We still need to talk about Dance Moms

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A group of Karens… I mean Dance Moms! Mingle Media TV via Wikipedia Commons

One article is just not enough to dissect all the problems with the Lifetime classic

Despite ending in 2019, Dance Moms is remembered for the talented dancers it produced who are still working in the industry today (like JoJo Siwa), but it’s also remembered for its problems. Dance Moms was rampant with racism throughout all eight seasons of the show, whether the inappropriate comments or decisions were coming from Abby Lee Miller herself or other mothers and dance teachers.

Here’s a run down of all the show’s problematic moments. In season three of Dance Moms, the team performed a routine entitled “Rosa Parks” about civil rights activist Rosa Parks. At the time, the team had only one dancer who was Black, Nia Sioux. When Miller announced the dance to the team, she said “don’t assume anything. I have no idea who will play Rosa Parks.” She then went on to say she wants Nia to work hard before she gives her the role in a confessional, but it will go to Nia.

Nia was eventually given the role, but not without another mom, Jill Vertes, campaigning for her White daughter to get the role of Rosa Parks. She is shown telling the other moms that “it would be a good part for Kendall because she needs to work on her acting.” When Vertes faced backlash from the other moms, she said in a confessional that “I don’t understand why these moms are so upset over this. Their kids get lead roles all the time; Kendall does not. Kendall gets overlooked. Here’s an opportunity for my child to have a lead role, and it’s driving them crazy.” Despite the dance winning first place at the competition, Nia was put on the bottom of the pyramid the following week.

In season four, the team competed a dance entitled “Tribal Council,” which depicted Indigenous people. Nia was the lead of this dance as well. The young girls wore face paint and Nia wore a large headdress. The dance was incredibly inappropriate.

In season six, Nia and another dancer, Kalani Hilliker, performed a duet called “Isolations” in an African dance style. The following week at the pyramid Kalani was placed above Nia. Miller stated, when revealing the pyramid, that Kalani was “a little more African than Nia.” Nia’s mom, Holly Frazier, told Miller not to say things like that, to which Miller responded, “I think it makes more sense for [Nia] to do this.” Miller believed that because of Nia’s race it made more sense for her to perform well in an African dance. Frazier was outraged by these comments.  

Throughout the eight seasons of the show, Nia had many solos that were given to her because she’s Black. One of the dance styles of her season one solos, according to the Wiki page[1], was “ethnic.” One of the most notable dances Nia did was called “They Call Me Laquifa,” inspired by the drag queen Shangela. Miller confirmed in a confessional that she gave Nia this dance because she’s Black. For the dance, Nia wore an afro wig. For several other solos Nia performed, she was typecast in by Miller. She did routines called “The Color Purple,” “House of Voodoo,” and “Cookie,” the last one being inspired by the TV show Empire. Miller rarely choreographed anything for Nia that didn’t have to do with her race.

When speaking about another dancer who was featured on the show, Nicaya Wiley and her mother Kaya Wiley, Miller stated that Kaya was “evil and ghetto.” Everyone on the show called Kaya “Black Patsy,” which was an old nickname that she said later on she hated. Nicaya said that Abby had also “[made] comments about [her] hair and body.”

Most of Nicaya’s solos on the show were performed with Cathy Nesbitt Stein, who ran Candy Apples Dance Center and was one of Miller’s greatest rivals. Stein choreographed Nicaya a solo inspired by Harriet Tubman, but Nicaya’s mom later revealed that Nicaya “choreographed most of it herself and freestyled the rest” on Instagram and that “Cathy had a ball making comments about the headwrap [Kaya] wore that day, saying [she] was dressed like a slave.”

In season seven, the team performed a routine called “Good Help Is Hard to Find” inspired by the book and movie the Help, which has since been criticized as a White savior story. When Miller announced the dance, Holly Frazier, Nia Sioux’s mom, questioned Miller’s ability to tell the complex story without “making a mockery of it.” When Frazier further pressed Miller, asking about the roles, Miller responded saying “Holly, you know I typecast.” The dance featured Nia, Camryn Bridges, and Davianna Fletcher as “the help” and the other dancers on the team as “socialites.”

The “Good Help is Hard to Find” dance sparked conversation amongst the moms. Jill Vertes, who was previously mentioned as wanting her daughter to play Rosa Parks, stated that “they’re playing characters.” Ashlee Allen, whose daughter Brynn Rumfallo was playing a socialite, asked the other mothers “I wonder after doing this dance, who would get the most backlash? Cause in my mind, I feel like the kids playing the snobby socialites are the ones at risk for getting, maybe, true hate.” Allen later stated confidently that she believed segregation was outdated, to which Camille Bridges, a Black woman who joined the team with her daughter Camryn in season seven, responded that it was not. Frazier and Bridges had to educate the other mothers, some of whom responded with ignorant statements. In 2020, Miller released an apology for her racist remarks. A mother from season eight, Adriana Smith, reposted Miller’s post for Blackout Tuesday, writing comments over Miller’s post which was a black square with the Abby Lee Dance Company logo in the bottom corner.


[1] https://dancemoms.fandom.com/wiki/Nia_Frazier/Dances

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