Dance Moms aired an extra-long episode on Tuesday, February 12. Apparently a normal hour episode couldn’t hold all the drama that happened when Cathy’s boys beat Abby’s girls. Those extra 30 minutes were needed so we could see what happens when adults continue to act like the biggest babies I’ve ever seen.

I have been watching this show for years but it wasn’t until this season, when I volunteered to help cover it for BuddyTV, that I ever had to watch it from beginning to end. Before, I would always fast-forward through all the madness and basically just watch those lovely little girls dance. Now that I’ve had to endure the episodes in their entirety, I’ve had to ask myself a question: why is Abby allowed to be a bully?

What is a bully?

Using the magic of Google, I found a simple enough definition of the word “bully,” which is: A person who uses strength or power to harm or intimidate those who are weaker.

Maybe some could argue that Abby isn’t actually harming her students with the cruel things she says, but you can’t deny that it’s intimidation.  She calls them names, makes fun of them, belittles them, and overall talks to them in such a way that makes every one of them know that she holds the power and they mean nothing to her unless they are winning. If that’s not bullying, I don’t know what is. 

Also, yes, I am aware that you could say that Cathy is also a bully and maybe even the moms, too. Suffice to say, I have plenty more questions about the moms, as well as that Cathy (words really cannot describe how much I hate that woman, for so many reasons). But for now, I’m just going to concentrate on Abby and keep my opinions about the rest of them for other articles. 

Is this teaching?

Here’s the thing, I used to do something very similar to what Abby does. For many years, I was an instructor at a horseback riding school and many of my students were young girls between the ages of 8 and 15. Similar to Abby’s school, when we went to competitions we often had students competing in individual categories and in group categories.  

Was it a challenge teaching young kids to control animals at least ten times their size and make these same animals ride in patterns that weren’t at all natural to them, while the kids themselves had to look as though they weren’t using any effort at all? You bet it was. Was it frustrating when they didn’t listen to your instructions over and over again? Definitely. Did it ever occur to us to use insults and intimidation to get what we wanted and come home with the highest scores? Not even close. 

Some may try to argue that Abby is just being “tough” on her kids so that they reach their full potential as dancers. Sorry, but I’m not buying it. Teaching to me doesn’t have to involve insults and screaming. I had a riding instructor who screamed at me when I was younger and when I became a teacher myself, I was determined not to follow that person’s example. And you know what? We discovered it really wasn’t necessary. I personally coached a team that became state champions and, though they worked hard and there were plenty of evenings when both horses and kids were exhausted, I truly hope that none of my students felt degraded or insulted by my coaching. 

How does she get away with it?

So why is it that Abby Lee Miller is allowed to use manipulation, intimation, insults and name calling to teach her students? Well one reason could be that people think it’s a necessary part of her teaching method, but I think that it’s probably a lot simpler than that: she’s never been forced to stop. 

Abby gives the impression on the show of someone who enjoys her power and gets a kick out of making everyone under her cower in fear; children as well as adults. When you’re talking about the competition, intimidation may not necessarily be a bad thing. When your competition is afraid of you, you probably win a lot more I would imagine. But what about your students? Are they winning competitions? Undeniably, yes. But are they also showing signs of lack of self-esteem as well as signs of being just plain unhappy? Yes. 

I was on a reality TV show last year so I am aware that we only get to see a very small amount of footage that is captured on these shows. I’m also aware that what we do see is manipulated to make everything seem more heightened than it already is. However, no amount of clever editing can put words in someone’s mouth and I don’t think anyone will deny that Abby has done everything from belittle her students during pyramid to flat-out calling them names like “idiot.”

Think about it; if another child at school was doing the same thing to these kids, they would be reported (hopefully) to a teacher for bullying and (hopefully) actions would be taken to educate them on why what they were doing was wrong. A bullying child would be punished and possibly suspended until they learned to understand why they couldn’t treat people that way. But yet, Abby is allowed to do it weekly. Why?

Are we guilty by association?

As I said above, I used to fast-forward through all the fights and drama on this show. Nowadays, I have to watch it from beginning to end. It makes me wonder if, by skipping over those parts before, I was ignoring what was happening. Is that any worse than someone ignoring a child being verbally abused at school? If we watch this show are we condoning the behavior on it?

What about the mothers? All of them now have screamed and cried and pouted in response to Abby’s cruel treatment of their children. But even though nearly all of them have walked out at one time or another, they’ve also come crawling back to Abby and let her go right back to doing it again. Why are they letting this woman treat their children that way? I understand the girls love to dance, but is there really no other way?

I could probably talk about this subject all day, but I’ll stop now and let you guys weigh in. Do you agree that Abby Lee Miller is a bully on Dance Moms? If so, why do you think the parents continue to let their children be subjected to it?

Dance Moms airs on Tuesday nights at 9pm on Lifetime. 

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(Image courtesy of Lifetime)

Michelle Carlbert

Contributing Writer, BuddyTV