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Deconstructing the 'Dance Moms' Pyramid, by Riley Courtney

Abby Lee Miller went to prison, beat cancer, terrorized young children and started fist fights between adult women. She is best known for being the owner of the Pittsburgh Dance Studio, which was featured throughout eight seasons of the television show, Dance Moms: Abby Lee Dance Company.

The first seven seasons of the show follow the same set of girls, and their mothers, on their competition dance team. Each season of the show begins at the start of the competition season and continues throughout their “road to nationals.” Nationals, being the biggest competition of the season, serves as the season finale.

Dance Moms last streamed in 2019 with an eighth season of all new girls and their moms after a two-year break. The show is recently trending across social media, though. Influencers are recreating segments of famous Dance Moms dances, and people are using TikTok audios of specific quotes or moments from the show.

Abby’s voice makes up a significant portion of these quotes. A popular TikTok sound right now follows Abby as she goes through what was called “pyramid,” which every show began with.

The girls all came into the studio and formed a line facing Abby, with their covered headshots taped up on the mirror. Abby then removed papers covering the headshots one by one, starting at the bottom and moving her way up as she explained each girl’s placement. The top of the pyramid was where every dancer wanted to be.

Throughout the first seven seasons, trends were quickly established regarding the girls’ placement on the pyramid, with the same dancers frequently getting placed on bottom and the top of the pyramid almost always belonging to Maddie Ziegler.

As well as being an incredible dancer, Maddie was Abby’s favorite on the show. Many of the other moms attributed her success as a dancer to such favoritism as it gave her access to more of Abby’s time and attention.

Likewise, Paige Hyland was on the top of the pyramid the least amount and was rarely given Abby’s time or attention, even when she had a solo or a duet.

The correlation between the dancers’ placement on the pyramid and the quality of their performances was undeniable. However, it becomes a question of which came first, the pyramid placement or the poor dance performances?

The youngest dancer at the beginning of the show, Mackenzie Ziegler, was six years old. Being compared to other dancers and other girls at such a young age (for things that sometimes go beyond their performance) can take a toll on anyone.

For dancers like Paige, this pressure contributed to panic attacks and severe self-image issues. Paige left the team alongside her mom and older sister in season 4 while Maddie stayed through season 6.

Abby had a lot of signature phrases, but “everybody’s replaceable” is one of her most well-known quotes. Though she tried, she was never able to fully replace the Hyland sisters, and following the Ziegler’s leave in season 6, the show began to fall apart as no one was able to truly “replace” the Ziegler sisters.

Dance Moms may seem like a surface level show because of the exploitation of young girls throughout their dancing careers and the drama that production instigated between their moms. In reality, these two elements have a wider and more worldly application.

Prior to the show’s start, dynamics were established within the studio and relationships between the mothers already existed. As the girls had been dancing at Abby’s studio before the show, they were predisposed to their placement on the pyramid and their treatment by Abby.

Approaching this from a broader perspective, the pyramid can represent social structures and the systems existing within our world.

Some people are born into positions where these systems and structures benefit them. They get access to more resources and more opportunities, and they have fewer roadblocks to their success.

When the girls are at the top of the pyramid, they are given more solos and more private lessons. They have more time with Abby, making it easier for them to continually succeed in the long run.

It’s easy to feel as if we are all “replaceable” as Abby frequently told her students they were. It’s also easy to look up the pyramid of life and see people in more successful positions, or more desirable points of life, and to feel like we don’t compare — like we are more replaceable than they are.

While the show seemed to fall to shambles after Maddie left, the loss of other dancers on the team also shook them. Abby never seemed to successfully replace them. When Paige, Brooke and Chloe, three of the original dancers, left, the show and Abby had to figure out what to do without them.

Abby spent an entire season bringing in dancers to try to replicate their specific skills and talents within the team before she realized that they were truly irreplaceable, and the dynamic of the team would never be the same without them. Despite these girls frequently getting placed lower on the pyramid, they were just as irreplaceable as Abby’s golden girl, Maddie.

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