How realistic is ‘Dance Moms’ on Lifetime?

Recently, I have caught several episodes of “Dance Moms” on Lifetime, and I just can’t believe what I am watching is real. It’s hard to decide if this dance school owner/instructor is really this harsh to the kids and if the moms are really this competitive or if this is all just for the camera.

Check out the video above to get a taste of the action. It’s hard to describe because it’s so crazy. The owner Abby Lee is extremely dictatorial and doesn’t seem to recognize that these families are paying customers. The favoritism toward some students is immense but is that something they need to learn deal with or should they have to at this young age — especially when they are paying just as much to be there? The moms and kids are spending hours at the studio each day. I have no idea how the children get any homework done.

I have never been in the environment of a truly competitive dance circle, and I am wondering is this what is really happening in these studios and at the competitions?

Rose took one dance class, and it was awful. The lady yelled at 3-year-olds and complained if they weren’t wearing enough make up for the recital. Lilina has taken dance through the YMCA, and it was a positive experience. The teacher was low pressure and it didn’t have a recital. But Lilina really learned steps and could show you and identify them.

Now I’m starting to wonder about the “Toddlers and Tiaras” show on TLC. I don’t know why but I am willing to believe that action is real but not the action on “Dance Moms.” (”Toddlers and Tiaras” has had a recent scandal involving a mom who dressed her child for competition like the many phases of “Pretty Woman” — the prostitute Julia Roberts as well as the fixed-up Roberts. Click here to read the story and video of the mom explaining it. Feel free to comment on this controversy as well.)

Has your child been involved in a competitive dance situation like the one depicted on the show? Is the show accurate or hamming it up for the cameras? Would you leave your child in a studio like that or move them? Is it possible to learn dance at a high level and not be in that type of environment?

36 comments Add your comment

Teacher, Too

September 9th, 2011
12:15 pm

I almost never watch these types of shows, but I have to admit that I’ve somehow been sucked in to this show. It’s such a trainwreck. I don’t know how authentic the interactions are, but I can’t imagine putting my young child with such a negative person. However, if her students really do win all those trophies, I guess you put up with that if your child has a promising dance future.

JJ

September 9th, 2011
12:23 pm

OH HELL NO!!!!! I would NEVER allow anyone, especially a Dance teacher, to treat or talk to my child in a negative way. I don’t care how promising a future career may be, you don’t treat my kid like that. I’d yank her out of that situation in a heart beat!!!!

I’m the ONLY one who gets to be mean to my child.

Jesse's Girl

September 9th, 2011
12:24 pm

All I have to say is THANK GOD comp cheer isn’t this freaky. My daughter has had some bad individual coaches, but never a problem that compares in scope with this lunatic. I am a hige suporter of competitive cheer because they need girls of all sizes. Heavier gal? You can base. Lighter one…you can fly. And let me tell ya….some of the bigger girls can tumble circles around the feathery ones! And the tumbling abilities directly translate into potential scholarships. Cheerleading does not…in our years of experience…condone such behavior. And when it has happned….those moms and coaches have been put in their places right quick like.

JJ

September 9th, 2011
12:24 pm

But then again, I don’t put up with crap like that.

JJ

September 9th, 2011
12:25 pm

AND one more thing, while I’m on a roll………I hate all these freaking reality shows. I am not at all interested in Keeping up with the Kardashians. I can’t. I don’t have their money, and I don’t WANT their money either…..

catlady

September 9th, 2011
12:40 pm

Too much to do to watch shows like that. If you want to see people being cruel to children, go to Walmart and watch!

Becky

September 9th, 2011
12:45 pm

The only reality show that I watch is Next Design Star and the Next Food Network Star..I have no desire to watch any of the other “reality” shows..

