Yes, I swore I wasn’t going to do this. I swore it. I suh-wore I was done with Dance Moms and all things related to it. And yet I sat down and watched the premiere of Abby’s Ultimate Dance Competition.
Since I did that, here is what I saw on “Let the Dancing Begin.”
First we meet Kelly, an exuberant blond from Studio City, CA, who could be Christi Lukasiak’s more salt-of-the-earth sister. Kelly says Abby Lee is her God. Which is how you know she and Christi are not the least bit related. Her equally blond daughter Jordyn is 12 and has been dancing since she was 2. She thinks her mother is crazy.
Next is Gina, a pretty, auburn-haired woman, and her son Zack, 13, who are from Phoenix, AZ. Zack has only been dancing for three years, but he loves the attention it brings him and he doesn’t care one bit if the other mothers say he only wins because he’s a boy. Zack is one confident dude.
Dance instructor Yvette and her daughter Hadley are from Evansville, Indiana. Hadley has a polished demeanor and looks a good half-decade older than her 12 years. Yvette has an excited Southern-Belle-Barbie-on-just-a-hint-of-helium voice and a pageant girl’s smile, and also a host of mantras to help Hadley understand just what’s important. Yvette: “You gotta risk it …!” Hadley: “…to get the biscuit!” (I’ll pause a minute to let any Here Comes Honey Boo Boo fans out there shake that one off). Yvette: “Don’t fight it!” Hadley; “Just invite it!”
Then we get our first peek at Abby Lee, who is wearing a sparkly headband in her teased-high hair for the occasion. She says these little pipsqueaks may win all the competitions in their area, but they have NEVER experienced something like this. No. Doubt.
Dark-haired Erin is 13-year-old Elisabeth’s mom. She says Abby is a little scary on TV, but a lot scary in person. Elisabeth is her mother’s twin only younger and blonder. Also, my cousin’s name is Elisabeth Erin, so these two together are going to confuse the tar out of me hereto forth. Watch for that.
Shayna and her nine-year-old daughter Tua are from Laie, Hawaii. Shayna says Tua’s dance pursuits are an enormous time and financial commitment. Tua looks enormously guilty about that.
Abby says she, Richy and Robin are all looking for something different. Richy is looking for the thing that makes the dancers throw up their arms and go ahhhhhhhhh! Except through movement — not literally.
Robin isn’t just looking for a dancer. She’s looking for a star and a real artist. I’m guessing she’s mostly looking for the next generation of Pussycat Dolls. Er, sorry, there, Zack.
And Abby? Well Abby just wants a flawless dancer. Maddie? Maaaaaddddddie!!!?
The first group challenge involves all of the dancers learning the same combination in 45 minutes, after which Abby Lee will come back and choose who she thinks should be at the top of the pyramid that is not on this show so far. And hopefully ever. That lucky lad or lady will get to choose the style of dance they will do for the main challenge. Jazz. Hip hop. Contemporary. Or tap. I’m going to go right out on a limb here and guess that no one is going to choose tap, but maybe I’m just a shuffle-averse cynic.
Abby Lee tells the dancers that every week she will also challenge them to display a different skill. This week, it’s technique. So they don’t have to display technical skills after this? Well, didn’t this competition just get much easier! Then she leaves “staff choreographer” Anthony Burrell to teach the 45-Minute Combo.
Renee is straight from Real Housewives central casting with her big hair, big jewelry, wide poofy mouth and one-Scotch-too-many voice. Her daughter Tessa, 12, is a ringer for Dance Moms Miami’s Sammy, but without the braces. Renee says she got Tessa into dance as a tot, mostly because Renee loves clothing and Tessa looked so damn cute in a tutu. Since Tess was so damn cute in her little outfit, Renee figured she might as well stick her in a ballet class to walk the duds, and the kid took right to it.
The 45-Minute Combo appears to involve a lot of elbows and wriggling. I wonder how many of these guest, er, staff choreographers have actually choreographed for children. But I digress.
