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Exclusive: Abby Lee Miller talks about 'Dance Moms' some more


By Elizabeth Kwiatkowski, 10/14/2011 

Dance Moms proved to be one of the summer's most talked about new reality series after it premiered on Lifetime this summer.

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Starring Pittsburgh-area dance studio owner Abby Lee Miller and a group of her dance students and their mothers, the series gave viewers a look into the behind-the-scenes drama that happens in a competitive dance studio.

On Tuesday, Abby Lee Miller talked to Reality TV World about the first season of the show, which concluded this week but will return for a second season next year.

Below is the remainder of our interview with Abby Lee Miller in which the outspoken dance teacher and studio owner shares her thoughts on several subjects -- including whether the show will feature the same cast next season, how she feels about the possibility of Cathy returning, what went into the process of picking out costumes and choreography for the girls, whether she was aware of Christi's jealousy with Maddie before the show began filming, and how much she said she controls her instructors' teaching methods.

Click here to read the first portion of our exclusive interview with Abby Lee Miller.

Reality TV World: Do you think the editing of Dance Moms has portrayed you and your interaction with the students accurately or no?

Abby Lee Miller: Well, my alumni say, "Why didn't they do this show 20 years ago when I was really mean?" (Laughs)

Reality TV World: (Laughs) How much turnover do you normally have on your competition team and is it always the same size? Are you expecting all the girls who were part of the team for Season 1 to return for Season 2?

Abby Lee Miller: Yes. I don't [have] too much turnover. Where you get in trouble is when kids aren't the star and they want to be and they can't handle -- people leave for two reasons: they can't afford it or they can't cut the mustard.

And it doesn't matter if they say, "Oh Abby was mean to me or another teacher," or "It's too far to travel," or whatever their excuse is, when you boil it down and push comes to shove -- even if they didn't have the money or they weren't good enough -- if they were good enough, somehow, they'd come up with the money.

And my classes are extremely reasonable. I mean, I'm as cheap as a babysitter. It's down to like, I think, only $2.50 or $2.75 an hour to take from me.

Reality TV World: Do you think the reality show will improve your competition team next year in that maybe you have gained more interest from stronger students and have a more talented selection of dancers joining?

Abby Lee Miller: I would hope so, but I don't know if the show -- they don't seem to want that. They want the same kids.

Reality TV World: The show showed Maddie's father blaming his divorce on dance and pledging to do everything he can to not have his daughter return to your studio for the new year. Are you concerned or worried about that?

Abby Lee Miller: Maddie left California when we were finished shooting. She left California at the end of the shoot on a Wednesday. The next day, Thursday at 9:30AM, she was in ballet class at my studio and hasn't missed a lesson since. So, I don't put too much...

Reality TV World: ... concern into that?

Abby Lee Miller: Not at all.

Reality TV World: In regards to Cathy, the idea that one dance studio owner would decide to take her own child to another dance studio some distance away seemed odd to viewers. Is that normal in the dance industry, and why do you think Cathy came to your studio to begin with? Do you find that suspicious?

Abby Lee Miller: I don't know if it's normal or not normal, but I will tell you in the past that I have taught several other dance teachers' own children. It's difficult to teach your own child, especially if you're the only child or it's a mother-daughter situation where the daughter becomes a teenager.

I think sometimes the parents, even though they might own a successful studio, they're like, "You know what? We're just going to take you somewhere else and have somebody else yell at you." Because the child won't be disrespectful to me, but they are to the parents.

So, to sum that up, I have taught many other people's children who own studios. So, that isn't very odd to me. The other thing is, a dance teacher at another studio can get in trouble for pushing their own child.

When their child is in the front and the middle of everything, the other customers feel like, "We don't have a shot in hell here. The dance teacher's daughter is going to win everything all the time. Our kids are never going to get a fair shot."

