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Quick Look: Is 'Dance Moms' a guilty pleasure or child abuse TV?
Kids are the hook, but not the focus of the Lifetime show
After seeing endless promos for "Dance Moms" (Wed. 10 p.m. on Lifetime) during "Project Runway," I felt compelled to check out this hour-long trainwreck even as the very concept made my blood run cold. From the promos, it appeared to be a show about a shrewish, dictatorial dance teacher bullying children and their befuddled mothers into grueling rehearsals, ridiculous dance competitions and hefty investments of time and money.
After seeing the show, I have to say -- that first impression isn't exactly off.
I will admit, as much as I love reality TV, I draw the line at reality TV about kids. Kids cannot give informed consent. Little kids can barely think past lunchtime, much less imagine the longterm repercussions of their actions. In theory, parents are supposed to have the maturity and perspective necessary to protect their children from, say, being haunted for eternity by embarrassing YouTube footage of them puking on stage or the strain of having to fulfill a parent's unmet need for stupid plastic trophies. But that's just a theory, because as we all know, there are plenty of crazypants moms out there who are perfectly comfortable pimping out their tykes. And yes, "Dance Moms" has plenty of them.
The saving grace (if we can call it that) of this show is how little the children actually matter. Just as they seem to be peripheral to the drama of their own mothers' lives, they are little more than plot devices here. While they will probably need therapy for many, many reasons once they are adults (or, you know, really right now), the content of this television show isn't likely to be one of them. For the most part, these kids seem well-behaved and enthusiastic about dance. It's the moms who need to be put into rubber rooms.
Though it's tempting to lump all of the moms into the scary pageant mom category, there's actually a wide and creepy variety of neuroses on display here. The main drama, of course, stems from Abby Lee Miller, the dance instructor. While she's not as evil as I thought she might be in the promos (although pretty close -- I'm giving her a pass because there was no human sacrifice that I noticed), there's no denying she's a manipulative, bullying force of nature who thinks telling a little kid to suck it up and stop crying (because, you know, six is too old for that kind of stupid baby crap) is just another day at the office.
Her attitude is that it's better to make the children cry with her scathing commentary on their tiny little bowlegs and floppy turnout rather than have those same children cry while on stage, but here's a question: why do the kids need to cry at all?
Ah, I know why! Because for Miller, this is about stroking her own ego. Kids, shmids! As far as she's concerned, she could be coaching goldfish or tree frogs, which she would probably prefer because she could flush the ones that didn't perform and then throw the mom frogs or fish under the moving wheels of her car, just for kicks.
The most galling thing about Miller, though, is her antagonistic relationship with the mothers -- which she has no problem airing out in front of the kids. Don't want your seven-year-old dressing like a tiny little hooker and slapping her own ass on stage? Well, you're just a gutless weenie ruining little Chloe or whoever's chances of becoming a STAR! Did you hear that, Chloe or whoever? No? Let me repeat it. Pay attention, I'm belittling your mom here so you'll have PLENTY of ammunition when you become a bitchy little teenager!
Which brings us to the moms. The moms, not being completely evil (though some are close), seem to vacillate between wanting the best dance education money can buy for their little cherubs and wanting Miller to stop treating said little cherubs like inmates at a county lock-up.
While most of the moms blur into a blonde or mostly blonde mass of competitive, overly-enmeshed and oddly passive whining and sniping held tight in Miller's dictatorial grasp, one mom stands out as being way too smart for this crap.
Holly is a school principal, and as the only African-American mom on the show, she's none too fond of Miller's enthusiasm for sticking her kid in an Afro and animal-print disco outfit that practically screams bad blaxploitation movie. But Holly, who apparently lives in a world where progress can be made through polite business meetings and intelligent conversation, doesn't get very far in making a case to Miller, who just freaks the hell out that anyone would question her! About anything! Because her frogs, I mean students, WIN!
Holly also tries to convince Miller that she's just way too mean to little kids. Hey, that's what I was thinking! Go Holly! Fight the good fight! But when a Holly/Miller argument finally gets to be too much for the school principal, she dissolves into tears. In front of her kid. Who comforts her. Holly is crushed, because her kid is the one comforting her when it really should be the other way around. So Holly moans about this in the bathroom to one of the other mothers WHILE THEIR KIDS ARE WITH THEM, loitering near the paper towel dispenser and probably wishing they could still live with their grandparents.
So, I'm sure you can guess what happens after this big ol' wake-up call, can't you? Holly pulls little Nia out of Miller's stupid school and the lame ass dance competition she's in, right? Holly just grabs her kid's hand and tells this small town dictator of dance to kiss her ass, right? Holly shows her daughter that she will protect her and be the smart grown-up, right?
Uh, no. Nia's solo wins first place in the dance competition, so apparently Miller was doing something right and Holly just shuts up and settles down.
Insert groan of frustration right about here.
I'm hoping Holly just can't leave the show without breaking a contractual agreement or something, but probably not. And mind you, Holly seems like the most rational, most insightful and least messed up parent on the show. Hope Nia hasn't given away her Afro yet.
Do you watch "Dance Moms"? Do you think Abby Lee Miller is a good teacher? Would you send your kids to her?