“A year ago, I was sitting on my porch with a Flip camera talking about how crazy my dance studio is,” laughs Christi Lukasiak, cuddling her toddler daughter Clara while on break from shooting a brand-new episode of the runaway Lifetime reality hit Dance Moms. “A year later, we’re on national television and heading into our second season!”
Fans recognize the bold, blond thirtysomething as unofficial leader of the posse of four put-upon mothers united by their daughters’ training at the nationally known, Pittsburgh-based Abby Lee Dance Company — and the dressings-down they are regularly afforded by ALDC’s larger-than-life dictator of dance, Abby Lee Miller. When the show debuted last July, the mix of preternaturally talented girls thriving as competitive dancers, siblings and devoted friends even as the adults around them regularly lost their minds, spines and sense of decorum proved irresistible to everyone from dance-obsessed little girls and lovestruck little boys to fellow dance moms. Well, and an immense contingent of vocal detractors.
“I’ve always been a fan of reality television so I think I personally knew what to expect,” says Lukasiak of auditioning for the series with her 10-year-old daughter, aspiring Rockette Chloe. “Some of the other moms might not have known. But it’s easy to see there are different personalities and dynamics going on. It’s unnerving to watch because you’re thinking, ‘Oh my God, I’m really putting myself out there and I’m letting myself be judged!‘ But I did know what I was doing when I went into it. I’m not going to say, ‘Oh I didn’t know [I’d be portrayed like this]! I was tricked!’ I went into it with open eyes. I don’t do anything halfway. I do everything full-out — that’s my personality. So I knew I was going to be someone who formed very, very divided camps — people were either going to get me or really really not get me.”
Lukasiak does take umbrage to interviews Miller has given suggesting that Abby Lee and her students were never auditioned and only came as a package deal with the nuttiest ALDC mothers the producers could find. “The children absolutely auditioned too,” Lukasiak says. “I have Chloe’s audition tapes saved on my computer. They needed to make sure that the girls were talented dancers, and I think that they wanted to make sure that the girls were each someone that America could root for, too. I was a little taken aback when [Miller] said, ‘It had nothing to do with the girls’ talent; it was all based on the mothers’ crazy.’ That may have been her perception, but it wasn’t the truth.”
Besides, says Lukasiak, with the exception of last season’s Ohio-import oddball Cathy Stein, the Dance Moms have been a united front for years. “We watch and a lot of times, we’re like, ‘Ugh! But you don’t know the whole story!’ … You get what happened that day, and you might think, ‘Oh, that woman really overreacted!’ But what you don’t see are all the little things that happened for the past five years that really pushed it to that point. But this really is all of our emotions, and all of the scenes really do come from a very real place. Somebody just finally gave us permission to talk about it!”
And talking about the whole story, says Lukasiak, is at the heart of the new Dance Moms season. “Season 2 is going to knock Season 1 out of the water!” she exclaims. “The dancing is better. We have new faces, new dimensions added to the drama. And there’s some — I don’t want to say secrets — but things that come to be known that give a lot of backstory to some of what happened in Season 1. I think people get to know more about us in Season 2, get to know us better.
“And I have to say, the gloves are off,” Lukasiak laughs. “The Moms have gotten a little mouthier this season — if that’s possible. In Season 1, we may have held back a bit because we didn’t know what to expect, but in Season 2 all bets are off. I — who am never shocked or without words — have been speechless a few times!”
• Q&A With “Dance Moms” Christi Lukasiak
Channel Guide Magazine: Did you have any idea when you and Chloe signed on for the series what not just a reality TV phenomenon, but a pop culture phenomenon it was going to become?
CL: I always thought that our world as a little unusual, but I didn’t think people would be that interested in it. I really didn’t. It takes you aback a little how suddenly people know about you and your life. Last year at this time I was just a regular mom and within a year, we’ve not only been on a national television show, but we’re already filming a second season. That’s crazy. It’s been very … odd. It’s interesting; it’s weird; it’s a little overwhelming. But on the other hand, it’s a once in a lifetime — no pun intended [laughs].
CGM: Do you think that part of the reason the show has attracted so much attention is because — unlike so many other reality series about extreme jobs and the like — dance class is almost a universal thing for little girls, and therefore for families, these days?
CL: Almost every little girl takes a dance class at some point in her life — and even if you don’t have children in dance class, a lot of people have approached us when we’re out and traveling around and said they have totally seen parallels between us and what they’re going to through with soccer or their son’s wrestling or football. So I think anybody who is involved with their child in an activity can relate to what we’re going though. I really do.
