Tag Archives: competitive dance

Musings on “Dance Moms Miami”

Thanks to artist Brett Sauce, folks who watch the latest "Dance Moms" series on Lifetime Television can enjoy a far prettier picture of Miami

After two seasons with destruct-o-matic dance moms and their delightful daughters, Abby Lee Miller has finally entered meltdown mode. Folks who’ve watched the show grow more venomous over time are surely wondering — What took so long?

Moms who delight in gossip learn that one of their own has hired an attorney to prevent talk of her romantic adventures. Children needing calm as they ready to take the stage are surrounded by squabbling mothers. And dancers who should be supporting one another’s successes exude the petty jealousy modeled by those charged with their care.

Abby’s no innocent, of course. She’s consumed by concern for her own reputation, subjects dancers to a weekly pyramid that pits dancer against dancer and does more screaming than teaching. And she’s easily baited by rival dance types from another studio who share her gift for pushing others’ buttons.

As one mom in particular appeared to unravel before our eyes this season, folks I’ve chatted with about the show have shared escalating concerns — even wondering whether some of the behaviors exhibited on the show might rise to the level of child abuse.

Palm tree meets pirouette on "Dance Moms Miami" on Lifetime Television

So naturally, the network that brought us “Dance Moms” decided they needed more of a good thing. Hence last night’s debut of “Dance Moms Miami,” featuring a new set of misguided moms, diva dancers and over-the-top teachers. It’s got everything you love to hate about “Dance Moms” — but with bright Miami colors and a hot mess of infantile emotions.

Dance Moms Miami” features dance teachers Victor Smalley and Angel DeArmas of Stars Dance Studio in Miami, who share two goals early on in episode one — raising stars (rather than merely raising dancers) and creating artists who can express themselves through movement. Crushing children’s spirits didn’t make their list, but it’s bound to happen.

While Miller seemed merely exasperated with her dance moms, Smalley and DeArmas ooze genuine disdain. “I don’t even think they’re good parents,” one says. And later — “Truth be told, I think I could be a better parent to them sometimes.” So much for positive parents/teacher partnerships.

There’s no shortage of dysfunction in the dance mom department. “Some people,” shares one mom, “may say that I’m psycho.” Mental health advocates will be rightfully disturbed by the show’s heavy use of “crazy” talk, and viewers will surely wonder why a mom would take such pride in her own shortcomings.

It’s easy to see where “Dance Moms Miami” is going. One teacher describes himself as “like one of the kids,” noting that his partner is “the strict one.” Both mistakenly assumed that hiring one of the moms to work the front desk would help calm the other parents. It’s all a recipe for conflict meant to whet the instatiable appetite of voyeuristic viewers.

So how does “Dance Moms Miami” compare to its forerunner? The moms, by their own account, are bitchier. Blah cold weather surroundings are replaced by loud Miami colors. There’s a boy dancer in the mix. And the dancewear is skimpier. Think black skin-tight numbers with red feathers and silver chains.

"Miami World" by Brett Sauce, whose work you can enjoy at http://www.brettsauceart.com

Both shows feature moms who live vicariously through their children, though the original dance moms seem subtle somehow once you’ve heard Miami dance moms opine about their own foiled dance dreams or family dancers of generations past whose shoes they expect a new generation to fill.

Like the original, “Dance Moms Miami” sometimes reveals remarkable insights by young dancers. When one Miami dancer doesn’t get a solo for the “Hollywood Vibe” competition, she realizes it’s an opportunity to hone her part for the group number.

And while teachers on both shows dispense heavy doses of criticism, the “Dance Moms Miami” guys sometimes manage to dish out real gems. While revealing this week’s list (the equivalent of Miller’s pyramid ranking dancers based on the previous week’s performance), one reminds dancer Lucas that “the stage isn’t a runway” — adding that “being cute is only going to take you so far.”

Sometimes, it seems the Miami dance moms enjoy rare moments of insight. One clearly recognizes that she’s much more competitive than her daughter, and another readily shares that she’s contributed to her daughter’s dance with perfectionism. All think their daughter dances like no other, though I’ve yet to witness an abundance of artistry or technique.

