I still remember watching the very first episode of Lifetime’s reality show Dance Moms. It was July 13, 2011, and all of my friends at my dance studio were so excited to watch this new show about dance. At the time, dance wasn’t as prominent in the mainstream media as it is today, and I was curious to get an inside look into the competitive dance world, as I have never been a competitive dancer. At first glance, the show was about mothers who wanted their children to succeed in the dance world so badly that they would spend any amount of money and stay at the studio for any amount of time just for their children to win a tiara at a dance competition. I still remember that first episode, when Melissa isn’t sure how to handle her daughter, Maddie, wanting to leave rehearsal early because she feels sick. I still remember the first fight Kelly had with her daughters’ dance teacher, because she didn’t want to remove her daughters’ manicures before they went on stage at a dance competition. I still remember the team’s first routine entitled "Party Party Party", where the girls showed off their acrobatics and attitudes on stage and placed first at the competition. Like millions of people around the world, I was intrigued by this show; I loved watching the girls and their mothers sacrificing their lives and working hard to achieve their dreams. I loved seeing the girls’ excitement when they were given a solo, how great they looked on stage, and how happy they were to win week after week. As a young dancer, I also felt their pain, like when Brooke wanted to have other hobbies but didn’t have the time because she always had dance things to do, when Paige ran off stage crying because she forgot her routine, and when Chloe had to compete with the same song as someone on the rival team. I also felt their joy when they bonded over bus rides to competitions, when a casting director from New York took an interest in Maddie, and when the team won a national competition. The show was an overnight success, making the dance teacher behind it all, Abby Lee Miller, a household name. It became a weekly routine for me to come home from dance class, eat dinner, put on Dance Moms, take bets on who would be on the top of the pyramid this week and who would get a solo, watch the girls rehearse and try on costumes, listen to the moms complain and prepare for competition, laugh over the jokes made on the bus rides, watch in awe as the girls performed, and cross my fingers as they announced the competition results. One could make an argument that Dance Moms has changed dance’s role in mainstream media; So You Think You Can Dance has changed its identity from a competition for older dancers to dancers under the age of thirteen and there’s now a Teen Choice Award for Choice Dancer. The dancers themselves have made names for themselves because of this show, too. Maddie Ziegler has starred in multiple music videos for the musical artist Sia, Chloe Lukasiak was cast in the film Center Stage: On Pointe (one of the many sequels to the 2000 classic) Brooke and Paige Hyland have modeled for dress designer Sherri Hill, Mackenzie Ziegler, Nia Frazier, Brooke Hyland, and Kendall Vertes have all had successful music sales on iTunes...the list of opportunities these girls have gotten because of their starts on the reality show goes on and on. Whether you’ve seen the show or not, you might be wondering... why is this show a negative thing? Seriously, what’s the big deal?
The problem with Dance Moms is that it normalizes emotional abuse in the dance world.
Is that an extreme accusation? Of course it is. But there is nothing “unextreme” about Abby Lee Miller. From day one, she has pinned young girls (when the show first aired, Maddie Ziegler was 8 years old and Chloe Lukasiak was ten) against each other in a pyramid of headshots where the girls were ranked against each other based on their dancing abilities. The pyramid isn’t where Miller’s cruel antics stopped. Miller has done everything from throwing a chair at Paige Hyland to constantly replacing the girls with someone half their age. At first, it was fun for fans to make fun of Abby Lee Miller’s craziness because we knew at the end of the day she had her dancers’ best interests at heart. We saw this when Chloe considered quitting dance and Miller told her she could be a Rockette someday if she kept training and when she choreographed a dance for Maddie to pay tribute to her late grandmother. It didn’t look like emotional abuse when I first watched the show, but then I kept watching...and heard what the cast of the show said off camera.
One of the most haunting stories is from former star of the show Chloe Lukasiak where she confesses that the real reason she left the team and the show is because her dance teacher made fun of her for having a medical condition in which one of her eyes doesn’t open as wide as the other. Another story is from the Hylands, who claim Paige suffered from anxiety brought on by Miller constantly making fun of her and belittling her. Even from the footage on the show we see Miller playing clear favorites, denying girls opportunities, and flat out bullying them. Are the girls beautiful dancers? Yes. Have they found success in both the competitive dance world and in the spotlight off stage? Yes. But my question to the dance world is this: is Miller’s emotional abuse NECESSARY to this success?
