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.
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.
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.
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.”
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