Jesse's Girl

September 9th, 2011
12:46 pm

I dig Gordon Ramsey. Is that considered a reality show? I get so many new curse words from him:)

Spacey

September 9th, 2011
1:05 pm

I do not keep up with the shows, but I’ve heard that the “touring” sports are expensive time-consuming.
This goes for touring teams from baseball to dance.
I have a co-worker that gets up every Saturday at 6am to drive her daughter to softball competitions all over north Georgia. They practice several times a week, lots of money from the parents for tournaments, different uniforms, etc…
Another friend has a 12 year old that is in a competition dance group. She said it was $1000 up-front for the classes and several costumes. They will also pay for the out of town trips including one competition in NYC. Her daughter did not get out of dance practice until 10 one night last week.
My kids are not there yet so I’m trying not to judge.
But I can’t help but wonder why anyone would do it? That’s a lot of money and time for a hobby unless you actually think that softball or dance is your kid’s future.
The answer I’ve heard is that the kids love it.

A

September 9th, 2011
1:49 pm

The only reality shows I’ll watch are cooking/travel shows on Food Network and the Travel Channel. Give me Anthony Bourdain over these petty and hysterical pageant and show moms any day!

Dennis

September 9th, 2011
1:52 pm

The concept of a “paying customer” is irrelevant if there is any competitive part to the end outcome of the process. Just like club sports – if there are kids who will take the owner further and allow them to build their business further (and raise prices as the best in the business) then they will use them.

Good enough to take their money, but realize they won’t go as far as the better kids. If this is a problem, leave the competitive clubs or studios and move to a community or rec program.

Vino Greasemanelli (a.k.a, The Greaseman "Sgt. Fury")

September 9th, 2011
1:54 pm

I never give any credibility to stuff like this, regardless of the show theme.

I mean come on, you know AT LEAST a good amount is over-dramatized and staged for the camera, if not all of it.

But I guess as long as you don’t take it seriously, like many things in life, you won’t get too hung up on it.

Vino Greasemanelli (a.k.a, The Greaseman "Sgt. Fury")

September 9th, 2011
1:54 pm

..and can get some entertainment value out of it.

Been there, done that

September 9th, 2011
2:08 pm

Oh yes, believe me, it is real. I have daughters who were in competitive rhythmic gymnastics and serious ballet and I can honestly say that yes, this show is very realistic. Abby is nothing compared to some Russian coaches and ballet teachers my daughters had. Favoritism does exist, it is very real. My daughters have been on both sides of that situation- both as the favored student and as the one who could do nothing right in the eyes of the coach. These moms on the show are crazy- but very real. I knew parents who would practically beat their daughters if they did not get high enough scores at competitions. As far as the moms squabbling with each other- again, VERY real. Many times the true competition is between the mothers, not the actual dancers. You’ll notice for the most part these little girls are very supportive of each other- they hug each other and seem to truly like each other. The antagonism between parents and teacher is also common- my daughter’s coach got into a similar screaming match with a parent, the sheriff was called, restraining orders taken out, etc. Yes, it is truly crazy. On the other hand- my daughter ended up in a professional dance program where if you made it to the top level you were pretty much guaranteed either a job with a professional dance company or entry to a school like Julliard. The school was owned by one of the nicest persons I have ever met who never, ever raised her voice but still managed to turn out excellent, employable dancers. Even at this school, which was not involved in dance competitions (other than the national NFAA one), the competition for parts and ranking between the girls was fierce and the moms could be just as conniving, manipulative and petty. I would never allow my daughters to stay in a situation like the one at Abby Lees, and I have no idea why those women don’t take their extremely talented daughters elsewhere.

I was...

September 9th, 2011
2:37 pm

…a basketball dad who bordered on being like that – only difference was that I did it in private, not in front of other kids and parents (OK, once when he was in 5th grade, and then I immediately called every player and parent and apologized, and then offered my resignation).

I was...

