The Dance Mom Complex

In her April Sixth Position column, Danielle Georgiou considers the effect that the narcissism of a reality show like Dance Moms has on dance education and training.

published Sunday, April 26, 2015


Dallas — I’ve been thinking a lot lately about a topic that has been in the public eye for a few years now, but continuously finds itself in the front of the line when discussions about dance, the media, and it’s effect on education and youth comes into play. It’s what I call the “Dance Mom Complex.”

We are all aware that the media plays a huge role in how we relate to our peers in contemporary society. Who hasn’t found themselves in the middle of a conversation at work about the latest episode of some serial comedy or drama, or about what happened on the latest episode of some Real Housewives franchise, or what this or that Kardashian is up to—particularly Bruce Jenner, but that is for another story and another column.

Photo: Robert Hart/TheaterJones
Danielle Georgiou

The narcissism that runs rampant on these shows has become a model for parents and children, and is especially reflected in the Lifetime hit series Dance Moms. No one could have predicated how quickly America—and really the world at large—would latch on to and develop an obsession for these mothers, their children who just want to dance with their friends, and their teacher; yet, here we are, nearly four years after the show first premiered, and we can’t wait until the next episode. Abby Lee Miller has become a household name; we feel like we know these moms and we’ve watched their little girls become pre-teens and teenagers, and “celebrities.” Further, we watched a cultural phenomenon develop before our very eyes and without any public consent or control. Whether we like it or not, Dance Moms has become a template for the general public—it shows us that if we wanted to (and if we can afford it), we can turn our children into stars by sending them to “dance schools.”

I use the term “dance school” loosely here. In the “Dance Mom Complex,” a dance school is one in which you enroll your children, possibly take them out of their educational school in lieu of homeschooling, so that they can take dance class every day for at least eight hours a day. You pay exorbitant fees for private lessons, group classes, competitions, and costumes. You remove your child from learning environments that foster socialization and creativity for the structurally rigid work environments that instead foster antagonism, aggression, and conformity. But dance class is supposed to be fun, right? Not if you want to make a winner.

If Dance Moms has taught us anything, if you don’t do it Abby Lee Miller’s way, then you might as well find another “hobby.” Dance is becoming a commercialized industry based on managers, prepubescent makeovers, cutthroat behaviors, and less about the art of movement, the human experience, and a connection to the world around you.

Have we lost an understanding of what dance schools are supposed to mean and what their original missions were? In some countries, parents will send their children to artistic vocational schools—circus school or traditionally historic dance schools—to prepare them for a future in doing what they are absolutely passionate about. Sacrifices are made to accomplish these goals, but not at the risk of loosing childhood, experiences, and education, because within these schools is an academic component—studying core curriculum, such as English, history, math, and science is still a focus. But in the instance of the “Dance Mom Complex,” the mission is not about education, but about money. If you spend enough money to train your child, get the right coach—because teacher is not the appropriate word for the role these people play—and you live in the right city, then maybe your child will get booked for a job, or hired for a TV show, and then you make money. And that’s all that matters.

We have glamorized and romanticized the celebrity lifestyle at the risk of harming the types of artists we are trying to cultivate. It gives young dancers the wrong idea; if they aren’t making a stir, or causing a buzz, then they aren’t accomplishing their goals—then they aren’t a good dancer. Instead, we should be fostering an environment that promotes learning a specific technique, becoming proficient in that, and developing yourself mentally, emotionally, and physically before trying to enter the professional world.

Education is less about perfection and winning, two themes that are also promoted within the “Dance Mom Complex,” and more about commitment and dedication. While dance teachers at competitive studios might require commitment and dedication from their students, it is sacrificed for the perfect extension, layout, turning sequence, and the medal and trophy at the end of a competition. It is also finds itself coming in second to maturity from the role models children should be looking up to—their parents. On Dance Moms, the parents demonstrate textbook inappropriate behavior, from catty and mean actions that more often than not cross the line into bullying, blatant gossiping, backstabbing, and public instances of violence. They also support the premature sexualization of their children. I can only think of a couple of instances in which a mom on the show stood up and said that a costume or theme was “too much” for their young kids. For the most part, they applaud the decisions of their coach and her creative team, saying that their child “looks cute.”

