DT on Dance Moms: The Pyramid Scheme

If you’re like us, you were thrilled to see that there would finally be a reality show about the world of competitive dancing—showing off the hard work, creative choreography and talented youngsters that make competitions and conventions so wonderful. Then came Dance Moms.


Lifetime’s new show didn’t exactly live up to our expectations. While there’s no question that Abby Lee Miller of Abby Lee Dance Studio in Pittsburgh, PA, turns out fabulous competitors, we have some concerns about her tactics—many of which, we are sure, were edited by producers for shock value. Each week, DT will speak up here about an issue that we find particularly pressing in the most recent episode. But please don’t let this be a one-sided conversation. What do you think about each episode? Do you like the way that competitive dance is being portrayed? Do you do things differently? We’ve started the discussion on our Facebook page. Keep it going!


This week’s issue: Casting


On the series premier, the children and their mothers were shocked to learn that Abby Lee had implemented a new casting system at her studio: the pyramid. Nothing starts drama quite as easily as ranking your students—one on top, two in the middle, and three on the very bottom.  


 “Everyone wants to be front and center, I hear it all the time,” says Abby Lee. “Whoever is in the front and center, they can’t make a mistake, they are holding that group together.” No pressure, right? And this week, it’s 9-year-old Maddie who gets that honor—along with all the dirty looks, rude comments and demand to be perfect that come along with it. Even her mom gets attitude from other moms based on Abby Lee’s decision. How can you avoid putting too much stress on one student? How can you make dancers feel important, even if they’re not in the lead role? Here are DT’s tips:


(Tips based on "The Politics of Casting" by Leigh Kamping-Carder.)


1. It helps to choose choreography that allows numerous students to play special roles. And, if you are performing a routine more than once, try having multiple casts to give more students the chance to shine.


2. Don’t play favorites. That may mean taking casting out of your hands and asking choreographers or neutral judges to make the hard decisions.


3. For those who miss out on the solos, explain why (maybe they failed to take extra classes or languished in the back of the classroom every week) and always encourage the hopefuls that the next competition may be their moment.


4. Make sure students completely understand the casting process. Be truthful about their abilities, but emphasize that dancers lose out on roles for countless reasons: lack of preparation, weakness in certain techniques, inexperience with auditions or simply not being suited to a role. Give them confidence in your objectivity.


5. Of course, even a fair and transparent casting process can make rivals of classmates. Minimize fallout by explaining to students the importance of always being kind and don’t stand for any snide comments that you may hear.


6. Ironically, it is often the parents who are angriest when that list of names goes up (enter Dance Moms). But it’s important to educate parents about the casting process as well. If you are truly being fair and not playing favorites, they will understand. Transparency and honest communication are the most important things when it comes to casting.


To end, we leave you with our favorite quote from this week’s episode: “Pink isn’t a color, but it is a way of life.” —Cathy (Vivi-Anne’s dance mom)

 And don’t forget to leave your comments on our Facebook page discussion board! 





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