The many, many fans of 'Dance Moms' are today reeling from the news that one of Abby Lee Miller's star pupils Chloe Lukasiak will not be returning to now famous dance studio, with Chloe's mother Christi making it clear in a series of tweets where she puts the blame - apparently "'she' crossed the line. #bully."
This follows a high-profile court case in which another of Abby's pupils, Paige Hyland, is suing her former teacher for assault, including claims that that she would "pinch dancers until they bled” and attack pupils for being emotionally weak. Abby has said only, "There are two sides to every story."
Jennifer Lawrence recently called 'Dance Moms' one of her greatest TV pleasures. Turns out the Oscar winner’s not alone, with nearly two million US cable viewers regularly tuning in to watch the indomitable Abby Lee Miller coax, comfort, cajole and, if all else fails, stare her young pupils into performing to the best of their abilities, often disagreeing violently with the young tots' mothers about the best way to handle them. And now British viewers will get the benefit, with Abby joining Jennifer Ellison for our own home-grown version, 'Dance Mums'.
When HuffPostUK sat down with the tireless TV phenomenon on her recent visit to the UK, she was unapologetic about the tough love she gives her pupils, believing them to be crucial life lessons. She also pointed out the show was edited to heighten the sense of conflict.
“What you don’t see on the show is the laughter,” she says. “The kids and I are united, and we’re laughing all the time at the producers. You don’t see the fun.
“I have spent the greater part of my life in a hotel room with seven or eight kids, looking after everyone, sorting out fights, wiping noses, handing out towels, not having a clean towel left for me. The only difference… now I have my own room and my own towel."
Of her perceived meanness as seen on the hit show, she refers to her previous students who’ve gone on to be professional dancers.
“Those kids on Broadway, ask them,” she tells me. “They’ll say, ‘Why didn’t you do a TV show 20/30 years ago when you were really mean?’
“This is me softened up, because now these kids have cell phones and they can text their parents and tell them what I said. Before, I was really mean at 4.30pm, 5.30pm, but at 8.30pm, I’d say something nice so that was the last thing they remembered when they got in the car and went home.”
One of the aspects of the show that has millions watching, often through their fingers or in guilty delight, is the sight of a miniature princess brought down a peg or three, and bursting into tears, as little girls are wont to do. It turns Abby isn’t faking her tyranny for the cameras. She genuinely has no patience for this.
“Cry if you have a compound fracture, by all means,” she tells me. “Or if your grandpa died. But otherwise, save it for your pillow. If your mom cries a lot, you probably cry a lot. It’s what you learn.
“But, in an audition setting, if the girl next to you won and they’re putting a crown on her head, it just makes you look like a poor loser, a brat, and that I don’t put up with. Suck it up, smile, because maybe three of those five judges had you as the winner. They’re going to see you again in two weeks at another competition. And nobody wants to see a brat. So suck it up.”
After teaching dance for more than three decades, Abby’s life changed dramatically when she and her dancer friend realised what was missing from the fellow TV phenomenon, ‘So You Think You Can Dance’. She explains, “No dance teachers get mentioned on the show. How did these kids get to this point, where are the moms and dads, where’s the teacher? These kids spend more time at the dance studio than they do with their families. They’re missing all of that.
“And my friend John came with me on tour. He can remember the moms – drunk, broke and lying by the pool. But the kids were in the studio, and he told me, ‘they’re like little cupcakes, and he said ‘these kids have to be on television.’ So we got planning.”
It’s clear that Abby’s influence, and her opinions, transcend any technical lessons she might impart on the dance floor.
She remembers a young Britney Spears turning up one time, the pupil of a friend of hers, and muses on Britney’s rollercoaster existence since.
“Britney Spears was an incredible dancer. That kid was amazing. Her mum and dad slept in the car outside the studio because they didn’t have gas money to go back and forth.
“I believe that, had they let her stay married to the very first guy that was from high school that she married in Vegas that night, things would have been fine. She should have stayed married to him, because he was from her home town, he had values, he didn’t have money, he wasn’t successful, she would have been fine.
“It’s the men. It’s the hot guys that mess her up.”
It is clear, on talking with her, that Abby’s heart is far fuller for the pupils left in her care, than it is for the mothers, something she acknowledges readily.
“I think their world crumbles when their mums open their mouths. Doesn’t everyone blame the mother? Isn’t that how it works?
“If the parents really trust me, and say make them the best they can be, it works.. If you let me do my job, do it. If not, go somewhere else.”
Abby, who is unmarried and without children of her own, allows herself just one evening off a week – “the local movie theatre for an hour and a half where I can escape into someone else’s story” – and obviously demands just as much of herself as the children in her care. She’s now due to host a spin-off show called ‘Abby’s Studio Rescue’, her book is in its fourth edition, and she’s determined to get her own show on stage.
“I wanted the red carpet for my kids, the Emmys, the Oscars. One of my pupils told a reporter, and she said it best, ‘Everything she wanted for all of us, has happened to her.’”
'Dance Mums' With Jennifer Ellison starts tonight at 9pm on Lifetime.