So that's another reason they'll take their child elsewhere -- so they can build their own business. So was I suspicious of Cathy? Having known Cathy previous to the show and knowing Vivi-Anne and her level, I was not suspicious. I thought that she wanted the child to learn more about acrobatics and Cathy really isn't an official on acrobatic work.

The child has a flexible back and flexible legs, so I thought that was her game. I also thought that if I was sitting upstairs in my studio watching, that she would be stealing some of my teaching techniques and so forth and so on, but she really didn't. She was never even here. She was always out to lunch or right around here shopping or doing this and doing that.

Reality TV World: Do you expect Cathy to be part of the second season and have sort of her own storyline since she was a big part of the first season but is now seems more focused on her own studio and not involved in yours anymore?

Abby Lee Miller: I would hope she would. I don't know what availability she's going to have or -- she has either like a partner or an assistant,  that she's in business with, I believe... I don't know if the girl's expecting -- I don't know. I don't know how much she's needed there, how much freedom she has to drive here, I have no idea. I hope that she'll be a part of it. She's definitely comic relief.

Reality TV World: This season showed a Broadway casting agent really being interested in Maddie and training your dancers to become professional seems to be what you're all about, so without meaning any offense, why isn't she working as a professional yet? Do you feel she's just not ready yet?

Abby Lee Miller: Well, she actually had to tell Billy Elliot she was unavailable because of the television show. So, she would be working. That's for the tour that's closing. The Broadway company of Billy Elliot is closing in January.

Reality TV World: Were you aware of the rivalry between Maddie and Chloe and Christi's resentment of Maddie's success and treatment, before filming?

Abby Lee Miller: Absolutely. As far as the girls go, they're the best of friends. Girls are going to be girls and that's one thing as a parent you need to learn -- to stay out of it, because if you jump in the middle of it, then those same kids are going to be best friends two weeks later and it was all for nothing.

So, you kind of have to let girls be girls and let them pick their own fights and their own battles. But when alcohol is involved and -- What do I want to say? -- language, inappropriate adult language, and a parent is that psychotic about somebody else's kid and believe me, Christi is nothing new. I've seen it before.

I could take you back 10 years, 20 years, 30 years -- I can name the mother and I can name the other kids. It's history repeating itself. People are just jealous. It's an ugly disease in the world.

Reality TV World: It was always a concern of Christi's that Chloe couldn't win in a competition if she was in the same category competing against Maddie, so there was one competition where you decided to not have Maddie perform. How much of your decision to not have Maddie perform in the competition was based on how you were sick of Christi's complaining, and how much on genuine dance competition reasons?

Abby Lee Miller: I don't know what I can say and what I can't say. When we do the show... First of all, I would never pull a kid from a competition because of someone else's mother complaining. Absolutely not. I don't care who it is. The reason that different children did not compete at certain events during the show -- and it happened more than the time you're talking about. It happened other times with different kids.

It was because when we did the first six shows -- when Lifetime started the show and we did the first six episodes -- then Lifetime, fortunately to our surprise, they ordered six more shows, but our summer [competition] season -- our summer nationals where we were attending had already been planned for my whole studio for my other kids.

So, some of the numbers that were going to compete at nationals, Maddie was in. So, she couldn't be on the show because we needed her somewhere else. Does that make sense?

And then there was another time where I gave Chloe the week off, so it was because Chloe had to be somewhere else that she committed to months before we got the show. But it was kind of like "the show must go on."

We were in the middle of our real lives thinking the show's going to be over, make your hotel reservations, pay your plane fare, you can do that for my whole entire studio and then the next thing you know, "Oh my God. We have six more shows. Uh oh. What happens when we already planned on these other events?"

So that's why we did the best we could to work around -- so as to not hurt my other students.

Reality TV World: How do you decide which girl gets what for a competition as far as costumes and new choreography? Kelly was shown complaining about that a lot this season.

Abby Lee Miller: Well yes, because once again, our season was kind of over and we had to scramble for all this. Seamstresses book up very quickly and they can only make so many costumes. Most of my seamstresses here in Pittsburgh are just one person.