Next we meet Norco, CA, resident Maria, an unsmiling Tiger Mother if ever there was one (sorry, lady who wrote the book). Thus, Maria’s teeny, tiny daughter Lexine, 11, is a wide-eyed nervous wreck. Maria doesn’t get the problem — just do exactly what Anthony is doing. Simple! Maria has clearly never taken a dance class herself. (Whoops. Yes she has.)
Kristen is a ringer for Dance Moms Miami’s Abby, mother of Sammy for whom Renee’s daughter Tessa is a ringer. Kristen’s daughter is 10-year-old cool customer Kyleigh Jai, and they are from Pittsburg, CA. Who knew there were two Pittsburg/hs! But only one Abby Lee Miller!
Oh oh. Tua is in tears. Shayna comforts her by telling her to turn on her brain, for heaven’s sake. Then Shayna seeks advice from Yvette, whose daughter is just a bright little bubble of confidence. Just give a Tua a good ol’ “Ya gotta risk it if you want the biscuit,” ain’t that right, Yvette? She says something along those lines, but Shayna suddenly realizes that she’s fraternizing with the enemy and goes and sits alone on the stairs.
Here’s Abby again. She reminds the dancers that she is looking for technique. They begin to dance and Abby’s head twitches this way and that, catching all of the action. When the music stops, she says she was very impressed with what she saw. But her eye seems to have been mostly drawn to the blonds. She says Hadley has too much going on with her neon and striped outfit. I thought this challenge was about technique. She says Elisabeth really stood out — she’s tall, the blond hair and turquoise outfit work. She’s a good package. I thought this challenge was about technique. Madison did well, too. Wait, who’s Madison? Abby says Tua’s face is beautiful. Her technique, not so much.
And it’s Elisabeth of Erin for the win. Abby says she knows the challenge was supposed to be about technique, but still. When she first walked through the door, she noticed Elisabeth. Possibly because Elisabeth was in the front row, she is taller than everyone else and she’s wearing the brightest color. But that’s why I’m on this side of the screen and Abby Lee’s on that one.
Elisabeth chooses contemporary for the main event (anybody else old enough to instantly think Ryan O’Neal, Barbra Streisand and boxing gloves every time they hear that?) because it’s her strength. Also, the theme for the Ryan O’Neal, Barbra Streisand and Boxing Gloves is Hollywood and the group will be divided into trios to perform in it.
Even though it’s just her and the camera, Yvette stage whispers that Elisabeth is not that good and says she’s not attracted to overconfident people. When people think they are all that and a bag of chips, maybe they’re eating too many chips. OK. That’s not as snappy as the other mottos. Maybe that’s why she says the whole thing by herself and leaves Hadley out of it.
Trio #1 is comprised of Lexine, Asia and Jordyn. They will be doing hip-hop under the tutelage of Bobby Newberry. Kelly says he is fabulous and it’s going to be fabulous.
Little Asia, 6, says hip-hop is groovy and it’s her thing. Asia has been dancing since she was 2 and her sleekly-ponytailed mother Kristie says she takes some guff for all the makeup and fake lashes that her daughter wears, but what she is doing at age 6 is pretty amazing. Plus, she somehow manages to look adorable with all the facepaint, instead of disturbing. Bobby high-fives the little firecracker and tells her to “Weeerk!”
Oh oh. Tiger Mother is not happy with the dance style, because Lexine is trained in ballet and hip-hop is the exact opposite. I think the whole Joffrey thing gave Maria the seriously wrong idea about what this deal is actually about.
Trio #2 is Madison, Hadley and Zack, and they will be doing jazz as choreographed by Gina Starbuck. Yvette can’t help herself — she’s backseat driving, er, choreographing to beat the band. Gina chuckles at her. “Moms, you’re killing me with all those faces!” she hollers merrily. The mothers make more faces, just for sport.
Trio #3 is Amanda, Briana and Elisabeth and — per victorious Elisabeth’s choice — they will be doing contemporary, taught again by Anthony Burrell. Husky-voiced, strawberry-blond Briana is 13, from Temecula, CA. Her mom, Kris, seems pretty low key. I have no idea who Amanda is just yet.
