I was first introduced to the world of dance competitions when I was eight years old. Three times a year, my studio’s competition team would spend a weekend competing against other dance schools, exhibiting our talent onstage for titles and placements. The experience itself was lots of fun; my team and I would stretch together before performances, help each other do our hair and make-up, and cheer until our voices were raw at the awards ceremonies. However, if you’ve ever seen the reality TV show, “Dance Moms,” you’d probably never believe that being on a competitive dance team could be anything but a nightmare.
“Dance Moms,” which first aired on Lifetime back in 2011, centers around the Abby Lee Dance Company, an elite team of tween-age dancers who’ve been bred to compete week after week by their fearless dance teacher, Abby Lee Miller.
Miller has her eyes set on making her dancers stars, and runs the team through extensive rehearsal periods, intending for them to win the coveted first-overall trophy at every competition they attend. But in every episode, her teaching ethic proves to be almost tyrannical and callous — Miller’s trademark phrase is “everyone’s replaceable ”— and in most cases, provokes heated backlash from the show’s titular moms, who are rarely absent in the studio’s viewing box to oversee their daughters in rehearsals.
Although the explosively dramatic atmosphere of the ALDC was nothing like the competition team I was on, I couldn’t help but tune in to the reality show every Wednesday night. The disputes between Miller and the moms were always entertaining: One week the moms all ganged up on Miller for dressing their ten-year-old daughters in skimpy costumes for a jazz routine, while another week one mother went behind Miller’s back and hired another teacher to choreograph her daughters’ solos.
And the disputes were only the least of the drama: At the beginning of every new episode, Miller would rank her dancers in a pyramid, with the dancer on top being awarded a solo or featured role in a group number. The pyramid would not only create more tension between the instructor and the moms, but the moms themselves; and more or less of the time, Miller would be accused of choosing favorites on the dance team.
With all the relentless contentions amongst the “Dance Moms” cast in its debut season, the primetime show inevitably became a hit. Almost every episode was watched by approximately one million viewers, and when the second season premiered in January 2012, the ratings more than doubled in size. But like many cable network programs nowadays, “Dance Moms” has lost most of its initial audience. Ratings began to plummet at the start of Season 5, and ever since then, the show’s popularity has only continued to go downhill.
As someone who was a superfan of the reality dance show during the first few seasons, but doesn’t tune in religiously anymore, I can say that I started to lose interest in the series when several of the original cast members left the ALDC. In retrospect, they had legitimate reasons for leaving: Kelly Hyland, one of the mothers, ended up having a physical altercation with Miller while taping the reality show, and subsequently withdrew her daughters, Brooke and Paige, from the team in the middle of Season 4.
Another mother, Christi Lukasiak, left the team with her daughter, Chloe, in the Season 4 finale, when the then-thirteen-year-old broke into sobs regarding Miller’s opprobrious treatment toward her during an intense competition weekend. Coupled with the fact that Hyland, Lukasiak, and their respective daughters were some of my favorites in the cast, their unexpected departures were disheartening; and with their palpable absence in every new episode that followed, I didn’t really care about what was happening onscreen. Not to mention a lot of other “Dance Moms” fans I knew felt the same way.
If I had to guess, the producers soon realized the show had a growing apathetic audience, and began recruiting new cast members to replace the departed series regulars. For Kelly, Brooke, and Paige, the producers found Kira Girard and Kalani Hilliker, a mother-daughter duo who was featured on “Abby’s Ultimate Dance Competition,” a “Dance Moms” spin-off. And when Christi and Chloe became no-shows at rehearsals, Jessalyn Siwa’s daughter, JoJo, joined the ALDC. But even some of the new dancers and their mothers didn’t stick around for very long, and the too-frequent cast changes seemed to be pushing “Dance Moms” toward cancellation territory.
The fate of the series was really jeopardized in recent months, though, when Miller revealed that she had quit the show. The announcement — or really the timing of it — didn’t come as much of a shock; Miller was indicted back in 2015 on twenty counts of fraud, and pleaded guilty to her charges back in May, sentencing her to a year in a jail. And with her gone, “Dance Moms” would be almost unrecognizable. Despite all the dancers and their mothers always coming and going, Miller remained a constant figure throughout the Lifetime series. And really, how could the show follow the Abby Lee Dance Company without Abby Lee Miller?
Someone in production must think it’s possible, considering the show is coming back with new episodes on August 1. While Miller’s set to appear in a number of episodes in what will be the second half of Season 7, she’s ultimately having her teaching position taken over by “Dancing with the Stars” professional Cheryl Burke. Plus, the show also seems to be prying for the ratings it had in its glory days: fan favorites Christi and Chloe Lukasiak are making a permanent return to the show after making a special appearance in the mid-season finale, which has excited plenty of original fans.
But while the new season shows major promise, there is no guarantee that the new (and old) faces are enough to keep “Dance Moms” on its feet. Cast changes are merely just a hit or miss, and with the history of cast changing the reality show has had, there’s no telling if someone will be entertaining to watch or needing a replacement.