"Dance Moms" makes dolphins at the Miami Seaquarium seem the more advanced species

Still, there’s something to learn from watching these characters in play. Like its predecessor, “Dance Moms Miami” is a “how-to” for what not to do. Don’t interupt class time for impromptu parent/teacher talks. Don’t tell dance teachers how to cast or choreograph their works. Don’t send your child to class with sloppy hair or missing dancewear. Don’t greet fellow moms with a litany of your child’s awards and accolades.

Run fast and far when you see teachers teasing students, parents fighting in front of children or students risking injury with moves they’re not strong or skilled enough to execute. Beware of studios that sexualize children or encourage dancers to flash a “come hither” look while performing. (Cheers for the Joffrey Ballet School auditioner who told one of Miller’s dancers that the person who’d taught her to shake her bum bum was a dumb dumb.)

In the final minutes of the “Dance Moms Miami” premiere, which felt a bit like twisted tango meets “The Real Housewives of New Jersey,” a teacher shared a lovely little rant that went something like this — “The moms, they behave like animals. Those moms are crazy, they’re mental. Their husbands can’t control them. Even God can’t control them.”

As “Dance Moms” cast members dream of setting the world on fire, the rest of us grapple with one burning question — Why would anyone let themselves be filmed in the midst of such bad behavior? The better question might be why we all continue tuning in.

Recently a friend described time spent watching “Dance Moms” as a cathartic experience. “A few minutes of one of the dance mom shows and my life seems so calm and ordered,” she told me. “It’s some sickness of mine that I’ve watched at all.”

– Lynn

Note: Click here to enjoy more works from Brett Sauce

Coming up: The fourth coming

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

Reflections on Lifetime TV’s “Dance Moms”

Plumb Performing Arts Center CITY LIGHTS Musical Theatre Mini Number performed April 2011 at the New York City Dance Academy Regional Competition in Dallas

Plumb Performing Arts Center CITY LIGHTS Musical Theatre Mini Number performed April 2011 at the New York City Dance Academy Regional Competition in Dallas

Lisa Plumb, owner of Plumb Performing Arts Center in Scottsdale, has plenty to share on the topic of Lifetime’s new “reality TV” series titled “Dance Moms,” which airs on Wednesday nights.

“Dance Moms” features a brash, bellicose dance teacher who has long owned and operated a dance studio in Pittsburgh. Also the dancers who train there — and their mothers. They like to watch. And snip.

Plumb Performing Arts Center dancer competing in Dallas in April 2011

Plumb says she runs “a tight ship,” but finds the “Dance Moms” studio “a bit extreme.” It’s rare in real life, for example, for girls to learn competition routines with as little time as they appear to be given in “Dance Moms.”

For Abby Lee Miller, owner of Abby Lee Dance Company, it’s all about winning. But Plumb says dance competitions offer plenty of benefits for those who don’t win. Gaining experience in performance and showmanship, setting and working toward goals, networking with professionals and peers — and more.

Plumb recognizes some moms do take dance competitions to an “extreme.” Still, she suggests a more balanced approach. It’s possible, reflects Plumb, to couple a “no-nonsense style” with a “loving and nurturing” environment.

It’s this approach, adds Plumb, that leads to “well-trained dancers that end up getting the most jobs,” because they’ve “learned to deal with not always winning and rejection — which can be applied to any other aspect of life.”

Dorie Reiter and Jordan Pelliteri of Plumb Performing Arts Center perform in Dallas in April 2011

“The moms that keep it in perspective,” observes Plumb, “have the kids that ultimately in the long run do the best whether they are professional dancers or doctors.” Makes sense when you picture your surgeon struggling to operate in the absense of an overbearing “doc mom.”

I was amazed, during a recent episode of “Dance Moms,” that a dancer whose headpiece fell over her eyes continued to dance as if nothing had happened. I felt certain both studio owner/teacher and parent would applaud her for staying focused and keeping her cool.

Instead, the dance teacher tore into the dancer’s mom for letting such a thing happen. Plumb notes that there’s little benefit to parents and teachers talking negatively to or about one another when dancers are present. It’s tacky, and entirely unproductive.

