The Mess That Was Dance Moms

By: Ana Perez, 9th Grade

“Dance Moms” was a reality TV show that aired from 2011 – 2019, following the training of children at the Abby Lee Dance Company Junior Elite Team as they compete in weekly dance competitions and the relationships between Abby Lee Miller and their mothers – or mostly their constant bickering. Although the show gained popularity because of the dramatic fights serving for good ratings, it came under scrutiny because of the evil editing, abusive relationship between Abby and the kids, pedophile crew members, cruel contracts, and the overall scummy behavior from Collins Avenue Entertainment, leading most to label the show as borderline child abuse. 

After the show finished its run, many secrets came to light – such as the abusive environment. Contracts for cast members that competed against the ALDC straight-up admitted they’d be working in a physically and emotionally hazardous environment, where children would be subjected to harsh filming schedules and the stress of constant competitions. The show has had many controversies over the years, but for this article, we’ll only be going over the most prominent controversies.

In Season 1 and Season 7, the dancers (a group of minors) were forced to do risque dances. The most infamous one being the “Electricity” routine from Season 1 Episode 2 titled “Wildly Inappropriate,” where the cast of children, with the oldest being 13, were made to do a razy dance routine with revealing outfits. During the performance, many viewers felt uncomfortable and the moms themselves felt that Abby – or rather the producers – were sexualizing the children. The dance ended up being disqualified for obvious reasons and the team was banned from attending future StarQuest competitions. It has been speculated that the producers created the dance number on purpose to boost ratings and get people talking about the show, which worked.

Another controversy was the creepy crew members and stalkers. During one of Chloe Lukasiak’s solos, the camera pans to her to inappropriate areas, not once or twice, but three times – with many not writing it off as a coincidence. As revealed in the court documents of the Kelly Hyland v. Collins Avenue lawsuit, one of the choreographers hired by Collins Avenue, speculated to be Grant Davis, was arrested in the charges of child sexual assault and posession of child pornography. In Season 4 Episode 22, Abby decided to choreograph a duet with Maddie Ziegler and Gino Cosculluela, which included her first kiss – to practice for the duet, 40-year-old Abby decided to kiss a minor, because she somehow thought that was a good idea. In 2015, a 36-year-old man sent JoJo Siwa five packages of explicit material, had a YouTube channel and Instagram where he inappropriately talked about the girls, and had a picture of JoJo tattooed on his body. Thankfully, he was sentenced to 3 years in jail. Another man pretended to be married to Brooke Hyland, the oldest cast member (13 at the start of filming) where he operated fake Facebook and Twitter accounts, referring to himself as Brooke’s husband. He also got an engagement announcement in his local newspaper, set up a gift registry for the wedding, and bought a wedding ring – and he started before Brooke was even of age. Another man visited the Pittsburg studio to read his poetry to the girls, although the team was traveling at the time; he sat in the middle of the road with his luggage, waiting for the girls to return and the police had to taser him to arrest him for trespassing on private property. Chloe Lukasiak revealed that the cast hired security guards because stalkers would constantly try to break into the studio.

Another big controversy of the show has been the contracts. After three cast members, Kelly Hyland, Brooke Hyland, and Paige Hyland left the show in 2014 due to an explosive fight with Abby, they revealed several details about the contracts. Firstly, the girls were not allowed to join another competitive dance studio until the original 6-season contract was finished. Because of Kelly and Abby’s bad relationship, she eventually pulled her daughters out of the dance studio, but they still had to dance as members of the show. The contract signed by anyone who danced against the ALDC stated that Collins Avenue, the producers, had the right to portray said person any way they liked, which leads to “evil editing.” 

Evil editing is a term where the editors of a TV show purposely portray someone in a bad light to cause drama and discussions on social media, giving the show free promotion. In a Korean reality TV show known as Girls Planet 999, a contestant named Fu Yaning was evil edited to talk smack about Choi Yujin, a member of the veteran girl group CLC, to boost ratings for the show and decrease the chances of Chinese members debuting on the final group, since there was no point in breaking to the highly regulated Chinese entertainment market. This led to her having anxiety and other mental health issues at the end of the show’s filming. Another rule in the contract stated that the dancers couldn’t gain or lose more than 5 – 10 pounds, although this was part of the ALDC contract. Christi Lukasiack, one of the moms, felt that this weight limit was highly inappropriate, considering her daughter was still a growing child. Because of this, they were not official members of the ALDC during Season 4 and instead were just part of the TV show.

