The last time I spoke with Dance Moms’ Christi Lukasiak, the show’s second season was soon to premiere — and Lukasiak was still trying to wrap her head around her near-overnight transition from devoted mom perpetually trapped in a tyrant’s dance studio to devoted mom perpetually trapped in a tyrant’s dance studio on TV’s most talked-about train wreck.
My research entailed being an earnestly devoted viewer of the show.
Six months later, on the cusp of the season’s summer premiere, Lukasiak, her comrades in the parents loft at Pittsburgh’s Abby Lee Dance Company, and their dancing daughters can be found everywhere from Nightline to The View to the upcoming Teen Choice Awards (kids can vote for the cast here). And their girls are beloved tween superstars, mobbed for hugs and autographs at every competition.
That, says Lukasiak, is what matters most. Say what you will about her and the other moms — who are the first to acknowledge that what goes on at the studio and on the show often comes off as mortifying to those of us outside the world of competitive dance — it’s the ever-graceful youngest ladies who are the real stars of the show.
No matter what Abby Lee Miller might think.
“When we walk into dance competitions now and there are crowds and they are cheering and they can’t believe it’s them, it chokes me up! It really does!” Lukasiak exclaims. “It’s amazing how much kids look up to our kids. It’s overwhelming as a parent, because that means we’re doing something right, that our children are good role models to other children out there. So I get choked up. Chloe’s like, ‘What’s wrong with you?!’ and I’m like, ‘I can’t help it! It’s so overwhelming. It’s so OVERWHELMING!’”
Though I tease her and her costars on a weekly basis via this website’s Dance Moms recaps, the perennial good sport took time out from filming — and planning Chloe’s and Nia Frazier’s joint birthday blowout — to tell us, my fellow Dance Moms fans, about the cast’s growing fame, keeping her home life sane, that Joffrey Ballet School scholarship and her idea for the next Dance Moms smash!
CGM: Thanks for being such a champ about the recaps. You know I will never be mean to the kids — and it drives me nuts when the storylines, the fans and other media outlets give them a tough time.
CL: That’s my biggest thing — the kids are sacred. They’re off limits. People can say what they want about us, but the kids are above that. That’s how I feel. Because they are such good kids. And everybody recognizes that.
It’s the biggest compliment and the nicest thing when people say, “I look up to Chloe!” and “I made this video of the kids and they’re my idols!” That really means more to me than any dance trophy in the world — because the dancing will end, but the people that they are will last forever.
CGM: What about the officials at the competitions? Are they reacting differently because of the television cameras and the girls’ fame?
CL: I think the judges are actually harder on them now. No favoritism and higher expectations!
CGM: Chloe is frequently the target of Abby’s most confounding wrath — as we see again in Tuesday’s premiere — and still she handles herself with such grace.
CL: Chloe makes me look like such a good mom! She handles herself so well.
My husband and I try to desensitize her a little bit and keep her grounded about what is important. You know, “Abby may say mean things, but you know you’re a good person — and if Abby’s mean to you, it’s probably an issue that Abby has and it has nothing to do with you.” Is it fair to put that much weight on a 10-year-old’s shoulders? No. But we know wholeheartedly who Abby is — and we do our best to make sure that Chloe knows who she is.
CGM: Now that I’ve gotten used to the hurricane that is Abby Lee and the drama that goes on between the adults on the show, what has my attention is that, even as you guys are building a little reality television empire, this continues to be the girls’ dance training. Has that affected them or changed their future aspirations at all?
CL: You know what? They are exactly — and I say this in all sincerity — they are exactly the same kids that they were a year and a half ago, before all of this started. Not one of them has let this go to their heads. They’re still the same, polite kids. Sometimes, if they do have a short break and people are demanding autographs and photographs and things like that, they tend to get a little bit, “Eh.” They’re a little over it. But for the most part, they handle themselves with grace and dignity. People will come up to us in restaurants, when the kids are in the middle of a meal, and want a photograph, and the kids are always very gracious.
And I think that it has also given them a real sense of — while it’s not the same as a Selena Gomez or a Justin Bieber — they have a sense of how hard it is to be living in the public eye. Because everybody says, “Oh I want to be famous!” They have a little touch of that now and they understand that there is a lot that comes with it. It’s not all glitz and glamour — it’s a lot of hard work.
