Dehnart’s claims aren’t anything new. Concerned parents cry child abuse about either one of these shows on a weekly basis. However, the controversy surrounding these programs surely makes them more popular—according to Dehnart, Dance Mom’s season two premiere had 150% more viewers than its first season premiere. Additionally, Lifetime has ordered another Dance Moms series set in Miami this time. How they will find another teacher to berate students, create a pretty skewed version of morality and have a serious god complex like Philadelphia’s Abby Lee Miller remains to be seen.
Some of the popularity of shows like these, particularly Dance Moms, stems from the fact that many of us can relate to the pressure to perform heaped onto us in childhood. Certainly, Abby Lee Miller’s constant repetition that she won’t accept anything but first place reminds us of childhoods filled with the requirements of straight A’s or lead roles in the school musical or quarterback on the football team. We may not have wanted these things ourselves, but parents, teachers or schools may have pressured us into their versions of our successes.
Dehnart makes a valid argument, however, that Dance Moms and Toddlers & Tiaras harm children because these children have to live through the documentation of their disappointments and youthful desires on television later in life. When these children grow into adults, they will have a permanent record of their mothers’ bad behavior, their own perhaps-thwarted desires, their failures. Most of us are lucky in that our childhood activities are only recorded on a shaky video camera without commentary from our parents.
The issue that I take with Dehnart’s article is that he seems to say that none of the children have any interest in performing in beauty pageants or dance competitions, and their mothers push them into these activities against their wills. While it is unclear what choice the children had to appear on these reality TV shows, many of them do have an interest in pageants or dance competitions. While I doubt the legitimacy of calling Abby Lee Miller a savior of sorts of Broadway dancer wannabes, many of these children do want to perform on their own volition.
Watching your mother berate another mother for her daughter’s bumblebee costume when you’re 25? That’s another story.