The untold truth of Dance Moms

Drama, dedication, heart, and nail-biting competition... Lifetime's Dance Moms has it all. Over the course of years, viewers have tuned in to see a team of girls putting their all into making their dance competition dreams come true, while at the behest of a tyrant who knows best and a group of mothers who always seemed one side-eye away from a hair-pulling slap-fest. It's the nature of reality TV to leave viewers wondering how much is real, how much is fake, and what happens when the cameras aren't rolling... so let's take a look.

There's been a series of lawsuits filed by the Hylands

Those who regularly tune in to Dance Moms are just waiting for the drama, but sometimes, that drama can be just a little too much. At least, that's the case according to a 2014 lawsuit filed against Abby Lee Miller by Kelly Hyland. TMZ reported that the lawsuit was over an incident that happening during a rehearsal in New York City, where fans got to see the usual bit of shouting come to an all-out hair-pulling episode of fisticuffs. According to Reality Tea, Hyland claimed the show's producers both provoked the argument in the first place and sent her packing, adding the incident allowed Miller to press misdemeanor assault charges (which were ultimately dropped).

Hyland's suit included not only the assault charges, but emotional distress, defamation of character, and breech of contract. Each part was dismissed for various reasons, not the least of which was the fact that her contract said she was allowing herself to be portrayed on the show however the producers wanted.

Daughter Paige Hyland also filed a lawsuit against Miller, claiming extreme emotional distress. TMZ got the details of the lawsuit, which claimed that she and the girls were subjected to everything from verbal attacks on their appearance to physical abuse, adding Miller had pinched her dancers so hard they bled. According to In Touch Weekly, the case was dismissed when the judge claimed insufficient evidence.

There's been lawsuits filed against Hyland, too

In a Season 4 episode, Dance Moms proved just how quickly things could get out of hand. When Miller suggested replacing Hyland's daughter in the on-stage line-up, the ensuing screaming match escalated to hair-pulling and finally a slap across the face, delivered by Hyland. The following lawsuit saw them heading to court, where the charges were dismissed with the caveat that Hyland needed to stay away from Miller for six months and spend two days in counselling.

"It's a good result for her," Hyland's attorney, Steven Goldstein, told ET. "She has no criminal record before this. No convictions of any kind prior. The terms are easy which reflects the nature of this type of case. Hopefully she can move on and be a mother and live happily ever after."

One episode was pulled from the rotation

Gawker quoted Miller as saying, "I like to push the envelope, and this is taking it right to the limit." The dance routine in question was a burlesque fan dance, performed by the troop of 8- to 13-year-old girls wearing flesh-colored leotards to simulate nudity.

That just sounds completely cringe-worthy, and Gawker reports that the girls really were cringing at the idea of appearing on stage pseudo-naked. The routine was performed, and bizarrely, there was another questionable decision made in the same episode, which was entitled "Topless Showgirls." Audiences who tuned in also saw 10-year-old Chloe wearing a flesh-colored leotard that was turned into a version of Lady Gaga's meat dress, all for the filming of a commercial.

Needless to say, there was an extremely uncomfortable vibe in the room when the girls' burlesque routine was actually performed, along with Chloe's confession, "I guess all the girls and I feel kind of nervous because we feel kind of naked." (via E! News) Lifetime agreed. The episode aired once, and afterwards, Lifetime promised that it would not only never air again, but that it would never be available on any streaming services, either.

Producers may have encouraged questionable routines

Nothing boosts ratings quite like controversy, and according to what Abby Lee Miller said in 2015, the producers were so determined to stir up some controversy with bizarre dance routines that she was willing to put everything on hold. Jezebel reported on a tidbit they pulled from one of her newsletters, where Miller tried to reassure everyone that if she happened to disappear for a bit, it was because she would rather be fined for a violation of her contract then put the girls through the routines the producers had in mind.

"When a grown man tells me he wants one of my kids to portray a pregnant teen and wear a baby bump — I have to put my foot down," she wrote. "If that means not moving my foot and not working and getting fined in the process, well that's a risk I am willing to take to protect my girls. I am always teaching principles, integrity, and values in addition to dance technique. It is important for me that the girls learn to stand up and fight for what they believe in!"

Deadline Hollywood says that Miller never directly named the producer that she was supposedly having a dispute with, and also noted that she's missed episodes before. They suggest there has always been some sort of contingency plan in place to keep the show going without her.

Maddie Ziegler opens up about her time on the show

Maddie Ziegler was a favorite of fans and Miller alike. In 2017, she chatted with People about what's coming up for her and what her time on the show was like, saying, "I learned a lot of lessons. [...] I'm really glad that I did move on from that, and I did learn a lot from her and we did have some fun times. But I feel like now, I've never been happier in my life."

Most of her early unhappiness she doesn't blame on her former mentor, but on the pressures that came with competing. "I was stressed at 11 years old, which shouldn't happen!" she said. She also added that while she keeps in touch with former ALDC teammates, but that she has no plans to reunite with them — or with Miller.

Refinery29 picked up on an interesting dynamic that seemed to be playing out on social media, and they noted that when Ziegler released her book The Maddie Diaries: A Memoir, there was no mention of Miller at all... at least, not directly. She did write that in her career before her association with Sia that she "would say yes to a lot of things I didn't want to do," and it wasn't long before Miller posted on Instagram about her new "favorite student". A passive-aggressive comment about how she felt about being left out of her protege's career? Perhaps!

The stars say there's a lot of the drama that's faked by producers

How much drama is too much drama, and how much is not enough? Several stars of the show have come out with claims that when the naturally competitive environment didn't supply enough, the producers were more than happy to manufacture some.