And you know, we had that perception before the show, too. We thought it was glamorous and glitzy, but there’s a lot of responsibility. You want to make sure that you’re always being a positive role model, so you have to watch yourself when you’re out. You have to always be polite. Because the moment you’re having a bad day, that’s when people are going to go online and write bad things about you. You always have to be on your toes.
CGM: To that end, being in competitive dance alone is disruptive to a normal school- and leisure-time schedule. Being in dance and being on a TV show about being in dance, even more so. Now they’re in dance, on the show and on a million other shows, as well. How do you keep things normal — or as normal as possible — on the home and school front?
CL: It’s hard. It’s a balancing act. But when the cameras go away and we’re not filming, I don’t think our lives are any different. I really don’t. It’s different when we’re in a crowd and there’s a lot going on. But I still drive my same old minivan, and we still go home and do the same things. Chloe still does her homework.
We’ve really tried to make sure that life is static. It’s something the girls can depend on, because everything else is in such an uproar and so much of their lives have changed. So we try to make sure that their home lives stay the same. That’s important.
CGM: And their friends and classmates still treat them the same?
CL: I can only speak for Chloe, but her school has been absolutely amazing as far as making sure that everything stays normal.
Chloe’s a straight-A student and her teachers said to me, “You know, these other kids complain that they don’t have time to do their work, and Chloe’s our example. If Chloe can do all her work and still maintain straight A’s, no one else in the class has an excuse.” They said she never complains. She does her work and handles herself with grace — and on the playground she’s just Chloe. She’s the same kid playing in the dirt and on the swings and no one thinks of it differently.
CGM: That age can be so tough to begin with, so that’s an accomplishment on her account and yours.
CL: Chloe’s dad — my husband — is amazing. I get to publicly take credit for Chloe all the time, because I’m her mom. But behind the scenes, she has a fantastic dad. And whether you’re on TV or not, you want them to grow up to be good people. I didn’t have the easiest childhood, so I wanted to make sure that the kids have the best childhood that they can, especially now that we’re going through all of this change and we’re in the public eye. And I think it really shows. Chloe’s a fabulous kid and if I were 11, I’d want to be her best friend, too.
CGM: When we left off in the spring, Chloe was offered the coveted Joffrey Ballet School scholarship. Did she find the time to do it — and will we see any of that on the show?
CL: It certainly is a wonderful opportunity, but to be very honest, I don’t know if Chloe is going to be able to take advantage of it. We are still filming until the end of July, so I’m not really sure what is going to be available as far as the schedule goes.
I’ve been asking production and haven’t really gotten a straight answer, but that is definitely an opportunity that I don’t want to see pass by, because it’s such a prestigious name and a great opportunity — and an honor! But I also know that we have obligations to film and, you know, be crazy on TV [laughs].
I’m hoping that they can somehow build that into the storyline so that she can take advantage of it, but I don’t know anything yet. So, I guess, stay tuned? I’m definitely staying tuned. That’s the first question everybody asks me when they see me in the grocery store or at the gas station — “Did Chloe go to Joffrey? — and I’m like, “Well, not yet. But we’re hoping.”
CGM: Have you filmed in one continuous cycle, or was there some downtime between filming the spring season and the summer season?
CL: We had about five weeks off. We had from the very beginning of March off until April 5. And actually — ironically — we came back to film the summer season on the same day we started filming Season 1 last year. So we really started filming this only a year ago.
CGM: I know! It was July maybe when that fateful screener first landed on my desk …
CL: And you’re like, “Oh thank you from heaven above! Why are these girls wearing leather pants and black wigs?”
CGM: … and bolero jackets with their little bellies hanging out!
CL: I know! I know! Lori, I know! Believe me, I see these costumes come in and I want to kill myself half the time. I’m like, “Are you kidding? Please! ARE YOU KIDDING?! Can’t we have a nice black leotard just once? A tutu? How about a nice tutu?!!”
CGM: Speaking of fashion, I watched the premiere last night and it looks like Abby Lee has some new hair and makeup people aboard. Gone are the days of the headband …
CL: Well you know, she’s very glamorous. She has to live up to her reputation. She’s the star!
