This summer, Lifetime’s Dance Moms became the show America is buzzing about. Stage mothers. Talent. Drama. Competition. Backbiting. There is something for everyone to form an opinion about. For those who have ever competed seriously in a sport, it is par for the course. For those who haven’t, the series has opened the door to a delicious world of catty behavior.
Christi Lukasiak and her daughter Chloe are two of the stars of the cult hit. As they navigate the dance world as perpetual underdogs, they’ve taken us all along on their journey of absurdity and questionable sanity. Whether we agree or disagree with decisions that are made, we know we’ll keep watching.
AJ: How did your involvement with Dance Moms come about?
CL: Last September, a casting call went out to dance moms across the country. I emailed the production company some photographs and sat on the porch and took some flip-cam videos where I talked about how insane people were at the dance studio. The producer asked me if I could film some clips of my daughter and her teacher and asked, ’Are you kidding me?!.’ I’ve been working with the production company since last September. They came to the studio in January, found a network and we’ve been filming since April.
AJ: How long were all of you on the road for? It seems like you’re never home.
CL: We left on June 23rd and came back on August 3rd. Initially, we were only going to do six episodes that were to be shot in Pittsburgh. The network came back and wanted six more, so we went on the road and just finished filming interviews and filler a few weeks ago.
AJ: You have another daughter. Does she travel with you?
CL: That was one of my stipulations when doing the show. There are babysitters when we’re on the road. Clara travels with us, and I’m a mom at night after we’re filming.
AJ: Abby Lee Miller spends quite a bit of time touting her own success on the show. What is her reputation in the dance world?
CL: Abby has produced a lot of great dancers. I will say that her reputation precedes her and that much of the dance world knows that what you see on TV is how she is.
AJ: If you spend so much time discussing how Abby treats your daughter, why don’t you leave and find another teacher?
CL: I have two daughters [Chloe and Clara] who are eight years apart. Before my younger daughter was born, Chloe was an only child. When you spend that much time at the studio, the girls really do form family-like relationships. The older girls have always been big sisters to Chloe and treat her like a younger sister. Chloe and Paige [Hyland] have been best friends since they walked in and held hands at age two. If I left because I was disappointed with Abby, I’d be depriving my daughter of the friendships she has formed.
AJ: How much time do the girls actually spend at the studio?
CL: The girls spend three nights a week at the studio and some Saturdays. They are girls with full lives, but they are dedicated. Maddie [Ziegler] spends more time at the studio because Melissa [Ziegler] works there, so she is always there.
AJ: The moms are always at the studio. Is Holly really a principal?
CL: We are at the studio. Holly is the principal of a very prestigious, very elite private school in Pittsburgh.
AJ: Do the girls go to school?
CL: The girls go to school full time. They were shown on the road over the summer because they were done with school and the competitions around Pittsburgh had ended for the season.
AJ: How expensive is being a member of the company?
CL: I got a lot of flack for saying that I spend $16,000 on dance a year, but that is how much it costs when you add up traveling, costumes, shoes, hotels. I probably only pay about $300 a month in tuition, but it is expensive to do anything seriously. I think being a member of a traveling hockey team is probably more expensive.
AJ: How big is the dance company the girls are in?
CL: There are about twenty or so girls who are in the company from the younger girls to the seniors. There were actually a bunch of people who quit over the past few years because they were tired of dealing with things. A lot of times, you’ll see that Brooke [Hyland] misses her friends. She had a few very good friends who quit the studio recently. There are lots of kids who take classes at the studio, but the company is relatively small.
AJ: Is the group of girls on the show the only ones who compete in that group? Are there girls who aren’t on the show because they or their parents didn’t want to be included?
CL: There are two other girls who were in the group. One of the girls left recently, but that is the group for the most part. Brooke is in an older group, so she isn’t usually in that group, but she is tiny and fits in well with their dances. It makes sense for her to be in the group since her mom and sister are on the show. Mackenzie [Ziegler] is also not usually in their group. Maddie, Chloe and Paige have danced up in Brooke’s category a number of times.
AJ: Cathy Jean Nesbitt-Smith created a ton of drama on the show. Had you ever seen her before the show? Google Maps shows that she lives over two hours from Pittsburgh.
CL: I had never heard of Cathy before the show. She was friends with Abby. Cathy and Abby were really friends. Cathy is smart and a colorful character. She knew that there was a show going on and got on it.
AJ: Will Cathy be back next season?
CL: As far as I know, we will all be back.
