Living On the Dance Floor: Dance Moms is Toxic

Megan Howarth and Carley Sanders

We enjoyed the dancing of the show and liked the girls, but the mothers and the instructors on this show are consistently emotionally and verbally abusive. 

Dance Moms is a reality drama tv show that aired on Lifetime from July 13, 2011 through 2019. The show features Abby Lee Miller, the owner of ALDC, as well as six girls and their mothers. The original six girls include Maddie Ziegler, Mackenzie Ziegler, Chloe Lukasiak, Nia Sioux, Brooke Hyland, and Paige Hyland. The show follows the dancers day to day rehearsals leading up to a competition every weekend. We watch the girls tirelessly run their group dance and occasional solos, duets, and trios. The “dance moms” sit up above the studio, watching, judging, and gossiping as the girls rehearse. Throughout the eight seasons, we see many fights, blowouts, and moms gone crazy.

Abby Lee Miller is most known for her strict, cruel, and harsh methods while teaching dance. This causes lots of issues within the studio including blatant favoritism. One of these examples of favoritism is now- nineteen-year-old Maddie Ziegler, who was eight when the show began. Maddie and Abby had a connection ever since she came to the studio as a little girl until they departed from the show in its seventh season. Throughout each competition week, Maddie was given many solos and was constantly featured in each of the group dances. The other mothers claimed she also received private lessons and special treatment from Abby and her assistant Gianna Martello. 

As mentioned before, Abby was very harsh on her students. The show constantly airs major blowouts of Abby yelling at the mothers and their daughters, even if they did nothing wrong. This harmful verbal abuse took a toll on the mental health of both the dancers and their mothers and caused several to depart from the show and studio. Paige Hyland expressed on social media that due to the toxicity of the Dance Moms environment, she has gone into therapy and suffers severe anxiety from the backlash of Abby’s words and actions. Abby Lee Miller had constant sayings that made the girls feel “less than” and as if they are “replaceable.” These include “Save your tears for the pillow!”, “Everyone’s replaceable!”, and “Why can’t you all be more like Maddie?”. These sayings resulted in constant drama and has burned several relationships.

One of the dancers, Nia Sioux, spoke up about Abby’s treatment towards her while she was on the show, calling her a ‘bully’. Nia Sioux was constantly mistreated on the show. According to Dr. Holly Sioux, Nia’s mother, Abby only gave her daughter roles portraying animals and violent dogs, a decision that was racially motivated. Abby also discriminated against Nia for her hairstyle. Her solos also would have her portray a violent, aggressive animal. In season three, Abby decides the theme of the group dance will be about Rosa Parks, a black, female civil rights activist. In the end, she casts Nia in the role.

The toxicity of the Abby Lee Dance Company and Dance Moms, in general, shines a poor light on competition dance. Viewers assume that every dance studio has these harsh environments that will make young dancers feel unsafe. While competition dance is a stressful environment, it should be something to enjoy and have fun.

After criticism about the open racism, the streaming platform decided to cancel the show. Many of the girls spoke up on social media, including TikTok, regarding Abby’s treatment and racism. Abby had written an apology addressing the accusations but since then she has been pretty quiet on social media. Today, only a few girls associate with her including Lily Ketchman, Elliana Walmsley, and a couple of the other kids from the season eight cast.