Posted by: leahchiaverini10 | February 13, 2013


Abby Lee Miller at her finest!

I bet some of you are groaning and others are going “YES!” at your computer screens (hopefully in the library so everyone can hear you…).  I began my personal plight in watching the reality show Dance Moms at the hands of my own mother.  We were both horrified but also extremely entertained by the antics of Abby Lee Miller, her students (ages 5-9 at the time) and their mothers.  For those who have not had the pleasure/misfortune of watching, Abby is a dance instructor from Pittsburgh, PA who has a reputation for being extremely tough.  She has very agentic traits, not interested in the welfare and emotional health of her dancers but rather results (namely first place because “second place is the first loser on stage”).  Communication often causes issues not because it is lacking but because Abby and some of the mothers will say wildly inappropriate things in times of high pressure, causing serious damage in the relationships within the studio.  Abby’s life revolves entirely around dance and her studio as she has no husband or children.  Looking at Abby as a leader, she does not fit neatly into a supposed feminine style of leadership and will employ any means necessary to achieve her goals (screaming, throwing chairs, threats, more screaming).  She causes rifts constantly between her students and parents because she plays favorites and will pit dancers against one another for seemingly nothing other than to add tension (or maybe Lifetime told her to do it, I don’t know).  Although Abby’s job as a dance teacher seems from the outside to be a traditionally feminine role (the image of a ballet teacher comes to mind), the way she interprets her job is more like a drill sargeant than a teacher, giving off a masculine vibe.  But enough about Abby…

For those of you who know me well (or even a little bit), I am a horse enthusiast.  I’ve been riding horses since I was five years old and own two horses that I love dearly.  Now, you may be wondering what this has to do with Dance Moms and this is it: my riding instructor from ages 10-13 was a real life Abby Lee Miller.  Her name was Karen and she acquired us (a group of middle school aged girls) from starting a riding team at our school.  There were about 10 girls on the team and the experience started off fairly normal.  We would go out for riding lessons and then go home, sometimes spending a few extra hours here and there to help out at the barn.  After about 4 months, we surprisingly were forced out of the stable we were at.  The horses we were using were sold and we moved.  That’s where things started to get weird.  Karen began requiring us to stay “overtime” and clean horse stalls, teach lessons, even feed the horses.  Karen liked things the way that SHE wanted them.  If one saddle was out of place in the tack room, someone would be in serious trouble.  In riding lessons, Karen would yell at me every lesson about something insignificant and I would get off my horse and cry (I was really tough…….).  Weirdly enough, after I turned twelve, I became the “golden child” and would be the girl she would select to train her horses or ride for exercise.  My horse and I were considered the best in the barn and she would still yell at the other girls but somehow, I was safe (sound like Maddie to anyone who watches Dance Moms?).  Unfortunately, just as quickly as I was in, I fell out of grace (also sound like Maddie anyone who has been watching this season?).  Karen became colder towards all of us and we eventually all tapered off and left her.  When I began watching Dance Moms, I couldn’t help but notice the similarity in Karen and Abby’s leadership.

The last thing I’ll talk about in relating Dance Moms and leadership has nothing to do with Abby and her leadership style.  It actually has to do with the mothers themselves.  I understand feeling fired up about someone treating your child unfairly and dropping a few curse words here and there but these mothers really go all out.  They insult each other, Abby and rival teams constantly.  Nothing is sacred, not weight, history, relationships.  It makes me wonder about what the girls who dance take from all this.  They see in Abby the authoritarian, aggressive leader that she is but seeing your own mother attack her back in the same manner as a means to try to exert power cannot be very comforting.  When I watch the show with my little brother, he always comments about how “those girls are going to need a lot of therapy!” and I can’t help but agree.  What do you all think about the mothers and how they are modeling for their daughters on how to be a follower of an authoritarian figure?  Have you ever had an experience with a leader who is too aggressive?  What do you think of Abby Lee Miller’s leadership style?


  1. I have seen this show multiple times because my roommates are addicted. I could write a 10 page paper on how Abby Lee is a bad leader but I won’t bore anyone with that. I think that the parents are just as bad as Abby when it comes to Leadership. They are terrible role models for their children and for each other. When their children aren’t Abby’s favorite, they get upset for their children, as I think any mother might be, but they take it too personal. They interrogate and insult Abby and she bites right back with the same poison. The worst part is that the mothers don’t even stick together. They are all pitted against one another which is terrible followership. The mothers would have been better off sticking together and going to a different studio with a better dance teacher, however their own desire to win pushes them to stay at Abby’s studio and pit against each other.
    As a psychology major, when I think about the trauma that dancing at Abby’s studio is causing the girls, I truly get sick to my stomach. As a leader, Abby should be encouraging and motivating the girls and their parents to be the best dancers without yelling, threatening or throwing things. The honestly will need a lot of therapy because the examples that their mothers and Abby are setting will cause them to be just like them or 10 times worse.
    I think Abby’s leadership style is Dictatorship but in terms of values leadership, she is effective but unethical. She is intemperate, callous, corrupt, insular and evil. Overall she is a terrible leader. She may get them to do what she wants most of the time but the process that gets them there is so stressful and harmful to their psyche that the bad cancels out the good.

