If I had to list the 3 questions that I get asked the most regarding competitive dance, they’d have to be:

#1 – Is it just like what we see on Dance Moms? (The answer is “somewhat”. Our teachers are amazing & very encouraging to all the kids, but there is definitely studio drama every week!)

#2 – Do the kids learn a new dance every week? (Our studio does not.)

#3 – How much does it cost with all those elaborate costumes and travel and competitions?

[exhale]

#3 … oh how I’ve learned to skate around this question. I’m a regular Michelle Kwan, actually.

Let me begin by saying this: I’ve never seen my daughter as happy as when she’s dancing which means that I don’t care if it cost a million dollars, I’m going to find a way for her to do it. But, I certainly came into this blind.

I’ve danced my entire life and when I say entire, I truly mean that I began at the age of 2 and still to this day teach, consult, or judge a few times each year. But, my experience is completely different since all of my work has dealt with schools and programs that are either subsidized by boosters or completely non-profit.

Looking back, I can honestly say that I didn’t ask the right questions before Piper auditioned for company. It was one of those situations where I thought  that I had all the information that I needed. I was 3 months into the hunt before I realized that I had no idea what I had gotten into. There was no handbook and no parents meeting, and all of the moms in our original group were new! Talk about the blind leading the blind. (We did get an experienced mom added in a few weeks after my revelation and boy was she a complete God-send!)

So, if you are a first time dance mom, I’m going to – from my experience – tell you what to expect financially. Of course, every studio is vastly different, but maybe this will give you a foundation from which to ask questions and see how to build your budget. If you’ve read this blog for even a hot second, you know that I am all about budgeting and anticipating expenses. Because no one wants to talk money online (or in person, for that matter), I just pulled a number from the sky and set my dance budget off of that. The idea that I had in my head as to what this little adventure would cost us annually was exceeded during the month of October! Imagine my surprise.

Even as clueless as we were going in, my husband and I decided when Piper auditioned that we would track every penny we spent. And, when I say every penny – I mean every single cent was logged in a spreadsheet from our first tuition payment to the last tank of gas that we used returning from nationals. We said that after the first year, we would look at that amount and determine if we got our money’s worth. I had no idea that this spreadsheet would be such a worthwhile endeavor. Because of it, I have the documentation to talk you through this post.

Here are the big cost centers that you can expect & where you can build questions for your particular studio:

TUITION: In my case, tuition is just tuition. It only covers the choreography and technique classes that the girls are required to take each week. We have, this year, 5 mandatory classes and 3 optional classes – regardless of whether the dancer takes just the 5 or all 8, it’s the same monthly price so we take all 8. 1 year tuition = $2,700.

COSTUMES: This was a little bit of a shocker to me when it came time to write the checks, because I know dance costume pricing like the back of my hand. That aside … Realize that the costume that comes from the company will most likely not be the costume that your child wears to the stage. It will be blinged up with Swarovski stones and made to look like a million bucks! The stones will cost nearly as much as the costume if you go all out (and, believe me, I want to go all out!). If your studio doesn’t allow you to stone your own costumes, you will also have the expense of paying someone to do it for you. (Possibility of 3 expenses here: costume, cost of the stones, and the actual stoning itself … and really, I guess you could also have alterations, but luckily all of our costumes fit like a glove last year!)

Part of the costume budget will also be special jewelry, shoes (perhaps a different color than worn in class), gloves, hats, tights, etc. And, expect those to be blinged too! For two costumes in 2012, when it was all said and done, we paid $380.

COMPETITION FEES: If there was any part of this madness that completely took me by surprise, it was this: competition fees. I’ve never been part of an organization where the fees weren’t paid for with your regular tuition. I’ve been a lucky girl … and my luck ran out. LOL. Seeing how much that is charged for entering a show, I completely understand that my tuition couldn’t possibly cover my teachers’ salary and entry fees. But, I didn’t know that going in, so this caught me off-guard.

Our studio went to 4 regular season competitions and nationals. Plus, our company group added a competition because of the length of time that would pass between the last regular competition and nationals (nearly 8 weeks if I remember correctly).

