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In all developed countries around the world, people are impressionable. We are bombarded with media at every turn: advertisements, Internet, magazines, movies, and television are everywhere and are essentially unavoidable. However, as we mature into adults, we can choose what to consume within our media and we can make our own judgments about it. Children cannot though. Young people take everything at face value and constantly influenced by what surrounds them. Media impacts children in countless ways, which we have learned about in class.

Young girls are especially influenced about ideas surrounding body image, perfection, and competition starting at an early age. These ideas are sensitive topics that are innately within the media which surrounds girls constantly. Girls are taught to strive for beauty and perfection, no matter what the cost. Not only that, they are shown that getting to the top is all that matters and that it takes hard (and sometimes immoral) work to get there. A television show that epitomizes these ideas is “Dance Moms”.
Although our research has shown that the target audience is in the age group of eighteen to fifty years old, we have agreed that younger people, especially children, are watching the show. In one episode we see that there are many young girls that know who the young dancers are. This can only be because they have watched the show and see these girls as an inspiration.

This show revolves around the Abby Lee Miller dance studio in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and its young female students, whose feisty mothers are always looking to start an argument. The girls are put through hours of practice and rehearsal every day after school and often learn new dances each week to prepare for the upcoming competitions. The mothers intervene all of the time: when a daughter starts crying from getting screamed at, when they feel as though their girls aren’t being treated well, when the girls have too much being demanded of them. The list goes on and on. The world of dance is a fierce and competitive one, and young girls who watch ‘Dance Moms’ are influenced by its ideals: competition, sexuality, and winning. Not only that, but the girls cast in the show are the ones influenced the most. They live and breathe dance, but so do their moms.

Background on ‘Dance Moms’
The show takes place at the Abby Lee Miller Dance Studio. Though the studio has many students, the show focuses on the competition team, who are the best dancers of dancemomsgroupphoto.jpgthem all. These girls are Nia, Brooke, Mackenzie, Maddie, Chloe, and Paige. Their ages range from six to thirteen years old. The girls practice up to five hours every day after school and they compete at shows almost every single weekend. They travel all around the United States and their instructor, Abby, will go to extremes to make sure her girls win every time. Since the show is entitled ‘Dance Moms’, it does show a lot of footage of the mothers and their bickering between each other or with Abby. However, there is still a lot of their daughters shown, dancing and working their hardest to create a perfect product.

Sexuality
These girls in the show are taught sexuality at an extremely young age; this is mainly through their dance moves and costumes that they are made to wear. In one particular dancemomssexualitypic.jpgepisode, the girls were given a burlesque dance and skimpy costumes to go along with it. The costumes consisted of silver bottoms that looked like underwear and nude sparkly bra tops. The costume was complete when they were given large pink feathers to dance with. The girls were told that the idea was that the feathers should be covering them most of the time, adding mystery to what’s underneath. “After Miller announced that the young contestants must ‘act like showgirls’ and dance as if they were ‘completely topless,’ she showed not a glimpse of remorse as she brushed off parent’s concerns by reciting a tough: ‘this is showbiz and you have to get used to it’ mantra in front of the camera” (The Blaze).

Not only that, but the girls were told think with the attitude of: “I’m hot, I’m mean, you can’t have me, you can’t afford me” (Fox News). These lessons are powerful and inappropriate ones to be teaching young and impressionable girls! Most of them are at an age where they are just starting to understand sexuality and this is the worst way for them to be thinking about it. The most detrimental piece of Abby’s advice is ‘you can’t afford me’. This is a direct reference to selling sex for money and being a hooker/ prostitute. It is an incredibly harmful message to be sending girls this age who do not fully understand the complications of sex and what buying sex and the implications of it even means! The sexualization of these girls is just wrong.

dancemomsexualitypic2.jpgAdditionally, this dance routine gives pedophiles and sex offenders easy access to young girls. They can simply go to the show and would be able to see Abby’s girls shimmying around the stage, showing off all that they’ve got. This is a huge problem that people in show business typically ignore. Abby was aware that the mothers were upset about costumes, but did not care and told them that it is show business, so it’s what happens. It is unfortunate that people within the industry have this mindset because they could be putting young boys and girls in a lot of danger without realizing it. Before the episode was going to be aired, viewers were up in arms about the commercials for the show. They all felt that it had crossed the line, so the episode did not end up airing at all and it is not available to watch online either.



Violent Language
The girls in the show are also affected by the strong language used by their mothers and Abby in front of them. The mothers never miss a chance to start an argument or to throw out some vulgar words about one another. In an interview, the girls were asked if the fights were distracting to them and the work they’re doing; they unanimously
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responded with ‘yes’. One of the best girls of the group, Chloe, even says, “I just try to block out all of the chaos and drama” (ABC Nightline video). The girls hate being surrounded with the fury and anger surrounding them, whether in rehearsal or at the competition.

