Oh, for the early days of Dance Moms when the daughters and moms took center stage. Do you remember the first season when the focus was on dancing not screams? With the emergence of Abby Lee Miller as star, Dance Moms has changed and fans are upset. It’s time we look at the roles she has played during the life of the show and decide whether Abby has succeeded or failed at what she has portrayed herself as being.

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The Teacher

A teacher trains young minds to use their talents to their best advantage. They encourage and inform. During season one, Abby Lee is seen in the background, a place where Abby doesn’t shine. As their teacher she has made these girls stars. The show during the early days focuses on life in a studio. Abby is portrayed as a teacher and actually gives direction (although rarely shown “dancing”). She seems to care for the girls, which is what a teacher does.

During the second season things start to change. Abby becomes more the focus of the show and tension rises. As Dance Moms has become more successful, Abby has gone from standing in rehearsals and giving direction (seasons one and the first half of season two) to sitting down, talking on her cell phone or walking out of the rehearsal hall when she dislikes a performance. Abby’s level of teaching has dropped as her importance has risen. Abby no longer encourages the girls as individuals but strives for them to feed her success. They are only members of the team when the team wins. Sorry Abby, this attitude does not a teacher make.

The Mentor

Ask any person who works with young people and you hear how much mentoring means. A mentor encourages and offers support. A mentor is there when they succeed and when they fail. During season one, Abby does offer and encourage the girls while striving to win. Losses do not have a negative impact on the groups but wins are occasions to celebrate. The mentor (Abby) is there in these good and bad times.

As the team has become successful, the success has impacted Abby. No longer does she encourage all girls equally, she now constantly finds fault even before she learns whether they win their competition. Little by little each of the team has slipped from Abby’s good graces until only Maddie (and possibly Mackenzie) remain as Abby’s true mentees. What good is a mentor if she doesn’t encourage? Also a mentor never walks out on a young girl’s rehearsal as she has this season with Nia nor does she compare the child to one she considers superior. Abby proves that she doesn’t know how to mentor Kendall, Nia, Chloe and Paige.

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Team Manager

As the team manager, Abby is a part of the team. She organizes the dances, costumes, trips, and sees to the comfort of the girls before the performance. While Abby initially appears to have these things under control, she has a few miscues as Cathy points out in season one. Cathy is very surprised when she is called upon to finish Vivi-Anne’s costume. At Cathy’s studio, the costumes are ready for the girls before the performance. And the buses, Cathy sees this as traveling second class.

During each season, Abby’s lack of skills as a team manager has come more apparent. At one performance, Abby hands Brooke and Paige their costumes the day of the performance and doesn’t care whether they fit or not. Abby has taken a costume from Paige and given it to Chloe because she doesn’t like the color pattern they present in the dance. Sorry Paige. Your costume fitting isn’t important. And who can forget the “snood” incident where Abby first yells at Holly about the snoods she purchases. When Holly explains she has gone to three or more stores searching, Abby make Nia wear a thick one that is different from the rest. Maddie though always has costume(s) she needs so I guess the team is a team of one.

Studio Owner

If Abby shines in any of theses first four roles, it’s that of studio owner. The studio owner expects to keep the business going by word of mouth and publicity. Knowing that money makes Abby Lee Dance successful, Abby must be happy with the filming of Lifetime’s Dance Moms at her studio. Abby knows that the program helps her bottom line. By using the girls and the competitions to promote her studio, Abby becomes more marketable as parents with “stars in their eyes” bring their students for the opportunity to shine on television. For those parents who are building a daughter’s career, Abby promises them the world.

The problem with this picture is that the real world of dance is not built on only one studio or person’s reputation. While Abby makes dancing on the show an advantage, her screams and attacks on their ability makes the girls lose interest and their confidence. This is showing during season four with both Chloe and Nia. Chloe has told her mother, Christi, that she is scared of Abby. Nia has run off stage and hid in the dressing room in tears. Nia’s self-esteem takes another hit when her studio owner, Abby, tells her that she doesn’t deserve solos because of her attack of “nerves” and inability to perform to Maddie’s standards. Abby will kill dancers’ dream while building the ego of others. A diligent studio owner realizes that the customer is always right even if the student’s talent isn’t up to the level expected. Instead of tearing the young dancer down, the studio owner should make the dancer proud to belong to the team and studio.

Star of the Lifetime Network

In the role of star, Abby shines. With two shows on Lifetime (Dance Moms and Abby’s Ultimate Dance Off), she has guaranteed airtime to promote her vision of dance. By taking the limelight away from the girls and their moms, she has taken center stage and has created her own image. This image includes Abby “hanging out” with stars, walking the red carpet, and invitations to awards shows. By not sharing the stage, Abby’s voice is the only one heard. Fans must wonder how Abby feels during the Bronx show when the girls waiting to audition scream for Chloe and not for Abby. Oh, wait a minute. That’s the show where she gets rid of Kelly. The very next week, she starts her war to get Chloe off the team as well.

Does Abby fulfill any of the roles above? She may have actually taught during season one but now she sits back, watches, complains or leaves. No, Abby isn’t a teacher. Is she a mentor? Only if your name is Maddie or Mackenzie and you are letting her act as your manager. As a team manager, she’s there part of the time and leaves when the results do not meet her criteria. Is she a studio owner? This one could go either way as she realizes her bottom line depends on her success but she does hurt that image by lowering her dancer’s self-esteem. The only role that Abby has nailed is that of media star. Ah, but Abby you must remember. Stardom is a fickle commodity these days.

(Image courtesy of Lifetime) 

Linda Martindale

Contributing Writer, BuddyTV