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'Dance Moms' tramples kids' esteem

July 27, 2011 - Erin O'Neill
If you have been unfortunate enough to tune into the train wreck that is the new Lifetime reality show, "Dance Moms," you no doubt witnessed the requisite screaming, catfighting pile of garbage that we consider "normal" entertainment these days.

I had seen the previews and I tuned in probably for the same reason as most others. I wanted to see just how crazy it was going to be. In that respect, it didn't disappoint. I view reality TV anymore as loosely scripted shock TV — TV designed to make you crane your neck at the carnage.

But I also tuned in because, I guess, in theory, I am a dance mom. My kid doesn't compete but dance classes have been a part of our lives for the past two seasons and we are ready to start our third. I researched the plethora of dance schools in the area and settled on Marietta Dance Academy. I have been super pleased with the instructors, the lessons my child is being taught about self worth, getting along and working with others, and allowing her creativity to blossom. The affordability factor also doesn't hurt. I mean, Amy Lee, the subject of "Dance Moms" charges $16,000 a year. How insane is that!?

Now I have no doubt that there are some crazy, "pageant mom"-types in the dance world, as portrayed in the show. I know there are divas everywhere, from the stage to the soccer field to the classroom. Thankfully, I haven't come across any - so far. Mostly they suffer from a lack of self-esteem and are living out their failed dreams through their children. Others - I count myself in this category - simply want their child to be well-rounded, to experience many different aspects in life to be able to make bigger life decisions down the road. At least that's what I tell myself. I keep promising myself that if my child shows she isn't the least bit interested in anything we try, I will let her move on to something else. Whether or not I stand by that is another story for another day.

Anyway, pushy dance moms aside (and the moms on the show actually step up to confront the teacher on several occasions), the real villainess is the owner and instructor, Abby Lee Miller. I guess she is world-renowned for producing superstars. Whatever. I couldn't care less about the woman and her claim to fame. In my view, she is a bully and abusive to the students and the parents who are footing the bill. Sure, the parents make the decision to send their kids there. That's totally on them. But to witness the way she treats the young girls, it literally made me sick to my stomach.

Since when is winning more important than building confidence and positive relationships? Why must girls be pitted against each other in a battle to "reign" supreme (no surprise, "reign dance" is the name of her company). I half expected to hear negative comments about the tween girls' weight but I guess Lifetime thought that would be going too far. Sure, everyone likes to excel at something and competition isn't necessarily a bad thing. But there are ways to positively encourage children to succeed. The most influential teachers I ever had were caring and nurturing. The ones who were pushy and mean, well they succeeded at nothing other than to make me resent them.

The "Dance Moms" show serves its purpose as shock-tainment, and, despite comments to the contrary, people will continue to tune in to see the horror show. And I will even give Abby Lee the benefit of the doubt to say the editors left big chunks of "reality" on the cutting room floor to elicit specific reactions. But the idea behind the show gives dance instructors and dance moms a bad name. As I have witnessed, the teacher-parent-child relationship is very important in any extracurricular or creative activity and is essential to growing a child who is secure in themselves.

I am grateful that my child has been able to experience the beauty and joyfulness of dance without all the drama. And if the day ever comes that the drama outweighs the benefits, my daughter and I will be tap dancing out the door.


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