Speaking of moms, Elisabeth can’t stop looking at hers, per Anthony’s instruction, so Erin turns her back to the dance floor. Except you’re still there, Erin. She can look at your back as easily as your front. But way to try to be a helper.
The unlucky tap kids are Tessa, Tua and Kyleigh Jai. Broadway vet Joyce Chittick is the choreographer. I hope she can work miracles. (Like I said. Shuffle-averse. Tap fans, feel free to school me.)
Real Housewife of Abby’s Ultimate says Tessa has tap down pat and is entire levels ahead of Tua. Shayna says Tua freaks herself out. Then she says she’s a wreck when she watches Tua dance. She can feel her tension. And Tua’s crying again. I don’t think Abby’s Ultimate was Tua’s idea.
Performance day at the Los Angeles Theater! Moms are in charge of costumes and makeup.
Asia, in sunflower yellow with a posy on her head, says she doesn’t care what anyone says about her — no ands, no ifs, no buts, no whatevers — she’s winning Abby’s Ultimate Dance Competition. Abby, I think you may have met your match in a Corona, CA, first-grader.
Host Kevin Manno introduces the judges at their blinking Rubik’s Cube of a table thingie. Abby says she’s looking for technique and a star. Richy is looking for performance and pizazz. Robin mimes cat paws and says she wants confidence and charisma.
First up is the Hip-Hoppers. Lexine and Jordyn are in long-sleeved, long-panted black outfits that make them blend right into the shiny black stage. Asia, in shades of silver, stands out. Their dance is about the paparazzi and rumors.
Abby calls Lexine out on her botched front walkover. Maria smiles ferociously. Behind the scenes she says tumbling is a trick, not technique. Abby loved Jordyn but the girl does need to work on turning her feet out.
Richy, the hip-hop master, says it was just OK. He says the dance was not hip-hop; it was movement. The audience erupts Apollo style with thumbs-down signs and boos. He redeems himself slightly by giving props to Asia.
Robin says the dance was really fun and she enjoyed watching it. She says Asia was born to be a Pussycat Doll. Given that she is telling a six-year-old that she was born to be in a burlesque-style dance troupe, I am not sure how I feel about that. Neither is Asia. With any luck, Asia has no idea what a Pussycat Doll is and won’t for a good long while.
Lexine comes off the stage crying which inspires her mother to say they might as well go home now rather than be judged not good enough. Kelly is appalled and comes to Lex’s defense. Kristie chimes in, too, and so does Jordyn. Oddly, Lexine erupts at her cheering section instead of her naysayer mother. Maria tells Jordyn to just stop. Kelly wants Maria to not talk to Jordyn anymore. Maria wants Kelly and Jordyn to not talk to Lexine any more. I want everyone to not talk to anyone any more, but Maria goes for the last word, sneering that Bobby was only teaching Jordyn and she still didn’t hit the choreo.
I have a feeling alleyway rumbles are about to become a pretty common thing.
The jazz dance is about the desperation of actors during the audition process. Zack adds an extra little “ernnnh!” at the end of the dance, but that doesn’t stop Abby Lee from getting on him for not hiding his not-straight knees with pants.
Robin calls Madison fierce and says she is going to be one of the best dancers by far. Abby and Richy will clap to that. Madison kind of looks like a younger Robin. She’s 13 and she and her mother, Coreen, are from Boca Raton. They’re low key, too. I’m guessing we’ll see a lot more Madison and Amanda in episodes to come.
Richy says Hadley doesn’t mess around, but she’s a little too businesslike and needs to let her inner firestorm out. Then if she fails up to that point at least she gave it 100%. Hadley looks slightly stricken at the word “fail.” Yvette says their words went straight to her heart “in not the best way ever” and she doesn’t want Hadley to be on their radar for making mistakes.
Ah gahd, the poor tap kids are — of course — dressed like flappers, with the most unflattering wigs known to mankind just to add insult to injury. Their dance is about old Hollywood. Richy looks like he already knows this going to be nothing but trouble. But Renee makes beaming, Melissa Gisoni/Jill Vertes crazy faces on the sidelines. The judges look nonplussed.
