The Shady Side Of Abby Lee Miller

Abby Lee Miller has had quite a wild ride since first coming to television in "Dance Moms," the Lifetime reality show set in Miller's Pittsburgh dance studio. Premiering in 2011, "Dance Moms" focused on overbearing mothers who both supported and pushed their daughters as they pursued competitive dance training, and the show featured such future stars as Maddie Ziegler and JoJo Siwa.

As viewers quickly realized, Miller proved to be an unending source of onscreen drama thanks to her confrontational nature, furious outbursts, and scathing comments directed at the young dancers in her charge — to say nothing of what she said to their mothers. Meanwhile, Miller also demonstrated herself to be something of a scandal magnet, becoming embroiled in various controversies and legal battles over the years — including one that ultimately landed her behind bars in federal prison. 

Beyond controversy, Miller has also experienced some personal travails since "Dance Moms" ended its television run in 2019, including spinal surgery that left her confined to a wheelchair. Meanwhile, in March 2023, Miller teased her TV comeback. "It's not like I'm going back [to Lifetime]," she told ET. "This is all new. It's classic 'Abby Lee Miller' but there are little ones and their moms, and the talent is nuts." Her new show — titled "Mad House" — will be seen on a new streaming app called Brandon TV, set to launch in fall 2023.

On the cusp of her potential comeback, read on for a crash course on the shady side of Abby Lee Miller.

She was bankrupt before Dance Moms

In 2010, just a few months before "Dance Moms" made its premiere on Lifetime, Abby Lee Miller filed for bankruptcy. RadarOnline reported that in her bankruptcy filing, Miller declared that her monthly income was $8,882.55, while her monthly expenses were $11,525.40, leaving her in the hole by more than $2,600 each month. In addition, she also claimed to have more than $3,000 in bills that hadn't been paid, in addition to $26,000 owing in taxes.

In 2014, it was reported that Miller's bankruptcy was about to be discharged, and further details came to light in regards to the dire financial straits she'd been in prior to "Dance Moms." This included defaulting on the mortgage on her home, which had been on the brink of foreclosure, and her declaration that her dance studio had racked up more than $100,000 in debt. 

Miller's financial state improved dramatically once "Dance Moms" made its television debut. In fact, after the series became a hit, Miller began earning up to $15,000 an episode, and another $25,000 per episode for her spinoff show, "Abby's Ultimate Dance Competition." She also reportedly brought in additional income from other sources, ranging from public speaking to merchandise. All that money she was raking in, however, would later prove to be problematic, due to some allegedly very shady behavior.

She was sued by a dance student and her mom

In 2014, 13-year-old "Dance Moms" dance student Paige Hyland sued Abby Lee Miller. In the lawsuit, Hyland alleged that Miller was emotionally abusive toward her and had acted in a manner that led her to believe that the dance teacher was going to physically attack her. "Paige Hyland reasonably feared she would be physically injured because she had observed Miller physically batter other people on the show including physically pushing [mother] Kelly Hyland's face, pinching another student until she bled and violently grabbing another student by the arm," the lawsuit stated. While Hyland made no accusation of experiencing any actual violence herself — merely the perceived threat of it — her lawsuit claimed that Miller's behavior toward her had left her suffering from anxiety and experiencing panic attacks.

That lawsuit, by the way, followed a previous suit filed by Hyland's mother, Kelly Hyland. That suit involved an incident that had been documented on the show, in which she slapped Miller across the face. In her litigation, Kelly Hyland claimed that, despite being the one who doled out the slap, she was the victim; she alleged that Miller had lunged at her, and the slap was merely self-defense. She also sued for defamation over comments that Miller made about the incident on a daytime talk show. After reviewing the footage, the judge in the case dismissed the suit. Meanwhile, Paige Hyland's suit was similarly dismissed.

She was dumped by Dance Masters of America

While "Dance Moms" proved to be a ratings hit for Lifetime, it wasn't just reality TV fans who were watching Abby Lee Miller's antics. Also tuning in was Phyllis R. Guy, national president of Dance Masters of America, a nonprofit that trains and certifies dance instructors. In a 2012 newsletter (as reported by Dance Studio Life), Guy explained why the organization, at that point, hadn't yet commented on the series, which she felt didn't exactly portray dance studios in the best light. "We had hoped the show would just fade away," Guy wrote, noting that "Dance Moms" cameras attempted to film at one of the organization's conventions, but weren't permitted to do so. 