In every episode of the show, there is at least one fight or argument that is shown. The mothers and Abby seem to thrive off of drama and actually look to start a conflict with each other. The words vary from ‘crazy’ to ‘bitch’ and even go as far as ‘whore’. In one instance, one of the mothers, Kelly, called Abby a whore because she was mad at her for something during a competition. In an interview weeks later, this was brought up by the interviewer. Kelly completely defends what she said, by saying that Abby had gone ‘below the belt’ and had ‘attacked her family’. She uses these two reasons to justify her use of the word whore, which is completely despicable. Not only that, the interviewer then asks if she regrets her choice of words and Kelly says she does not regret it at all. When Abby asks Kelly why she used that word, Kelly thinks for a second and reconsiders. She then says that she should have instead used the word virgin because that would have been a meaner term to use. This implies that she regards virgin as a abbyyelling2.jpgworse insult than whore, which appalls both the interviewer and also the audience. This is an appalling lesson for their daughters to be learning from. It is detrimental to both the cast members and viewers, who see a mother deeming the word whore as acceptable and sought after, even. It also relates back to the sexuality lesson from earlier, where the girls are being taught that being sexual at a young age is okay.

The violent language that surrounds the girls should not be acceptable, but since it creates reality television drama, it is instead desired. This behavior is actually "amped" up because they are on camera. “They are dance moms who are playing themselves on TV. More than twenty mothers from Miller's studio were considered, and the four chosen were not picked for their meekness. One mother told "Nightline" that when the cameras are around, she finds herself saying things out loud that previously she might have kept to herself” (ABC Nightline). This is also detrimental to the relationships between the mothers and daughters, because the young girls may not be able to distinguish between fake or real anger that they watch their mothers exhibiting. A final thought on this is the curiosity of whether or not the girls will pick up on these same habits as they grow up and mature. Will they see the violence and deem it acceptable, therefore demonstrating these same tactics when they are older? Only time will tell.

Themes:
While watching the show Dance Moms, and after all of the research about the show, we have concluded that the four themes the reality TV series portrays are perfection, winning, dedication and commitment.

Perfection:
In the show, Abby Lee demands perfection from the girls at all times, whether it is during practices, performances, or competitions. But she especially demands it with every dancing2.jpgsingle dance move the girls make. If a dancer’s toe is not pointed or posture is not straightened, Abby will let the girls know. Throughout many episodes Abby is constantly yelling at the young girls, calling them stupid, belittling them, and making them cry. An ABC news clip also backed up this idea; there was even a discussion where they believed that there were incidents of abuse. "'The show is child abuse, in my opinion; [Miller] should be in jail.' says Thomas. 'They just show this kind of abusive woman badgering these poor little children into these performance pieces...'" (Crisp, 2012). One other dance studio instructor thought of her verbal aggression to the young dancers was a form of child abuse. In an episode from season 2, after a competition, Abby expresses her feelings to one dance mom about how she thought the girls did a mediocre job in the performance and that being “fine” is not good enough because she wants “great kids" (ABC Nightline video Clip).

How does this affect the dancers? And what does this translate over to the young girls? The girls, as I mentioned, cry and show a great deal of emotion. These girls are getting the impression that in order to do well and to acknowledge when someone makes a mistake is to be yelled at and belittled. This could also make them feel as if they are not good enough and not perfect in Abby’s eyes. And to gain her approval they will be willing to do whatever it takes, even knock their best friend off the top of “the pyramid2.jpgpyramid.”

Winning:
This brings us to the next theme of winning. Like perfection, Abby Lee expresses the importance of winning. In one video clip interview with ABC, she says that the dancers should not give their medal or crown away; if they have won it own up to it and be proud that she won it, not give it away to a friend that did not deserve it. This can be viewed as a negative and positive lesson. Perhaps, yes, the dancer should be proud they received an award for their hard work. But at the same time, Abby is teaching them to be selfish and view winning as an attribute only certain people possess and deserve. Also, Abby uses this concept of “the pyramid” to express the importance of winning. To our surprise, it was actually the producers that brought the idea of the pyramid to the dance instructor. (Donvan & Murphey, 2012). It was not even Abby’s idea to invent this technique, yet she did agree to use it. The pyramid ranks the young dancers from the best dancer to the worst. The best dancer is on the top, then the next two dancers are in the middle, and the worst dancers are at the bottom of the pyramid. Abby also tells the girls that the point of the pyramid is to want to knock the girl off the top so you can be the best dancer of the week. Again, this concept is teaching the girls to be extra competitive and that winning is everything. Also, this concept, in a sense, encourages the girls to put friendships as second to winning or being the best.