Abby says Tessa did the choreography, but she didn’t steal the show or embody her character. The other judges concur. Abby does some jazz hands and gets way in Richy’s space to demonstrate what she should have looked like. The girls look stunned. Richy looks crowded.
Robin says it’s hard to see who Kyleigh Jai is through the crazy wig, but she’s a good performer — and Kyleigh beams gratefully for the news that she overcame the thing on her head. Robin says Tessa needs to look at the judges, not at the floor. She tries to be nice about Tua’s tapping, but Abby grabs the girl’s photo, shakes it and bellows that she was a beat behind. Robin reclaims the spotlight long enough to say that everyone needs to steal the spotlight when it is there. Abby mocks her cat paw dealie.
Renee frets because Tessa has the technique but no performance face, while Tua has the performance face but no technique. And we all know how well technique faired in the first challenge.
Next is the contemporary trio, which is about the loneliness of fame. Erin says she warned Eisabeth that her challenge win means all of the kids and all of the moms and Abby Lee are going to be gunning for her if she’s not perfect in this dance.
The routine is pretty, but the mothers still look worried. Abby says she loved the costumes, the choreography and the girls. The whole thing screamed “Maddie Dance,” so I am hardly surprised. But she was not pleased with Elisabeth and her sickled feet. Robin starts to make a point about Elisabeth’s height, and even though she said “also,” indicating that she was in agreement with Abby Lee, Abby Lee starts hollering about her making excuses.
Richy halfheartedly holds his hands up to hush the bickering broads, which doesn’t especially work, and then calls the girls angels and a “ball of hope” and says the dance was beautiful. He gives them the special Richy finger wave. And even though we’ve barely seen a thing about Amanda, she gets mad props all around.
(Amanda, 12, and her mother Maylin are from Miami.)
It seems like we’re done, but then Abby suddenly wants to know why Elisabeth’s head is not in the game. Aw geez. Elisabeth looks to the floor, begins to cry tearlessly and gives a suspiciously rehearsed-sounding speech about her mom and dad getting a divorce and how dance is her escape. Her trio-mates look beatific and rest their heads on her shoulders. On the sideline, Erin … smiles. Your marriage is ending, your family is breaking up, your kid is onstage crying and saying dance is all she has right now. And you are smiling, clasping your hands hopefully that this woeful tale will get you and your daughter all the way to a fresh start in New York City. Oy. I suppose I should not be surprised.
As Elisabeth concludes her tale, Erin closes her eyes and aims a Mona Lisa smile of her own at the floor. Shayna isn’t buying any of this either, but Abby and the judges are all about it. Abby tells Elisabeth that the stage is her real home and ain’t no one can break that up. It’s an uplifting moment … for about 35 seconds before Erin, in an aside, pretty much lets us know that they’re willing to shill their familial upheaval in order to risk it for the biscuit. Or whatever. Briana’s mom, Kris, says she has no idea how much of the story is hooey, but that Erin has told her that she’s there to play the game, so, you know.
Despite Elisabeth and Erin’s familial version of a skipped record during your solo, Briana and Madison are deemed the top performers of the week. Tua and Tessa are the bottom two. See? I told you tap was no good.
“You didn’t become Carol Burnett or Donald O’Connor or even Debbie Reynolds,” says Abby to a clearly perplexed Tessa. I’m not sure Richy’s even old enough to remember who these hoofers are, much less a 10-year-old. Singin’ in the Rain is from 1952. Tessa is from 2002.
Abby says Tua is more than just a pretty face, but she is not on the level of the other dancers in the competition…
… and then they send Tessa home. Tessa and Renee handle it beautifully, but I’m throughly dejected. Renee grew on me something fierce. And she’s clearly a great example of kindness and patience to her daughter. Which is probably why these two had to be the first to go.
Abby’s Ultimate Dance Competition airs Tuesdays at 9/8CT on Lifetime.