Tag Archives: Abby Lee

A dance dad on “Dance Moms”

Elye Olson, dancer with Ballet Arizona, with his daughter Nadia (age 4) and fellow students at the School of Ballet Arizona in Phoenix (Photo: Dan Friedman)

On rare occasions, a doting dad gets a sliver of airtime during Lifetime television’s “Dance Moms” — which broadcast the first show of its second season just last night.

Usually it’s the dancers’ moms — who sit for hours on-high, watching through a large window as their daughters get berated by a bristly dance teacher.

Sometimes they break to throw barbs at one another, but rarely do any of them seem to notice that the world their window opens onto is small, skewed and downright scary.

The most together of the misfit moms is a woman named Holly, a mother of three whose only daughter Nia dances with the Abby Lee Dance Company in Pittsburgh.

She favors modest dance attire, healthy lifestyle choices and putting school before stage. She attempts logical, civilized conversations when Abby Lee  pushes her buttons, and seems to have fewer buttons than other cast members to begin with.

Holly seems to spend a bit more time in the real world than others featured on the show. She’s a working mom who trusts her daughter to develop without all that nasty hovering that seems to fuel some of the other girls’ neuroses.

But last night’s episode got ugly when Holly told Abby Lee she’d be working over the weekend rather than joining the caravan for yet another dance competition.

Ballet Arizona dancer Elye Olson with daughter Nadia (Photo: Dan Friedman)

I chatted a while back with Elye Olson, a dancer with Ballet Arizona in Phoenix. His wife, Katrina Olson, also works for the ballet company — and they have two young children, including a daughter who takes classes with Betsy Bradley Kammerle.

I think of Kammerle each time I watch the “Dance Mom” series because she’s the polar opposite of Abby Lee Miller. Kammerle is disciplined and has high expectations for her young students. Her respect and fondness for them bears no resemblance to Miller’s brash barking out of orders and cascades of criticism.

Parents are welcome to wait for their children in the school’s lobby during classes, but they’re invited to watch their children’s classes just a few times each year — on special viewing days. It’s part of what separates recreational from pre-professional dance classes, according to dance dad Olson.

“The hobby dance moms seek out after-school activities in which they can play an active role,” observes Olson. “They want to have something to say, at all times, about what their kids are doing.”

It’s a problem, says Olson, because “this activity interferes with the ability of the child to take ownership of her accomplishments.” I was reminded of Olson’s comments after seeing Holly’s daughter Nia react to the news that her mother would be working rather than attending her dance competition.

Nia strikes me as a strong and confident young woman, a mirror of her mother in many ways, who doesn’t need constant praise or attention to feel valuable or empowered. Nia seemed perfectly fine with her mother’s choice until Miller proffered her pessimistic spin.

Olson hails the School of Ballet Arizona approach, saying the “closed door policy fundmentally incubates young artists.” Take note, dance moms — and pageant moms too.

Being in the room with your child, especially while performing your child’s routine from your chair, isn’t helping. And some of us just don’t have the stomach for it.

Betsy Kammerle teaching a pre-primary class at the School of Ballet Arizona in Phoenix (Photo: Dan Friedman)

“Parents should unquestionably play a role in the development of children,” says Olson. But “the successes and failures of the students belong only to the students and the hightly-qualified teachers.”

“When a young artist succeeds, it is because she did what she and her teacher pushed her to do,” says Olson. “When she fails it’s the same.” Either way, he says, “her mother or father plays a merely marginal role in the outcomes.”

“In the creation of an artist,” adds Olson, “every parent should respect the autonomy of her child.” Olson says he “puts a lot of energy” into raising his children — which means “being vastly tolerant of their activities.” From dance studio to kitchen.

He describes a scene from their own home — complete with toy castle coated in pancake mix, designs drawn into more mix surrounding it on the floor and the sound of children squealing and laughing.

“You know you’ve respected their autonomy and empowered them.” Sure, you taught them not to spill things because it’s a pain to clean them up. “But it looks good,” he says, “and it was fun to make.”

