Dance Moms is a Lifetime reality show that became an instant hit. It features the strict dance teacher, Abby Lee Miller, and her junior elite team. The show follows the dancers, giving viewers a peek into the world of competitive dance. Dance Mom’s showcases the talented dancers, but most of the attention goes to their mothers. It is pretty entertaining to watch grown women fight like dramatic teenagers over whose daughter is better.
As you probably already know, things aren’t the way they seem on reality TV. The girls suffer an immense amount of pressure and criticism, and so do their mothers. Maddie Ziegler was clearly Abby’s favorite, which added tension, but the producers know how to stir things up. They instigate situations for more drama. Since leaving the show, some former ALDC dancers revealed the truth. Here are some backstage secrets about Dance Moms that they don’t show you on TV.
At the beginning of every episode of Dance Moms, Abby does her “Pyramid.” This basically means that she ranks all her dancers from best to worst. To make it to the top of the pyramid, you can’t miss a beat and must look flawless on stage. Of course, all the girls want to be on top, but no matter how hard they work, if a mom fights with Abby Lee, you can bet their kid will end up on the bottom.
Abby reveals who is on the pyramid from bottom to top, and of course, criticizes her dancers. It’s brutal to watch, considering these little kids are all talented, hard-working dancers being told how bad they are by their teacher. Thankfully, it only lasts about five minutes, and everyone can move on… right?
It’s 2 Hours Long!
It turns out that these pyramid sessions actually last 2 hours! Abby goes through each girl one by one yelling at them for what they did wrong or… what their mother did wrong for two hours! And, they have no choice but to stand there and take it. If they cry, Abby will scream at them and most likely take away one of their dances.
Since leaving the show, the “original” Dance Mom girls revealed that they hated the pyramid; it was the most dreaded part of the week. Dancer, Chloe Lukasiak revealed, “Imagine standing there for 2 hours listening to your dance teacher talk, and more of the time she’s telling 5 out of 6 children how horrible they are.”
The Doctors Office “Base Camp”
Right across the ALDC was a doctor’s office, and it was actually the “base camp” for the show. Production rented it out for all their filming needs. If you watch Dance Moms, you know the ALDC doesn’t have that much space. However, you probably didn’t realize how often they leave the studio and go to the doctor’s office.
“That’s where our tutoring room was, that’s where a lot of the crew’s offices were, that’s where the interview rooms were, that’s where we ate lunch all the time,” Chloe Lukasiak explained in a YouTube video. The interview rooms’ look like costume closets, so I’m surprised. It seems that other than the physical dancing, everything took place in the office.
Dance Moms came out right around the same time as Instagram. With social media on the rise, many reality starts get hate, and the Dance Moms cast is no exception. The difference is, these were young children. When the show first premiered, the dancers were as young as six years old. Payton Ackerman, who appeared in just a few episodes of the show, admitted to receiving death threats.
In a video, Payton explained how producers edited a specific episode to make her look bad. “It got to the point where I was getting death threats. People were calling my home phone in the middle of the night. People showing up at your front door.” That sounds terrifying. She isn’t the only one; all the girls (and their moms) get the hate on social media.
On multiple occasions, the dancers, their mothers, and Abby Lee have said that the show is not scripted. However, that doesn’t mean it’s all real. The producers obviously need drama, so they stage and instigate multiple situations to get the moms to fight. They also use clever editing to make things look more dramatic than they actually were.
“Things are set up. They never hand you a script, but all I can tell you is that they set up situations that might have not actually happened, which causes a reaction to something that happened that wouldn’t have if they didn’t set it up,” according to Payton. That sounds worse than a scripted reality show. At least with a script you not what’s coming.
The Show was Supposed to be a Documentary
What you may not know about Dance Moms is that it wasn’t supposed to be a reality show. It was initially meant to be a six-episode special following the lives of young competitive dancers. Viewers loved it, so Lifetime made it a show. Plus, dance teacher Abby Lee Miller is reality TV gold- They probably didn’t want to lose that.
Nia Sioux was the only original member who stayed on Dance Moms from season 1-7 (season 8 had a brand new cast). She recently uploaded a YouTube video talking about how they had no idea what the show would become. “It was only supposed to be for six weeks and six episodes, so we never really thought anything of it. Obviously, it turned into much more than that.”
After Dance Moms, Jojo Siwa’s popularity skyrocketed. The popular YouTube star uploaded a video talking about her daily schedule while filming the show. She explained how they would all carpool in the morning, and one of the moms would take them all to school.
