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Competition, General

The Dance Industry Reacts to Dance Moms Television Show

“Dance Moms” on Lifetime showcases a small dance competition team from the Abby Lee Dance Company in Pittsburgh, PA.  The show focuses on five moms and their interactions with their own children, the other dancers, and the company’s director, Abby Lee Miller.  While most of the series takes place inside the dance studio, and in the parents’ observation room that they call “dance jail”, the dancers also travel to a different competition each week to perform for awards and prizes.

Abby’s aggressive teaching style is infamous in competitive dance, and provides the right amount of drama for a reality television series.  When TV Guide’s Rich Juzwiak asked her about it, Abby replied, “I’m training people to go on and make a living.  People forget that sometimes… I need to be tough.  I can’t mince words.  I can’t sugarcoat it.  I want them to be prepared when they get to New York and go to an audition.  If you want someone to say, ‘She’s so sweet and she’s so cute, and, honey, point your foot,’ that’s not my school.  You can go to the YMCA and have a nobody teach your kid if that’s what you want to hear.”1

Abby’s techniques have fostered professional careers for many of her dancers; however, some parents and other teachers and studio owners are opposed to the aggressive style evident on the series.  Whether she is deemed as a hero or villain, Abby’s aggressiveness, contrasted with the moms’ need to develop their children’s star careers, makes “Dance Moms” a compelling series.

There is a lot of discussion about which events are actual realities in reality television, and what is scripted.  “Dance Moms” is not immune to this controversy.  TV Guide asked Abby about the pyramid system that she used to determine which dancers would perform solos in any given week.  Abby responded, “I’ve never done that in my life.  That has nothing to do with me.  That’s the show.  They came up with that whole process… The whole pyramid thing was for the show because we could not do a new solo for every single child, and a new group and new duets and trios every single week.  There’s just no time available.” 1

While it is unclear what is scripted and what is “real”, the show stirs up some controversy in the studio dance world.  Teachers and studio owners have expressed mixed emotions online about “Dance Moms”.  While they consider that some of Abby’s techniques are viable, they fear that the over-the-top drama of reality TV may harm dance studios in general.

The show, for dramatic effect, highlights many negative aspects of competitive dance: parents behind on tuition, inappropriate costumes and choreography for young dancers, complaints of special treatment and favoritism, dancers forgetting their steps, and moms sitting at the bar while their children get ready to compete.  Viewers who do not have personal experience with dance studios may be led to believe that this is the norm, when there are many competitive studios that are not laden with so much controversy.  In fact, not even everyone in Abby’s company fits the stereotypical “dance mom” that is portrayed on the show.

Abby commented on this in an interview with Yahoo! TV Blog:  “I have amazing, respectful, wonderful customers who pay their bills on time, who drop their children off, who help out… but they just don’t make good TV.” 2

The show, including all of the moms and Abby are said to be returning for a second season.  They began filming in October 2011, and the first episodes of the new season will air on Lifetime in January. 3

1 Juzwiak, Rich (July 21, 2011). “Dance Moms’ Abby Lee Miller On Ranking Students and Dressing Them Sexily”. TV Guide. http://www.tvguide.com/News/Dance-Moms-Abby-Miller-1035511.aspx. Retrieved November 9, 2011.

2 Nemetz, Dave. (October 5, 2011). “’Dance Moms’: We Have Three Questions for Abby Lee Miller”. Yahoo! TV Blog. http://tv.yahoo.com/blogs/yahoo-tv/dance-moms-three-questions-abby-lee-miller-192801136.html. Retrieved November 9, 2011.

3 Sorensen, Kristine. (October 26, 2011). “’Dance Moms’ Reveal Inside Scoop Behind Reality Show”. CBS Pittsburgh, KDKA. http://pittsburgh.cbslocal.com/2011/10/26/%e2%80%9cdance-moms%e2%80%9d-reveal-inside-scoop-behind-hit-reality-show/. Retrieved November 9, 2011.

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About Terry

Terry Finch is a dance teacher and choreographer with an extensive training and teaching background that spans 26 years. Terry has held a variety of teaching positions, from assisting instructors at her dance studio, to teaching at summer performing arts camp, and leading college level master classes. She is currently in her fourth year as a dance teacher at a studio in central Pennsylvania.

3 Responses to “The Dance Industry Reacts to Dance Moms Television Show”

  1. On December 7, 2011 at 8:50 pm megteach responded with... #

    Thanks for that insightful article on a somewhat controversial show. It is important to remember that reality TV is just that, and that what you see on that show isn’t what you get at every dance studio in America. It is important for parents of students to know they have many options when choosing a dance studio, and they should always feel comfortable to shop around to find the one that is the best fit for their child.

  2. On December 7, 2011 at 10:21 pm Nagwa Sai'd responded with... #

    I danced all my life from the age of five and its a tough and competitive art form!!! My background is Classical Ballet, African Cuban, Egyptian Folklore and Oriental dance and Flamenco. Had my dance company “El Raks Sai’d” for 20 years as well ….. IF YOU CAN’T STAND THE HEAT IN THE KITCHEN … GET OUT!

  3. On July 26, 2012 at 5:25 am Curtis Cagle responded with... #

    I took class with their real cheoreographer, his name is James Washington. He is actually a really good teacher, he danced for the pittsburgh ballet and graduated from point park university, he also has his own company. Abby is actually like that in real life to her students. I do believe some of it is fake, they lie about awards sometimes like competition websites say diffrent stuff than on the show.

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