It only takes common sense to give the answer of “no”. Do students needed to be pushed in order to become professional dancers? Yes. Do they need tough love? Yes. Do they need to be taught how to be realistic about their dreams? Yes. Do they need to sacrifice their whole lives for dance? Often. Do they sometimes need healthy competition in order to push themselves and prepare for the competitive job market in the dance world? Yes. But do they need to be bullied? Do they need to be brought to tears because they believe they are not good enough, just because they are not their dance teacher’s favorite? Do they need to get chills every time their dance teacher walks in the room? Do they need to give up the opportunity to dance on national television just to go to a dance studio where they won’t be treated this way? Do they need to be pinned against their friends and their mothers just to win their dance teacher’s approval? No. Never. Being cruel to her students is NOT part of Abby Lee Miller’s job description. Her job is to teach her students how to dance, achieve their dreams, focus, work through difficulties, make it in the dance world, and most importantly, how to LOVE the art form of dance. While dance is not always pretty tutus and turn sequences and tiaras, it is NOT supposed to be a negative experience of a child’s life. In her acceptance speech for the award of Choice Dancer at the 2015 Teen Choice Awards, Chloe Lukasiak inspired people everywhere when she said, “To anyone who has ever been told that they can’t do it, that they shouldn’t do it, or they aren’t good enough — ignore it. Do it anyways, and prove them wrong”. These are some beautiful words of wisdom from such a young girl, and while I am proud of her for overcoming Miller’s emotional abuse, she should have never have been told she wasn’t a good enough dancer. For one thing, she is a beautiful dancer (I guarantee she could out dance myself and many of my peers), but even if she wasn’t incredibly talented, there is no reason for a teacher to tell a student they aren’t good enough; it is their job to teach them how to perform to the best of their abilities. Teachers are meant to inspire their students and help them get as close to achieving their goals as they possibly can, not tear them down because they don’t personally like them or because it makes for good TV. The problem with Dance Moms is that is both misrepresents the positive relationships between the majority of dance teachers and their students, and glorifies the negative ones. While it may just be a reality show to most, it is a reality to others that should not be accepted by mainstream media.
To any student who is mistreated by a teacher like Abby Lee Miller, or who is lead to believe that dance is supposed to be like it is on Dance Moms, I encourage you to find a more positive place in the dance world. And to those who are fans of the show, I encourage you to care more about the beautiful art form that dance is, and less about the drama that comes along with it. Photo originally published on Inquisitr.com
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9/18 Follow my new Instagram just for my dance things!
12/23 I was one of NDEO's Guest Bloggers this year! Read "Teaching is a Vocation. Not a Fallback" on their Behind the Curtain Blog!
9/27 I will be presenting my research at the National Dance Education Organization National Conference next week! See my research project by clicking the button below!
4/15 While working on PMA's production of The Addams Family, I got to combine my two favorite styles of dance (ballet and musical theatre) for "The Moon and Me"! Watch my talented students dance by clicking the button below!
2/20 I am choreographing PMA Theatre Guild's Production of The Addams Family! Come see these amazing high school students perform at Presentation of Mary Academy in Methuen, MA April 13 & 14! Tickets available at the door.
2/20 I am stage managing BSU's Dance Kaleidoscope this year! Show dates are March 29-31 at Bridgewater State University in Bridgewater, MA. Come see this student choreography showcase!
11/5 I will once again be dancing in a BSUDC concert! Tickets to WinterDance are now available!
8/24 NDEO's National Honor Society for Dance Arts has published one of my articles in their newsletter! Read an updated version of "Audition Advice" here:
5/16 Interested in learning about movement concepts? Visit Becca's new Educational Dance website!
5/8 BSU Dance Company's Dance Kaleidoscope 2017 is now on Youtube! You can watch my performances by visiting the VIDEOS page!
4/23 I recently performed for the residents of Allerton House in Hingham, MA! You can watch part of my performance here!
Amesbury Children's Theatre presents...James and the Giant Peach Jr, featuring choreography by me! Click for tickets!
2/8 My piece "Barefoot" is now available to watch online! Click to watch!
2/5 Happy to say I have been cast in BSU Dance Company's Spring concert Dance Kaleidoscope! I will be dancing in 3 faculty choreographed pieces, including excerpts from The Sleeping Beauty in which I will be dancing the role of Lilac Fairy! Show dates are March 31-April 1 at Bridgewater State University.
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1/15 Ballet with Becca is now on Facebook! Click to visit the page, and be sure to like it while you're there!
1/14 I am happy to say I will be attending artEmotion's summer intensive in June! I will be dancing in the one week artEmotion Adult Program. If anyone would like to join or audition for any other artEmotion program, visit their website!