Every reality show needs some kind of angle, and many of them go the controversial route in their premises. Surely inspired by the popularity of TLC’s Toddlers & Tiaras, Lifetime decided to also wade into the divisive world of parents who push their young daughters into show business when it launched Dance Moms in 2011.
As the title suggests, Dance Moms is as much about the mothers of the dancers as the dancers themselves, portraying a world where grown women bicker with each other as their prepubescent daughters compete in dance competitions while sometimes dressed a bit maturely. But the real star– some would say antagonist– of the series has been Abby Lee Miller, whose renowned dance studio is the foundation of the show. To say that Abby gives her girls tough love would perhaps be too kind, as her lessons come peppered with criticisms, personal insults, and even throwing chairs at her young students.
Miller has contended that the effectiveness of her controversial methods speaks for itself in the various success stories that have been spawned from her studio– most famously, former student Maddie Ziegler, who has gone on to become a star in her own right– and that’s tough to disagree with. It’s also tough to disagree with how hard it is to turn off Dance Moms even if you’re cringing while you watch it.
Here are 15 Dark Secrets About Dance Moms You Had No Idea About.
15. Abby went to prison for bankruptcy fraud
Even for fans of Dance Moms, watching Abby Lee Miller was like rooting for a villain to get their comeuppance. The fact that she was the star of a popular TV show and helped bring some popular dancers into the world– and would point those things out every chance she got– made it seem all the more unlikely that she’d ever have the fall from grace that many people hoped she would.
That is, until Abby decided to try and hide some money from the government. The dance teacher was indicted on 20 counts of fraud, including falsifying bankruptcy documents, concealment of assets, and bringing over $100,000 of Australian currency into the U.S. without declaring it. When all was said and done, she was sentenced to 366 days in prison, a term that she started this past July.
Sources have said that Abby’s time in jail hasn’t been going well. Not that jail “goes well” for most people, but Abby’s reputation hasn’t been doing her any favors in the big house, with both fellow inmates and even prison staff reportedly singling her out and picking on her.
14. Paige sued Abby for alleged abuse
In one of the most infamous Dance Moms moments, Abby got into a heated argument with Kelly Hyland, mother of one of the dancers, in an altercation that turned physical. Kelly would later be arrested on assault charges over the incident, and shortly after, it was announced that Kelly and her daughters– Paige and Brooke– would no longer be appearing on the show.
Paige wasn’t done with Abby, though. In October 2014, Paige sued Abby over what she says was abuse inflicted on her by her instructor. The then-13-year-old Paige even had televised evidence to use in her defense, citing an incident featured on the show where Abby threw a chair at her. Paige said that that and similar incidents of both physical and mental abuse led to “panic attacks and extreme anxiety.”
The judge saw things differently, saying that he didn’t see enough proof that Paige was actually fearful of or abused by Abby– and in regards to the chair-throwing incident, he said that it appeared as though Abby was just throwing a chair our of anger and didn’t actually throw it at Paige (since apparently that makes it perfectly fine). The case was eventually dismissed.
13. The controversial “Showgirls” episode
One of the most controversial aspects of not only Dance Moms but in competitive dancing of its type featuring children, is the sometimes provocative outfits worn by the dancers, many of whom are very young. While Abby was always quick to dismiss such criticisms, saying that it was always in good taste and that it was no different than girls innocently playing dress-up, there was one particular routine that apparently took things a little too far.
Even the title of the episode in question, “Topless Showgirls,” already raises red flags for a show starring preteen girls. In said episode, Abby’s squad performed a risque, burlesque-style routine, with fluffy pink feathers hiding flesh-toned tights and bra tops that gave the appearance of the girls being topless– an effect which was obviously intended.
As always, Abby defended both the routine and the outfits, and Lifetime did air the episode, but only once. Following intense backlash, the network pulled the show from future rerun rotation, and also left it off of that season’s DVD release.
12. Some girls were rejected because of their moms
It’s no big secret that the Abby Lee Dance Company is home to far more dancers than the half-dozen or so girls that have been featured on Dance Moms. While it’s easy to assume that the girls on the show were hand-picked by Abby and that they are her personal favorites, one also has to keep in mind the size of her ego and that she would’ve loved to prove that her studio has spawned far more talented performers than just what has been seen on the show.
