By Lori Acken
The DVD screener for Lifetime’s Dance Moms, debuting July 13, is a curiosity. Not just what it contains, but what’s actually printed on the disc itself. To the top is militant but much sought after Pittsburgh dance teacher Abby Lee Miller and the quote, “If you want your daughter to be a star, you have to go through me.” To the bottom, three of the young girls Miller mentors (and often, in the opinion of this non-dance mom, bullies) in black wigs, bare midriffs and boas.
So where are the Dance Moms? Oh they’re on here alright.
There’s brown-bobbed Melissa — with daughters Mackenzie and Maddie, an Abby Lee Dance Studio all-star — who announces with a Cheshire Cat grin that her obsession with her daughters’ dance training ended her marriage, but her new boyfriend is clearly aboard, “because he signs the checks.”
Slightly crazy-eyed Kelly, a one-time dancer herself, sports the complexly-angled and tri-lighted hairdo of a pampered suburban Mrs. and is mother to willowy Paige and rebellious Brooke. Well, rebellious in that Brookie doesn’t really care if she wins a first place trophy and thinks she’d really rather try competitive cheerleading. Despite Mom also showing off childhood cheering photos, she reacts a little something like the girl just announced she’d like to leave school and try long-haul trucking.
Blonde booze fan Christi — with her smiley girl Chloe — confides that she pays Abby Lee $16,000 a year to teach her daughter to dance and, hence, “I find myself sometimes putting dance before school.” With Kelly in tow, she also puts a trip to the hotel bar before gluing rick-rack and jewels to the dancers’ homemade, cone-shaped hats just minutes before a competition. Abby hunts them down, but saves her wrath for a more scathing moment.
Tastefully dressed overachiever Holly is the most civilized and rational of the group, but even she says she refuses to let Ms. Miller treat her and dancing daughter Nia like doormats and is determined to see Nia achieve the status of a featured dancer.
Then there’s Easter/bunny/carrot (“because they go so well with bunnies”)-loving Cathy who believes these things: a) that “pink is a way of life” and b) if her 6 year-old daughter Vivi ever comes to her and says she’d rather play softball than dance, Cathy’ll probably slit her wrists.
Her words, not mine.
Cathy is also the owner of Candy Apple’s Dance Center, and though she believes the time has come for her “to be the mother and let someone else be the teacher” where Viv is concerned, you can tell instantly that she’d be perfectly content being the teacher to Abby Lee. Who cottons to that idea like Cathy might to a heaping bowl of bunny stew.
We also get what I truly hope is our first and last glimpse at a mother known as Minister Dawn, who — all evidence to the contrary — actually is a minister and, thus, unleashes a holy fit, including a few choice quotes from Jesus, unto Abby Lee when her daughter Reagan is not allowed to dance for showing up in incorrect attire. Encouraging the cameras to follow along, Minister Dawn preaches — loudly — to her daughter’s teacher on what seems like a tour of the entire building, until Miller is forced to borrow a student’s cell (which the kid seems to magically pull out of her leotard) and call the cops.
Though the children in Dance Moms are older, it’s easy to feel as badly for them as I do for TLC’s tiara-chasing toddlers whose mothers spend their college money parading them across stage after stage looking like 30-year-old makeup counter ladies from the neck up and gift-store baby dolls from the neck down, all for the sake of being able to call their preschoolers “Beauty Queens” and fill china cabinets with trophies bigger than their twerps. The Dancing kids clearly enjoy the actual art of dancing and chummily refuse to to see one another as the rivals their parents do — but they don’t have an ally in the joint when they’re having the sort of kid moments preteens will have under excruciating pressure.
As for the mothers (and even Miller. herself), these ladies have clearly seen a reality show or two or ten and know how to craft themselves into camera-worthy characters. They’re The Real Housewives of Dance Class. Which, to me, is the series’ biggest problem. They’ve already claimed their individual roles and, thus, seem like characters, not moms with their girls’ best interests at heart, and their arguments are vicious to the scripty/stagy point of being disingenuine. Begging the casting question “Which came first? The mothers or the girls?”
And we know perfectly well that Abby Lee Miller is collecting a pretty penny from these women, and the publicity of a reality show for her business is golden — but does she truly take this much lip from these women? And feel that comfortable dressing them down as well?
I dunno. Like I said — not a dance mom, capitalized, italicized, televised or otherwise. But if I was, I sure wouldn’t be one like these.
Which, I guess, is probably the point.