It's not a factory, so to make those costumes -- We can't run down the street and buy fabric and make this, that and the other thing. We have to buy -- we have to go to New York or fly to LA and get all our stuff. 

Reality TV World: Do you offer scholarships at your studio or offer financial help to talented students who can't afford the lessons?

Abby Lee Miller: Actually, we offer scholarships yeah. They take on a discounted rate because we have scholarships -- We have one in my dad's name George L. Miller Scholarship and we have a [scholarship in the name of] one of my mom's former students. What I've done is every year these kids fill out their financial papers and blah, blah, blah. No one wants to do it.

It's almost like embarrassing. So, what I do is give -- those are all for boys. So, I just give all boys a huge discount and then we also have another scholarship that we give for a girl. You have to fill out -- It's strictly on finances. It's not about talent. It's not like the most talented kids come in here free, absolutely not. It's strictly on necessity.

Reality TV World: How much of a hand do you have in your studio's instructors teaching styles? Do you require them to use the same stern taskmaster approach that you use with the competition team or do they work more independently and executive their own lessons how they see fit? 

Abby Lee Miller: Well, my ballet teachers yell way more than I do. That's number one. Sometimes I can hear him screaming like out at the front desk. Everyone has there own teaching tactics, but the ones that were raised here by me, pretty much teach the same -- with the same demeanor. I don't know. They're probably nice.

I've been told by parents that when I step into the room, that the whole ambiance of the room is different -- that it's much more serious when I walk in. But again, my name is on the front of the building and I think it goes back to the kids wanting to please me, you know? Everybody wants to be the best or the best in my eyes.

Reality TV World: When one of your girls did mess up during a competition, a mother would say you waited too long to give her the music or didn't spend enough time going over the routine during rehearsals. So when that happened, did you think it was more of a reflection on you and your studio or just on the girl herself because of her work ethic? 

Abby Lee Miller: Well, you know, when you're onstage and there's lights and music and a spotlight and judges in front of you and a tabulator with papers and kids running up and down the aisles and it's not like going to see a Broadway show where everybody pays a hundred bucks a ticket and nobody's moving and nobody's talking.

At some of these dance competitions, the audience and parents really need to take an etiquette class in theater, because they are so disruptive. So, anything can throw you off. Anybody can be thrown off. What happened in the particular case of Paige, she missed her back tuck. It was low. Her hand touched the floor.

So immediately when she stood up from that, she looked at those judges and thought, "I just blew this." Then, about 16 counts later, she forgets her dance. Unbeknownst to the worldwide audience or viewers that we have, that is the same exact choreography that Paige learned in August. She had been doing that number for eight months and forgot it -- seven months at that point, seven months.

So, it had nothing to do with getting the music the night before and you can see in the episode if you watch it again that Melissa was trying to download the music. It wasn't Abby Lee Miller picking the music.

We have to use music that we can use the right to for the television show, and so we gave them the original music, and they were finding something that sounded like it that we could have the rights to. And that's what happened.

But once again, I train my students, "You just keep dancing. You just keep going. Nobody knows the choreography except the child and myself or the teacher." The judges don't know. She could have just strutted around and kept dancing and picked it back up, and the show must go on. That's what you do.

If a child is injured, they have a splinter in their foot or cut their hand on something on the floor, I've always told them to just dance off. And then when the sound guy sees them exiting the show, he will automatically shut off that music so they're not standing there like an idiot.

Reality TV World: Do you encourage your dancers' mothers to work with the kids at home a lot on their dances or do you fear their help might interfere with or contradict your prior instruction?

Abby Lee Miller: If they don't know anything about dance and they take the written notes that I've had them take during the child's private and read them to them at home verbatim, then it's definitely helpful to the child to rehearse with their parents at home.

If the parent pretends to know something about dance, and dances themselves and adds in their own little personal corrections other than the notes I had them take, then I feel that it's a hindrance -- that it's definitely a step in the wrong direction.


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