As it turns out, Lifetime producers are the ones who get final say in which girls made the cut for the show, even vetoing some of Abby’s picks. But how are any dancers at a studio run by a noted perfectionist not TV-ready? Most likely, it was a problem with their mothers.
As the show is also largely about the moms of the dancers and the interplay between the moms and Abby, Lifetime was forced to turn away some otherwise extremely talented girls because their moms just weren’t a good fit for the show for one reason or another.
11. Jojo’s bleached hair
Fortunately, none of the moms on Dance Moms have done anything so drastic to their young performers as cosmetic surgery or the like, and by most accounts, the girls aren’t being starved or anything of that nature. But that’s not to say that there hasn’t been any questionable physical transformations by any of the cast members.
Jessalynn Siwa, mother of JoJo Siwa, admitted that her daughter is a natural brunette and that her blonde locks are a bleach job. While routine bleaching can be damaging even to adult hair, most experts agree that prepubescent children shouldn’t have their hair dyed or bleached as they risk long-term– and even permanent– hair damage, as well as potential injury to the scalp itself.
10. Abby claims she left the show over lack of creative credit…
The timing of Abby’s exit from Dance Moms and her jail sentencing made it seem like the two were connected, and that she was leaving the show because of her legal troubles. However, to hear Abby tell it, she was already done with Dance Moms– and it had nothing to do with her illicit financial dealings.
Abby said that she had long been frustrated with what she perceived as a lack of credit for her creative contributions to the show. Not only, she reasoned, was the entire series built around her and her dancers, but the bulk of the creative choices made in regards to the dancers, their costumers, their routines, etc. were devised by her and she deserved to be recognized for that.
Whether this meant that she thought she deserved more money or just more recognition is unclear, but she opined what she saw as a group of male producers getting all the glory for her hard work, and she had enough.
The embattled dance coach maintains that creative differences are her entire reason for leaving the show– and completely voluntarily, according to her– and that no other factors played into the decision.
9. …but Abby also admits Lifetime forced a lot of routines on her
At the same time that Abby was telling the world that she was leaving the show because the producers didn’t give her enough credit for basically doing all the work, she was also contradicting herself a bit by complaining about how much creative interference producers were responsible for.
Besides the usual jilted reality star spiel– pointing out how various aspects of the show weren’t entirely real, as if that is ever a surprise to anyway– Abby specifically complained that Lifetime producers would often force terrible themes and music on her for dance routines, leaving her with no choice but to make the best of their questionable choices.
8. Mom conflicts are blown way up
Reality shows based around a competition of some kind often hinge on the participants being bitter rivals, and few people in this world are more competitive than the moms of dancers. Barely an episode of Dance Moms would go by without at least two of the mothers verbally sparring and throwing vicious insults at each other– with Abby often being in the middle, of course.
But to hear some of the moms tell it, actual dance moms tend to have more of a “we’re in this together” kind of attitude rather than it being all about jockeying for their daughters to get more of the spotlight. That isn’t to say there isn’t always a competitive undercurrent, or that any of the fights on Dance Moms were necessarily faked, but such tension is supposedly much more rare than we’re led to believe.
The typical vibe among the moms behind the scenes in the world of competitive dancing is more of a community of friendly, supportive mothers, with the more combative moms being the exception rather than the rule.
7. Kalani claims one of her solos wasn’t aired for the sake of a storyline
Ah, the coveted solo– it’s what every dancer fights for, and it leads to more jealously and bitterness than almost anything else in the world of dance. So imagine Kilani Hilliker’s shock and disappointment to find out that her hard-won solo wasn’t even going to be shown on TV. And worse, that the “plot” for that episode was not only going to deliberately not mention it, but was instead going to say that another girl– Nia– got the solo instead.
We often hear that various aspects of reality shows are exaggerated, but it’s always especially juicy when we get to hear about a very specific, very blatant thing that was misrepresented on a reality series.
6. The “Pyramid” was invented for the show
Among the most criticized aspects of Dance Moms right off the bat was the “pyramid,” which was essentially a way to rank the girls and add more fuel to the fires of competition and jealousy between them and their parents.
To sit all the girls down and make them watch as they are compared and ranked in detail, using pictures of them in order to hammer home where everyone stands in comparison to one another, just seems like a very Abby thing to do.
