dance moms: commentary from an ex-dancer, part two

tumblr_md8visMuvD1rr7dyxo1_500Ok, it’s that time again. Time for another Dance Moms commentary. I’m sorry I can’t help it. I know this blog is supposed to be about recovery, but every now and then, I like to mix things up a little bit. And I have something in mind to relate this back to eating disorders and recovery anyway. So, let’s talk Dance Moms.

Pictured above is Chloe Lukasiak. Clearly, she is my favorite little dancer on the show. She’s quiet, has a beautiful personality, is humble, and is a strong dancer. Abby treats her terribly. And it infuriates me. In the last episode, we saw her calling Chloe by everything but her own name. Hey girl. Blondie. It was terrible. My heart broke when I saw this poor child crying in her mothers arms, saying “she won’t even call me by my name.” Literally. I teared up. I know. There are a million things I can think of to invalidate my feelings, but I won’t go there. As a former dancer with a past of an abusive dance teacher or two, I know how this sweet angel felt. I know what it’s like to be ignored. I know what it’s like to receive negative attention. I know what it’s like to be emotionally abused. I could feel Chloe’s pain and not just because I’m a jaded, ex-ballerina. Along with my eating disorder comes an innate ability to sense and feel others’ emotions, both good and bad. It sucks sometimes, but it can also be a really powerful and beautiful thing.

I’ll be the first to admit that I have an unhealthy obsession with Dance Moms. But I’m happy to say I don’t watch it for the mom drama; I watch it to see the children dance. Some of them are really talented. And all of them seem like such sweet girls. But sometimes, a part of me feels guilty about loving it. After all, the Abby Lee Dance Company seems like a breeding ground for eating disorders. There’s the skimpy clothing. The pressure to look a certain way. The emotional abuse. The invalidating environment. The perfectionism. The self-worth-is-based-on-your-performance mentality. The you-are-what-you-do sense of identity. I’m not really worried about Maddie; everything seems to be in her favor. I’m not really worried about Brooke or Paige or Nia or Mackenzie. I’m a little worried about Kendall. But I’m way worried about Chloe. If I know anything about eating disorders, and I’d like to think that I do, I know that that sweet child has the temperament of someone likely to develop an ED. This past weekend at the Houston Eating Disorders Specialists Conference (new entry coming soon!), Craig Johnson, PhD from the Eating Recovery Center talked about the two eating disorder temperaments: turtles and hares. Chloe is a turtle. She’s introverted, competitive, perfecttionistic, shy, quiet, and easily startled. We all know what happens to turtles when they’re pushed too hard– they retreat into their shell. I can see this in Chloe. As I watch the horror unfold, I want to pull her out of that environment. She’s in dangerous waters but it’s difficult to navigate the situation. On the one hand, she loves dance, but on the other hand, that environment is toxic, and I can only imagine the years of therapy in her future and the damage it’s doing to her psyche. Seriously. I know it sounds like I’m being dramatic.Β It’s just a television show. But these are really people on the screen, with real issues.

I’m telling you. Chloe has a perfect storm brewing. I was in a similar situation to hers and look how I turned out. Let’s just hope she has enough protective factors going for her.

Now I will provide ED-unrelated commentary on the rest of the girls. I will be brief.

Next we have Maddie Ziegler. She’s the little star. I have to say, while she’s not my favorite, she is easily one of the best dancers, if not the best. Don’t get me wrong– I fucking love Chloe, and I prefer her technique over Maddie’s, but let’s be honest– Maddie is a star. I don’t mean to jump on the I love Maddie bandwagon, but you have to give the child some credit. I do think the other moms are jealous of her since Abby loves her so much. And you can’t hate on her for being the best, whether you like her less classical technique (as opposed to Chloe’s) or not. She can do the tricks. She can ace those a la seconde turns and any variation of a pirouette. She’s got her front ariel, her side ariel, and apparently, her standing back tuck. She’s a pretty little thing, if not a little full of herself. I’d say she’s my second favorite.

Attempting to follow in her older sister’s footsteps is Mackenzie Ziegler. Let’s be real; she’s not as talented as her older sister now or when her sister was her age, but this little one has majorly improved since season one. She’s still the baby of the group. Her little acro tricks are ariight. But that’s about all she can do. I wonder if her mother ever considered sticking her in gymnastics instead of dance…? Nothing more to say.

Next we have the Hyland sisters: Paige and Brooke. I grouped them together because there isn’t really much to say about them. I could probably say more about their mom, Kelly, who in the last episode we saw fighting with Chloe’s mom, Christi. A few fuck you’s were thrown in there to add some class. But back to Brooke and Paige. Paige is a bubbly little blonde girl. She’s an ok dancer. Like her older sister, her stronger suit is acro. She’s mainly a back up dancer. Then there’s Brooke. She’s the queen of acro; I’ll give her that. Watching her contort into the most painful poses makes my spine hurt. You can’t help but wonder what kind of back problems she has in her future. All that crunching of the spine?! Ouch. Let’s be clear, though: acro isn’t dancing. It’s just an offshoot, compilation of gymnastic tricks thrown into a dance for shock value. Sure, Brooke is great at acro, but I’d say her actual dancing is nothing to write home about. She’s not a prodigy, but she’s nowhere near terrible either. Also, you can’t help but wonder if this girl feels ridiculous being on a dance team with a bunch of kids 2-4 years her junior. Kelly is always complaining that Abby treats her kids like shit, but the only one who really gets treated like shit is Chloe. Let’s not exaggerate.

