Comeback and Controversy
BY ISABELLA HILL '25
Premiering on the Lifetime channel in 2011, Dance Moms and its creator Abby Lee Miller are infamous for combining the world of competitive dance with overbearing mothers and drama, ultimately attracting an audience composed of dancers and reality TV lovers. The show ended in 2019 when Abby Lee Miller went to jail for eight months due to charges of fraud. After she was released from prison, she received a spinal surgery that left her confined to a wheelchair, and fans thought her run was over. However, in March, 2023, a teaser of a new show, Mad House, suggested that Abby might be making a comeback, working with professionally-trained adults instead of children. Since then, the initial buzz has faded, and the new show seems to lack support: it is streaming on Brandon TV, not a big platform like Lifetime. The decline is in part due to long-time Dance Moms fans reconsidering their support of the celebrity after her dancers and their moms released controversial statements about Abby’s poor character. While reality TV is known for distorting reality—exaggerating situations to encourage drama and attract bigger audiences—Abby Lee’s problematic character seeps into every aspect of her life: on and off screen. Ultimately, Mad House falls into the same trap as Dance Moms by exploiting dancers for reality TV and glorifying a toxic teacher; more viewers are realizing that she is not “refreshingly honest” or funny and simply encourages self-esteem issues in her dancers.
Although Miller taught the girls in some aspects, she often made racist and shameful comments that were not targeted at the dancing techniques and intended to break the girls’ spirits. She helped by introducing the girls to competition, providing career-launching opportunities, and training them not to have “sickled feet.” However, her tutelage came with many pitfalls. “Tough love,” as some viewers claim Abby enacted, only works when the “love” is evenly distributed. Instead, Miller encouraged dancers like Maddie Zeigler with affirming comments, hugs, and special treatment such as more solos and specialized roles in group numbers, but discouraged other girls. For an entire episode, she pretended to forget the name of one of her dancers, Chloe Lukasiak, to remind the 11-year-old that she was replaceable and had to work to gain the privilege of getting called her name. Additionally, Paige Hyland ended up suing Abby over physical abuse. Even though the lawsuit got dismissed due to a lack of evidence, Hyland opened up about fearing Abby’s temper—throwing chairs and yelling—and worrying about falling victim of her passive aggressive actions: granting solos to dancers who had “well-behaved” and unquestioning mothers while denying opportunities to girls with more outspoken and opinionated moms. Miller also frequently promoted racism by typecasting her only Black OG Dance Moms member Nia Sioux: making negative comments about her hair, downplaying her accomplishments, and not believing in her potential to become a pop star. Each episode highlights Abby’s temperamental and problematic behavior and makes viewers question whether or not they should support her. Although Abby is working with adults on Mad House, instead of vulnerable and impressionable children, she still makes fun of her dancers’ physical appearances, not promoting a constructive or safe environment.
With the emergence of her new show, Abby Lee Miller still comes across as a loud, argumentative, and insensitive dance teacher who makes more harsh comments about appearances than helpful opinions regarding dancing technique. So, why has cancel culture not fully canceled her? Yes, people are talking about her controversial past, and some are boycotting her newest endeavor, but ultimately, Abby still received a new contract in light of her jail time, lawsuits, and health complications. Well, like many celebrities, Abby is trying to make a comeback by retaining her persona and introducing a new concept: replacing young girls with adults, in her case. Mad House’s success depends on reaching mainstream media, just as Dance Moms entertained people of all generations and backgrounds. Time will tell whether Mad House is less problematic, but as of right now, the future of Abby Lee Miller looks somewhat bleak; although she is not fully canceled, her new show is not receiving a lot of watch time, and viewers are unearthing her problematic past.