When Kalani Hilliker spoke with OK! magazine (via Yibada), she said that the walkout of the Season 5 finale was staged because the producers thought it would boost ratings. Maddie Ziegler has also made comments about just how fake the show is, and when she talked to USA Today she was incredibly blunt about just how much the producers interfered. "It's hard to do a reality show when there's so much crying and drama. 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."

In April 2017, Sari Lopez talked to RadarOnline about just how much meddling the producers did, and she claimed that it was so bad that it drove Miller to quit. "It's supposed to be reality TV, but it's not reality. It's staged by the producers," she told them. She went on to say that producers even told Miller who to cut from teams and from shows, and fined her when she didn't comply.

Reshoots and selective editing make competitions appear exactly how producers want them to

It's a given that there's a lot of reality TV that ends up on the cutting room floor, but when it comes to the competitions, it turns out that some of those things are repeated attempts at getting competition routines exactly right. In 2014, International Business Times went behind-the-scenes at the Sheer Talent competition in New Jersey. They attended a 9-hour event that was condensed into a 40-minute episode, and that's legitimate. But they also wrote, "Going to a Dance Moms taping completely shatters the illusion that the show is in any way genuine."

Not only were competition audiences asked to rehearse their reaction when the ALDC dancers walked in, but all of the ALDC's routines were performed twice. That's not only to get different camera angles, but to catch — or cover — mistakes.

They also confirmed that the producers did orchestrate competitions precisely to capture drama happening off-stage as well as the performances that were happening on it, and their findings were supported by what insiders told RadarOnline. According to them, all the dances are performed multiple times, and that Miller's girls were the only ones that got the chance to dance more than once while competitors were only given one attempt at their routines. Insiders also said that sometimes, filming turned into 12-hour days and the girls were pushed to exhaustion by the end of it.

Abby Lee Miller's sentencing for fraud

In March 2017, Miller announced that she wasn't going to be returning to the show. Deadline Hollywood reported that she made the announcement on Instagram, and she didn't pull any punches about why she was leaving. "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!" her announcement read.

Just what her motivation for making the announcement — and leaving the show — really is was up for debate, as the outlet also noted that she had already plead guilty to fraud and violation of currency reporting laws. The investigation started when a judge overseeing her bankruptcy case noticed some discrepancies and started an investigation through the US Attorney. She later plead guilty to what turned into 20 accounts of fraud.

Her sentencing came in May, and the BBC reported that she was given one year and one day in jail, and ordered to pay a fine of $40,000. Two years of probation was also tacked onto her sentence, to start after her release. They reported on the details of the case, saying that Miller had been found to have concealed $755,000 of income earned after her 2010 bankruptcy, initiated to reorganize her studio. She was also instructed to surrender $120,000 that she brought into the US without declaring in 2014. Lifetime and Dance Moms didn't comment on her sentencing.

Kira Girard's criminal past

In 2016, RadarOnline got some court documents that supported some of the most shocking accusations of Season 5. Guest star Tracey Reasons had accused Kira Girard of having a criminal past, and while the accusations certainly were attention-grabbing, the full truth really only came out with the reveal of those documents. According to the court records, Girard — then known as Kira Salazar — had been involved in a fraud scheme in 2005.

The con had been a pretty simple one. Girard was accused of claiming to be selling HD televisions on eBay, instructing buyers to send her the money before simply not sending the televisions. According to the court documents four people made a claim against her for a total of $15,525. She first denied involvement, saying the guilty party was a then boyfriend who had access to her eBay account. After footage surfaced of her depositing the checks in question, she then pleaded guilty to receive $6,000 in fines and two years probation. In 2009 her probation was extended after it was reported that she had served none of the 400 hours of community service she had also been sentenced to.

While those charges were being investigated, it was also discovered that her boyfriend was in possession of steroids and drug paraphernalia, leading to charges being brought against him, too.

Not all the girls are actually ALDC members

While the premise of Dance Moms is the competition of the girls from the Abby Lee Dance Company, some surprising information came to light in 2014: not all the girls featured in the show were actually a part of ALDC. When Maddie Ziegler, sister Mackenzie Ziegler, and mom Melissa Ziegler-Gisoni went on AfterBuzz TV AfterShow (via International Business Times), they not only spoke up in defense of Miller's teaching methods (saying things like, "She has a big, big heart. She just wants the girls to to well"), they also said that Mackenzie usually wasn't even a part of the group. "It's usually not normal for all the moms to just watch their kids," she said on-air. "I don't actually dance with them. I dance with a different group so it's really different."

Maddie also said that her usual group is different on-camera and off, saying that newcomer Kalani Hilliker wasn't even a part of the studio. That was supported later by USC Annenberg Media, who found that Hilliker was actually from Arizona, and was trained by a studio there called Club Dance. The only time she even had anything to do with ALDC was when filming was taking place.

The original idea was for a very different show

Pittsburgh magazine did a behind-the-scenes profile on Dance Moms in 2013, and they found that Miller wasn't just doing things for the art of the dance, but that she was also building an entire brand that included everything from bobblehip dolls to a dancewear line. They took a look, too, at the impressive rise of ALDC, founded by a 22-year-old Miller who took on the burden of a $540,000 loan to build her dance studio. Her dedication to dance came from her mother, and her personality? That was all her father, who used to tell her, "You are dumb enough for twins."

The idea for the show came in 2008, and while no one can argue that she's as close to a main character as you can get on a show like Dance Moms, that wasn't the original plan. The original concept was to take five different mothers from five different cities and follow the careers of their daughters (and antics of the moms), but when it came time to cast those moms, "They decided there was a whole lot of crazy in Pittsburgh." The moms came first, and Miller auditioned after the rest of their cast of characters was in place. The rest is, as they say, Dance Moms history.