The overly made-up faces, overly sexed-up outfits, and vicarious living featured on Dance Moms all evoke easy comparisons to Toddlers & Tiaras. But what makes Dance Moms standout is that it's not just the kids who are yelled at till they cry—it's also the adults.
Dance Moms follows the drama at the Pittsburgh dance studio of Abby Lee Miller, a woman who prides herself on making stars through her unorthodox approach to dance instruction, which involves admonishing and belittling both little girls and their mothers. As Abby sees it, she'd rather give it to them straight so that they cry in the privacy of her dance studio, rather than have them hear the same critiques in the real world and cry at an audition in front of 800 people. What's confusing is that we never actually see Abby choreographing or doing any kind of actual dance instruction for these girls, some of whom she's supposedly been training since they were toddlers. Instead, she sits in the studio and barks orders. Funny how she rides these kids so hard when she barely even moves a finger.
Then, of course, there are the moms, who sit behind a glass partition and watch as their 8-year-olds are worked until they vomit, and are then criticized for not working through the vomit. There's definitely a lot of politics at play, particularly surrounding one mom, Christi (who admitted in an interview that she sometimes put dance before her child's education), whose daughter Chloe is always deemed second-best and another mom, Melissa (who admitted that she put dance before her now failed marriage), whose daughter Maddie is Abby's favorite, something that Abby doesn't keep secret—she actually has developed a "favorites" visual pyramid, to let everyone know exactly where they stand in her eyes. In the clip above, Christi—who blew off some steam just before a dance competition started by double-fisting some glasses of wine—gets reamed out by Abby for spending time at the bar instead of properly sewing her daughter's headpiece into her hair. The women are so busy screaming at each other that neither of them even care that number they are arguing about just won first place at the competition.
Adding to the tension that Abby fosters between Christi/Chloe and Melissa/Maddie is the fact that Melissa seems to work at Abby's studio, which enables Abby to pick her brain to find out what the other moms say about her behind her back. Additionally, she airs Christi's dirty laundry in front of Melissa, bringing out records of her late tuition payments.