“From this,” quips Olson, “art is born.”

– Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about “Dance Moms” on Lifetime television and here to learn more about Ballet Arizona (which presents “MOMIX: Botanica” with the Desert Botanical Garden in January and “Sleeping Beauty” in February).

Coming up: Ode to joy?,  Good chemistry, Playwright tales

Resume tips for young actors

During a recent episode of Lifetime’s “Dance Moms,” lead dance instructor Abby Lee Miller of Abby Lee Dance Company in Pittsburgh invited a Broadway casting agent to her studio.

The agent held individual auditions with young “Dance Moms” cast members, inviting them to sing as well as dance. He also attended a showcase performance meant to spotlight student talents. (Never mind the solo by a mom with misguided mojo.)

While preparing dancers for the experience, Miller explained that three things are needed for auditions — a resume, a headshot and talent. But details were sorely lacking, perhaps because there’s little drama in offering sound resume advice.

A lovely headshot of Maren Maclean photographed by Larry Stone

So I turned to Valley director, actor, coach and instructor Maren Maclean for thoughts on a few of the finer points. Whether your child performs in theater, music or dance, you’ll want to keep track (from the beginning) of training and performance experiences.

It’s hard to construct a complete and accurate resume if you haven’t kept track of the data. Saving programs in a single location is your best bet on this one, and you should start with that very first show (even if it’s just a summer camp show for family and friends).

We went many years without compiling information about our daughter Lizabeth’s music, dance and theater experiences — making the process of crafting her first acting resume more tedious than it might have been otherwise.

When it came to time to finesse the finer points (and to choose the best head shot), we called on Maclean — who does private coaching — for expert advice. For those of you just now putting those resumes together, Maclean shares the following tips:

Tip #1: “Never lie, trust me.”

“Don’t make up the names of theatres to hide that it really was your high school production. Be proud of the high school credit and give credit where credit is due. The theatre world is too small and we talk too much.”

Tip #2: “Take lots of classes.”

‘Take lots of classes and add the details to the ‘training’ portion of your resume. Every class is important and the instructor is a direct facet to your profession[al] theatre network!”

Tip #3: “A one page resume means a one page resume.”

“Don’t go back more than 8-10 years. List pertinent info and learn to let go. It’s hard but a 12 year old credit that you are so proud of can be listed on your website, not on the third page of your five page resume.”

Maclean’s own resume is posted online, so you can visit her website to see a sample. Young actors seeking to polish their auditioning skills have several options. Valley director, actor and teacher Toby Yatso once told me that the best way for Lizabeth to boost her audition skills was to audition. In many ways, it’s about learning by doing.

Joe Kremer and Maren Maclean in a 2010 Phoenix Theatre production of Noises Off! (Photo by Laura Durant)

But there are plenty of places to study and practice auditioning — including acting studios and theater companies. Also private acting coaches who can offer one-on-one instruction and notes.

Recently I read through the 2011-12 class listings for Voices, a music and arts studio in Scottsdale. Their offerings include “Audition Techniques” for 9-12 year olds and “Auditioning Skills” for 13-18 years olds.

If your teen is auditioning for college theater programs, snag those audition requirements early. He’ll want plenty of time to select, learn and polish both monologues and musical selections, which may vary by college or conservatory.

Above all, model calm and collected behavior for your child. Even the super-talented young “Dance Moms” cast members buckled under the pressure after seeing both teacher and parents in nervous-wreck mode.

Your child’s first resumes and early auditions won’t be perfect. But trust your child to live and learn a bit of it on his own. Surround your child with supportive teachers and mentors, and do some of your own letting go.

– Lynn

Note: Plenty of actors post their resumes online too, making it easy to check out what sorts of formats and such are out there. Click here to see the resume for Kyle Harris, who holds a BFA in acting from the University of Arizona. Harris performs the role of Tony in a touring production of “West Side Story” coming to ASU Gammage next month.

Coming up: Finding audition opportunities for children and teens, Fall Glee camp, Tea parties without politics, Dance and disabilities