September 9th, 2011
2:39 pm

… and I have regretted it every day since, and my son still holds it against me, and I do not blame him…and that was over 14 years ago – some things are just wrong, and I was…

Dr.Tam

September 9th, 2011
2:50 pm

As a childhood dancer (not on the competition circuit but at a prestigious classical ballet school) I do think the moms are that competitive. But it’s obviously staged. 1st of all, no mother in her right mind allows someone to say such things to her daughter or herself. Second of all, who leaves from one city and goes to another and not know about. I realize only Holly has a job. But, the girls need to go to school. Who’s willing to bet this was filmed in stages and this multiple city tour occurred the first week out of school. Plus with the cost of the hotels, tickets, costumes, there’s no way any of the moms would or could afford to travel so much at the drop of a hat. There are so many things wrong with this show. But I do believe many of the parents have poor parenting skills. For example: telling your 9 year to act like a grown up or asking a 6 year what they want their mother to do to solve a problem. And the ultimate telling your 9 year she is your best friend. My mother said when my siblings and I were young, she wasn’t interested in being friends with us, she had enough adult friends.

KAW

September 9th, 2011
2:52 pm

I would say the show is based on reality, but I would bet that the cast is told to ‘amp it up’ for the cameras. Also, they are probably put in certain situations or told to go confront another mother, etc. Also, don’t forget the show is heavily edited, so what we are seeing may only be a snippet of what happened and taken out of context.

Dr.Tam

September 9th, 2011
2:56 pm

@Been there done that: yes I agree the fighting mothers and their actions are true. However, at Washington school of ballet, Mary Day (the artistic director) would not tolerate or do some of the antics displayed. I am sorry to hear of the situations your children went thru. If that happened at WSB, it was resolved by the time I got the scholarship and started training

NikNak

September 9th, 2011
3:46 pm

ALL reality TV is 100% fake. Heck I know a couple who went on House Hunters. It turns out that those people already have contracts on the house they are going to “choose” before HGTV will even come out to film. And they are more scripted than you think. They had to say “There is no way I’m cleaning a pool” like 12 times before it was acceptable.

PHR

September 9th, 2011
4:11 pm

I’ve been watching Dance Moms too. I do think a lot of what they have on that show is true. There are parents like that in every activity – football, baseball, gymnastics, cheerleading, etc. They pay serious money and want great results. I think Abby Lee is just a super demonstrative person and is very dramatic which makes the show. They keep saying she favors Maddie. I agree, but that girl is the best dancer. If it were me, I would probably be the same way. Just my 2 cents.

bill

September 9th, 2011
5:51 pm

Not real at all. One mother went to Abby Lees hotel room to confront her about how she treated her daughter. The camera was rolling outside while another camera rolls inside the room before the door is open. This would mean that either the camera crew stays with Abby Lee in her room all the time or that it was planned in advance. Another clue is that when they argue the participants are always facing slightly to the camera. Not face to face or their back to the audience. Be aware of where the cameras are and you will be able to tell. This is a terrible show. I hope the paychecks are worth the emotional scaring these women are doing to there children.

DB

September 9th, 2011
9:06 pm

They could just as easily call it “Soccer Moms” or “Baseball Dads” or any other activity in which the kids take the competition to very high levels and the parents think they, themselves, have a second shot at glory days.

There’s a great deal of hamming it up for the cameras, I think — and for this kind of dance, I’m sorry, but yes, there is a “lowest common denominator” in which the parents are star-struck and think that some producer is going to spy their little darling and she’ll be the next Jennifer Lopez or Paula Abdul. And since activities such as dance are entirely subjective to the judge (as opposed, to say, basketball, where it’s really hard to argue with the number of goals you’ve scored vs. the next guy) I think the competition is much nastier.

I think the only show worse than this one is “Toddlers and Tiaras” — I watched it for about 10 minutes the other night, and had to turn it off, because it was just soooooo disgusting – spray tan for a 3 year old?!?!?!?!? The one time my daughter wanted to enter a beauty pageant, I told her I’d rather she spent the time studying for an academic scholarship, and I’d put the money aside that I’d spend on a pageant (entry fees, dress, etc.) for her college. I can’t help but think that if all these people on the beauty pageant circuit did that, they’d have college paid for without putting their self-respect on hold by encouraging their daughters to prance around a stage in their bathing suit so they can be judged on something as superficial as looks. It’s practically child abuse.

