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The Recent Rise Of Dance Moms Content (And What It Means)

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Mass Boston chapter.

In December of 2022, it was announced that the Abby Lee Dance Company (ALDC) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the infamous studio where the Lifetime series Dance Moms was largely produced, was sold and would be closing in the coming months. For many, this came as a surprise – was the legacy of such an iconic television show truly coming to an end? Where else would there be to make pilgrimages to the likes of where Abby Lee Miller told a chair to do a solo, or walked out of rehearsals due to frustration with her dancers? The physical Pittsburgh studio meant a lot to people, and that was recognized by those leading the auction of the studio’s items.

The auction made quite the buzz on social media platforms such as TikTok, with lucky winners posting that they had bid the highest on items such as the original “pyramid” board; even stars of the show such as JoJo Siwa announced she had won Jill’s Bench after bidding 10,000 dollars. While some found the whole thing humorous, others were glad Dance Moms was finally receiving attention again, albeit for different reasons.

In the years since the end of the show in 2017, a lot of information has come out about how the dancers were affected by their time on set, as well as controversies about the subjects of their dances or content in the episodes. It is no secret that Miller was known for yelling at her students and their mothers, and has also had physical altercations shown on the show. There are several routines where her close mindedness on societal issues was demonstrated, and she has been accused of sexualizing her dancers.

If you’re a fan of Dance Moms, the last paragraph probably struck up some memories for you, such as mom Kelly Hyland yelling to Miller “get your finger out of my face,” or the infamous controversial dances “Electricity” and “FANtastic,” the latter of which was pulled from the air. And while fans always knew these were bad incidents, there has been more discussion about how some of these fights and conflicts were staged, and how aspects of the “show story” were fabricated by producers. 

Miller put on many controversial dance routines, some simply dealing with dark subject matter like “Where Have All The Children Gone” (child abduction) or “The Last Text” (drunk driving), but others are controversial due to her lack of sensitivity about serious topics and profiling of the girls. There is a dance based on “The Help,” where the two African-American dancers, Camryn and Nia, play the maids, while the other white dancers play the socialites. Nia’s mother even asks “Can you really convey the sensitivity of a complex issue like that without making a mockery of it?” and Miller replies “Well, we’ll see.” This is not the first time Miller did a racist group number and put Nia at the center of it; previously, they had done a dance called “Tribal Council,” where Nia was the Native American Chief and the other girls portrayed Natives as well. Miller saw no issue with this, as they were “just playing characters,” but the dance only helped to reinforce harmful stereotypes of Indigenous people. 

Beyond the routines themselves, Miller had blatant favorites and would put down certain girls more than others. She had this system of ranking the girls each week called the pyramid, where she would place them according to how they performed in the last week. This would also determine who “deserved” solos or duet/trio dances each week. Overwhelmingly, one dancer was always placed at the top – Miller’s favorite, Maddie Ziegler. Even when other dancers came along that she loved, they would all be pushed aside for Maddie, and she nurtured Maddie’s skills more than the other girls. This led to constant tension between Miller and the moms, and Miller and the dancers. The others rarely made it to the top of the pyramid, in part because they weren’t given the same chances as others.

The mental and emotional abuse these girls experienced is clear to anyone who has watched the show long enough. They put in long hours to learn new dances, go to competitions and compete with different routines each week, and were expected to win at all costs. They are consistently berated onscreen (whether it be for things they can control or not), and often reduced to tears. The blatant abuse led several girls to leave the team, like Chloe Lukasiak (though she returned in the second half of season seven, without Miller’s presence), and Brooke and Paige Hyland. They have since spoken about their experiences on Dance Moms and how they were harmed by the environment the show created and the way they were treated.

This resurgence in Dance Moms content is a positive thing. By looking at old routines and old episodes, we can see that some of the dances were seriously controversial and offensive, and that the way Miller treated the girls and was portrayed on the show was also harmful to its target audience just like it was for those who were directly involved. 

In the end, Miller went to prison for eight months after being charged for fraud, and was diagnosed with spinal cancer. And while she has since returned to teaching at the ALDC in Los Angeles, the studio is smaller than it used to be with far fewer dancers.

After the show, many of the girls went on to be successful in different ways. Maddie Ziegler has been in several films, including 2021’s West Side Story and The Fallout. Her sister Mackenzie Ziegler, known as kenzie, has been releasing music and accompanying videos since before she left the show, but has grown in her craft significantly. JoJo Siwa is a singer and dancer, performing on her own national tours, as well as a prominent YouTuber. Chloe Lukasiak is a college student, a published author, and a YouTuber. Nia Sioux is a student as well as an actress and musician. Both Brooke and Paige Hyland are college graduates with social media presences. Kendall Vertes is in college and has made several acting appearances in TV shows. Kalani Hilliker teaches dance at her mother’s studio and has pursued some fashion and acting endeavors.

The girls of Dance Moms persevered through the abuses of Abby Lee Miller on television in a time before we would give her behavior much of a second thought. In the future, Dance Moms will likely be a reference for what not to do with a children’s reality television show, and what not to do on set. In 2023, 12 years on from the series’ debut, we are finally recognizing how detrimental this was. No matter how interesting the drama, there was no reason for the girls to be treated so terribly when they were so young just for the public’s entertainment.

Riley Letendre

U Mass Boston '25

Riley is the Senior Editor of HerCampus at UMass Boston and a sophomore English major with a Creative Writing concentration. If she can't be found writing in her journal, she's probably watching an 80s movie.