May 30, 2012— -- A year ago, six young dancers were just these kids from around Pittsburgh who spent every weekend traveling across the country to competitive dance contests.
But then Chloe, Maddie, Nia, Brooke, Paige and McKenzie, and their mothers who support them, had their dance lives played out in the Lifetime reality TV show "Dance Moms." At the helm is their no-nonsense dance instructor Abbey Lee Miller, who rides them, hard, sometimes battering the girls with harsh words. The moms watch, and then they often get into the fray, standing up for their kids.
"I think that is one of the things that resonates true with the audience is that we are dynamic personalities," said Christi, Chloe's mother.
"There's a lot of craziness, but it is also a lot of fun," said Paige's mother Kelly.
Every week, four moms watch the girls, who range in age from 7 to 14, get ready for yet another dance competition -- there's one every weekend. The kids, who love to dance and have dreams of being professional dancers, work four to five hours a day after school, often until 9 p.m., and the bickering, the hovering, the interference seems endless.
The dancers and their mothers spoke with "Nightline" at the Encore Dance Center in Lancaster, Pa. Chloe, 11, admitted that the constant arguing can be a distraction.
"I just try to block all of the chaos and the drama going on just out of my head and just focus on my dancing," she said.
But "Dance Moms" is not just about dancing. It is also about what it takes to be the best and whether it's worth it. Miller does not believe every mother's child is as special as the next. In fact, she said she believes kids these days are "ridiculously" over-coddled.
"Kids get a trophy now for being born," she said. "No. The trophy should be earned."
These girls do earn a lot of trophies and are incredibly good dancers -- and Miller got them there. But at what price, the show asks. Each week Miller ranks the girls, from the top of the pyramid to the bottom. The idea is to motivate the girls to "knock" each other off the top of the pyramid. It's a strategy the producers of "Dance Moms" invented.
"[Miller] also calls us 'stupid' and 'dumb,'" Chloe said.
"Well, some kids sometimes do stupid things," Miller said.
Week after week, with cameras rolling, Miller makes the girls cry, and then she really gets mad and tells them to suck it up, "save it for your pillow," or even "tears are for when you break your arm and it's hanging off or for when somebody dies."
"Don't cry because you didn't win, don't cry because you didn't get a role," Miller said. "Sometimes I'm making their dreams come true."
That is where the mothers come in. Half the time they are angling to get their daughters ahead; the rest of the time they seem to be united against Miller's tough love methods.
"There are aspects of Abbey I like," Holly, Nia's mother, said. "I respect her as a teacher, from one educator to the other, but I think her instructional methods are questionable at best."
Miller said the mothers question her about "everything," from costumes and make-up, to which girl is in the dance number and who will be left out.
"Years ago, parents trusted the teacher," Miller said. "When I went to school and I got in trouble or I had detention, I came home and I got in trouble again. So why the parents back the kids up nowadays, I don't get it."
Most of the time, Miller's performances, which she designs herself, are winners. But some have dark themes, like girls holding golden guns and lost children. The young dancers are also wearing tons of make-up.
"People like dark," she said. "The dark wins. Why, I don't know."
And that's why, probably, the mothers give in. Of course they are not just dance moms now. They are dance moms who are playing themselves on TV. More than 20 mothers from Miller's studio were considered, and the four chosen were not picked for their meekness. One mother told "Nightline" that when the cameras are around, she finds herself saying things out loud that previously she might have kept to herself.
"We are mothers struggling with a lot of issues that every mother in America struggles with, but we are doing it in a very public fashion," Holly said. "Are we always right? No."
So how real is the reality of "Dance Moms"? Pretty real, the kids say.
"That's actually just how our lives are," Holly said. "It really is. Crazy."