Say what you will about the moral aspect of parents parading their children around in intense competitions that may or may not be age-appropriate, but in terms of the entertainment factor of the TV shows that portray these cultures, it's hard to argue that they're not at least a little bit intriguing, if not shamefully enjoyable. After all, the best parts of these series come from the pointless drama and the stressed-out adults. (Though I do like the moments when the kids are genuinely happy, too. I'm not a monster!) TLC's Toddlers & Tiaras has had a strong choke-hold on the market of madness since early 2009... but after a strong premiere season of Lifetime's Dance Moms, I think it's necessary to pit these two shows against each other in a grudging, hair-pulling battle of exploitative candid reality shows, if not only to cut down your weekly intake of stage mothers next season. Just know that when I say "Winner", I mean which show I would rather watch, given the battle.
For starters, it's really easy to jump into an episode of T&T. Each episode, we meet a few new pageant hopefuls and see their journey to the competition. But if you try to watch a standalone episode of Dance Moms, you'll find yourself asking questions like, "Why does that woman have a pyramid of children's faces?" and "Who is this Cathy person everyone is talking about?" and "That's the person these women are willingly paying money to teach their daughters how to dance?"
Winner: As a TV junkie, I say Dance Moms. Way more rewarding!
Ironically, for a show with the word "Moms" right in the title, Dance Moms is actually light on the controlling parents compared to the stage mothers on T&T, who make their children wear fake teeth, take them to the tanning salon, smother them in makeup and literally dress them up as prostitutes. However, Dance Moms has Abby Lee Miller of the Abby Lee Dance Company, a terrible, controlling woman who has time and time again made our Most Heinous Person on Reality TV lists this summer. Also seen on that list: Cathy, who is a crazy dance teacher herself and the mother of a ridiculously over-worked child.
Winner: Abby does have her redeeming moments, like creating interesting pool games involving watermelons, but the parents on T&T have taken society to brave new lows.
Disregard for Other Cultures
I mean, you meet enough delusional parents from Bumblefuck, USA and you are bound to hear a whole lot of shockingly inappropriate and tasteless racial remarks. And our favorite example from Dance Moms was when Abby insisted that Nia, and only Nia, must learn all of the "ethnic" dances if she wants to get ahead in this world. The result: An Afro wig, animal-prints and basically danceless routine called "LaQuifa"... but also a cameo from RuPaul's Drag Race's Shangela(!!!), so at least we got rewarded for sticking with it.
Winner: Dance Moms, because Nia's mother Holly at least addresses Abby's behavior. The T&T moms just plain get away with horrifying Asian accents. (I'm looking at you, Sydney's mom, Marlo.)
On both shows, it's pretty much the same every week: T&T has the battle for Ultimate Grand Supreme while the Dance Moms girls always have a new competition ahead of them. The devil, of course, is in the details of each: Will today's toddler see a wolf mask seconds before her set and cry on stage? Is the pageant clearly fixed? Alternately, who will be on the bottom row of the pyramid? Which way will Abby set up Chloe to fail? Who will threaten to put her daughter in another class?
Winner: Both can be trite and repetitive at worst, explosive and frustrating to the parent at best. Draw.
Moments of Truth
When it comes to actual competitions, you get lots of little snippets from T&T hopefuls, many of which are pretty damn cute (assuming you don't think about the process behind them). Abby's dance routines range from really skillful (everything Maddie does) to downright tacky (everything else) -- sometimes it's fun in a downgraded version of Black Swan kind of way.
Winner: T&T, because the under one-year-old category gets me every time.
Amount of Shame Felt After Watching
T&T can be extremely cruel at times, and given that I am not a practiced mother, I have seen enough children's tears to last a lifetime. And I also hate that by watching Dance Moms, I am, in a way, supporting the Abby Lee Dance Studio, and possibly Cathy's Candy Apple's Dance Studio. Shudder.
Winner: Dance Moms, because if I tell someone I watch it, I most often get a "Never heard of it" response. There's no escaping the exposure of T&T.
Overall Winner: You know, it's been a truly excellent season of T&T, but Dance Moms has cartwheeled its way into my heart (with pointed toes, natch). Call me LaQuifa, Abby Lee. I'm smitten.
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