“We do school from 8 o’clock to 11 o’clock… so then we eat lunch until about noon. Then at noon, we go to the set that’s right across the street from the school that we go to, and the set is obviously Abby’s studio. We go from about 1 to 4 or 5, and then we continue to dance all night.” We know from Chloe’s video, the girls went to school at the doctor’s office across the street that production rented out.
The Same Teacher
Speaking of school, all the dancers shared the same teacher- despite being completely different classes. In season one, the girls’ age range was between 6 and 13. To be fair, most of the girls attended a regular school at the beginning and then started homeschool one by one, starting with Maddie Ziegler. However, even in the earlier seasons, when the girls were traveling and competing, they shared a tutor.
On her YouTube channel, Nia said, “It’s really funny. We all just shared this one tutor for seven years, I mean, we’re all in different grades.” The dancer said she attended public school until 7th grade. Schooling was important because they were not allowed to film by law unless they went to school. In season 8, dancer Eliana Walmsley broke this rule and couldn’t dance until she completed her school hours.
Abby was Meaner in Real Life
Abby Lee Miller is quite the character. She is strict, competitive, and, most of all, mean! Because it’s a reality show, viewers thought Abby was mean for the camera, and she was probably nicer to her students when they weren’t filming. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. Some dancers say that Abby is nice in real life, but Jill Vertes, one of the dance moms, spoke out.
“People think that it’s gotta be for the cameras, and it’s not. It’s really who she is.” She then turned to the dancers and said: “You can all attest that she would be worse when the cameras off because she really doesn’t want everybody to hate her.” From what I’ve seen her do on camera, I’m nervous to know what she says to these kids behind the scenes.
In a famous Dance Moms episode, Abby got in a huge fight with dance mom, Christi Lukasiak, resulting in her daughter leaving the studio. In the explosive argument, you can hear Abby telling Christi that Chloe is “washed up,” and the dance mom flipped out. No one wants to hear that their kid is washed up, but Christi’s reaction seemed a little extreme.
As it turns out, that’s not what Abby said at all. Christi revealed that the reason she got so mad at Abby was that she made fun of Chloe’s eye and called her ugly. That definitely changes the situation. Fans found a clip of Abby telling another dance teacher she is washed up, and the producers used the audio to cover up what the dance teacher really said.
ALDC is Superstitious
Even the most talented dancers want luck to be on their side before a competition. In her video, Nia said: “The number 22 was the lucky number for our studio, so If your dance was number 22, then that was really good.” She went on to say, “Another thing was we have out a handshake that we would do. We call it 5-6-7-8, and then also, if we jinxed ourselves before we went on stage, we had to knock on wood.”
Abby reveals some other superstitions they follow include no hats inside, no shoes on the table, and to NEVER open an umbrella inside. She also said that they never use the phrase “good luck” and instead say, “Break a leg.” In an episode when Maddie is begging her teacher for a solo, you can see her crossing her fingers.
Performed Every Dance Twice
When filming the show, the girls perform their dances twice. Of course, this gives their team an advantage because they have two chances for them to impress the judges. But Nia said the judges only score them based on their first performance. “Once we would perform for the judges, so that was the time that they would actually judge you.”
She continued to explain, “And then the second time was kind of like the do-over so that they could get the shots for the camera so that they can play the whole solo instead of just snippets and they can get different angles.” Do you think the dancers have an advantage? Or that the judges score based on their first performance?
Despite the producers instigating fights, the drama between the moms really did affect the girls. First of all, Abby was known to punish her dancers for their mothers’ behavior. All the dancers were best friends, so it made them extremely uncomfortable watching their mothers fight with each other. In the end, the daughters were left crying, and some of them spoke out about it.
Maddie Ziegler told People Magazine that she never even watched an episode of Dance Moms because she doesn’t want to relive those moments. “We lived through it, so I don’t feel like we have to watch it, and it was so much drama that I don’t want to see it again.” Maddie also said that she was a stressed-out 11-year-old.
Learning Really Fast
Maddie wasn’t the only stressed-out student. Yes, she felt a lot of pressure because she was the “favorite” and was so scared to disappoint Abby. However, all the other dancers also felt an extreme amount of pressure. First of all, they learned their dances and REALLY fast. Usually, the girls learn new dances each week and perform them on the weekends.
If you are a dancer, you probably know that most dance teams practice their dances for at least six months to a year before performing it on stage. Nia said, “we started the dance on Wednesday. We would finish it either Thursday or Friday and would we would compete Saturday.”
Stressed Out Kids
Abby put a lot of pressure on the girls to be perfect, but the amount of stress they felt was not healthy. In one episode, Paige Hyland had a panic attack when she was ten years old because she was so worried about her dance. The moms’ fighting certainly didn’t help. Plus, the pressure of competitions can also take a toll on a child.
