Primarily set in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Dance Moms follows the Abby Lee Dance Company's Junior Elite Competition Team of mostly preteen girls as they travel week-to-week to various dance competitions, winning awards and preparing for Nationals...while at the same time being prepared by Miller to be "professional, employable working dancers." The series depicts the doting mothers as rivals of each other on behalf of their own daughters, sometimes closing ranks against rival teams. Dance performances are creatively conceptualized by Miller with input from the show's producers, while choreography is done by Miller, her staff, and occasionally a guest choreographer. Various rival dance teams spur the team's competitiveness. The show's success is often credited to the drama and conflict among Miller and the moms, along with the weekly dances and the close relationships among the girls as viewers watch them grow up and improve their skills.
The show features Abby Lee Miller as a strict dance team coach who, over the series, relies more and more on criticism, sometimes personal, to motivate the girls, with an emphasis on hard work and competition against fellow teammates. Every week on the show, Miller uses a pyramid of individual headshots and gives feedback to each girl about their ranking, previous week's performance, attitude, effort, and the behavior of the girl herself and her mother. Miller had never used a pyramid in her studio prior to Dance Moms, and when once asked about the it, Miller stated, "I've never done that in my life. That has nothing to do with me. That's the show; they came up with that whole process."
In Season 5, Miller relocated the team to Los Angeles to help build her reputation on the west coast, and while the team continued weekly competitions, the focus shifts somewhat to include preparation for acting and music business careers. On the season-5-ending reunion episode, filmed June 2, 2015 and broadcast Aug. 18, 2015, Miller hinted that she might dismantle the Junior Elite Competition Team for Season 6 as most of the girls have aged out of the Junior category.
Dance Moms at the May 2015 opening of ALDC-LA in Los Angeles, Season 5. From left: Holly Hatcher-Frazier, Kira Girard, Melissa Gisoni, Jill Vertes and Jessalynn Siwa.
Abby Lee Miller is the director of Reign Dance Productions (formerly Maryen Lorrain Dance Studio), which houses the Abby Lee Dance Company, of which she is owner and chief choreographer.
Gianna Martello is an instructor for RDP specializing in all genres including lyrical, en pointe, and hip hop, and is also the assistant choreographer for the ALDC Junior Elite Competition team. Martello studied dance under Miller's tutelage through Reign Dance Productions.
Melissa Gisoni is the mother of Maddie, a lyrical/tap dancer, and Mackenzie, an acro/jazz dancer. Before dancing with the Junior Elite Competition Team, Gisoni's daughters studied dance at Miller's studio through Reign Dance Productions. They were original cast members of Dance Moms, continuing on the ALDC team/cast through Season 5, with Maddie being a lead dancer on the team.
Holly Frazier is the mother of Nia, a contemporary and acro/jazz dancer. Before dancing with the Junior Elite Competition Team, Frazier's daughter studied dance at Miller's studio through Reign Dance Productions. She was an original cast member of Dance Moms, continuing on the ALDC team/cast through Season 5.
Jill Vertes is the mother of Kendall, a lyrical and contemporary/jazz dancer. Before joining the ALDC and Miller's studio in season 2, Vertes' daughter studied dance at Rogers Dance in Pittsburgh and Studio 19 in Cranberry Township, PA. During Season 2, Kendall was portrayed as having switched teams (to the CADC) for several episodes, but she has been on the ALDC team/cast in Seasons 2-5.
Kira Girard is the mother of Kalani, a lyrical/contemporary dancer. Before joining the ALDC in season 4, Girard and her daughter appeared on season 2 of AUDC. After several weeks with the ALDC team in Season 4, she was a team/cast member of the ALDC in Season 5. When not appearing on Dance Moms, Kalani competes and trains at Club Dance in Phoenix, AZ.
Jessalynn Siwa is the mother of JoJo, a jazz/contemporary dancer. Before joining the ALDC in season 5, Siwa and her daughter appeared on season 2 of AUDC. JoJo was a team/cast member of the ALDC through Season 5. When not appearing on Dance Moms, JoJo competes and trains at her mother's dance studio in Omaha, NE.
Kelly Hyland is the mother of sisters Brooke, a teen acro/lyrical dancer, and Paige, an acro/musical theatre/jazz dancer. Before dancing with the Junior Elite Competition Team, Hyland's daughters had studied dance at Miller's studio through Reign Dance Productions since age 2 and 5. Kelly and her daughters were original cast members and appeared in Seasons 1-4. Since leaving halfway through Season 4 (in November 2013), Paige and Brooke stay in touch with fans through videos on Youtube, public appearances (sometimes with the Lukasiaks), and social media.
