Dance Mom’s Abby Lee: ‘You Are Seeing The Worst Three Minutes Of Abby’

The formidable dance teacher fills us in on her empire.


by Jess Commons |
Published on

Dance Moms is back! Season 4 has just started over on Lifetime, bringing with it the promise of more tears, more glitter and more shots of grown women screaming at each other in front of their children.

If you're unfamiliar with the show, it follows the Abby Lee Miller dance studio, captained by the large and tyrannical Abby Lee Miller, the girls in her Junior Elite team and their insane mothers. The show has come under fire for being scripted, but speaking to Abby you get the impression that what you see is exactly what you get. She loves kids, loves dance and just: 'Wishes the moms would keep their mouths shut!'

At the age of 14, Abby started her own dance company and, 34 years later, she's had nearly 4,000 kids come through her doors. 'Costuming a piece, creating a movement, that's where my true passion was. It was the ’80s and dance competitions in the US were just starting up. I said: 'You know what, Mom? I want to start a dance company.' She selected a group of 8-12 year-olds from her mother's dance studio and never looked back.

Even aged 14, parents listened and accepted her authority. 'I don’t know what it was, but I just had that knack to be bossy and to be a delegate and people did what I told them. I said: “We’re going on vacation this summer and this is how much it will cost you and this is what you’re going to wear every night and this is what you’re going to do,” and they did it. It was successful and it worked for many years.'

Many of her students have gone on to Broadway, Vegas, Orlando and some have become professional dancers, some choreographers, and some have grown up, had children and brought them back to train at the Abby Lee Miller Dance Studio. Many of the moms on Dance Moms have known Abby most of their lives, and the girls on the show have called her studio home since they were three years old.

In one episode, back in Season Two, an estranged father arrives, blames dance for the break up of his marriage and attempts to take his daughter home. 'She's my daughter!' He yells at Abby (there's a lot of yelling on the show), to which she spits back: 'Yeah, but I raised her!'

The show has been running since 2011 and the youngest girls are now 11. Filming for 30 hours a week and competing every weekend, many of them are now home-schooled. The hours they work, the pressure they endure and the sheer volume of screaming they receive from Miller has prompted enquiries about child abuse on the show. At the beginning of every episode, Miller reveals a pyramid of their headshots to the girls and ranks them in order of ability, commitment, and how well-behaved their mother has been that week. Top of the pyramid gets to dance the lead, bottom of the pyramid usually ends up crying.

It's a questionable approach, but Miller claims she's not the person she appears. 'I know on camera it seems like I am this psycho who is just screaming at everybody and everything, but that’s truly not the case. I’m just really yelling so the dancers can hear me. You are seeing the worst three minutes of Abby.'

Hard as it may be to believe, she even thinks the Abby we see is a nicer version of her former self. 'I was much tougher before the TV show started – my old students all say: “Why didn’t you do this show years ago when you were really mean?” So I’ve now mellowed.'

It's an intense show. But a gloriously watchable one, not least because the kids are immeasurably talented and they really love to dance. The absolute star of the show is the now 11-year-old Maddie. Complete with 1.4 million Instagram followers, she has a work ethic to rival even Beyoncé's and the unwavering devotion of her dance teacher. In a season in which Abby begins by telling a group of children that 'everyone's replaceable' and holds auditions to find a new squad, only Maddie's place is safe.

Both Miller and Maddie's mom Melissa are adamant that the animosity and fighting between the moms is all very real. 'Oh, sure it's real but we’re very close' says Melissa, though she acknowledges that the drama can get out of hand. 'It’s awful. When there was the fight in New Orleans, Jill and Holly and I were just dumbfounded. It was terrible. We tried to help – I got in between Christi and Kelly and I was trying not to get punched. That’s not the kind of people we are, but that just happens sometimes'.

Miller even believes the bitching is worse off camera. 'The animosity, the cruelty, the judging… Sitting in my waiting room at the dance studio critiquing other children. They’re despicable.' But it's not just the moms fighting each other that causes the drama. In fact, it's a fight between Miller and a Mom that sees the police called in Season 4, the Mom leaving the show in a blaze of screaming and locked lips from everyone involved when the subject is raised. 'My attorney says not say anything about that' Melissa apologises when pushed on the topic.

Miller believes in building talent, not self-esteem, and she can be brutal in her appraisal, but her kids respond to the pressure and they clearly love her. She is a formidable matriarch, still channelling the attitude that made a 14-year-old start a dance company and name it after themselves. 'I think I was always a star in my own mind,' she announce. 'I just had to wait for the rest of the world to figure it out.'

Read more over at CloserOnline. Dance Moms is exclusively on Lifetime Mondays at 9PM.

Follow Tessa on Twitter @TessaCoates

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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