They are constantly being judged and criticized by everyone- The moms, their teacher, audiences, and the rest of the world. They are on TV, and everyone has opinions. Of course, as we grow up, we learn to filter out the negative, but when a nine-year-old is being told she’s fat and should kill herself on social media, anxiety and self-esteem issues are apparent.
The Pressure to be Perfect
Not only did the girls need to learn their dances super-fast, but they were expected to perform them flawlessly. These kids endured hectic schedules, dealt with their mom’s drama, and still managed to perform on stage. Abby prides herself on training professionals, but sometimes she doesn’t realize is that they are just kids.
Abby’s motto was “second is the first to lose,” and she only wants winners on her team. She called students dumb and stupid and got even more upset when they cried. It’s like she doesn’t realize that little kids are sensitive, and her other favorite phrase is “save your tears for the pillow.” Maddie admitted that she cried a lot in the earlier seasons, and she was pressured to dance even when she was sick.
As I mentioned, Dance Mom wasn’t supposed to be a reality show. Originally they were just going to follow a few dancers who attended the ALDC. Abby Lee Miller wasn’t supposed to be the star because she didn’t teach them. The show was obviously filmed at her studio, and after the producers saw how crazy she went in the first episode, they wanted her to be their main teacher.
Despite attending the ALDC for years, the girls still had to audition for season one. They had to send in videos, like a casting call. In season 2, Kendall joined the team, and throughout the years, girls from other studios have been in and out. But Cathy from Candy Apples Dance Studio was the first person to be cast on the show (before Abby or Maddie).
Abby Wasn’t Always There
As we know, Abby Lee owned the dance studio, but she didn’t teach the team until the show started. Watching the show, it looks like Abby is ALWAYS at the studio. She even woke up there in a few episodes. Well, according to Dance Moms, Jill, Christie, and Kira, Abby was barely even there.
Kira said: “The way they edited the show; it looks like Abby was always there. We would sit for hours waiting for her to come out and do a pyramid.” This was way more apparent in the later seasons. Once the team moved to LA, Abby had legal issues and couldn’t completely focus on the team. We saw this play out in several episodes on season 6.
The mothers barely made any money on season one. The entertaining moms are obviously the reason Dance Moms is so successful. That’s why it’s a little surprising to find out that they barely got paid for season one. During an interview, Christie revealed that she only made $600 for season one. “And the kids didn’t get a paycheck,” Jill added. “We had to split it.”
Those talented, hard-working little girls got ripped off. Thankfully, their paychecks increased throughout the years, and by season 5, the moms and the girls reportedly got paid $2,000 per episode each. That is quite the raise! By then, the dancers were stars, and they certainly deserved it.
Chloe Wouldn’t Sign a Contract.
If you watch Dance Moms at all, you know Christi Lukasiak and Abby Lee Miller did not get along. Unfortunately, Abby let out her frustrations with her daughter, Chloe. In one episode, Abby doesn’t even call Chloe by her name and refers to her as “blondie” or “the girl,” it was uncomfortable to watch. Despite everything, Chloe ultimately got kicked out because she wouldn’t sign the contract.
It was shocking to hear the contract tried to control these kid’s weight and appearance. Her mom refused to sign a piece of paper that doesn’t allow a growing and developing child to gain or lose 5-10 pounds. Chloe and Christi leaving was a long time coming, and their exit was sad and dramatic.
Chloe’s Shocking Return
Obviously, Chloe didn’t leave the ALDC on a happy note. It was sad to watch her go, but fans were happy that Chloe finally got away from Abby. She was doing her own thing, won a Teen Choice Award for Favorite Dancer, starred in a couple of movies, and was dancing at a brand new studio. That’s why everyone was beyond shocked when she returned in season 7.
Chloe admitted that she just wanted to dance with her friends again, and now that they weren’t with Abby, she was able to. “The weird thing was that it wasn’t weird… I was thrilled to be dancing with my friends again. I competed for a year without them, but it wasn’t the same.”
Abby Served Time
If you are Dance Moms fan, you know Abby Lee Miller went to prison for bankruptcy fraud. She was the villain everyone was rooting for… until she stole money from the government. Miller was indicted on 20 counts of fraud, including concealment of assets, falsifying bankruptcy documents, and bringing more than $100,000 of Australian money to the United States without declaring it.
Abby was sentenced to 366 days behind bars. She was released before her sentence was over, but sadly, she was diagnosed with cancer as soon as she got out. She battled the disease and seems to be doing better now. Unfortunately, she can’t walk, but a wheelchair doesn’t stop Abby Lee Miller. She returned to the show in season 8 and is still making dance stars.