We clearly see that thought process with one dancer, Kendall. Abby allowed the dancers try out for a solo in a dance routine. When she revealed that Chloe was getting the Screen Shot 2012-12-03 at 1.49.07 PM.pngsolo, Kendall instantly grew upset and cried. She said that it was the only solo she wanted and that her friend Chloe did not deserve to get it. This clearly shows that the girls are willing to back stab and ridicule their friends when their opportunity to win is threatened.

Dedication:
The next theme that is portrayed is dedication. We concluded that this aspect could have both positive and negative parts. On the positive side, the encouragement to stay dedicated to dance from the moms and Abby teaches the girls that when they enjoy an activity, they should pursue it, especially if they are talented at it. It can teach them how to strengthen those talents, as well. Also, dedication to dance shows the girls that hard work really does pay off and potentially could lead to their success in the future. However, if the moms push too hard with staying dedicated to one activity, it could limit the girls from pursuing their other interests. Or if the mothers insist of their daughter staying with dance, the girls would start to hate dance and not want to stick with it at all.

Even though the moms are very obsessive about their daughters’ dancing, one mom, Kelly, allows her daughter Brooke to pursue her love and interest for singing. Kelly says that when she brought her daughter to the recording studio with all her friends as her back up singers, she had not seen her daughter that happy in a very long time. Now her daughter is only 13. Does this mean that her dedication for dancing is slowly being decreased because it is not making her happy and that singing could be her new niche? Possibly.

Commitment:
Last, we will discuss commitment. We learned that the main reason why these girls come back to the studio day after day, insult after insult, argument after argument, is because of their commitment to each other. Despite all of the drama the young dancers are faced, nothing can tear apart their friendships with one another. That to these young girls, it is not about the winning, medals, or trophies, but the bond they form with the other girls. girlsgroup.jpgThe girls are also taught that if the girls did leave the dance studio, then it would appear that they are giving up on their friends. In an interview with the dance moms on “The View,” the moms are ask why would their mothers allow their child to stay with Abby Lee’s studio, and even the moms said they could not break the bond the girls share. One mom, Christi, said that she even asked her daughter if she wanted to leave, and her daughter said that she loved these girls and could not abandon them.

Conclusion:
What does this mean in general? To the audience, the young girls are portraying some great morals and values. To them it really is not about the winning, medals, crowns, and trophies, but it is about the bond and friendships created. Also, they can be a great inspiration for girls whom are watching to inspire them to pursue their dreams no matter what that dream may be.

However, the show can also portray some very negative ideas to the public as well. When parents are so obsessed with what their child does, it is a question of whether the child is really staying dedicated to the activity solely to please their parents or because they truly love the activity. Also, if parents and other adult figures interfere with the girls overall thought about activity, it could potentially make the child hate that interest and want to stop participating in it. Lastly, Abby Lee’ demands and the pyramid concept she uses can teach the girls the ugly lessons or winning, being perfect all the time and how everything can be a competition. Abby Lee does not mind telling the girls that you need to knock off their very own friend off the top to get the prize, or that feeling of being the best.

We have looked at how the moms and Abby have an impact on the young dancers and the different themes that are very clear in Dance Moms. Also, we looked at how sexuality and violence are two very key components in the show, as well. After researching this show and going into depth about all the controversial ideas, it can be concluded that Dance Moms may be seen as another negative reality television program or as a tool of how not to raise a child. Either way, we concluded that the show has a significant amount of impact on the younger girl audience and on the actual girls in the show.



Works Cited and References


Crisp, K. (2012). Real dance moms respond to ‘Dance Moms’ controversy. Backstage.​ Retrieved from http://www.backstage.com/news/real-dance-moms-respond-to-dance-moms-controversy/

Donvan, J. & Murphey, C. (2012). ‘Crazy’ reality of ‘Dance Moms’: is perfection worth the price? ABC Nightline. Retrieved from http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/crazy-reality-dance-moms-perfection-worth-price/story?id=16460341#.UMFj9uRfCTk

Fraizer, H., Hyland, K., Lukasiak, C., Miller, A. L., & Ziegler, L. (2012). The View: The dance moms & Abby Lee Miller interview on The View. The View. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e7VjH5UDoQQ

Gabbay, T. (2012). Lifetime’s ‘Dance Moms’ reaches new depths: girls as young as 8 dance burlesque in nude bikinis. The Blaze. Retrieved from http://www.theblaze.com/stories/lifetimes-dance-moms-reaches-new-depths-girls-as-young-as-8-dance-burlesque-in-nude-bikinis/

McKay, H. (2012). ‘Dance Moms’ ‘nude’ dance routine episode playground for pedophiles, experts say. Fox News. Retrieved from http://www.foxnews.com/entertainment/2012/03/09/dance-moms-nude-dance-routine-episode-playground-for-pedophiles-experts-say/