Dance Moms is an American reality television series that debuted on Lifetime on July 13, 2011. Created by Collins Avenue Productions, the show follows the early training and careers of children in dance and show business under the tutelage of Abby Lee Miller (seasons 1-7) or Cheryl Burke (season 8), as well as the interactions of the instructor and the dancers with their sometimes bickering mothers.
Set in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Los Angeles, California, seasons 1-7 primarily filmed at the Abby Lee Dance Company studios.
Primarily set in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and later in Los Angeles, California, the first seven seasons follow 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 Abby Lee Miller to be "professional, employable working dancers." The series depicts the doting mothers as rivals of each other on behalf of their own daughters, often arguing with Miller and each other, and sometimes closing ranks against rival teams. Dance performances are creatively conceptualized by Miller and her dance instructors, 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 first seven seasons feature 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 teammates. Every week on the show, Miller uses a pyramid of individual headshots and gives feedback to each girl about her 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 has shifted somewhat to include preparation for acting and music business careers.
Dance Moms at the May 2015 opening of ALDC-LA in Santa Monica, California, 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 (ALDC), of which she is owner and chief choreographer. She left the show after season 7.
Gianna Martello is an instructor for RDP covering all genres of dance, and is also the assistant choreographer for the ALDC Junior Elite Competition team. Martello studied dance under Miller's tutelage through Reign Dance Productions.
Cheryl Burke will replace Miller as the dance instructor in season 8.
Melissa Gisoni is the mother of Maddie Ziegler, a lyrical/tap dancer and Mackenzie Ziegler, acro/jazz dancer and singer (under the stage name Mack Z). Maddie and Mackenzie studied dance at Miller's studio through Reign Dance Productions from the early ages of four and two respectively. They were original cast members of Dance Moms, and left after season 6.
Christi Lukasiak is the mother of Chloe Lukasiak, a contemporary and lyrical dancer. Chloe began dancing at Miller's studio at age two. They were original cast members of the show, but left the show after the Season 4 finale but later on returned to guest star for the Season 7 finale and Season 7B.
Kelly Hyland is the mother of Brooke Hyland, an acro dancer and Paige Hyland, a jazz dancer. Kelly was a dancer at Abby's mother's studio and was an ALDC dancer, but quit at age fourteen to become a cheerleader. Brooke and Paige were original cast members, but a physical altercation between Kelly and Abby occurred in the middle of Season 4, resulting in the Hylands leaving the show.
Holly Hatcher-Frazier, is the mother of Nia Frazier, a contemporary and acro/jazz dancer and singer (Nia Sioux). Nia had earlier 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 7. She is the only original cast member to still be on the show.
Jill Vertes is the mother of Kendall, a contemporary and jazz/lyrical dancer and aspiring popstar (Kendall K). Before joining the ALDC in season 2, Kendall 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 returned to the ALDC team/cast and continued through season 7. Besides Nia, she is one of the longest standing team members.
Kira Girard is the mother of Kalani Hilliker, a lyrical/ballet dancer. Before joining the ALDC in season 4, Kira and Kalani appeared on season 2 of Abby's Ultimate Dance Competition (AUDC). After several weeks with the ALDC team in season 4, she was made a permanent team member of the ALDC in season 5, and has continued through season 7.
Jessalynn Siwa is the mother of JoJo, a jazz/hip-hop and contemporary dancer. Before originally joining the ALDC as guests in season 5, Jessalynn and JoJo appeared on season 2 of AUDC. After several episodes as a guest dancer, JoJo was made a full-time team member, but left the show during Season 6.
Ashlee Allen is the mother of Brynn Rumfallo, a lyrical/acro dancer. Brynn had previously joined the team in Season 5 as a guest. Brynn trained at Club Dance Studio, Arizona, like her teammate Kalani. She was given the opportunity to be a full-time member of the team in the first episode of Season 6 and continued at the ALDC through season 7.
Cathy Nesbitt-Stein is the mother of Vivi-Anne, a musical theatre/tap dancer who joined the ALDC for most of season 1. Vivi-Anne was previously a student and team member at her mother's studio, Candy Apples Dance Centre, where she continued her dance training after leaving the team and show. Cathy and Vivi-Anne continued to appear occasionally in seasons 2–7 of Dance Moms. (Also see "Rival studios" below.)
Kristi Ray is the mother of Asia Monet Ray, a jazz/acro dancer and singer (Asia Monet). Asia first appeared on AUDC, where she was the youngest competitor from either season. Asia briefly danced with the Junior Elite Competition Team before leaving just before Nationals.
Candy Apples Dance Center (Canton, Ohio) is 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 for one week (see below).
Studio Bleu Dance Center (Ashburn, Virginia) is 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) is 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) is 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.
Beginning with the start of season 5.5, BDA competed as "Candy Apples" for one week after which they resumed using their actual name. This team (consisting of Huelsman, Wilkenson, Smith, Roth and 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 confirmed pulling the episode. The episode is not included on the season's DVD.
Kelly Hyland was arrested in early January 2014 on charges of assaulting Miller during 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". A hearing was scheduled for March but adjourned to May 5, 2014. Legal expert Rosemarie Arnold opined that because the episode aired on TV, Hyland's defense that the alleged assault was scripted was viable. On a January 29 appearance on The View, Miller announced that Hyland and her daughters Brooke and Paige are no longer contracted with and would no longer appear on Dance Moms. The episode featuring the incident between Hyland and Miller aired on February 11, 2014. After the final episode of season 4, Christi and Chloe Lukasiak also left "Dance Moms" because of continuing insults and dismissive treatment toward Chloe. In October 2014, then-13-year-old Paige Hyland sued Miller, but Hyland's lawsuit was dismissed.
On October 13, 2015, Abby Lee Miller was indicted in Pittsburgh on charges of concealing her income from her performances on the show in 2012 and 2013. She is charged with bankruptcy fraud, concealment of bankruptcy assets and false bankruptcy declarations in hiding some $755,000. In June 2016, Miller plead guilty to the charges, and entered a plea deal with the IRS. In May 2017, Miller was sentenced to one year and a day in prison, followed by two years of supervised release.
A spin-off series, Dance Moms: Miami, set in Miami, Florida, at Victor Smalley and Angel Armas' Stars Dance Studio, premiered on April 3, 2012, and was cancelled in September 2012.
A sister program titled 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 2014, Miller hosted another sister program titled Abby's Studio Rescue that followed Miller as she visited dance studios across the country to assist them to improve their choreography, studio decor, staff and other aspects. It premiered on June 24, 2014.
In July 2014, another spin-off titled Raising Asia starred Asia Monet Ray, a guest team member for several episodes of season 3 of Dance Moms. The show followed Ray, her model mom, bodybuilder dad and younger sister Bella Blu, helping Asia to pursue her dreams of fame in show business.
A British version of Dance Moms titled Dance Mums premiered on October 20, 2014 and ran for two seasons. Jennifer Ellison hosted the series, set at her Liverpool dance school, Jelli Studios.Dance Mums was produced by Shiver Productions.