Is that a healthy recourse for the future of dance education? Or is this a beginning of a new trend in how we promote the learning of dance to our youth? We will have to see what the impact of the “Dance Mom Complex” will be on this new generation of dancer and audience.


» Danielle Georgiou is a dance educator, critic and writer. She is the Founder and Artistic Director of DGDG (Danielle Georgiou Dance Group) and is a working dancer and performance artist. Her column Sixth Position appears the third or fourth Sunday of the month on

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TD writes:
Monday, April 27 at 12:43PM

I disagree with this POV, first-Maddie, is not "trying to have fun with her friends", she IS a dancer and needs to be pushed to meet her potential-which she welcomes. The other girls, while good dancers, aren't there to be made into a professional dancer. It's either their curse or their pleasure to be dancing with Maddie. I'm sure all the boys who played with Peyton Manning as a kid knew the deal...women (i.e the moms) just don't want to accept reality.

Snoopy writes:
Wednesday, April 29 at 3:53AM

Agree with the entire article. DM fame seems to have ruined the love for dance for all the dancers left on the show. They now have found a love for singing, modeling, fashion expertise, interviewing, being in magazine, acting, making appearances on TV shows, and making noise doing controversial videos. That all boils down to the love for fame and fortune in anyway that works and works faster than waiting to learn all they need to learn to be a professional artistic dancers in the dance world (not the music world). It's all about the route that will bring them to the highest paying fame and fortune highway. And any real dancer will tell you, dance takes years...not fast enough for these moms, girls, and of course most of all the coach! The rush is on because no one loves dance enough to be committed to it no matter how long it takes to get to the level of being good enough to become an artist in the field.

Singing, acting or any of the avenues these girls are trying out, could be an overnight success in any of these and they know that. It's not a matter of so much talent in these fields but luck has a lot to do with these too sometimes (not always but sometimes). Some of these fields have artists who have worked for years before making it big but some others have made it quick. The dancers have a head start because they have a fan base already and just about anything they do will have a fair following for now. However, I am sure ALM knows that if the show ends, that fan base could end pretty soon after so they have to strike while the iron is hot. Fast money is the best money!!!!

The dancers make their fame and fortune and ALM makes her fortune off them! When your dance coach is going in all directions and can't even focus on dancer herself, when dance is not the main focus to your dance coach then why would it be for the student?

There was a time I think the Dance Mom dancers did care about dance and their school education. But somehow they lost both. The coach suggested it would be better for them and their learning of the art of dance if they had more time and left organized school. So there went their love for the school friends and socialization they once said they loved. Guess they don't love it anymore since the coach doesn't. Then it was now they have all this time with no formal school and they can do everything from acting to modeling to singing. Why focus on dance? Then the dancers all seemed to have lost that love for dance and most are talking about music videos like they would kill for a successful singing career! What happened to DANCE is MY LIFE????

Sad what has happened to the dancers on Dance Moms but sadder yet is what this show might have done to all the little wannabe dancers that were still on the right course to growing up still loving dance as an art and still being dedicated to the art. Now all little dancers want the fame. Many of these kids would take abuse from the coach if they could only be on the show Dance Moms and famous! That is one of the saddest things about this what this fad of Dance Moms has has taught young children that verbal abuse on a personal level and having a coach say terrible things to you is OK as long as you get a trade off. Teaching children that one can allow someone to abuse you and mistreat you if it will bring you fame and fortune.

It's not true little children, there is not exchange worth allowing someone to bully you. It's not right and it's not a teaching method. It's apparently a pleasure for at least one coach but it is not a teaching method. Look at these once beautiful girls who were in love with dance. Look at the tears they endured, and look at how the talk about dance now??? Oh wait they don't, they never talk about loving dance anymore. They talk about being the coaches favorite so she will make them famous but they never talk about dance and how they love it. This coach has taken away their love, taken away their dream of being a dancer and in it place she has given them her dream of making her rich through them. Now they think it was their idea and they have now caught the "I just wanta be famous and rich and don't care how I get there" fever too.

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The Dance Mom Complex
In her April Sixth Position column, Danielle Georgiou considers the effect that the narcissism of a reality show like Dance Moms has on dance education and training.
by Danielle Georgiou

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