The dance mom Kelly Hyland and Abby have a long history, starting with the fact that Abby taught Kelly dance when she was a kid. Apparently, as teenagers, they had the same boyfriend or something which was brought up several times throughout the series. But Kelly’s main issue with Abby at this point was how she treated her daughters.
All their unresolved issues ended with one of the most infamous Dance Moms moments. When Abby got in a heated argument with Kelly, the altercation turned physical. The world watched the fight happen on TV, and shortly after, Kelly was arrested on assault charges. It came as no surprise when Kelly announced that her daughters, Brooke and Paige, would not return the show.
Paige Sues Abby
Things didn’t end there, in October 2014, 13-year old Paige sued Abby for abuse. Paige had evidence in the form of footage from the show. In an episode of Dance Moms, you can see Abby throw a chair at her. Paige claimed that and other similar events led to her “panic attacks and extreme anxiety.
The judge did not see things that way. He said that there wasn’t enough proof that Paige was actually scared or abused by her teacher. In regards to the chair-throwing, the judge said it looked like Abby just threw the chair out of anger. According to him, she threw it in the room, not at her student. Eventually, the case was dismissed.
The Controversial “Showgirls” Episode
One of the public’s main concern with controversial shows like Dance Moms is that it inappropriately portrays young girls with provocative costumes. Abby is always quick to dismiss these claims stating that it’s the same as little girls innocently playing dress-up. However, there was one routine that took things a little too far.
First of all, the episode was called “Topless Showgirls.” Considering the girls were preteens, criticism came in from all over. The team performed a risque burlesque-style dance with big fluffy feathers covering their flesh-toned tights and bra tops, giving the illusion that they were topless. Lifetime aired the episode once, but never again after all the backlash.
The dance moms don’t go to drastic measures when it comes to the appearance of their young dancers. No cosmetic surgeries, fake tans, starvation, or anything of that nature. But that doesn’t mean none of the moms helped their kids with questionable physical transformations. Jojo’s mom, Jessalyn Siwa, admitted that her daughter is a natural brunette.
Yea, Jojo’s signature blonde locks are bleached! Routine bleaching is damaging for adult hair, but experts agree that bleaching or even dying prepubescent children’s hair can lead to long-term and possibly permanent hair damage and potential scalp injury. It seems unnecessary if you ask me. It’s not like all of Abby’s dancers were blonde- most had brown hair.
Abby has been open about how frustrated she is with the producers of Dance Moms. She said the costumes and dances are all her ideas, and she deserves the credit. Even though she says producers don’t credit her for doing most of the work, she also complained about the creative interference the producers were responsible for.
Abby has stated on multiple occasions that she has no control over most of the performances. The dance teacher said the Lifetime producers force horrible themes and music for the dancer’s routines. This leaves Abby no choice but to make the best of what the producers want. So does she really want creative credit for the dances that weren’t even her idea?
Kalani’s Solo Didn’t Fit the Storyline
As we know, producers instigate situations and use editing to make the mothers look jealous and dramatic. It makes for good TV. Unfortunately, Kalani Hilliker got caught in the crossfire. The dancer was disappointed when one of her solo’s want going to be aired. In the “plot” for the episode, they deliberately didn’t mention her solo and made it look like Nia, a different dancer, got it instead.
In reality, both girls had a solo that week for the Nationals Dance Competition. We know they exaggerate storylines, but this episode was so far from the truth. I guess the producers couldn’t stir up drama, so they basically made up an episode. To make their story believable, they left Kalani’s solo out.
The Truth About the Pyramid
We mentioned the Pyramid, an aspect of the show that has been criticized for years. It is basically a way for Abby to rank and compare the dancers. She degrades each one in detail using pictures so that everyone knows where they stand on the pyramid. If you know anything about Abby, it sounds like something she would do.
As it turns out, the pyramid wasn’t Abby’s idea at all and was invented for the show. Comparing the students obviously adds fuel to the mama drama. The producers thought the pyramid was essential to instigate fights and cause jealousy between the girls and their parents. Abby said she didn’t agree with it but did it because she was told to.
Abby has a team of winners! We watch them winning week after week at almost every competition they attend… or do they? It’s been reported that this aspect of the show is allegedly faked, shady and deceitful- specifically the award ceremonies. Allegedly there are two versions of the competitions, the real version, and the TV version.