A Plumb Performing Arts Center dancer competing in Dallas in April 2011

Plumb insists that “a true winning team, whether they win the top trophy or not, is one that has a good, honest and open working relationship between student, parent and teacher.”

The young dancers on “Dance Moms” are trying, says Plumb, to please their parents and teachers. At times, they’re expected to choose between the two — something that makes Plumb feel “sorry and sad.”

In real life, observes Plumb, dance moms “support their children without being over the top.” And they “diversify” their children’s dance experiences — coupling dance competitions with non-competitive performance, summer intensives and such.

As the series unfolds, we’re all learning more about the dance moms featured on the show. The one who pushes her daughter to perform against medical advice. The one who insists her daughter stress the right syllable when saying “okay.” Were children not involved, all these grown-up neuroses might be somewhat amusing.

Dorie Reiter and Jordan Pelliteri of Plumb Performing Arts Center competing in the April 2011 New York City Dance Alliance Regional Finals in Dallas

Plumb admits that “Dance Moms” has “its very funny and real life moments” but still finds it “a bit sad and disturbing.” And she cautions parents that about 95% of competition owners, for both pageants and dance, are only there to make money.

Do your homework. Trust your instincts. Listen to your child. But don’t believe everything you see on TV.

– Lynn

Note: All photos, by PRO PIX, are courtesy of Plumb Performing Arts Center. Dance group pictured above includes Angelina Lewallen, Katelynn Lewallen, Eliana Shephard, Madison Schultz, Jessica Rizor, Sierra Aungst, Brooke Rozelle and Gracie Timms.

Coming up: More dance experts on “Dance Moms,” Coffee meets comics, Way of the “Wolves,” Origami & beyond

Update: I’m now blogging as “Stage Mom Musings” at www.stagemommusings.com. Please find and follow me there to continue receiving posts about arts and culture in Arizona and beyond. Thanks for your patience as the tech fairies work to move all 1,250+ posts to the new site. For the latest news follow me on Twitter @stagemommusings. 6/13/12

Dance mom meets diva

My daughter Lizabeth alerted me Tuesday morning to a new show on the Lifetime channel called “Dance Moms.” Think “Toddlers and Tiaras” with dance competitions instead of beauty/talent pageants.

Wednesday night we stumbled on a rerun of a previous episode, sitting on the living room couch watching it together. Then, after Lizabeth went to sleep later that evening, I watched the most recent episode.

In between, I shot off e-mails to a diverse assortment of dance teachers and experts, inviting them to share it with young dancers and dance parents. I asked whether they’d seen the show, and what they thought of it.

The first reply came from a Valley dance teacher who recently stumbled on the show herself and shot back an e-mail right away. “I was horrified,” she wrote. “I only saw about ten minutes but that was more than enough.”

The first episode I watched included moms directing from the audience, a studio owner yelling at a parent volunteer and a young dancer noting that she wins every dance competition she enters.

“I had a hard time believing those moms were for real,” wrote the first dance teacher I heard back from. “I saw a few who were supposed to be highly educated professionals.” But she had other words for them — “shrieking, demanding, heartless and cruel.”

“I know so many dance professionals who are dedicated and caring,” she shared. “I have never even heard of such ridiculous behavior and I prefer to believe it doesn’t exist.”

She even wondered why any mom “would allow herself to be filmed behaving like a lunatic.” My husband had a similar reaction. Being a “stage mom” in the worst sense of the word is one thing. Inviting a television crew to tape it is a whole other brand of bizarre.

I was most amused by the final quip this Valley dance teacher shared with me — “I think someone is trying to trump wrestling for fraud and sick entertainment.”

Since receiving that first e-mail, more comments started rolling in. Many quite thoughtful and insightful. I’ll be sharing more thoughts on “Dance Mom” — and the world of competitive dance for youth — in a future post.

If you’ve seen the show and have thoughts to share, I’d love to hear from you at rakstagemom@gmail.com.

– Lynn

Coming up: Dance performance on Valley stages, What would Robin Hood do?, Disney alert!