In addition, DMA was actively discouraging both parents and students from becoming involved with the show. "DMA feels this is a total misrepresentation of our dance educators and their students and is detrimental to the dance profession," she added.

According to the website of DMA's Philadelphia chapter, Abby Lee Miller's mother, Maryen Lorrain Miller, had been a longtime member, and Abby Lee had been as well. That, however, changed when Guy announced that the younger Miller had been thrown out. "Abby Lee Miller is no longer a member of Dance Masters of America," Guy wrote. "Quality dance education is very important to each of us and our students and our goal is to provide the best dance education in the most loving atmosphere."

She was indicted for trying to hide her Dance Moms income

In 2012, the judge who was in the process of discharging Abby Lee Miller's bankruptcy happened to be doing some channel surfing and came across an episode of Abby Lee Miller's "Dance Moms" spinoff, "Abby's Ultimate Dance Competition," as well as a promo for the "Dance Moms" season premiere declaring that "The Maniac is Back." The judge developed a suspicion that she was earning more than the $8,800 or so per month she'd reported in her bankruptcy filing. 

A week before her bankruptcy was to be discharged, the judge halted the proceedings and ordered Miller to produce any contracts she'd entered into. She then produced those contracts, which revealed additional income of more than $280,000. "The problem here is that it looks to the court that she was hiding the ball," the judge said at the time of that disclosure, as reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "and until she got caught we wouldn't have known about this."

An investigation was launched, leading a grand jury to be convened. In 2014, Miller was indicted on federal charges of bankruptcy fraud and hiding nearly $800,000 in income. She was charged with 20 counts, and faced up to five years in federal prison, along with potentially $5 million in fines. She initially pleaded not guilty, but after repeatedly filing for multiple extensions to delay the trial, in 2016 she finally faced the music and ultimately changed her plea to guilty.

She claimed money she smuggled into the U.S. wasn't hers

Abby Lee Miller had already been indicted for bankruptcy fraud when she was accused of smuggling more than $120,000 in Australian currency out of the country; by law, travelers must report transporting any sum in excess of $10,000 to customs officials. Miller did not, and investigators alleged she split up the cash, placing it in Ziploc baggies that were hidden in her employees' luggage.

Miller proclaimed her innocence. NBC Bay Area reported that, during a 2017 appearance on "The Wendy Williams Show," Miller insisted the money — allegedly generated from an Australian "Master Class" event — didn't belong to her, and that she hadn't seen it since returning to the U.S. from Australia. "My attorney said if I haven't seen it in three years, it's not mine," she said on the show. She insisted that tickets for the event had been purchased electronically, not in cash. She did, however, attempt to throw the mothers of her students under the bus, claiming they'd sold merchandise and posed for photos. Those transactions, she insisted, had been in cash, and she implied the money that had been smuggled was theirs, not hers.

Miller, however, did investigators a big favor by texting about her plans for the allegedly smuggled currency. "We have all this foreign cash. Need a little money laundering," read one of the texts, entered as evidence in her trial (as reported by Deadline). 

The shady reason she exited Dance Moms

About two months before Abby Lee Miller was scheduled to be sentenced for bankruptcy fraud, she shared a somewhat incendiary post on Instagram to reveal she was cutting ties with the TV show that had made her famous. Naturally, her exit was full of grace and gratitude — psych! Of course it wasn't. In fact, Miller parted ways with the show in a scorched-earth screed implying she'd been used and exploited by the show's producers.

"I WILL NO LONGER TAKE PART IN DANCE MOMS," she wrote, using all-caps to ensure readers would get the message. She continued by claiming she'd continually begged to be given credit for all the creativity she'd brought to the show through the dance routines, costumes, etc., but had been denied.

While she claimed she had no issues with any of the young dancers she trained (although anyone who watched the show may beg to differ), she did have some big problems with the sexist and demeaning way that she'd allegedly been treated. "I JUST HAVE A PROBLEM WITH BEING MANIPULATED, DISRESPECTED, AND USED – DAY IN AND DAY OUT BY MEN WHO NEVER TOOK A DANCE LESSON IN THEIR LIVES AND TREAT WOMEN LIKE DIRT!" she wrote.

She feuded with her Dance Moms replacement Cheryl Burke

After Abby Lee Miller's fiery Instagram rant announcing she was through with "Dance Moms," Lifetime responded by bringing in "Dancing With the Stars" pro Cheryl Burke as a guest choreographer. That ultimately led to Burke becoming Miller's full-time replacement for the eighth season of "Dance Moms," which also wound up being its last. 

