Typecasting on Dance Moms

September 24, 2020

 

 

Dance moms is reality television show about young girls training on an elite competition dance team. Although the show has created several young stars, including Jojo Siwa and Maddie Ziegler, it is not always rhinestones, tiaras, and smooth sailing. Abby Lee Miller, the main dance teacher on the show, has been accused of assault, emotional abuse, discrimination, and even spent a year in federal prison after pleading guilty to felony bankruptcy fraud. This article will examine one account of Miller typecasting a young dancer on her team back in 2011.


For three season of the show, Nia Sioux Frazier was the only black person on the elite competition team at the Abby Lee Dance Company. Throughout Nia’s seven seasons on the team, Miller would continuously typecast her to play roles including Rosa Parks, Viola Davis, Cookie Lyon, and more.


The first instance of Miller typecasting Nia came during season one episode seven titled “She’s a Fighter”. For that week’s competition, Miller told Nia she was assigned a character piece where she would portray American drag queen Laquifa. This did not go over well with Nia’s mother, Dr. Holly Frazier, but she initially decides to stay quiet out of fear that Miller would take the solo opportunity away from her child if she spoke up about her concerns.


After a few days of rehearsals, the costumes are ready to be fitted to the girls who are competing solos that weekend. Maddie Ziegler, one of Nia’s teammates, was assigned an emotional lyrical piece in honor of her late grandmother to compete at the competition. Maddie’s costume is an elegant, white dress that was custom made specifically for her dance. Next, Nia’s teammates Chloe and Brooke step out of the dressing room wearing feminine, whimsical costumes to match their solos. Lastly, Nia came out of the dressing room in a leopard print unitard. Abby tells Nia that she will also be wearing an afro wig on stage to go with the unitard. Holly becomes irritated that the other young dances are assigned personalized solo pieces while Nia has been type-casted to play a drag queen. Holly steps outside the room in disbelief, wondering if this was all a sick joke designed to make her daughter feel like an outcast. Holly tells the camera man, “there is nothing wrong with Laquifa, but that is not the black experience that Nia and I know.” 


Miller then attempts to defend her reasoning behind typecasting Nia. She explains that as an African American in show business, it is Nia’s job to learn dances of different ethnic backgrounds. Miller says that Holly wants her daughter to be like every other white girl at the dance studio, but Nia is different. According to Miller, it is her job to make sure Nia can capitalize on all her opportunities as an African American.


Later that evening, Holly’s frustration continues. She tells a few of the other dance moms that Abby might as well have “Nia pick cotton or wear a scarf on her head and play Aunt Jemima.”  Holly expresses that the black community in America has worked very hard to get beyond stereotypes and mistreatment. This is something that Miller, as a white individual, would never be able to understand. Holly ultimately states that she only wishes her daughter would feel beautiful and elegant while she’s dancing, and not have to be stereotyped as someone with an afro from the 70’s.


Unfortunately, this would only be the first of many instances of Miller limiting Nia to her ethnicity. Abby Lee Miller’s blatant disrespect, typecasting, and racist remarks towards her non-white dancers would ultimately lead to the show being canceled in 2019. There is no doubt that Miller’s treatment toward Nia as a young child affected Nia in the long run. Nia and another black dancer, Camryn Bridges, who trained at the Abby Lee Dance Company, would later start to speak out about their mistreatment on Abby’s elite competition team. Nia even recently participated in a Tik Tok trend where she wrote “You think you can hurt my feelings? I was the only black girl Dance Moms." Then she continued to say that she was a victim of bullying by the “biggest bully in America”. Today, Nia actively speaks up for Black Lives Matter and has started a series on her Instagram where she posts about one of her black role models every week.

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