Cape Town – She’s the hardcore dance teacher that’s made waves with her hit reality TV show Dance Moms, but when Abby Lee Miller chats with me on the phone she’s as calm as a lamb. Her friendly voice gives no hint of the strict dance teacher we know from TV.
Currently in its second season on DStv’s Lifetime channel, the show is an absolute hit. Set in Pittsburgh, it follows Abby and her highly successful group of young dancers as they travel to various dance competitions every week.
The show caused a stir when it first aired in America as Abby’s no-nonsense teaching style raised eyebrows.
But it’s the young dancers' moms and their explosive personalities that make for the most drama.
According to Abby the show came to be after various chats with her friend and fellow dancer, John Corella.
"I used to complain to John on the phone the whole time. I’d tell him about everything that’s going on at the studio and how the moms aren’t paying their bills. John then suggested my studio to the other Collins Avenue producers as a good candidate for a competitive dancer television programme," Abby explains.
An international hit
Abby was blissfully unaware of the international fame the show has garnered.
"I was told the show was only airing in 30 countries. My attorneys and agent were shocked when we found out that the show was airing in 110 countries."
Due to its success the show has birthed a series of spin-offs including Dance Moms: Miami, Dance Mums (a UK version) and Abby's Ultimate Dance Competition in which Abby and a panel, judges 12 young dancers on different dance styles in the hopes of finding the most versatile dancer.
When asked if Abby would ever consider visiting South Africa for a few episodes she excitedly answers; "Of course! That’s a great idea. We can definitely incorporate some South African dance styles into our dance routines. I’m actually going to take this idea to the producers."
Inspiration behind the dances
One of the most interesting parts of the show is Abby’s creative dance routines that she choreographs for the girls.
Always entertaining, fresh and unexpected the girls stand out with their unique costumes and professional routines.
"It starts with the music for me. I listen to a piece of music and immediately I get a picture in my mind of what the outfits should look like and what dance moves I want to incorporate.
"In the old days – before the internet – I would always go to the record store on a Sunday. I would be there first thing in the morning when they open and spend hours listening to songs. That’s where it all really starts for me."
During season 2 of the show one of the girls’ group dance costumes caused so much controversy that the episode – titled Topless Showgirls – was pulled from rotation.
In the episode the young dancers perform a burlesque-style dance routine wearing sequined, flesh toned tops and tights. Abby however brushed off the controversy stating that everyone knew the girls were fully dressed, Daily News reported.
Most of the criticism Abby receives for her dance routines and costumes comes from the moms themselves.
The moms, all characters in their own right, find fault with everything Abby does and is not afraid to voice their opinions.
"You know. I don’t care what they think. What did they ever achieve in their lives? They just became moms. I don’t take their critique seriously because they don’t know what they are talking about. They get paid to sit and watch me do my job."
TV host and funnyman Jimmy Fallon once told Abby that he gets so angry with the moms on the show that he finds himself screaming at the TV screen.
"I really only have their kids’ best interest at heart. I want those kids to succeed and will do everything to make sure their dreams come true."
Despite her hard exterior and "killer dance teacher" persona on the show, Abby is a true sweetheart who likes to hand out hugs to her fans and pose for selfies when they approach her in public.
"People understand that I’m not evil. They see that my heart is in the right place."
Dance Moms airs week nights at 19:10 on Lifetime (DStv channel 131).