Surprisingly, the pyramid wasn’t Abby’s idea. She says that Lifetime came up with the whole pyramid gimmick, saying it would be a compelling way to facilitate the competitive nature of the show. She claims that she didn’t agree with it and only did it because she was told to.
5. Chloe and Christi have since cut ties with most of their cast mates
Various mother/daughter teams that were present from the beginning of Dance Moms have left the cast as the show has gone on, for various reasons. Among the departing duos was Christi and Chloe Lukasiak, who left the show at the end of the fourth season– which happened to be around the same time as the drama with the Hyland family.
Christi said that her and her daughter had to get off the show because she was tired of what she saw as Abby not giving Chloe the same opportunities as the other girls.
However, the Lukasiak ladies apparently had a problem with more people than just Abby. Shortly after leaving Dance Moms, they both blocked most of the cast of the show on social media, which in this day and age is considered a pretty significant statement. It’s possible that they just wanted to distance themselves from the show and move on with a more private life, but either way, it was definitely a severe reaction that didn’t go unnoticed by eagle-eyed Dance Moms fans.
4. Maddie wrote a tell-all book that completely snubbed Abby
Maddie Ziegler is unquestionably the breakout star of Dance Moms, with her fame even eclipsing Abby’s. Maddie’s big break came when pop star Sia asked her to be in the video for her song “Chandelier,” playing something of a child version of the singer. It’s a role that Maddie would go on to repeat for subsequent Sia videos and even some live performances.
Such was Sia’s effect on Maddie’s career that she gave the musician the bulk of the credit in her tell-all book for being her guide and mentor. In fact, in the entire book, Abby Lee Miller is never once mentioned! While Maddie definitely alludes to Abby via some thinly-veiled complaints about people who weren’t always doing what was best for her, it was clearly a very conscious decision on Maddie’s part to write an entire book about her life and career and not directly mention Abby.
It was especially a slap in the face to Abby as Maddie had clearly been her favorite student in their happier days– a fact that the other moms frequently complained about. Needless to say, the relationship between the pair soured significantly following the release of Maddie’s book.
3. The dance competitions are filmed multiple times
One of the ways that even Abby herself has admitted is dishonest about Dance Moms is in the way the dance competitions are portrayed on the show. Ever notice how the routines just seem a little too good, and there’s never a missed jump or bad angle to be found (except where it serves the story)?
Apparently, all of that footage isn’t just from a single run-through of the routine, and the girls are filmed going through it multiple times so that the footage can be edited together into one perfect performance. Producers arrange to have the stage all to themselves before and/or after the competition itself so that they can set the girls up for their additional “takes.”
2. Fake versions of the award ceremonies are staged for TV
Perhaps it’s not the most mind-blowing thing to hear that the dance routines are done more than once in order to get the best combination of footage. But there is an aspect of the show that is allegedly faked that is far more shady and deceitful, and that’s the award ceremonies.
Sources close to the show have claimed that the dance competitions featured on the show have two versions: the real version, and the TV version. And no, the TV version isn’t just done for better audio and lighting– it’s a completely different ceremony, sometimes with different winners!
Lifetime reportedly arranges it so that there is a fictionalized version of the award ceremonies that have a more scripted outcome, either to favor Abby’s team or just to manufacture tension in some way.
1. The Abby Lee Dance Studio received some disturbing packages from a deranged “fan”
Here is where a piece of Dance Moms trivia truly gets dark. In 2015, the post office near the Abby Lee Dance Studio took note of five suspicious packages addressed to the studio care of JoJo Siwa. The postal employees were so mistrusting of the contents of the boxes that they called in a bomb squad to hose down the parcels. While they didn’t find explosives inside, what was discovered was even more disturbing.
An investigation discovered that a 36-year-old man had sent the packages, which contained items of an inappropriate and obscene nature and was more than enough to get him arrested for sending explicit material to a minor. The man also had a YouTube channel and Instagram where he discussed the girls on the show in an inappropriate manner, and even got a portrait of JoJo tattooed on his body.
Not surprisingly, it wasn’t his first offense. He had previously been arrested for assaulting a girlfriend and spent time in a mental health facility due to violent fantasies he was having about actress Lindsay Lohan.
The stalker was thankfully sentenced to 3 years in prison.
Do you have any other trivia from Dance Moms? Share in the comments!
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