  2. I have never seen the show dance moms but I have been a gymnast for eight years and have seen all forms of coaching you can probably think of. One coach I met was very similar to this image of agentic and too tough. I am lucky I never had to work with her because I was constantly hearing terrible things and even saw some of her rude attitude. Annia Hatch is a former Olympian who thinks way too much of herself and not enough of her gymnasts. She cares solely about her image and refuses to even work with girls who she thinks aren’t worth it. She ditches practices with the girls and calls them a liar for saying so. Within the first month of her training the team competitors the girls were all so worn out from excessive strength and being yelled at that many of them wanted to quit. Coaches, male or female, who care more about themselves than their students are not going to garner the most success out of those students and will find themselves very alone at the end of their careers.

  3. Although I have not experienced a leader like Abby Lee Miller, I have experienced a leader who played favorites. Even though this person was not as terrifying as Abby, it almost seems worse to me when the person who does this is actually nice to you. This woman was one of the leaders in my church’s youth program, and was in charge of all of the high school girls. For whatever reason, she seemed to always want to spend the most time with the kids of influential members of my church. She would invite them to special dinners, sleepovers at her house, and would constantly pick those girls over others to go on special trips. While I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining for not being picked to do those things, it really hurt my relationship with this woman because I couldn’t figure out what was keeping me from having the same relationship that she had with the other girls. Especially when she did so much to develop us and motive us as a group, it was really hard not understanding why we didn’t have a good relationship. Even though she didn’t exhibit many agentic qualities, the fact that she was so communal yet had different levels of relationships (similar to LMX Theory) really hurt her leadership.

  4. I have definitely encountered the aggressive leader like Abby. I do not think that they would compare next to the dance coach in the show you are talking about ( I am another that hasn’t seen the show), but they were very hard to handle. They were hot and cold with their moods and their favorites, and showed no compassion when you were hurt or needed motivation. If you got hurt during a practice she would scream in front of the team to suck it up buttercup. The Leader Member Exchange that Emily was talking about in her comment definitely relates to the leaders mentioned. The leader makes a close group into the in-group and makes everyone else feel like they are not good enough, thus causing an out-group. This is a tactic of some leaders so that their followers work harder, but in reality it just makes people feel worthless and that they will never be good enough in the eyes of the leader.

  5. I generally avoid reality shows like this. Very rarely do I see good lessons in them. The one time I did see a great moment, was on CMT’s “Cheer”. Some of the more advanced girls reported to their coach some online bullying against them. The coach approached the bully, and encouraged her to show her true, much better self, by being mature and approaching her (the coach) instead of suffering over a problem. Abby Miller and the moms on “Dance Moms” horrified me so much, I have only ever watched one episode. Not only are the girls at the dance studio learning some awful behavior, but so are the daughters of women who watch the show at home. Why would anyone act that way??? It befuddles me, because I believe that leadership and self-conduct can be controlled without being catty or immature. Instead of being agentic, and working out solutions quickly, reality star women plot out revenge…a great example is WE’s “Bad Girls Club”. None of them make me feel great about women in America…and yet there are so many women who are working hard to give America’s women the opportunities to be better, and become leaders. Why aren’t those people being made into stars for the public to imitate? For now, we are stuck with catty, revengeful women. I plan to avoid them and get my lessons in behavior and leadership from the people I come into physical contact with. TV doesn’t help me learn to be a better person.

  6. I completely agree that Abby Lee Miller is a horrible leader. She treats the girls as if they are nothing more than a means to further her career (as if having a TV show isn’t enough). It even goes to the point that the girls are crying, yet they still listen to her. As much as I disagree with her methods, the dancers truly look up to her and have this strange desire to please and impress her. The way she interacts with all of the dancers is completely disheartening, but it is important to recognize that the girls still want to continue dancing for her. Whether that is because they are intimidated and scared by her is another question, but they still want to be there under her instruction. I also really liked your point about the mothers. The mothers are setting just as bad of an example for their daughters by screaming not only at Abby, but at each other. They should be trying to make the conditions on the team and in the studio better, but the only thing they are doing is making things worse, and they are accomplishing absolutely nothing. The daughters are not learning how to effectively lead or follow in this situation.
    With that being said, it is important to remember that this is a TV show. We are not seeing everything that goes on in the studio and between the dancers, mothers, and Abby. We also don’t know of what we are being shown, what is actually happening and what Lifetime is telling them to do. This might not be an accurate depiction of the natural interaction of all of the cast.

  7. After reading the Disney post and then reading this one about Dance Moms, it just reinforces to me more of the mental image children are seeing not only by the models they have on TV, but their moms as models as well. I have seen Dance Moms before and I believe they are awful!!! Forcing so much pressure and false expectations on children who are barely old enough for puberty?? Shows like this I may never understand, and although there are real life examples of this sometimes, it also makes me wonder how much of this is true?? Is it the mother’s real way of acting, or are they a different person when the camera is off and the money isn’t rolling in? Then is Abby the same coach on and off camera as well? There are so many things people forget to consider when watching these types of shows and movies, but the one things that this all resembles and hits home with for me is the pity for the girls that really won’t have normal lives because of this experience. I agree with your younger brother saying they will need immense amounts of therapy because having a mom like that as your representation of a women leader isn’t stable or dependable; not considering how real the show even is. The moms need to stop acting like crazy people and realize they aren’t teaching their daughters about how to be a leader, model citizen, or even setting an example for how the real world works. Mothers need to remember their role in the upbringing of their children and I know this class is helping me already take mental notes of what not to do in order for my kids to have the proper, positive, and promoted upbringing and foundation so they can have a good role model of leadership at home and become leaders in society themselves someday.

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