It seems the dystopian future of The Hunger Games is almost a guarantee. Honestly, after watching only two episodes of Dance Moms, in which mothers, children, and coaches are pitted against one another for the enjoyment of the audience, violence for entertainment’s sake doesn’t seem too far off. But I’m getting ahead myself. The topic of today is A&E’s Dance Moms. For those who haven’t seen the show, it can best be described as the oxygen-deprived, half-brain dead, hellspawn offspring of TLC’s Toddlers & Tiaras and every bad 80s dance movie ever made. We’re talkin’, Flashdance, Footloose, and Dirty Dancing but with way more tears, too much body glitter, and a healthy dose of emotional trauma.
To me at least, Dance Moms signals the downfall of America. Okay, maybe that’s a little harsh, but when we start lowering our standards to this level of entertainment? You know there’s something seriously wrong. Perhaps that is the worst offense of a show like Dance Moms. As much as I want to hate it, and I truly truly do, it is equal parts horrifying and fascinating. I’m actually ashamed to admit that it took me a day and a half to get through all nine hours (well, 9 hours and 6 minutes, to be exact) of Dance Moms’ first season. Most of the time my eyes were glazed over and my mouth was agape in horror, but I still couldn’t bring myself to turn off the TV. I’ve watched countless horror movies. The Shining was my favorite movie at the age of eight, and yet, Dance Moms is so much worse. Maybe it’s because it’s real? Well, that’s debatable, but there’s no denying that some small part of Dance Moms is real. That is, of course, the young girls themselves.
On its worst day, Dance Moms plays like some laughably elaborate joke. I half-expected Allen Funt to step out from behind the camera or to hear a laugh track: just any sort of context clue to reveal that this was just some twisted charade. Alas, nine hours later and no such luck. Because it’s clear that the mothers don’t take this seriously and Coach Abby Lee Miller takes it, perhaps, a little too seriously. The only ones who don’t seem to be in on the joke are the young girls themselves. It’s a shame, really. After only watching the first season, the future scars of reality television on these dancers’ psyches are already starting to show. Don’t get me wrong, they know what the camera is, and some of them even know how to play to it (I’m looking at you, Maddie) but they don’t seem to recognize the damaging effect or the life-altering role it plays in their adolescent existence.
Still, it’s easy to damn Dance Moms for its horrible qualities. It is, honestly, reality television at its most reprehensible. Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop it from being entertaining. It’s not the kind of program that it’s easy for me to say that I “like” because I honestly don’t. Still, it builds drama and creates suspense effectively enough that I kept telling myself, “well, one episode more couldn’t hurt…” Dance Moms is the kind of show you hate yourself for loving, but on some subconscious level, you can’t help but watch and thank God that somebody had a more messed up childhood than you did. Then again, if you’ve ever wondered what televised emotional abuse looks like, Dance Moms is a pretty solid introduction. Ultimately, in a cultural, moral, and ethical sense Dance Moms is a sign of the end times. Still, if the world is going to hell in a hand basket, you might as well indulge yourself and watch the sick, twisted petty dramas of middle-aged hausfraus and their diluted offspring play out. Make no mistake, I will never support the things that happen in Dance Moms, but if it’s on? I wish I could say I’d be the better man and turn it off, but if I said that, I’d be lying.
Dance Moms Season One was released on DVD on August 7. In addition to all 12 season one episodes, the DVD set features Most Outrageous Moments and additional footage from the season.