Here’s how this works: every dance that will be judged has an entry fee attached to it. Groups are a certain price, solos are another price, duets are a different price, etc.

Last year, Piper only competed in two dances. We spent about $80/competition. (Group dances are the cheapest.) This season, she is doing 4 groups and a solo – the most expensive of all the fees. I’m estimating – using last years entry fee amounts – that we will pay around $250 per competition.

During the months where you have regular tuition, order/bling a costume, and pay an entry fee – you can really get overwhelmed if you aren’t prepared! Our studio has us begin to pay competition fees in October and we pay for one competition each month. It’s worth asking to see how it will be handled where you dance.

PS – all of the competitions that we went to offered free admission which was a very nice perk!

CONVENTIONS: There are amazing dance conventions that are out there. We did the JUMP convention and Piper took part in the JumpStart portion ($90) which was for the youngest dancers. This was about 1/3 the cost of a full convention fee because it just covered a few basic genres in a 3 hour time frame. While Piper had a great time and it certainly got her pumped up about getting out on the stage, she is way to advanced to go into the JumpStart room again. So, we would have to cover the full convention fee (just over $200+). There were very mixed reviews from our studio parents about whether it was worth the $200 the older kids paid. It was apparently very crowded and the girls had a hard time seeing the choreography in order to learn and participate. So, for me, the jury is still out on whether we will go in 2013. There is a competition that coincides with the convention. We will definitely go to watch that. There was real value in being able to sit and watch dances a few weeks before the first competition. Kind-of gets you in the right state of mind and gets the juices flowing again!

ATTIRE: Our studio mandates what the girls wear to all regular classes. Because we dance 6 days a week – you can’t get by with just one set of leotard/tights/shorts/bra ($60/set). And, they aren’t cheap, so we take extra care when washing them. [Tights are our downfall. Piper can rip a pair of tights just by looking at them wrong, I swear! At $14/pair, I’m guarding them with my life!]

Buying shoes for a dancer that’s young is like rolling the dice. You can’t go too big or they look floppy and frankly, hinder their dancing; buy the shoes too tight and you are back within a week because of all the blisters. We spent about $200 on shoes for the year. I’m that great mom who stretches the leather ballet shoes with rubbing alcohol trying to buy another couple of weeks of wear!

You’ll also want to consider your team warm-ups. The jacket for our studio came with the option of “blinging,” and every girl has it done. And, of course, it’s an additional cost! Our jacket/pants combo with stones was $135 and then we added on the company dance bag ($50). If I had it to do again, I wouldn’t have purchased the bag – it’s huge and tiny little shoes are always lost inside of it! The jacket was worn on stage at all the competitions during awards, so we got our money’s worth from that. (I ordered one size bigger on the advice of another mom & I’m so glad I did. We should get at least 2 more years of wear because of the sizing.)

STUFF: If the items above don’t get you, the other “stuff” will! By stuff, I mean all the things that they sell at the competitions. They all have shirts and a variety of dance-ish merchandise available. We only bought those a few times. They are generally overpriced and thankfully, Piper doesn’t usually gravitate to them. But, I did hit a huge downfall with the purchasing of pictures and videos. I bought a DVD at our first competition and the last, as well as pictures at the first competition and the last. I probably would have been sucked in to other photos as well, but the photographers hired by the event weren’t that great. I also bought a program at every show. They each listed the names of every dancer and although I’m buying these with the intention of putting them in her “dance scrapbook,” I also think that it will be very cool to look back as she gets older and see who she competed against as a child.

PACKING IT UP: Once you get competition ready, you’re gonna have to do something with all of these costumes, shoes, and make-up bags. If you aren’t careful or prepared, you could roll into the performance venue looking like something straight out of the Beverly Hillbilly’s with stuff busting out at every seam. I, personally, highly recommend using the Dream Duffel for organization. Every member of our company had one last year and they work exceptionally well. I had a huge amount of pity for those momma’s that were rolling in and setting up racks to hang costumes. Because behind that also came the suitcase and the make-up bin and usually a number of other devices. If they had invested in a Dream Duffel (between $200-400 total investment including accessories you might want to add on), they could have done everything in one trip! It really is worth every penny. Read my post regarding Dream Duffel on the night we unpacked ours.