Christi Lukasiak is the mother of Chloe, a musical theatre, contemporary, and ballet dancer. Before dancing with the Junior Elite Competition Team, Lukasiak's daughter had studied dance at Miller's studio through Reign Dance Productions since age 2. Featured as one of the lead dancers in Seasons 1-4, Chloe left the show/team at the end of Season 4 (in July 2014). Since then, Chloe has begun assisting at dance conventions, modeling, and auditioning for acting roles. She has continued her dance training and competing at Studio 19 in Cranberry Township, PA, concentrating on hip hop, jazz and acro. Chloe also keeps in touch with fans through frequent videos on Youtube, public appearances, and social media. Chloe recently beat Maddie for both Teen Choice Dancer and Favorite Dancer Under 17
Cathy Nesbitt-Stein is the mother of Vivi-Anne, a young dancer who joined the ALDC for most of Season 1. Before dancing with the Junior Elite Competition Team, Vivi-Anne was a student and team member at Candy Apples Dance Studio, where she continued her dance training after leaving the team/show. Cathy and Vivi-Anne continued to appear occasionally in Seasons 2-5 of Dance Moms. (Also see "Rival Studios" below).
Candy Apples Dance Center (Canton, Ohio) Owned and operated by Cathy Nesbitt-Stein, the mother of Vivi-Anne, who danced with the ALDC in season 1. The CADC has been the main rival for the ALDC throughout the five seasons of televised competitions. Over the five seasons of Dance Moms, show producers added several dancers who were well-known in the dance competition world and/or had auditioned for Dance Moms in the past, making the "Candy Apples" a team that existed only for television (the real-life Candy Apples team ceased to be featured on the show). Partway through Season 5, the CADC was completely recast (see below).
Studio Bleu Dance Center (Ashburn, Virginia) Coached by Gloria Hampton, the mother of Kaeli, who danced with the ALDC as a guest team member briefly in season 3. Studio Bleu's competition team, which the ALDC competed against several times, was portrayed as a respected and formidable opponent in several episodes.
Murrieta Dance Project (Murrieta, California) Owned and operated by Erin Babbs, who has been an occasional guest choreographer for the CADC in seasons 4 and 5. MDP competed against the ALDC several times in Season 5.
Broadway Dance Academy (Fenton, Michigan) Owned and operated by Jeanette Cota, the mother of Ava, who guest starred as part of the ALDC "Select Team" in season 4. The real BDA team competed against the ALDC several times in Season 5 before leaving the show (except for Ava) to be replaced on the TV team by the four dancers from the former CADC team.
Candy Apples Dance Center (Season 5 version) Beginning with the start of Season 5.5, Jeanette Cota of Broadway Dance Academy, competed as "Candy Apples" (renamed the next week to BDA). This team (consisting of Huelsman, Wilkenson, Smith, Roth plus Ava Cota) won the Overall Group competition, handing the ALDC their first Nationals loss in the group overall category.
Several episodes featured controversial costume choices made by Miller, some of which were criticized by the moms, particularly Lukasiak and Frazier. Due to heavy criticism, the Season 2 episode "Topless Showgirls", which aired on March 6, 2012, has been removed from rotation. The episode features the young dancers performing a burlesque-style routine and wearing sequined, flesh-toned bra tops and tights in an effort to make them appear nude. Miller defends her costume choice saying, "Everyone in the industry knows the girls are completely covered and everything's harmless." Lifetime confirms pulling the episode on March 23, 2012. The episode is not included on the DVD.
On January 29, 2014, Miller announced that Kelly Hyland and her two daughters Brooke and Paige are no longer contracted with and will no longer appear on Dance Moms as stated on an appearance with The View (she also referred to another, unnamed, team/cast member, as no longer being one of her students and only coming to the studio for Dance Moms filming. It was later confirmed that she was referring to Chloe Lukasiak.) Hyland was arrested in early January on alleged assault charges after a dispute backstage at a dance competition held in New York City during filming for the show's fourth season in November 2013. Hyland appeared in court with Miller on January 21, 2014 and pleaded "not guilty" to charges of physical assault. Proceedings were to resume in March. At the hearing in March, without explanation, a Bronx County Supreme Court Judge again adjourned the hearing to May 5, 2014. Legal expert Rosemarie Arnold opined that because the episode aired on TV, Kelly Hyland's defense that the "smack down" was scripted was a viable defense. The episode featuring the incident between Hyland and Miller aired on February 11, 2014. After the final episode of Season 4, Christi and Chloe left "Dance Moms" because of continuing insults and dismissive treatment toward Chloe. In October 2014, then-13-year-old Paige Hyland sued Abby Lee Miller, but Paige's lawsuit was dismissed.
A sister program entitled "Abby's Ultimate Dance Competition" followed Miller and other dance professionals judging twelve young dancers aged 6–13 years on different styles of dance hoping to find the most versatile dancer of the group. The series premiered on October 9, 2012 and ran for two seasons.
In April 2014, it was announced that Miller would host another sister program entitled "Abby's Studio Rescue". The series chronicles Abby Lee Miller as she visits dance studios across the country to assist them by improving their choreography, studio decor, staff and other aspects. It premiered on June 24, 2014.
In July 2014, another spin-off titled "Raising Asia" starring Asia Monet Ray (a guest team member for several episodes of Season 3 of Dance Moms, was announced. The reality show followed Ray and her model mom alongside record-holding bodybuilder dad and younger sister Bella Blu, helping Asia reach dreams of fame in showbiz.