At What Point Do We Say Enough to Crazy Stage Mamas?
Preparing you for the madness that is 'Dance
By Barbara Card Atkinson Special to MSN TV
Moms," offers audiences a backstage peek at the world of competitive
dance for children. Though I've seen only the initial episode, I can
say with certainty that the new reality show on Lifetime is
about an over-the-top dance instructor, the young students she bullies and
the ridiculous moms who enable (and pay) her. Will Lifetime's latest
"docuseries" entertain you? My guess is that it will upset you, annoy you,
possibly enrage you, and eventually disappoint you, if only because you don't
want to believe that adults actually behave toward children the way they are
depicted here. "Dance Moms," basically, is the perfect show for those few
viewers who find redeeming social qualities in TLC's crown jewel, "Toddlers and Tiaras," but wished it showed more plantar
In the no longer newfangled world of reality TV, viewers have an astonishing
number of programming choices. Some of those choices feature human dynamics ("The Real
World," "Real Housewives," "Jersey
Shore"), some follow competitions ("American
Idol," "So You
Think You Can Dance"), and still others give viewers a peek backstage ("Top
Next Top Model," "Project
Runway"). What all of those shows have in common are two things: Adults
sometimes (or, in the case of "Shore" and "Housewives," consistently) behave
badly, and the cast is made up of adults. Do some of those adults say and
do controversial things in order to get more "airtime?" Again, in those shows,
adults are choosing to behave a certain way toward other adults. "Dance Moms,"
however, like "Toddlers and Tiaras," predominantly features the activities of
parents and other adults interacting with children. Adults acting badly toward
each other and toward children? That latter part is where it gets distressing.
And just like "Toddlers and Tiaras," when kids are in the mix, the ick factor
goes through the roof.
We all have some shows we enjoy watching that we consider a guiltily
pleasure, a so-bad-it's-good experience (for me, it was the "Rock of Love"
franchise. That was artificial whipped topping on top of cheesy, gooey goodness.
And no children were harmed in the making of that train wreck). "Dance Moms"
explores a group of youngsters enrolled at the Philly-based Abby Lee Dance
Studio. According to the Abby Lee website, her dancers have won such prestigious
titles as "Teen Miss Dance of PA" in 2004, and former student Miranda Maleski
made it into the top 20 in Season 8's "So You Think You Can Dance." So, if it's
not an exploration of the most successful dance studio for children, what
exactly makes it so compelling? Four words: the amount of crazy. Dance
instructor Abby makes Jillian Michaels look like Glinda the Good Witch as she
browbeats her group of pint-sized dancers into working toward a national title
for her company. And then there are the moms: catty, pushy, boundary-blurring,
insensitive -- they're iconic stage moms. The result is a discomforting mess.
And someone needs to acknowledge that watching stage moms do what they do best
is not the same as watching the musical "Gypsy" or any other show that depicts a
stage mother. That was fiction (with great music!). This is creepy, creepy
reality. "Dance Moms" is stage parents on parade, and their sometimes weeping
So, let's look at it from the stage parent perspective: We all want our
children to do well; some of us have children who have displayed talents from an
early age, and some of us have children who actually want, all of their own
volition, to perform.
As graduation day approaches, tension begins to build between Frankie and Axl when he ignores her requests for answers about the graduation party she's planning for his special day. "The Middle" airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.