CGM: And now she even has a role on Drop Dead Diva. She’s so going to leave you guys behind. With nothing but Cathy Stein for a back-up instructor.
CL: You know what? I would be OK with that! I would be perfectly fine. Actually, there are a few dance instructors that are in Miami …
CGM: Oh no! No you don’t. That would so not be the same!
CL: I know, I know! If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. There is a chemistry there — whether it’s good or bad. But I have to say that I think I take a backseat to Kelly in the first couple episodes. Did you see the first episode?
CGM: Watched the screener last night …
CL: It wasn’t me and Abby — it was Kelly and Abby!
CGM: I saw that! Kelly threw down! So, since Abby Lee had her little “Come to Jesus” moment at the end of the spring season …
CL: That wasn’t a “Come to Jesus” moment — that was an embarrassment! She was just embarrassed. She embarrassed herself so she ran and hid!
CGM: OK, now that we know that she can be embarrassed and that she does have an Achilles heel after all and given what I saw in the premiere — ’cause ya called her an idiot, Christi! — is this the season we see the moms rise up and reclaim your lives? And your sanity? And your children?
CL [laughing]: Oh, Lori, I’m not sure any of us were ever sane! So what are we reclaiming?
But, yes, I think you see a little bit more of the moms uniting. I know when you and I interviewed last time, I said that you start to get a little more sense of our backgrounds and who we are, and I think that comes even more to fruition in this season.
Because the longer we’re on TV, people are learning that when we’re arguing, we’re not really arguing about what you think we’re arguing about. We’re arguing about something that made us angry three years ago. And it’s still the same dynamics. We still have the same problem with Melissa and her relationship with Abby and the sneaking behind our backs. Holly is still the voice of reason. And Kelly and I are still the troublemakers.
So I think inherently we are who are — you just see more of it.
There are some really hysterical scenes that Kelly and I have shot and I really hope that they make the air. Because I think our friendship is something that a lot of viewers identify with — especially the ladies — because everybody has a girlfriend that they hang out with like that. I think that people get that and they like that, so I hope we see more of it.
And I also hope that we see more of the kids! I think that these kids have such great personalities, but you only ever see them standing there like a robot.
CGM: That’s one thing I very much appreciated about the Miami spinoff — you almost always got to see the entirety of everybody’s dances, and that’s really what it should be all about.
CL: I say that every time! I’m like, “Why does Miami get to see their whole dances?! Where are our whole dances?!” That’s an argument that I have with them constantly! Because these girls work so hard, and they learn these dances and you only see a little teeny bit of them!
CGM: It is a shame that you have to go to YouTube to find them when you’ve got a television show…
CL: When we go to a competition and they announce our kids, instantly 457 iPhones light up the room. “Nobody videotapes” … but everybody videotapes.
And I also hope that they show more of the girls’ friendships — because these girls really have fabulous relationships with one another and I think people would like to see more of them having fun and being kids. I know when I post Chloe videos to YouTube, people are like, “Oh, I love it, because I get to actually see them being kids!”
I wish they showed more of that.
CGM: And you do have a whole cross-section of the show’s audience — as evidenced by all the little girls at the competitions and on Twitter — that live for that part of the show. I mean, you do need the Abby drama and the mama drama for the adult fan-base and to give me something to write about, but …
CL: That could be an after-show! Like, here’s the girl’s version! You could have Dance Moms and then you could have a half-hour Dance Kids!
CGM: I LIKE IT! Theresa [the franchise’s incredibly patient publicist], if you’re still on the line …
CL: … I think I have Lifetime’s next hit!
THERESA: Pretty soon, we’re going to be all Dance Moms, all the time. A 24/7 Dance Moms season …
CL: Well, you know — the two words that everyone uses when they talk to me about the show? Addicted and obsessed! No one “likes” it. They’re addicted.
CGM: Dance Moms: Rehab! Hey, Theresa …
The summer season of Dance Moms airs Tuesday nights at 9/8CT beginning June 5.
Photos and video: ©2011 A&E Television Networks, LLC. All rights reserved. Credit: Barbara Nitke