L

September 9th, 2011
10:39 pm

I was a competitive dancer from 18 months-12 years. I was the overall champion in some of the same competitions in which the dancers on “Dance Moms” appear. I watch this show religiously because I see myself as an eight year old again. “Dance Moms” highlights the best and the worst of Abby Miller. She may not possess a likable personality or a remotely atlhetic physique; however, my best dance instructors did not either. My least favorite dance teachers were my best, most helpful instructors. While I quit dance underweight and short for my age, and I think “Dance Moms” glorifies the perils of competitive dance, I do not think the show is entirely unrealistic in its portrayal of the stresses on young dancers.

Rusty Shackelford

September 10th, 2011
10:17 am

I was a Producer for 25 years, first in radio then TV, in the Atlanta/Chicago area. This show is your very basic confrontation orientated program. 1) Interviews before the show tapes to tap into the mothers concerns. These concerns are generally low to moderate problems. 2) The producer exacerbates small to medium issues. What plays out as the biggest issue wins air time. That’s where the Moms get to “act”. The bigger they make there problem the greater there chances of air time 3) Set up meeting of confrontation or discussion. Film different angles and several takes. 4) Take film to editing and splice together a show. Yes, every blue moon you will have a legitimate fight or argument. But its rare that you get it on film. Sometimes you have to be creative and “recreate” the moment. Most participants are glad to help with the recreation. Remember, more air time=more popularity=other opportunities in TV. (Dancing w the stars, etc) Bill was correct(must be in the biz). Check the camera angles and placement. Those producers, although not very creative, have done there job pulling in the viewers that can relate to the dance world. But don’t think for a moment that what you are seeing is real. Its all Hollywood editing magic and recreation. If you want real tune into “COPS”. Have a nice day!

briget

September 10th, 2011
9:14 pm

I think it is pretty real. I was a cheer mom not dance but I think these rich dance moms have nothing better to do than bitch. Abby knows her stuff, trust her.

gggc

September 11th, 2011
9:06 am

this show is real. some things are fake and i can tell you wich are. chloe has a solo called baby mine but when she is competing its actually to the music to ma hes making eyes at me so for copy right reasons they have to play baby mine when they show it on tv. and before they preform sinful and are getting ready maddie is in her tap solo dress but she supposidly wasnt suppose to compete solos at that competition but she obviously did. there are other things like this but this show is real, the fake parts are for copyrite reasons and to make the dancers look good. and when abby miller put them in a pyrimad, that wasnt her idea, the show told her to do that to make things more interesting and a way to cataaagorize who will be getting a new solo each week since there isnt enough time for all of them. once again this show is real but in truth abby really isnt that bad and she makes kids star.

gggc

September 11th, 2011
9:09 am

oh and for all those people that dont understand why parents put there children through such hard training its becaus its just not the parents with the dream, its the kids dream to. i am 13 and after watching this show a few times i really wish that i could train with abby and be on that competition team. the hard work is fun to some people like me and there are other studios like this that push little kids harder and harder but abbys studio is the best out there

Miss Priss!

September 11th, 2011
12:13 pm

gggc … dear … is this how you hand in your written assignments at school? I’m sure you’re a sweet, well-mannered child, but your gnarly writing sends chills up my old spine. Let’s try this …

Oh, and for all those people who don’t understand why parents put their children through such hard training … it’s because it’s just not the parents with the dream: it’s the kid’s dream, too. I am 13 years old, and after watching this show a few times I really wish I could train with Abby and be on that competition team. The hard work is fun to people like me, and there are other studios like this that push little kids harder and harder, but Abby’s studio is the best out there.

Glad to help! All the best wishes!

Miss Priss!