Here we have Nia Frazier. I’m sorry to say this, but compared to the others, her dancing is mediocre. Viewed in a vacuum, though, she is good for her age. What she lacks in talent, she makes up for in personality and kindness. Aside from Miss Chloe, Nia is probably the sweetest, most mature of the group. Her mother also wins the award for least delusional. As a dancer, Nia has greatly improved over the years.

Finally, we have Miss Kendall. After Chloe, she is probably the most picked on by Abby. She’s also not that awesome of a dancer, but she works hard and falls somewhere in the middle of the group as far as talent goes. I will say though, homegirl needs to learn to point her feet in those a la seconde turns– they’re flapping around out there like a parrot in a windstorm. There was a moment last season when Chloe got a solo instead of her, and she remarked, “she doesn’t deserve it.” That put her in my little black book. I know she’s young, but doesn’t she realize that what she says is going to be immortalized on television?!

And there you have it. You might have noticed that I left out crazy Cathy from Candy Apples Dance Center. That’s mostly because I have TOO MUCH I could say about her. She is bat shit cray cray. I wish she and her adopted-from-India daughter would just leave the show, but alas, I don’t think that’s anywhere in the near future. I will say she seems to be getting less delusional about her “daughter’s” talent or lack thereof. So at least she has one thing going for her.

13 thoughts on “dance moms: commentary from an ex-dancer, part two

  1. I will admit, I watch this show. i enjoy the dancing – the teacher, the mom’s – i can do without. I have been out of the dance world for quite some time – now 48 – danced from age 3 to 21 – and dancing was not like this – i was a classically trained ballet dancer, who had one goal and that was to dance with a professional ballet company, of which i was fortunate to do. I watch this show in amazement – I just watch and think of dear, oh my! :)

    I just found your blog and I am happy that i did, because I look forward to reading more. I was bulimic as a dancer, and honestly i still am. my dancing days bring back so many memories – wonderful and terrifying. But if i could do it all again, I wouldn’t.


  2. Found your blog via my Dance Moms googling. Am in the UK so have to rely on finding episodes (& commentary thereupon) lurking about on the interwebs. Absolutely agree with your take on Dance Moms. And also, sadly, think you are very right about Chloe: all that perfectionism, the desperation to please, the constant put-downs & negative comparisons… I just hope that if it came to that her mother would notice the start of it & get Chloe the appropriate help as soon as possible. I know so many people who’ve had their dance careers extinguished by their eating disorders & it is awful – especially the ones who’ve not managed to recover & move on but are instead just Stuck. Especially Older Women :(

    I’ve not actually explored your blog beyond the Dance Moms posts. However, I’ve been swinging between Anorexia & EDNOS (Anorexia)* since I was 10 & am v interested in what you have to say (esp because I love the way you write…) but I should really be Going To Bed (it’s 2330 here) not letting myself get distractioned by the interwebs. I plan to come back & read tomorrow though. Yes.

    More happily, I also agree with you that Chloe is Made Of Awesome. I wish we’d got to see – or at least hear – how she did at the Joffrey Summer School. I wonder if she ever did take the extra ballet classes her audition panel wanted her to, too – I really hope so, because she has so much ballet potential that just a bit more time/focus would bring her so much closer to fulfilling. Mind you, am a bit worried about the ballet training she gets at ALDC: in the photoshoot in the first season when she was NINE, she was photographed en pointe. She’s a wonderful dancer, but was too young to be safe en pointe at all. I worry about what age Abby might be letting her students begin pointe for all her website says: “Young dancers are always enthusiastic about beginning dancing en Pointe too soon. If a child has had good ballet training he/she will begin Pointe work around the age of 10 or 11. If care is not taken, lifelong disabilities can result from starting Pointe before supple bodies are strong enough and muscles are properly developed.” Ugh.

    *Oh the delights of medication-induced weightgain with the bonus of a disability that ALSO causes weightgain & makes weightloss almost impossible, So. Much. Fun. Mind you, at least the body dysmorphia means I always look hugenormous to myself whatever my weight is…

  3. As ED sufferer I would have to politely disagree! Maddie has all the markers for an eating disorder… she is an insane perfectionist, “all or nothing” mindset, and also the fact that she is an absolute mess if she doesn’t win. I don’t think Chloe will fall into that trap, I’d be more worried about Maddie!

  4. I totally watch this show WAY too much… I work for a dancewear company and it’s interesting to try to “spot” our costumes… I also LOVE spotting the Anthropologie pieces Holly wears (and she wears a TON of them)

    I completely agree that I think Chloe would be susceptible to having an eating disorder… but I actually disagree with you regarding Maddie on that topic… Maddie is such a huge perfectionist and her mother isn’t quite supportive emotionally. Her mother may support her drive and her winning, etc… but her mother does not give her much emotional support at all.

    She has SO much pressure on her to always win. To always be the best. The expectations are so much higher. Abby Lee Miller means so much to her… and failure to Maddie would mean she would no longer be the prized pupil, which is clearly a huge part of her identity (to her).

    Chloe’s mother seems to provide excellent emotional support.

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