“Dance Moms” is one of those reality shows that creates a less-than-flattering image of female relationships. It’s a series that tracks young girls and the mothers who guide them during their training with Abby from Abby Lee Miller’s Dance Studio. The girls have big dreams, and their mothers have even bigger ones, which seem to mostly involve being on TV. These women fight, yell, scheme and backstab. Abby fights and yells back. There are tears, tantrums and a few triumphs, and these are just the moms.
After watching a few episodes of this stage mom extravaganza, I called my mother, thanked her for not being crazy and figured that the series wouldn’t make it to another season. I should know of course, that crazy women equals high ratings in the world of reality TV, so it was inevitable that “Dance Moms” would not only be renewed for a third season but also get a spin-off called “Abby’s Ultimate Dance Competition.”
This time, instead of Abby doing all the yelling, there are a few other judges who join her to assess the skills of 12 girls and boys as they compete in weekly dance routines and challenges. Robin Antin, the founder of the pop group Pussycat Dolls, and Richard Jackson, a choreographer who has worked with Lady Gaga, handle the weekly eliminations alongside Abby. The stakes are high. The winner receives $100,000 and a scholarship to the Young Dancer Program at the Joffrey Ballet School in New York.
The main difference between “Dance Moms” and “Abby’s Ultimate Dance Competition” is that the kids are not coached by Abby but by their mothers who are allowed to make decisions regarding music, choreography, costumes and training methods. So already highly competitive and rather angry mothers are now given almost complete power over their kids’ dance futures. More than that, these women, most of whom have no dance background (you can read their biographies online), are given the credibility usually reserved for professionals. It’s a stage mother’s dream come true.
To add more fuel to an already raging fire, the show gives the mom of the dancer who wins the weekly challenge the right to assign everyone’s dance routines for the elimination round. Women who love confrontation are now dance dictators. Small slights escalate into showdowns. Petty disagreements turn into vindictive plans. Watching them interact is like watching the mean girls from your high school turn on each other, if the mean girls were 20 years older and really into their kids’ dance routines.
If you can get past the ridiculous women on this show, you could enjoy it as a showcase of some talented kids. Watching a 6-year-old work so hard to perform a complicated routine when they could be somewhere playing with their friends is kind of inspiring. Watching their mother scream at other women while they are doing it is not.
Page 2 of 2 - “Abby’s Ultimate Dance Competition” is on Tuesdays at 9 p.m. EST on Lifetime.
Melissa Crawley is the author of “Mr. Sorkin Goes to Washington: Shaping the President on Television's 'The West Wing.’” She has a PhD in media studies and is a member of the Television Critics Association. To comment on Stay Tuned, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter at @MelissaCrawley.