Nancy

September 11th, 2011
1:21 pm

Didn’t seem real to me.Thank you Rusty for the insight into the TV world. I was sure something wasn’t right about the show but couldn’t put my finger on it. Learn something new every day.

realdancemom

September 11th, 2011
5:10 pm

I am a real dance mom and my child competes. I have never experienced anything I have seen on this show. I’ve actually only watch one episode. It was so obvious the teacher and the parents were putting it on for the cameras. After that episode I have not watched again. I realize people want to be entertained, but both Dance Moms and Toddlers and Tiaras are showing the extremes or exaggerations of what really goes on. Sure a few parents go to extremes, but the majority do not. I’m sorry these parents and directors have decided to allow themselves and their children’s livelihoods to be exploited to such a degree. I have also wondered why the travel sports have not be exploited. I actually know of parents in travel sports that do act ridiculuous and do spend an extreme amount of money to allow their children to play. Let’s be fair to everyone and show the extremes of all types of activities.

Kat

September 12th, 2011
10:10 am

I have seen the Dance Moms show – guilty as charged. Let’s face it, if Abby Lee (instructor) weren’t a crazy, off-the-chain person, no one would watch it. Likewise, her students wouldn’t win as much as they do, or get selected for Broadway shows, etc. etc.

One of her students does a lot of acrobatics and wants to join Cirque de Soleil (sp?) one day. Another wants to be on Broadway. They will need this type of instructor who does not coddle them if they want to reach that stage of perfection in their performances. As my dad used to say to me after practice for softball – when you aren’t practicing, your competition probably is. That would make me work harder.

These moms, and many admit to this, dropped their own “dance dreams” and are living their lives through their daughters.

I think someone like Abby Lee should be commended (and the moms too) for not letting their kids drop something when it gets to be “too hard.” Too many kids want things given to them…easily. These kids are working for their dreams. The moms are just plain nuts!

NO NAME USED

September 13th, 2011
11:57 am

While I don’t like the attitude of the parents, and would not take kindly to meaness being directed at my child, I don’t think Abby is being mean. These kids have a dream, and it takes work to make dreams happen. Yes, I think it is more than likely amped up, but let me tell you, competition in any sport takes work and molly coddling does not work. Ask anyone who rides horses competitively-their coaches don’t blow sunshine. My own children ride and I coach them-well, except for one, and that is a discipline that I don’t do, so she has someone else to do it. That woman is ROUGH on her, and no one minds it because the end result is success.

jb4kats

September 13th, 2011
3:21 pm

This show is a joke. I personally would never even allow my child to be taught by someone like their teacher. She actually isn’t really teaching, she is coaching. She has someone else choreograph the dance, she screams and yells at the poor kids. Another thing, do these moms even know how unreal they look arguing back and forth amongst themselves??? I can’t believe they would choose the almighty dollar over their children’s well being. Abbey is nothing but a bully and thinks her stuff don’t stink. If my daughter was part of that group she would be pulled out.I definitely would not embarrass myself like that. They also need to take a look at the psychological side of this too, how will this effect their child down the road. They have to be stressed out having a teacher (or what ever she is) like Abbey Lee. I don’t watch it much anymore because of her. I thought it was goin to be a cute little dance show like a cheer competition but Abbey has ruined it as far as I am concerned.

L Silver

September 13th, 2011
6:34 pm

I don’t know why anyone would want to waste their time watching this show. I usually like Lifetime and because of this show I refuse to watch this channel anymore.

Rebel007

September 15th, 2011
4:39 am

Dance Moms is REAL. But to be honest, Dance Moms could be applied to any competitive sports or activity involving children. From AAU basketball to figure skating, parents will really tolerate and put up with a lot to see their children succeed. I competed competitively in dance at a similar age to these girls. I was lucky because my Mom never lost sight of the fact that I was there to have fun. My friends were not so lucky. When I burned out, my parents had not problem letting me walk away. My advice to any parents who may be reading this is to relax. Just because your kids are great at something now does not mean they will want to continue to participate in dance, or basketball, or ice skating forever. What these activities instill in kids in the long-term is how to win, how to lose, and how their parents supported them.