Written by Julie Balloo

Arts

Binging: Dance Moms

So, you’ve finished The Wire, Breaking Bad and The Killing but you’re still hungry for more boxsets. Fear not, Standard Issue writers are on the case with some hidden gems you might not yet have seen. This week, Julie Balloo on the bitching, sweat and tears of Dance Moms.

Dance Moms1I found this glorious programme by chance two years ago and am now utterly addicted. It is my tub of Ben & Jerry’s, my new shoes, my crystal meth.

I spent 12 years of my childhood at dance schools and a gazillion hours on train journeys, escorted by my own dance mother; a woman whose eyes lit up at the very sight of my tutu, whether I was wearing it or not.

I will never forget when I was given the lead in Cinderella at a dance school I hadn’t been at long and walked into the dressing room find at least a dozen sneering dance mothers’ eyes following me. They were accompanied by bitchy whispers: “Who does she think she is? Waltzes in here and thinks she can take over. She’s not as good as my Alison.” I fled from the room, desperately trying to hide the hot tears running down my cheeks, but it was too late, the coven had won. Dance mums are the scariest in the world.

Dance Moms is on Lifetime TV, the American cable channel which makes programmes designed to be your guilty secret. It now has a small franchise including Abby’s Ultimate Dance Competition, Dance Moms Goes to Australia and Dance Moms in LA. The UK version, Dance Mums, set in Liverpool, is quite terrifying. And let’s not forget the spin-off Raising Asia featuring Asia Monet Ray, an eight-year-old who is going on 52, was born a diva and has an extraordinary mother who could pass for Elvira, Mistress of the Dark.

“As you witness the sometimes violent sniping and catfighting from the moms, it is evident they could learn a thing or two from their infinitely more mature daughters.”

When I first watched, I was appalled. This is child abuse, I screeched to my pre-teen son. He agreed. But once I realised the kids adored their class and teacher, it won me over. It’s obvious that Abby Lee Miller, the larger than life studio owner/dance teacher/manager, cares for her girls. She pushes them to their limits and beyond and the proof is constantly in the pudding as the ALDC (Abby Lee Dance Company) wins trophy after trophy in the constant competitions.

The girls are bussed all over the vast USA, competing in glitzy costumes, their overwrought and always stylish mothers still stitching as they zoom down the highways. Once there, the moms are stylists, hairdressers, psychologists and dance coaches as they prepare their daughters. And I find myself their greatest cheerleader, urging team ALDC to triumph from my sofa.

We meet the mothers as they take up residence in the moms’ gallery, an intimidating viewing area above the dance studio. Here is where the action is: classes are observed and new moms and daughters are scrutinised and reminded that their daughters “have been part of this studio since they were three years old!

dance displayThen we have the fiercely manufactured drama from rival studio head Cathy, who appears cackling in various corridors screeching out ‘fat’ insults to the oversized Abby like a playground bully, only to lose out to ALDC every time.

Yes, sometimes Abby is monstrous and utterly terrifying as she screeches at girls, continuing the onslaught when the poor little loves burst into tears: “Suck it up, kid. You are here, you’re healthy, you are one lucky little girl. Act like it.”

I watch open-mouthed at such a ruthless lack of compassion but before I can change the channel in disgust, Abby scoops her up into her lumpy arms and the little mite grins like a Cheshire cat, goes out on stage and storms it. Tough love, Spartan style seems to get results.

There is a warm camaraderie between all the girls. It is obvious they really care about each other and support each other, which, considering they are all now aged between 11 and 14, the age when girls are known for discovering the dark art of Bitchcraft, is a joyous feat. As you witness the sometimes violent sniping and catfighting from the moms, it is evident they could learn a thing or two from their infinitely more mature daughters.

One wonders what these women do with the rest of their time, if they have any, not to mention their other non-dancing children. I just hope in 10 years, when the girls are grown and have either decided to pursue a dance career or give up and become a couch potato, the mothers can also move forward and remember those times with nostalgia and perhaps a little regret, but hopefully no long-term damage.

@julieballoo

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Written by Julie Balloo

I am a former standup and now write stories and stage/radio scripts. My long- time collaborator is Jenny Eclair.