Rather than simply offer Burke her congratulations, Miller's response oozed bitterness — although, to be fair, it was right on brand. "I just know they're going to treat her a hell of a lot better than they treated me, for now," Miller griped. "Give her six years, they'll talk to her like she's dirt too." While Miller didn't have anything negative to say about Burke, she slammed Lifetime for what she perceived as disloyalty to her. "I think bringing in a stranger that has a resume is going to be so much more important to them than me [and] the people that have been there for seven years, day in and day out, working our butts off."

A few months after Miller's remarks, Burke appeared on "The Steve Harvey Show," where she demonstrated she wasn't above throwing a little shade at her predecessor and her signature outbursts. "I am approaching it differently. I don't scream or yell — I don't believe in that," Burke said. "And I try not to intimidate [the children] or traumatize them."

She served time in prison for fraud charges

After pleading guilty, Abby Lee Miller was sentenced to one year and one day in prison in May 2017. That was to be followed by two years of supervised release, with her sentence also including a $40,000 fine and a $120,000 judgement. "I made mistakes. I trusted people. But ultimately I have to take responsibility for those mistakes. I have to take the blame. I have to take the punishment," Miller told People

She entered prison on July 17, 2017, and was released eight months later, with a few months shaved off her sentence for good behavior behind bars. She then spent the next two months in a halfway house before she was released in May 2018. Shortly after her release, Miller underwent emergency surgery on her spine that left her unable to walk. During that operation, surgeons discovered and removed a tumor, leading to a diagnosis of Burkitt lymphoma. 

In a subsequent interview with "Good Morning America," Miller wasn't exactly what one might describe as repentant about the crimes she'd committed after serving her time. "It's a joke," Miller said of spending eight months in prison. "Wouldn't I have done better teaching underprivileged children to dance or I mean just working, you know, fine me, whatever. It's absolutely asinine, the entire thing." She also complained that she'd been mistreated by guards because of her celebrity status, alleging that one guard had attempted to rip her eyelash extensions off. 

She complained that Dance Moms families didn't visit her while she was imprisoned

As it turned out, alleged mistreatment by guards wasn't the only complaint that Abby Lee Miller had about her eight-month stint in the slammer. In a 2022 interview with ET, she griped about all the families she'd worked with in her studio — all of whom, she claimed, had profited by appearing alongside her in "Dance Moms" — for not visiting her while she was in prison

"Shame on you. Shame on you after what I did for you, for your children — helped make you a lot of money," Miller said. According to Miller, she'd received correspondence from people all over the world — but heard nothing from anyone from "Dance Moms." "You couldn't come to visit me for eight and a half months?" she said. "You couldn't send a card, a letter?" While she may have sounded bitter about those who she felt had abandoned her during her greatest time of need, Miller insisted she was now over it. "It's not hurtful anymore, because you realize real quick who your friends are," she said.

In addition to her perceived abandonment, Miller also felt the whole thing had been a huge waste of government resources. "[The U.S. government] spent close to $4 million on my case and I had to pay a $40,000 fine and $120,000 they said I brought home from another country, which I didn't," she told the New York Post.

Her Dance Moms followup show was kiboshed over accusations of racism

After "Dance Moms" ended its run and Abby Lee Miller had served her time, she began developing a new Lifetime series, "Abby's Virtual Dance Off," planned to debut in the summer of 2020. It did not. In early June of that year, Adriana Smith, who appeared on "Dance Moms" with her daughter, Kamryn, shared a statement on Instagram

In that message, Smith divulged something that Miller had allegedly told her. "A statement from her that sticks in my mind to this day during my time on DMS8 is 'I know you grew up in the HOOD with only a box of 8 crayons, but I grew up in the Country Club with a box of 64 — don't be stupid,'" wrote Smith, who is Black. She also claimed that her daughter had overheard Miller saying that the only reason Kamryn was selected to be on the show was to serve as "a sprinkle of color."

Miller responded with her own Instagram statement, acknowledging she'd made those remarks and apologizing for them. "I realize that racism can come not just from hate, but also from ignorance," Miller wrote. "No matter the cause, it is harmful, and it is my fault."

That apology was not accepted — at least not by the network that was supposed to debut her new series. "We currently do not have plans to air the show," a Lifetime spokesperson said in a statement to USA Today.

