I have a feeling that Lifetime thought they were pursuing their own Toddlers and Tiaras/Moms and Kids Gone Wild series with Dance Moms. Thankfully, for everyone, that is not what this show is about. Mostly. Dance Moms is a candid reality series following the young competitive dance team at the renowned Abby Lee Dance Company*. These girls, most under 13 years old, are challenged to learn new solos, duets, and group routines every week for competitions all over the United States. While the show tries to amp up the drama between the dance moms, the most engaging part of the series is actually watching these talented young children in the dance studio under the guidance of Abby Lee Miller.
The breakout star of the show is Abby Lee Miller. She comes across as the one adult on the series. That's saying a lot considering there are five different mothers on the show. What Abby brings is a lifetime of teaching young people how to dance. She has a discerning eye for talent and knows how to bring out the best in each dancer. Despite what the editors and mothers are trying to show you, she does not play favorites. She plays based off of who actually does the best and what every dancer excels at. How else do you explain the one girl always doing musical theater while her main rival does contemporary? While they are both trained in both styles, each girl is incredible at the style Abby pushes them to do.
The scenes with the mothers--the alleged stars of the show--go from decent to unbearable. I don't take any joy in seeing grown women screaming at the top of their lungs in front of young children. What is so funny about sneaking out of the building--while your 8 year old daughter is in a large city--and going down to the bar for a few glasses of wine? I don't quite know what tone Dance Moms is trying to set. I just think they would be much better off if the focus remained on the dancing.
When we get to see Abby doing her thing in the studio, it's amazing to watch. She has every girl in that room looking up to her like she's the most important person in the world. She gives everything she has to train these girls to be professional dancers if they want to be, but it goes beyond that. Abby is introducing these girls to music, dance styles, stories, character types, and cultures that they wouldn't be taught about in school.
In the most recent episode, for example, the entire young competitive team performed a routine to an experimental spoken word/ambient score song called "Where Have All the Children Gone?" Dressed in white gowns reminiscent of a baptism or Christening, the girls entered a playground one by one, only to be dragged off by unseen distress--murder, abduction, suicide. Schools don't address this and obviously, from their reaction, the parents don't either.
More importantly, through Dance Moms, Abby Lee is opening the curtain to reveal what dance studios are actually like. For someone like me who works with students in theater, it's amazing to see what they're actually going through away from my piano. I have new-found respect for my students that leave my rehearsal at 4:30 to go to the dance studio until 10 or 11 at night to prepare for a competition. I've begun taking notes on how Abby interacts with the younger students and how she trains them to recognize and use proper terminology.
Most of all, the show actually proves how important parental involvement is in extracurricular activities. You can quickly spot the difference between the dancers who are rehearsing at home with a trusting parent and the dancers who only go into dance mode at the studio. It's not a matter of talent. It's a matter of support. Abby stresses this and I can't blame her. Sadly, we can only imagine how much time the more involved parents are actually putting into their daughters' dancing. The show opts to focus on trumped up drama at the studio or competitions instead of positive interactions within families.
Despite the more cliche shrieking harpy moments, Dance Moms is a refreshing look into a different kind of art environment. Until this point, we've only seen this style of dance on competitive reality shows. Any studio time elsewhere is condensed into an 60 second reel before the performance begins. Dance Moms wisely puts the emphasis on preparation, showing just enough of the routines at the competitions to get the big picture. The dances are built right in front of our eyes and that's more than enough to keep me watching.
Have you been watching Dance Moms? What do you think? Sound off below.
*My theater students in New Jersey talk about competing with this school at dance conventions and competitions. This isn't some PR puff; Abby Lee Dance Company is the real thing.