Teachers beg: ‘Don’t bring Dance Moms to Australia’
Sydney dance teachers and studio owners have rallied against a move to bring the controversial reality TV show Dance Moms to Australia calling it "the worst thing that ever happened to the dance industry."
The backlash against the show - which follows the lives of young dancers in America, their pushy mothers and their aggressive teacher - came after performer Nikki Webster announced on social media that she was holding auditions to cast young Aussie dancers for a local version of the show.
The reaction was instant and overwhelmingly negative on a dance teachers group on Facebook.
"I'm already feeling for the future of the girls who have stars in their eyes," one wrote, while another commented "I always hated the show, it's not OK to abuse kids in any classroom.
And another added "Dance Moms has already ruined the Australian dance industry. All it gave us is tricks and poses … and a blurring of styles. Not to mention the incredible emotional scarring of these little girls … for what? Oh yes, 15 minutes of fame. Who in their right mind would put their child through this?"
Rebecca Liu-Brennan is the owner of Performing Arts Western Sydney (PAWS) in Penrith and during her 15 years there has produced several professional dancers who are working around the world. She said the show was a negative for the dance industry.
"I think it's been the worst thing for our industry and I feel we're just starting to come out the back of it now that it's past the height of its popularity in America," she said. "And I wouldn't want for the industry to get dumped back into the negative atmosphere it created.
"It gave the perception that kids had to be amazing from a young age at all costs and to be able to do six turns in a row with their leg pointed straight up against their ear. There were mums who would want to know why their eight-year-old wasn't being taught what the girls on Dance Moms were doing.
"That show does not represent the majority of the schools here."
Dance Moms, which still airs in the US and is up to season eight, was controversial mainly due to its teacher, Abbey Lee Miller, who often screamed at her young students when they got dance moves wrong and made them perform questionable routines such as a strip tease dance in nude costumes.
As the show's name implies, it also focused on the young dancer's mothers who fought among themselves and with the teacher, often swearing and getting into punch-ups with each other in front of their daughters.
Giselle Peacock is an American dancer who now has a studio in Willoughby called Gpower Dance and Fitness.
She said she was taught in a very similar atmosphere in the US with teachers who demanded perfection at all costs. She does not want to see this approach adopted in Australia.
She went on to dance in Broadway and has worked on So You Think You Can Dance and the Australian and US versions of Dancing With The Stars but does not support the ethos of success at all costs.
"The dance industry in Australia is very small compared to America and there are not a lot of opportunities here, so I support any move that creates opportunities for dancers," Peacock said.
"But having said that, I think Dance Moms is wrong for the Australian culture. In America there is more of a culture of parents and teachers pushing dancers to achieve success at all costs. But that's not the same here in Australia.
"Also, the thing about this show is that, in order for it to work, it needs the drama."
The man known as the Sydney Dance Doctor, Petros Vournelis, has treated dancers as a chiropractor for 15 years. He said he often sees dancers under 10 years of age with hip, feet and knee problems.
"Putting stress and load on parts of the body that have not fully developed can always have the potential to cause damage," he said. "And any injury can have a knock-on effect down the road.
"Moves like backflips into splits or jumps straight into splits have the potential to be bad for an immature skeleton. Some young kids are dancing 25 hours a week and that's just ridiculous.
"If Dance Moms comes to Australia I would be concerned with the welfare of the children and the direction it could take the dance industry."
Webster refuses to dwell on any negativity from the dance industry and said she prefers to focus on the overwhelmingly positive response she has received from the public and the audition tapes that have already started rolling in.
"My idea is to put dance in this country on the world map," she said. "This will only enhance the industry in this country.
"I'm 100 per cent a fan of the show and what it is in its entirety."
When asked if the Australian version would include the same level of drama as the US one, she said: "We don't know what casting we'll get, yes there'll be drama, there'll be this, there'll be that. But at the moment I'm just focused on the wonderful talent I'm seeing (from the audition tapes).
Webster has not ruled out being the "Australian Abbey Lee" on the show.
"You'll just have to tune in."