She had a falling out with her star pupil

The two biggest stars to emerge from "Dance Moms" have been JoJo Siwa and Maddie Ziegler, with the former going on to become a Nickelodeon sensation and the latter becoming the dancing muse of singer-songwriter Sia; not only has Sia cast Ziegler in several of her music videos, she also tapped her to star in her feature-film directorial debut, "Music."

In 2015, after leaving the show, Ziegler admitted that much of the drama between Abby Lee Miller and her young dance students was generated by "Dance Moms" producers. "It's hard to do a reality show when there's so much crying and drama," Ziegler, then 12, told USA Today. "The producers set it up to make us all yell at each other. You know how I said that moms do fight? The moms have a fake fight sometimes. Afterward they just start talking and laugh about it." Several years later, Ziegler had even more to say about her "Dance Moms" experience, revealing she was no longer in communication with Miller. "She trained me, she helped me, but also, I knew I would be OK without her and I was sick of being in a toxic environment," Ziegler told Cosmopolitan

Miller responded in a video she posted on her YouTube channel. "If it was so toxic," Miller queried, addressing Ziegler, "why did you keep doing it?" 

Dance Moms alums are still scarred from their experiences with Abby Lee Miller

While Maddie Ziegler has seemingly backed away from Abby Lee Miller in the years since she exited "Dance Moms," that hasn't stopped Miller from taking credit for her success. "I don't think had she not been in my studio, she would be where she is today," Miller told ET. In a subsequent interview with ET, Miller lamented the fact that Ziegler had cut ties, and said, "[Ziegler] absolutely wants nothing to do with me and that's sad, but it is what it is."

JoJo Siwa is another of Miller's former students who appeared on "Dance Moms," and while she hasn't made the type of remarks that Ziegler has, she's commented in other ways. One such way was via TikTok, such as when Siwa posted a video in which she is standing next to footage from a "Dance Moms" episode in which Miller berates young Siwa for her supposed entitled attitude. "You deserve nothing!" Miller shrieks. In another TikTok video, Siwa is seen pointing to a bald spot on her head. "Stress rash on my head when I was on 'Dance Moms' [led] to no more hair there," she wrote in the caption.

Then there's Chloe Lukasiak, who made a YouTube video chiding Miller for kicking her out of her studio. "The reason I left 'Dance Moms' was because my former dance teacher made fun of a medical condition I have," she said. "What she did was horrible."

She was forced to sell her dance studio and auction off its contents

In late 2022, Abby Lee Miller decided to sell the building that hosted her Pittsburgh dance studio, which had been the setting for "Dance Moms" and was where she'd been teaching young dancers since 1993. According to the New York Post, Miller sold the place for $300,000. She confirmed the news of the building's sale in a video she shared on Instagram, but was adamant that it was only the physical structure she sold, not her dance school. "I sold my property — I didn't sell my name," Miller insisted. "I didn't sell my brand. I didn't sell my life's work. I sold brick, mortar, cinder blocks and an amazing dance floor that is still in mint condition. The best floors that I ever stood on."

The building wasn't all she was selling. In a subsequent Instagram video, she revealed she was also auctioning off stuff from the studio, which she was billing as "Dance Moms" memorabilia. "Eight seasons of 'Dance Moms," and there is lots of stuff in that studio," Miller said, describing items such as costumes, leotards, shoes, photos — even the remains of a floor from one of the dance studio's rooms. "There's sweat, there's blood, there's everything in that studio, and now it can be yours," she added. 

She received backlash for admitting attraction to high school football players

Abby Lee Miller made a surprising admission during a 2023 appearance on the "Sofia with an F" podcast. As she and host Sofia Franklyn chatted, the conversation turned to the 1983 film "All the Right Moves," set in the world of high school football. "Oh, that's my downfall. I like the high school football players," Miller declared, adding, "I still like them." Just in case there was any confusion, the middle-aged dance instructor quickly jumped in to explain that she wasn't talking about grown men who had played football during their high school days, but actual teenage athletes. "Not one that used to be in high school but one that is," she explained.

Those comments led Miller to be hit with a tsunami of backlash on social media, so much so that she took to Instagram in order to share a video in which she attempted to, as she stated, "set the record straight." She began by declaring, "I do like those hot, athletic, muscular types of guys — the jocks. I always have, and I always will." She continued by clarifying that the kind of jock who quickens her pulse is one who's old enough to gamble, go to a nightclub, and rent a car. "Now, if you saw the movie 'All the Right Moves' starring Tom Cruise playing a high school football star, then you will know exactly what I'm talking about," she added.