The TV version doesn’t mean just mean better lighting and audio-it’s literally a completely different ceremony, often with different winners. Lifetime arranges for the fictionalized versions to have a more scripted outcome- making Abby’s favorites look better. After the cameras are out of the way, the real award ceremony takes place. I wonder how many competitions were faked! I feel tricked!
Sometimes, the truth about Dance Moms can get pretty dark. Back in 2015, the post office near the ALDC noticed five suspicious-looking packages addressed to the studio for Jojo Siwa. The postal employees called in a bomb squad. There were no explosives inside, but what they found was even more disturbing.
They discovered that a 36-year-old man sent Jojo inappropriate items of an obscene nature, and it was enough to get him arrested. Sending explicit material to a minor is a crime. The man spoke about the dancers on YouTube and got a disturbing tattoo of Jojo on his body. Thankfully the stalker was sentenced to three years behind bars. This wasn’t his first offense; this man was previously sent to a mental institution for having violent fantasies about Lindsay Lohan.
Maddie Loves Sia
Maddie Ziegler was known as Abby’s favorite and was unquestionably the breakout star of the show. Her big break came when she was asked by Sia to star in her music video for the song Chandelier. Maddie basically portrayed a character based on a young version of Sia. She continued to play this role in several Sia music videos throughout the years.
Her most controversial Sia music video was for Elastic Hearts. Maddie, who was 12 years old at the time, danced alongside Shia LaBeouf- a grown adult. Most people looked at it as art, while others had their own opinions. Maddie didn’t let the haters bother her and continued to appear in music videos for Sia. She even went on tour with the singer and danced for her in various live performances.
Maddie Conveniently Forgot About Abby
Sia had such a powerful effect on Maddie’s career that she gave the singer a significant amount of credit in her tell-all book. Maddie described Sia as her guide and mentor, and she didn’t mention Abby Lee Miller in that light even once. She alluded to her dance teacher when she wrote about people who didn’t always want the best for her.
Maddie made a conscious decision not to refer to her former dance teacher by name. Say what you want about Abby, but she trained her. It was obvious that Maddie was Abby’s favorite, and you can’t deny she helped Maddie become a star. What happened between the two is unclear, but their relationship soured after Maddie’s book came out.
Reality Show Contracts
One of the main things viewers don’t understand about Dance Moms is if the moms hate Abby so much, why don’t they take their kids and leave? Well, it’s not so simple because they are contractually obligated to be a part of the show. When explaining why she didn’t leave, Christi Lukasiak said, “right now, we are under a contract with Lifetime.”
She was reportedly locked in for six seasons but ultimately managed to leave a little early. Christi went on to say, “Kelly [Hyland] and I have tried to leave a million times… I was just so fed up with the show and the way the girls are treated by producers.” It should be noted, the contracts with Lifetime are separate from the contracts Abby makes her students sign.
Not Everyone is a Real Member
In season four of Dance Moms. Kalani Hilliker was deemed as an official member of the Abby Lee Dance Company. But she was reportedly not really part of the elite group. She impressed Abby during Abby Lee’s Ultimate Dance Competition, and Miller wanted to showcase her talent. Kalani is from Arizona and trains with a studio called Club Dance.
Maddie revealed in an interview that Kalani only performed with the team during filming with the show. Ziegler said, “She doesn’t really go to the studio. My group is with Nia, Chloe, and Kendall.” Melissa Ziegler-Gisoni said Makenzie wasn’t even part of their group. Mackenzie admitted that she doesn’t actually dance with them. “I dance with a different group, so it’s really different.”
Kira’s Criminal Past
In an episode of Dance Moms, Kalani’s mom Kira Girard was accused of having a criminal record. The most shocking season 5 allegations were supported by some court documents revealing the dance mom’s past. According to the records, Kira Girard- known as Kira Salazar at the time, was involved in a fraud scheme back in 2005.
Basically, Kira was pretending to be sell HD televisions on eBay. She instructed buyers to send her the money, but they never got their TVs. The claims against her added up to $15,525. She initially denied it and blamed her boyfriend. However, when video footage of her depositing check surfaced, she pleaded guilty. She paid $6,000 in fine and two years of probation. She got off easy If you ask me.
Even Abby Lee Miller admitted that the show is not scripted, but some aspects are staged. “Well, they do things. But the outcome is real… we have to put a routine on the stage. We are doing the choreography. My staff and I are in the trenches working. So you have camera people and the sound people and the mothers fighting… it’s all just ridiculous when we’re actually going to put a routine on stage,” Abby explained.
She went on to say that producers “cooked up” scenes, and only some of the cast members knew what was going on- causing more tension and fighting. We have seen Abby get mad at the producers on more than one occasion. At least now we know where her frustrations stem from.