Dance Moms: Creating Stars or Crushing Souls?

A guilty pleasure of many women (and a few men) is Lifetime reality series, Dance Moms,  which follows the lives of young dancers that make up dance instructor Abby Lee Miller’s competition team. Since her television debut in 2011, Abby’s “tough-love” teaching methods have been heavily criticized by concerned parents, fellow dance instructors and even cast members of Dancing with the Stars. While some argue that Abby is merely preparing her girls for the competitive world of dance, are Abby’s teaching methods justifiable? Are a few tears now worth a future in dance later, or is she bullying these girls to the point where they’re one insult away from hanging up their ballerina slippers?

“Save your tears for the pillow!”

“Your mother could care less about you winning a title!”

“Everyone’s replaceable!”

“Second place is the first loser!”

These are just a few of the choice phrases Abby often yells at her girls during practice or after a competition. Many episodes have shown the young girls in hysterics after Abby screamed at them or pulled their solo for not making the proper correction to their dancing. From calling dancer Chloe  “ding dong” for messing up an eight-count to yelling that “she shit all over her title,” Abby doesn’t hold back when someone makes a mistake.

Derek Hough of  Dancing with the Stars  was appalled by Abby’s teaching, once tweeting “there is nothing productive about screaming and making little girls cry” and the show is “straight-up abusive.”

Despite all the screaming and yelling, Abby does produce results, and many dancers would give anything for the chance to work with her.  Her studio is famous for bringing home titles, crowns, trophies, and even national championships. In addition, these girls have landed roles outside of the studio such as Chloe’s role in a music video, Kendall’s shoot for a magazine, and Maddie’s appearance on Drop Dead Diva. Some of her other students have performed in Broadway shows such as Footloose and Wicked. For a young dancer to have access to all this is a huge advantage over other future competitors. Dance is an extremely hard business to get into; is Abby just preparing these girls for what they’ll face at auditions?

Abby, along with the mothers of the dancers, say that she does have many good moments with the girls and only the bad ones are put on air. Abby has defended her actions, stating that she only gets mean when she’s had to tell a student the same thing numerous times and that she’s trying to teach “employable dancers” that will have a bright future in dance.

Is there a method behind Abby’s madness, or is she just straight-up mad? The most important question to ask is this: What will Abby’s dancers think of her in ten years? Will Maddie thank Abby for pushing her to her limits as she gets ready for her first Broadway performance? Will Paige refuse to put her own children in any dance classes because she never wants to see them cry over a pulled solo or a wrong step? Maybe Abby’s teaching style is what it takes to make a star, but I think we can all agree that it wouldn’t kill her to use positive reinforcement once in awhile.