That leads us to another controversy: the treatment of Chloe Lukasiak on Season 4. Fans of the show know that it’s no secret that Abby Lee hated Chloe and her mother – and after she left the ALDC, she held a huge grudge against her. Several music videos were filmed during the course of the season, however, Chloe was excluded from both videos (Freaks Like Me and Girl Party). Abby herself stated that Chloe was either not going to be in the video or the other girls would not be in the video; Christi described this as Abby ironically bullying a child out of an anti-bullying video. Throughout the rest of the season, Abby kept yelling at Chloe, calling her a snake, screaming at her for having her hat fall off during a dance number, and even blacklisted Chloe out of any future career opportunities. At the end of the season, Christi and Chloe finally left the show after a massive fight between Christi and Abby, with Abby stating “your kid’s washed up.” However, this was edited in by the producers, and Abby was actually mocking Chloe’s amblyopia (lazy eye) – the final straw for Christi. However, she returned in Season 7 after Abby briefly left the show. Why? She was arrested.

Before the show started, in 2011, Miller owed $400,000 in real estate taxes for her Pittsburg dance studio and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, where assets are reorganized so what emerges after the bankruptcy is money, which is overseen by the courts. In 2015, a judge was overseeing the bankruptcy repayment plan, until he decided to take a closer look into the financial situation. The IRS and FBI investigated Abby and discovered she had hidden $775,000 of her income from her bankruptcy proceedings, having her hit with 20 counts of financial and customs fraud. And, after giving a Dance Moms Masterclass in Australia, she had friends smuggle $120,000 that she had earned, violating the customs and immigrations requirement to declare anything over $10,000. It has been rumored that Melissa Gisoni, the mother of Maddie and Mackenzie Ziegler, had helped Abby smuggle the money to get more opportunities for Maddie. Abby was given a sentence of one year and a day and fined $160,000. But, she was released from prison to the hospital after 10 months, when it was discovered that she had spinal cancer. But, that meant her time in the show was cut short, making another dance coach fill in during Season 7, when most of the original cast members, except for Nia Sioux, had left the show.

The working conditions were also questionable throughout the show’s entire run. Producers have been accused of breaking child labor laws. When Kelly filed a lawsuit, she claimed that these laws were broken; the cast members spent 60 hours per week filming and would film for 12 hours on competition days. Minors aged from 9 – 16 can only film for 9 hours a day according to U.S Child Labor Laws, making these conditions completely illegal. The cast members were also overworked, encouraging them to keep performing even when sick during rehearsals because they hadn’t eaten all day. And, absences were forbidden by the producers or else they would sue, even though the girls wanted to take a break and act like normal preteens.

And, the final nail in the coffin was the racism controversy. In a deleted Instagram post for #BlackoutTuesday, Abby posted a picture of a black square with the ALDC logo. People began to point out that Abby should not promote her business in the post, leading her past racism allegations to pop back again. For example, she had made fun of a child’s braids and claimed that Nia Sioux was not “African enough” after reviewing one of her duets. The newest allegations came from Adriana Smith, a temporary Season 8 cast member. She claimed that Abby had once told her “I know you grew up in the hood with only a box of 8 crayons, but I grew up in the Country Club with a box of 64 – don’t be stupid.” Another cast member, Camille Bridges, claimed that Abby tried to paint Camryn, her daughter, as poor and would never credit African-American choreographers. Because of this scandal, Lifetime ended up dropping Abby; either because it was a good PR move considering racism allegations would not be taken lightly after the BLM protests or because her contract had expired. And that was the end of Dance Moms, destroying any chance of Season 9.

Other relatively smaller controversies included Abby’s toxic teaching methods, the favoritism she had towards Maddie Ziegler, Melissa’s favoritism towards Maddie, Abby throwing a chair at a child, other cast members being unsupportive of Nia, Abby’s alleged manipulative behavior, the fake competitions, the body shaming, Melissa Gisoni’s compulsive lying, and how the production team sabotaged the girl’s opportunities. 

And how did the mess that was Dance Moms affect the cast members? It did not do them well, some claiming that the fame was not worth sacrificing their physical and mental health. Camryn Bridges opened up about the mental health struggles she suffered after the show. She spoke out about suffering from anxiety while the show was filming and suffering from depression after filming wrapped up, even stating that the producers went as far as not paying the mothers unless they fought, putting mental strain onto the mothers, leading Camryn into therapy after the show finished. Abby herself stated that the show was harmful to her physical and mental health, since the production team would give her little to no privacy, and this extended to all cast members. According to the NCBI, delayed responses to trauma can cause fatigue, sleep disorders, anxiety, depression, flashbacks, and avoidance of emotions. 

At the end of the day, Dance Moms was a toxic mess of a show. Cast members from all sides, the “heroes” and the “villains” suffered because of the show, leaving them with mental health issues gained from a hazardous environment, just because the producers cared about one thing and one thing only: ratings. We should learn from Dance Moms and stop creating these toxic shows that take away the childhoods of children just for fame and money.

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