AJ: One of those most memorable moments of the season was when one of Cathy’s students who looked fifteen danced in the same category as Chloe. Was that just for TV? Is it even possible for Cathy to find out Chloe’s music and choreograph a number?
CL: I’ve never gotten a straight answer on what happened. That girl was actually only a year older than Chloe, and Chloe was competing at the bottom of the 9-12 age category. You can see the songs the girls will be dancing to on the competition schedule. There is usually a code for each studio and if Cathy could figure out who her daughter was on the schedule, she could absolutely find her number.
AJ: Why would Cathy have her student compete against Chloe instead of Maddie?
CL: I remember thinking, ‘why pick on my kid?!’ I don’t know why Cathy did what she did, but she is colorful and makes for good TV.
AJ: You’ve mentioned that you’re married on the show, but we never see the fathers. Will we see your husband next season?
CL: The dads have actually been filmed, but they were very vanilla on camera. I don’t think the parts with the dads helped tell the story of what goes on. My husband doesn’t go to all of the competitions, but he goes to some. My husband thinks Abby’s studio is the anti-Christ of childhood. He stays out of the studio and that is the only reason why we’re probably still there.
AJ: Were you ever a dancer as a child?
CL: I wanted to dance growing up, but I had a rough childhood with unsupportive parents. I actually snuck out and tried out for the cheerleading team and made it. I was a cheerleader even though I wasn’t supposed to be. I think it’s important to support your children and what they’re interested in.
AJ: Will your younger daughter dance?
CL: I can’t do so much for one daughter and not do the same for the other. I’ll support what she wants. If Chloe told me she didn’t want to dance, I’d be okay with it. Of course, I’d encourage her not to quit because I believe that she does have a real talent for it.
AJ: How has the show changed the studio? Are there agents hanging around for kids shows?
CL: Abby thinks she is the queen of Lifetime. There aren’t agents at the studio. Things haven’t changed that much. I was fighting with Abby just the other day when cameras weren’t around.
AJ: Abby is always indifferent about girls leaving her studio on the show. Is that how she really is after all the time she has invested?
CL: Abby is always go, go, go, but she has held onto my daughter very tightly whenever we’ve thought of leaving. Abby likes to be in control, and I believe she likes to be in charge of my daughter’s dancing.
AJ: Have you ever seen Abby Lee Miller demonstrate any of the moves the girls do?
CL: Oh yes, Abby can pump! I think you saw that in the last episode.
AJ: Have you ever heard Abby comment to any of their girls about their weight?
CL: She comments to the older girls about their weight, but she doesn’t really talk to our group about it yet. Absolutely, she talks about weight.
AJ: How many teachers are there at the studio?
CL: There are a number of teachers at the studio. There is a fabulous tap teacher who works with the girls and they can all tap. The teacher was a 'tap dog.' They take ballet. Gianna is a fantastic choreographer who grew up at Abby Lee [Dance Company.] She has become Abby’s right hand in the last year and a half or so.
AJ: Will we be seeing the girls fight for roles in the Nutcracker this Christmas?
CL: It really isn’t that type of studio. I would like to see my daughter have a ballet solo on the show, but I don’t know if that would make good TV. I don’t know if ballet is as good for TV as Electricity.
AJ: The girls have gotten a lot of attention for the different topics they’ve covered in their dances. It seems they’re always tackling child abuse. Is that just for TV?
CL: Abby loves controversy. A year ago, Abby had a great dance for the older girls that became her signature piece. The dance was about a heroin addict who killed herself and kept her baby in a box.
AJ: Does Abby do all of the choreography herself?
CL: Abby choreographs, but Gianna also does do a lot of the choreography and is very gifted. It made sense for her to be on the show because she grew up in the studio and can travel.
AJ: Do the girls ‘get’ a lot of the themes they’re tackling in their dances? They didn’t really seem to grasp the concept of inner beauty.
CL: I don’t think the girls really get a lot of what they’re doing. They like the characters and the costumes, but I’m not sure how much they really understand.
AJ: Has Chloe seen Black Swan?
CL: No. Absolutely not. My daughter will probably never see Black Swan.
AJ: Much has been made of Chloe’s rivalry with Maddie. How real is it? Is the rivalry something that’s heightened for the sake of television? The moms are very open about discussing Abby’s favoritism in front of Maddie and her mom.
