Sometimes, it's hard to decipher how much of reality television is actually real. But, when I saw my first episode of Dance Moms, it was too real for me. I danced competitively throughout my entire childhood and when I saw the way Abby Lee Miller treated her dancers it instantly brought back a flood of memories from my own life. My dance teacher, let's call her B, was exactly like Abby in every single way. Of course, I never had to sit through a pyramid before each class the way Abby liked to start the day off but I was embarrassed enough in plenty of other ways.
Being from a small town, much smaller than Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where Abby and the Dance Moms girls are originally from, there wasn't much to do. My mom had signed me up for dance classes when I was just five. We had moved to Connecticut from Maine and to be honest, I don't think she really knew what to do with my little sister and I. So, dance it was. For awhile, it was great. Like, really great. I had a talent for it and I quickly moved up to the competition team. By the time I was in fourth grade, I was already flying with the older squad to dance at the Magic Kingdom in Disney World.
I loved every second of it. But, B made things hard. She legitimately thought everyone was going to be a Broadway star or some kind of professional dancer so that's the way she treated you. I was not even 10 years old and I was being forced to wake up at 8 a.m. on a Saturday morning for a Pilates class at 9 a.m. After that, we had to take a three and a half hour ballet class. Okay, I liked ballet but like hello, that was a serious snooze fest. THREE HOURS on a Saturday? After that, it was an hour on our pointe shoes. So yes, more ballet. But, this class hurt. My feet would bleed and I would get screamed at for not having the correct form. The day wasn't even over yet. After pointe, we had competition practice and this usually lasted however long B wanted it to. I was TEN, you guys.
My feet were never pointed hard enough. My arms were never straight enough. My hair was never slicked back enough. My knees were too bent. I wasn't spotting one thing well enough while turning. My supporting leg during my turns was never strong enough. My leaps were never high enough. My movements were never sharp enough. It never stopped. B never stopped. She would have us get into our first formation, turn the music on, we would dance for about 10 seconds before she would turn the music off and we'd have to start again. If one person made a mistake, the whole group started again and she would call out that person.
Can you imagine being that young and getting called out in front of girls who were in high school? Your dance teacher saying it was YOUR fault we were staying later than expected? It was terrifying. It was totally Abby Lee. You know in Dance Moms when Abby won't talk to the girls if they've really screwed up their dance in competition? That happens IRL, too. We were always so scared to go backstage after a competition dance. If B wasn't there, we were in trouble. It was a total mind f-ck.
But, as much as I was screamed at, I got better. Disney World was when things started to take a turn for the worse. B told me I was boy crazy, for starters. Yes, B, I probably was. I was maybe 12 years old and liked to chase boys around at recess. Sue me. B told my mom she was a bad parent because I was allowed to download 50 Cent's music on my pink iPod. As you can see, the relationship that Abby Lee has with the moms on Dance Moms was all too real for me, too. B took her powers as a dance teacher and inflicted them on my life outside of the studio. A total Abby move, for sure.
In Disney, B wouldn't let us walk around because the muscles in our legs were apparently going to tighten up before the performance. Again, can you imagine telling A CHILD who's in Disney World they can't leave their hotel room? It was pure madness. I was taken into another room with B after we got back from the trip where she yelled at me for 20 minutes because I went to dinner with my family instead of going with her and some of the other dance girls. But, I couldn't cry. No one could. If you shed a tear in front of B, she would look at you and look away. TOTAL. ABBY. MOVE.
Remember when Abby said to the girls they should leave their tears for the pillow? All too real for me on that one too.
I remember when B purposely made us stay an hour late on a Friday night practice when she found out us sixth graders had our first dance at school. I remember when B told my dance friend her ankles were too fat. Dude, her ankles? I remember when B tried to cash a check from my parents a year after it had been issued. You know Abby's money issues? Clearly, she isn't the only dance teacher to have difficulties keeping track of her finances. I remember when I lost part of my costume during the dress rehearsal before our recital. I went back into the dressing room to try and find it before I went on stage and the next thing I knew, I heard my dance's song playing. I was missing my rehearsal and B was not happy. I was almost kicked out of the dance the day before the recital. I remember when I didn't want to dance at my middle school's talent show because I just wanted to go with my friends. B was never the same to me after that.
I remember when B put me as one of the lead roles in our ballet show. We were doing The Little Mermaid and I was Sebastian. I was so freaking excited and she told me I had gotten the role because I was neurotic AKA crazy. Who says that?! Again, I was maybe 12 years old.
But, through all of this, B helped shape the person I am today. I had to grow a thick skin and let things roll off my shoulder. I couldn't really sweat the small stuff because there were much bigger issues going on. The way she used to get extremely red in the face where a little vein would stick out of her neck is still engrained in my head. It's that, that has led me to be a perfectionist. It's all of those times that I was scared sh-tless of messing things up, that I try to double check everything I do today. She has made me someone who deals with criticism well.
To be honest, as much as Maddie Ziegler and the rest of the Dance Moms girls say Abby was always the source of the drama – she probably was. But, she was molding them at such a vulnerable age. They may not even realize it yet, but all the criticism she gave them, all of the mind games she played with them have something to do with who they are today and who they will be. They'll never forget Abby and I'll never forget B, even though I'd like to.