CGM: That said, you and your fellow moms must still rely on Abby to be your daughters’ dance instructor, even when the cameras aren’t rolling.
CL: I think that right there is the core — the central issue — that we all struggle with. I know that I probably would — if Abby wasn’t holding such things in her hands — I would give her more of a piece of my mind. I’m quite certain Kelly would. So you kind of play by the rules to a certain degree, but you still need to be true to who you are and what you believe — so it’s a fine line you have to walk.
CGM: To that end, when Dance Moms launched, your story line got off to a pretty interesting start — you were portrayed as wandering off a lot and drinking. But you evolved pretty quickly into someone who was willing to go nose-to-nose with Abby no matter how much was at stake. Are you and the fellow moms at the mercy of the editors or do you have some say in what actually makes it into the episodes?
CL: I think at the beginning of the show, it’s hard to show a complete picture of someone. I do go out and have a drink. I like to have fun. But that’s not completely who I am — you were only seeing a portion of it because that part was interesting and it was controversial. I am exactly the person you see on TV when I am talking to Abby, but I don’t leave my daughter and sneak off and have drinks. But I will go have a glass of wine with my girlfriends. I’m not ashamed of that. I’m an adult.
I don’t think the audience had an opportunity to see me as a well-rounded individual at the beginning of the show, but I do think I came full circle. At the beginning, it was very hard to see that because we were traveling and filming and I would talk to my husband after the show and he would say, “Oh my God, I didn’t know I was married to a college girl!” And I would say, “But I’m noooooot!” We kind of took it with a grain of salt because we knew. But that was hard, because a lot of people had some really strong words about that at the beginning for me. But I have thick skin I suppose — I’ve been dealing with Abby for years [laughs].
Now it’s funny for me to watch me be the party girl at the beginning because I knew I wasn’t like that. But it was interesting. It drew people into the story and it made for the water-cooler talk. And I actually think, in a way, it allowed people to see an evolution of me as person. Because you got to see that fun side, but then you really got to see who I really am as a person and a mom. At the beginning it was a little hard, but I was really happy at the end of how that turned out.
CGM: To me the show rather quickly divided itself into two sagas — one being the moms’ experiences with each other, Abby Lee and how she interacts your daughters, and the other, how your daughters reacted to the stress of what was happening and really represented a united front and an example of how people should care for one another and treat competitive situations.
CL: The girls are amazing. The moms have taken a lot of heat for some things that have happened, but I keep saying to everybody, “You know, we have to be pretty good moms because look how our girls have turned out.” You might not see every great moment — and you might see only a bad moment. But to me, winning a dance competition is great, it’s what we strive for — but to hear people think of them as role models and examples is far more rewarding than any trophy that sits on Chloe’s shelf.
And I really think that each one of those girls brings something special to the table. I think they are an amazing group of kids. I say it all the time: For all that is asked of them and put on their plates — I mean, we traveled for 6 weeks this summer filming the second half of the season — those kids did not fight one time. Not on-camera; not off-camera. They may have gotten a little whiny at times, but they did not fight with each other and they never gave us a hard time. They’re just easy-going, good kids.
CGM: What’s it like for you and the girls and the other moms at dance competitions and out in public now — are people respectful?
CL: For the most part people have been respectful. Where they’ve been disrespectful is the phones. All of the moms across the board have had to have our personal and cellphone numbers changed. And somebody posted some of the kids’ cellphone numbers online, so we’ve had to do some damage control there. But for the most part, people have been respectful.
CGM: How is Chloe handling everything? She seems so poised and mature and calm on the show.
CL: The thing that a lot people don’t know about Chloe — because when she is on TV, she is talking to people she knows and she’s in situation she’s comfortable in — she’s actually a pretty shy kid. Not socially awkward. She just tends to be a little reserved. So I think when kids come up and tend to be a little overwhelming, at times, that might be a little hard for her.
Because the show targets that tween market, that’s the age that becomes very invested and they think that they know you. And I think that’s the age at which it becomes very difficult to differentiate that the girls on TV are certainly who they are in real life, but they don’t know you back. And that can be a little hard.
Season 2 of Dance Moms premieres January 10 and airs Tuesdays at 9pm ET/PT on Lifetime.
All photos ©2011 A&E Television Networks, LLC. All rights reserved. Credit: Scott Gries