We need to talk about Dance Moms
Abby Lee Miller was abusive in many ways, but the body shaming may have been the worst
JoJo Siwa has become a household name these days. Kids know her from multiple works with Nickelodeon and her kid-friendly content. Adults know her as the first person to compete in a same-sex duo on Dancing with the Stars. She’s a gay icon, but few know her from way back when she first came onto the scene on Abby Lee Miller’s Ultimate Dance Competition, a spin-off of the popular show Dance Moms.
Dance Moms first started in 2011 and ran for seven seasons from 2011 to 2017, with an eighth season premiering in 2019. The show followed young dancers and their mothers as the children learn and compete several new dances every week under the instruction of Abby Lee Miller.
Miller is known for being incredibly mean and verbally abusive to her students. She claims that it’s just “tough love” and she’s helping bring out the best in her students, but her actions often lead the girls on the show to have panic attacks and shed violent tears. In 2014, Miller was even sued by a student for assault after they left the show, though the case was eventually dropped.
Dance Moms had a lot of problems – and I mean a lot. Miller was rampant with racism, and the show often featured problematic dances (anyone else remember when Jill wanted her white daughter to play Rosa Parks? Yikes.), but one of the most common issues found on the show was body shaming.
Miller dished out a lot of the negative body comments, and she received some herself. The most notable of these experiences was in season two. Miller threw a chair at a young dancer because her mother, Kelly Hyland, didn’t have time to put stoppers on the bottom of the chair. In response, Hyland said, “I’ve been here all day, making costumes for you, while you were down the road eating. Stop eating! That’s why you’re fat!” This line is now one of the iconic lines of the show, but Hyland using Miller’s weight in retaliation for being violent with her daughter isn’t acceptable either. Since then, Hyland’s eldest daughter has condemned her mother’s words and fat shaming.
Miller frequently attacked another dancer, Nia Frazier, for her looks. Nia was the only Black dancer on the competition team from season one through eight. In season two, Nia had gotten her hair done in braids, which her mother Holly said had been approved by the studio. In an action that was both racist and shaming Nia’s looks, Abby told Holly to “fix this hair, cause it’s horrible” and called the braids inappropriate.
In one of the last few seasons featuring Nia, Miller insinuated that the young girl was fat. While ranting about how none of the girls had been working over the summer before competition, Abby said to Holly that she didn’t believe her daughter had been working because she could “tell by the size of the thigh botma-ing [sic] into the air” that Nia had been lazy and unproductive. Holly was clearly upset by this and told Miller she needed to stop.
Another dancer, Ava Michelle, now known for her leading role in the Netflix original Tall Girl, danced for Miller in season four, but was featured on later seasons as part of a different team. Miller was frequently unkind to Ava about her body, at one point saying her arms were “horrendous,” and forced the girl to dance with an unstable umbrella because she believed Ava needed something to cover them. She also told the girl she looked like a praying mantis because of her long limbs. Miller forced Ava to stand next to another tall dancer, and when Ava was shown to be taller than her, Miller told her that she was cut from the team because of her height. Ava revealed on So You Think You Can Dance that this majorly affected her body image.
The show tried to hide Miller’s body shaming at times. Dancer Chloe Lukasiak left the show in season four because of comments made about her appearance. Chloe had silent sinus syndrome, which made one of her eyes slightly smaller. Many believed that she just had a lazy eye, but it was a medical issue that would later need surgery. Miller made a comment about Chloe’s eye which was edited to say “Chloe’s finished, she’s washed up,” and Chloe’s mother, Christi, responded with “do you know anything about that kid? No!” It was later revealed that Abby had made fun of Chloe’s eye which was caused by a medical condition.
In September of 2021, Chloe revealed on her YouTube channel that she developed an eating disorder after leaving the show. Because she was no longer dancing as much after leaving the show, she started gaining weight, and she believed it to be “unacceptable” according to her standards of beauty, which were likely warped by Miller and the show.
Miller’s body shaming wasn’t exclusive to the show. In an interview with Hollywood Unlocked, Miller revealed that she used to force her dancers to jump while carrying 10 pound bags of potatoes, and Kelly Hyland said in a meet and greet that while doing this Miller would tell the children that “this is what it would feel like if you gained ten pounds.” In the same interview, Miller says that she used to weigh her dancers and then write their weights on the wall. Hyland said that the dancers in these situations were seven or eight years old. According to Hyland and her daughters, Miller went so far as to name each dancer’s stomach and often told the girls to “suck them in.”
The behavior continued into season eight. Dancer Pressley Hosbach said that Miller told her “nobody wants to see those thighs,” which made Pressley incredibly upset and insecure about her body. In one of Pressley’s solos, Miller tried to have her wear a costume with a huge skirt in an attempt to hide her legs.
Cheryl Burke, best known for Dancing with the Stars, took over for Miller in season seven of Dance Moms. Burke often talked about how Miller treated the girls and how she could see the lingering effects. Burke told US Magazine that “It was tough, there were a lot of tears, anger and insecurity. It was shocking to me. I couldn’t believe these beautiful girls that have zero confidence. That’s not the way to live life.” Burke added that the girls said they’d “been traumatized” by Miller “and her teaching methods.”
Since the show has ended, the mothers who have made comments on Miller’s weight have said that they regret those decisions and wouldn’t make them again, but Miller has said nothing of the sort about her words towards her dancers. Dance Moms had a lot of problems, but one of the biggest was body shaming, which is clear to see from Abby Lee Miller’s words, actions, and the reactions of her dancers.