CL: The rivalry is absolutely real. The girls are fifteen months apart and compete against one another. It has been going on for two or three years. Abby favors Maddie, and the other kids are aware of it. The girls are smart, and they are aware of the favoritism. They are aware of the praise and the criticism. When you see a girl on stage that is confident, that comes from support from the parent and the dance teacher. I just want the girls to have the same type of support. A lot of people ask why we don’t just schedule more private lessons if we want them, but Melissa handles the scheduling of private lessons.
AJ: Chloe doesn’t seem to reference the favoritism or rivalry on camera. Is it more of an issue for you than it is for her?
CL: Chloe doesn’t say it and doesn’t even really view it like that. Maddie is her friend and sometimes they compete against one another. Chloe really is the way she comes across on television. She is such a good kid. I always say that she makes me look like an amazing mom.
AJ: You and the other moms are very candid with how you feel about Abby and one another on camera. Has it caused any tension in the studio? Does Abby care what you say on the show or tweet about her?
CL: Abby knows what we say, but I don’t think she cares. All the things we say on camera are things we’ve thought for the last eight or nine years. The only difference is that we’re asked about what we’re thinking now. There have been times when it’s a little awkward. Was it awkward when I had to see Melissa yesterday after calling her a monster manipulator? Absolutely. We were still on the road when the show started airing and all watched it together. That was awkward.
AJ: What is it like to see yourself on television?
CL: I was horrified the first few weeks, but my friends said that I became more myself after the first few episodes. I was horrified to see myself talk about Maddie and of the fight I had on the fourth episode. I dread watching every week. I get sick to my stomach around three o’clock every Wednesday. My favorite time of the week is around five after eleven on Wednesday.
AJ: Do you all call one another after the show?
CL: Kelly and I will call one another and say ‘my butt looked big, why didn’t you tell me?!’ I email with Holly. We’re right back to the studio the next day.
AJ: The pyramid has become a hot topic about the show. It is clearly for television, but does it impact the girls?
CL: The pyramid sucks. We try to put it in perspective for the girls that it is just for TV. We get in the car afterward and talk about other things and what’s coming up. We don’t really talk about it.
AJ: Do the girls all want to be on Broadway as much as it is discussed on the show?
CL: The show discusses Broadway because of its connection to dance, but I don’t know if it is everyone’s goal. Maddie talks about Broadway. It is her dream. Chloe wants to do other things like be in a movie or a television show that isn’t a reality show. She likes to do my LA dance versus New York dance. If someone calls with a great part for Chloe on Broadway, we’d go. It isn’t her ultimate goal in life. Chloe changes her mind all the time. She told me she wants to be a doctor the other day. I say more power to her. I know she does want to be a Rockette when she is older, but she is open to so many things now.
AJ: Has dance always been serious for Chloe?
CL: Dance gradually became more serious. The first year you compete, you have one solo, and it may not be that good because it’s your first year. The second year you might have two. Chloe wasn’t always one of the leaders in the studio. She probably got very serious around the time she was eight. It sounds crazy because it wasn’t really all that long ago that she became serious at the tender age of eight.
AJ: One of the most amazing things we see on the show is that the girls learn new dances every week. Are they really learning dances in two days? Is that why Chloe forgot her solo at nationals?
CL: The girls really did learn dances in two days. No one believes it, but it is absolutely real. The girls were exhausted by the end of the season. There are only so many sequences of turns and leaps to the group that your brain can remember. My grandmother called and asked me to please tell her that Chloe forgetting her dance was just for TV. I have never seen Chloe do that, but she was exhausted, and it was real. It was horrible to watch.
AJ: The moms always complain about sewing costumes last minute. Why don’t you sew during rehearsals?
CL: We’re never given costumes until the last minute. If we had them, we’d gladly be sewing ahead of them. Then again, if we were sewing we might not be talking as much.
AJ: Do the girls get hounded at school about the show? Do you feel like the talk of Pittsburgh?
CL: I don’t know if we’re the talk of Pittsburgh, but a few people usually always come up to us when we go out. People usually tell me they know how I feel and everyone always wants to hug Chloe. The kids at school always want to talk about the show, but I know Chloe will just want to go on the swings at recess. People always want to think that what they saw on the show just happened, but life has gone on.
AJ: The show has been controversial. How has the reaction been from those who know you?
CL: I just went to my sorority’s reunion and a few people told me that if they had to pick who’d be on a reality show in the '90s, it would’ve been me. I don’t know if that is a compliment, but I’m taking it in stride.
AJ: What can we expect next season?
CL: There is a ton of back-story that the producers haven’t even begun to explore. I think there is a lot that America will want to know about.