TRAVEL: This was a huge cost for us. Our team traveled to Florida for nationals competition. That alone would be a big enough expense, but the competition fell during the week of the Fourth of July. All condo costs were inflated by nearly 30%. [Nationals falls the same week again this year. I have some pretty strong opinions about scheduling it in this manner two years in a row, but I’ll save that for another time.]

We made this a family vacation and, in fact, it was one of the most fun that we’ve ever done. Getting to spend the week celebrating our daughter’s success throughout the season with her dance friends (her best friends, btw) and their families (our bff’s) capped off a great year. So, in that regard, it was money well spent. I just wish it fell on another week, so the burden would be less.

With gas, condo, food (we cooked in all but 2 meals), and limited extras, this trip alone cost us over $3,000.

I met several moms from other studios that shared that they do a nationals competition every other year to help off-set the costs. A few others from larger urban areas like us said that they alternate as well – one year close to home and the next year they travel. Whatever your studio does, find out early and begin to plan. This presents a good opportunity to sock money away to help lessen the burden when the time comes if you can make your reservations, flights, etc., in a timely manner.

CLEANINGS/ADDITIONAL FEES: Because Piper only did two dances last year and they were both required group numbers, cleanings (or extra rehearsals) did not apply to her. But this year, she’s doing an extra group dance and a solo, both of which – of course – are in addition to the three dances that she is doing with her specific company group. These dances rehearse outside of the regular group schedule and thus aren’t included in our monthly tuition. You can expect to pay for choreography (the solo we paid for straight out; the group divided the cost between all the dancers) and for each cleaning/rehearsal (solo we pay the entire cost; the group is divided among the dancers).

In our particular case, we paid $350 for choreography for Piper’s solo (it’s so super cute!) and we will pay $35 for every 30 minute rehearsal that she has (usually 2/month). For our extra group, we paid $110 and will pay $10/cleaning. I checked around to see what the going rate was for these things. In our area, it varies a little, but this is pretty close to standard.

I think it’s also valid to ask financial questions before you commit to any extra dances. We are working with the same teacher for our extra dance and solo. She was very forward with what her intentions were, as well as the expectation for cleanings, costuming, etc. I felt like I could make an informed commitment and I’m not on pins-and-needles every day waiting for the bomb to drop on what will happen next! It’s been a great experience for us.

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By the time it was all said and done, our first year in company cost us $8,500. Because of the added dances that Piper is doing this year, and using my best estimates from last year, I’m guessing that 2012-13 will see us finishing with an investment of about $12,000.

It’s a hard amount to swallow and see in print. Truthfully.

I remember hearing early on in the days of the Dance Moms series that the parents were averaging about $30,000 each in costs. Now, looking at what they learn, the number of costumes that they go through, the amount of choreography that is given to them, etc., I’d say that they are getting a bargain!

In our world, I work full-time, take on about 30 hours of additional freelance per week, and run a successful side business. My husband works full-time, works an additional 20 hours per week plus nearly every weekend teaching drumlines. This is WHY we do those things: so our kids can have more. Growing up in Beaver Dam, Kentucky, this type of dance education and these experiences are something that money couldn’t have bought for me even if we had it! I was “geographically disadvantaged” which is something that my children are definitely not. Houston, for a child of the arts, is a gold mine!

I’m sure some of you are thinking “why in the world would you sign up for this crazy expensive ‘sport’ again?” There was no question for us when the time came – Piper loves it. Her entire face lights up when she hits the stage and she is never happier than when she’s in the studio. As her parents, that’s enough. We’ll make it work. And now, regardless of where she studies dance, we have the right foundation for questions to keep us grounded financially so that we can support her as far as she wants to go.

* Special thanks to Nanny who faithfully sends money to help offset expenses for both of the children.
Although it’s not expected, it is certainly appreciated! *