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Published August 28 2011

Swift: ‘Dance Moms’ on two left feet

Move over “Toddlers and Tiaras.” There’s a whole new breed of scary parent in town.

They’re the “Dance Moms.” They live in nicer houses and dress posher than “Tiara’s” pageant moms, but they are every bit as petty, strident and horrifying.

The Lifetime show (which airs at 9 p.m. Wednesdays) takes place at a prestigious Pittsburgh dance studio, Abby Lee Dance Company.

The owner, Abby Lee, is a large, loud, tough woman whose voice has grown sandpapery from screaming at 6-year-old girls.

From a purely technical aspect, she’s brilliant at her job. She brags that many of her former dancers have moved on to Broadway, and it’s easy to see why.

She’s terrifyingly stern, she knows her business, and she will do anything to bring home trophies – even if that means dressing up 7-year-olds like burlesque dancers or making the troupe’s one African-American student do a startlingly racist number called “LaQueefa.”

Unfettered by scruples, parental instincts or compassion, this Bela Karolyi of the pint-sized dance world has bullied, cajoled and nagged little girls into accomplished dancers. They win many of the competitions they enter, which is really all that Abby cares about.

To her credit, she also has to deal with some of the most high-maintenance parents on the planet.

The dance moms are a gaggle of upper-middle-class mommies who shuttle their children to the studio for up to four hours of lessons a day. They tote around Luis Vuitton purses, attend Botox parties and live in McMansions, all while shelling out $20,000 apiece annually for their children’s dance classes, costumes and travel.

These moms holler at their grade-school daughters when they cry over injuries or want to go to the mall with their friends instead of being subjected to the barbed-wire taunts of Ms. Lee.

The supposed parent-figures also backbite, fight over their children’s costumes and blame everyone else because one child – a radiant moppet named Maddie – is more talented and gets more attention than the others.

Their ranks include women like Maddie’s mom, Melissa, who is getting divorced because her husband thinks she’s too obsessed with her daughter’s dancing. There’s also Cathy, who sports a Kate Gosselin rooster-tail and pushes her marginally talented and visibly disinterested daughter, Vivi, into costume photo sessions and dance competitions.

When Cathy refuses to travel on a bus to a competition with the other moms and instead takes her Mercedes, Abby sniffs: “Who does she think she is? We know it’s a C class.”

And when Abby orders the mothers to wear black and white to a formal event following a competition, Cathy refuses, saying, “We don’t dress like the help.”

See what I mean? This show is like watching Spencer Pratt wrestle with the Octomom. There’s no one to root for.

Well, except for the kids. When Abby isn’t dressing them like “prosti-tots” – as one mom famously called it – and making them dance in inappropriately sexy routines, they are a joy to watch.

And when the moms have completely lost their minds and are screaming at each other in front of their children, you want to reach through the screen and rescue them.

The whole show has tremendous “car wreck” value. But it also makes you think.

Is this what we’ve come to when parents become so obsessed with winning? What happens to the kids and younger siblings who aren’t as talented as the stars, especially when their mothers place such a premium on trophies? What happens to the “stars” if they stop winning?

And what happens to schoolwork, friends and just plain, unstructured play time when a child’s life is completely focused on one thing?

These “Dance Moms” need to get a grip. When it comes to parenting, they seem to have two left feet.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tammy Swift at (701) 241-5525