Set in Pittsburgh, Dance Moms follows the Abby Lee Dance Company's Elite Competition Dance Team of young girls aged 8 to 15 as they travel week-to-week to various competitions in hopes of a national title. Much of the program is focused on the mothers of the dancers as they both encourage their daughter's careers as dancers and rival the other dancers' mothers. Later in the program, Candy Apple's Dance Studio was introduced as a rival dance company.
Every week on the show, Abby uses a pyramid scheme to show the moms and the dancers who she feels did the best in her eyes, and who needs to improve. Miller had never used a pyramid In her studio prior to Dance Moms, and when asked about the pyramid Miller stated in an interview, "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." The pyramid changes every week, and it has been reflected that the moms' behavior often affects the girls' placement on the pyramid.
Melissa Ziegler Gisoni is the mother of Maddie, a dancer trained in all genres winning awards in lyrical dance, contemporary dance, jazz dance, and tap dance. Gisoni's other daughter, Mackenzie, is the youngest dancer trained in all genres winning awards acrobatic dance. Gisoni is often teased by the other mothers for being a "suck up" to Abby to get her daughters ahead and better their dance development, simply because of their close relationship.
Christi Lukasiak is the mother of Chloe, a dancer trained in all genres, winning awards in contemporary dance, musical theater, lyrical dance, and ballet, and whose awards and abilities are often compared to that of Maddie's. Lukasiak is characterized as being outspoken and strongly opinionated, and is said to be protective of all the girls under Miller's wing. Lukasiak also has a younger daughter, Clara, who also dances with RDP, but does not appear regularly on the show.
Kelly Hyland is the mother of Brooke, the eldest dancer trained in all genres, best known for her award winning dances with acrobatic ability and contortionist-like movements. Hyland's other daughter Paige is a dancer trained in all genres, winning awards in acrobatic dance and jazz danceand enjoys musical theater numbers. Hyland has a son named Josh, who used to perform with his sisters, but has since quit dance. Hyland herself is a former MLDS student and has had a long, love-hate relationship with Miller, which often challenges her daughters' positions on the team.
Holly Frazier is the mother of Nia, a dancer trained in all genres, winning awards in jazz dance and enjoys acrobatic dance. Frazier is a former educator and is the most rational mother about Miller's teaching technique. Fraizer has voiced concern with Miller about Nia dancing ethnic dance routines. Although a member of the competitive team, Fraizer has argued that she would rather her children be well-rounded and good-spirited than a success and unhappy. Frazier also has two sons, who are not on the show.
Jill Vertes is the mother of Kendall, a dancer trained in all genres winning awards in contemporary dance, acrobatic dance, and jazz dance and who's growing abilities are being compared to that of Chloe and Maddie. Vertes is noted as a "studio hopper" having had membership at Studio 19 Dance Complex prior to joining the ALDC and then spending an interim with Candy Apple's Dance Company. Vertes also has two older daughters, Charlotte and Ryleigh, who also dance on the ALDC Senior Line, but do not appear on the show.
Leslie Ackerman is the mother of Payton, a dancer trained in all genres who is used as a swing when Brooke quit(s). Although a Senior Dancer, Ackerman argues Payton's irregular position on the team as the Elite Team gets more opportunities to perform. Miller explains that Payton was initially denied membership to the Elite team because her height made blocking difficult.
Cathy Nesbitt-Stein is the mother of Vivi-Anne, a dancer who now studies dance at Candy Apple's Dance Studio. Prior to joining the ALDC, Stein was and continues to be the owner of CADS and manages its competitive dance team, a self-declared "threat" to the ALDC; however, Vivi-Anne is not a member of this team.
Kristie Ray is the mother of Asia, a dancer who now dances back at home in Southern California. While a member of the ALDC, Asia was the main competition against Mackenzie, and had won eight awards for the ALDC in jazz dance in season 3 before returning home. Prior to joining the ALDC, Asia was a contestant on the first season of Abby's Ultimate Dance Competition. Ray cites the bickering amongst the mothers and better opportunities for Asia contributed to their departure from ALDC.
Jackie Lucia is the mother of Sophia, a dancer who now dance back at home in Southern California. Sophia was a replacement dancer for the ALDC Elite Competition Team, while the original mothers chose to sit out the start of the dance season in season 3, but continued her membership when the original mothers resigned their contracts. While a member of the ALDC, Sophia was a supposed "threat" for the top spot against Maddie, and had won two awards in jazz dance in season 3 before returning home. Lucia cites the bickering amongst the mothers contributed to their departure from ALDC.
Shelly Serigne, Gloria Hampton, and Marcia Hoffheins are the mothers of Ally, Kaeli, and Bella (respectively). They were the replacement dancers for the ALDC Elite Competition Team while the original mothers chose to sit out the start of the dance season in season 3. While members of the ALDC, the girls participated in one competition before returning home. Ally wins a solo award in lyrical dance, and the other mothers attempt to register solos unbeknownst to Miller. Miller cites poor team sportsmanship contributed to their departure.
Kaya Morris-Wiley is the mother of Nicaya, a dancer who now dances back home in Missouri. After meeting Miller during the annual recital, Nicaya was invited to participate in one competition as her audition to ALDC, but was declined membership citing Wiley's boisterous behavior. Nicaya, later, spends an interim dancing with Candy Apples.