart but it spoke to a truth: Extrinsic motivations ALWAYS kills intrinsic motivation (and joy).

And so, here we are… Hope’s last dance class was eight or nine weeks ago. (I’ve lost track thanks to the blurring of quarantine days).

Her dance recital was supposed to be two weeks ago. Obviously it didn’t happen.

Yet, the costumes have arrived. And today I have to go pick it up.

I thought about not bothering, but I’m cheap and I paid for it so we’ll go and get it.

And after we do, we’ll let Hope put it on and dance around the house.

Maybe she’ll perform some of the choreography she learned for her routine.

But maybe she’ll just frolic with abandon.

Maybe we’ll join her in dancing.

Or maybe we'll just relish her joy at dancing. 

But rest assured, whatever happens: We won’t be giving Hope a stamp when she’s finished. Instead, we’ll let her joy motivate her to keep dancing…At home, in the yard, and once this pandemic ends, at church, in class, and wherever else life takes her.