Reality Bites: Dance Moms

Abby Lee Miller: Those who can't do...teach.
Abby Lee Miller: Those who can't do...teach.

There are a million reality shows on the naked television. We're going to watch them all, one at a time.

"I was out by myself in the graveyard
I was doing an interpretive dance"
- They Might Be Giants

Lifetime's Dance Moms was recommended for "Reality Bites" by a friend of mine who read my earlier recap of Toddlers and Tiaras. Not wanting to risk permanent damage to my immortal soul, I've been trying to space these quasi-child abuse shows out as far as possible. So I put off the inevitable for what I hoped was a satisfactory interval.

After watching DM, I now realize I could've gone my entire life without seeing it. It's stale and clichéd to talk about the end of civilization when you realize something like Dance Moms is in its second season, but if you squint your eyes just right, choreographer Abby Lee Miller and the six assembled mothers could almost pass for the seven-headed Beast from the sea described in the Book of Revelation.

It's in the Bible, people.

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Dance Moms takes place in Pittsburgh, which just goes to prove delusionally vainglorious behavior isn't restricted to the coasts. I remember watching Steeler games on TV back in the 70s, when a gray miasma of smog choked the Goodyear Blimp's view of Three Rivers Stadium. Pittsburgh has come a long way since then, retooling its economy to focus on technology and health care instead of steel. Recently, the city has ranked consistently in the top tier of various "livability" rankings.

And now this.

The penalty for missing a grand jete is severe.
The penalty for missing a grand jete is severe.

Abby, owner of Abby Lee Studios, allows her students' mothers to hang out while she goes over something called "the pyramid." Whichever dancer has most pleased Abby is put in the apex position, and so on down. Naturally, this fosters a spirit of cooperation among the children and encourages their mothers to work together for the betterment of the dance company as a whole.

But seriously, Abby and the moms have this wonderful perpetual-motion system of mutual blame going on. I'm no physicist, but if you could somehow collect the energy produced by the group's constant drama queenery, you could probably power at least three Darque Tan franchises for a year.

After the overview, the moms leave to go sit in the green room or whatever and complain to/about each other while the actual rehearsal takes place (though they can still watch on cameras). This week's routine promises to be a hard-hitting commentary on the continuing problem of bullying, only in dance form. Nia, the sole black girl in the class, is selected by Abby to be the bully. Nia's mom Holly has a problem with this and asks that she not be given the role. Abby agrees, putting Payton -- a 14-year-old who has come in to replace a girl who departed to join cheerleading (quelle horreur) -- in Nia's role. Abby then pointedly tells Nia it was "your mother, not me," who cost her a featured role.

It's at this point you realize you're watching reality television, because nobody would buy a character on a scripted show who was this big of an asshole.

Christi (mother of Chloe) tries to point out Abby's techniques are sort of similar to the bullying she's trying to make a statement about, but this kind of introspection is frowned upon at the network that gave us How to Look Good Naked.

At about the halfway point, nausea starts setting in and I'm confused. Could it be the constant parade of faces altered by Botox and/or surgery? Perhaps it's self-loathing brought on by watching weight loss commercials after consuming nothing but queso and beer for the last six hours?

Nah, that's not it. Soon enough, I realize what's making me sick to my stomach is seeing all these prepubescent girls in full makeup and jewelry. Sweet merciful crap, is this what I have to look forward to as a father? Just so we're clear, Payton is one of two dancers over the age of 11 (Brooke is also 14), while a couple are as young as six or seven. Seeing kids who aren't even double digits in sexy schoolgirl outfits had me wishing for an airsick bag. These kids are great dancers, no argument, but jeez. 

At least they let the youngest one wear a shirt.
At least they let the youngest one wear a shirt.

True and exciting story: I had to order leotards for my kids Halloween costumes last year, and after spending 15 minutes doing Google searches for "toddler leotards," I couldn't delete my browser cache fast enough, all the while wondering if I'd just been entered into an FBI watchlist. After watching Dance Moms, I found myself wishing they made KillDisk for DVRs.

Back to the show: The other moms resent Payton for coming back, arguing with her mother Leslie about including a 14-year-old with a bunch of kids (mostly) four years younger. I actually respect Leslie for being one of the only moms without a chemically altered face.

The routine is performed at a Hollywood Vibe competition, which is apparently frequented by big-time Hollywood agents. All I can think is if putting kids in dance means you have to sit through three-hour recitals at something called "Hollywood Vibe," maybe you should reconsider introducing them to video games.

Maddie wins her solo, the trio doesn't do well thanks to spacing issues, and I honestly can't remember how the full company's anti-bully showcase went. My vision was fuzzy from the blur of frozen rictus smiles on my TV.

Afterwards, Payton has the temerity to suggest she performed better than the other dancers, which might be due to the fact that this is how she's been raised her entire life. Abby is beyond offended and tells her she's being "disrespectful." I agree, how could a 14-year-old surrounded by grown women acting like infants possibly act immaturely?

I have an idea for a new reality show in which you'd trade the folks in one show for those of another, sort of like Wife Swap, and each set of people would have to do the job of the other. The first installment would switch up Dance Moms with Swamp People. Then we could get the satisfaction of seeing Junior and Willie try to coach children dancing, and of seeing Abby Lee Miller eaten by alligators.


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