Last night’s premiere of Dance Moms featured a grotesquerie of child-rearing that makes Toddlers and Tiaras look like a Free to Be You and Me seminar. Not only were the featured mothers themselves detached from healthy realities (“my girls are my dolls”), but they also dispatched their young children into the care of the Pittsburgh dance world’s answer to Gordon Ramsey, who believes that if you berate people enough, you can rebuild them in your image.
Dance doesn’t exactly break new reality ground. The pushy stage parent is a staple — though will anyone ever top Showbiz Moms and Dads? — as is the domineering boss who loudly demands perfection. Overly plasticized women and overly sexualized children aren’t new to television, either, even if the Jon Benet–ish makeup on every little girl is particularly creepy here. Dance Moms’s main problem is that it’s unable to create meaningful stakes. “I want my daughter to be a star,” the moms say. A star of what, though? Dance teams? That’s not a starmaking venture. At least the Real Housewives franchises have an internal mythology and culture, even if it’s one that does not overlap with the actual world’s ideas about what is true and right and important. Dance is more like nonsense, with the added unsavory spectacle of weeping children.