Being the further adventures of the seven girls at Pittsburgh's Abby Lee Dance Company, and their moms. I reviewed Season 2 Volume 1 previously. To recap, this is a "reality" series whose real star is dance coach Abby Lee Miller, who apparently is well-respected in her field but comes across here as very abrasive, berating her students at times while showing a little compassion occasionally. The students' mothers for some reason are required to be present, usually watching the lessons and rehearsals from a room above the studio while saying what they dislike about Abby.
I thought the first volume was a train wreck, since so much time was spent showing the mothers getting into heated arguments amongst themselves and with Abby, often over petty matters. I may have just become desensitized since then, but the episodes in this volume seem to focus much more on the actual dancing and less on the backstage bickering. While there's still plenty of that, much more time is devoted to showing the girls actually learning and practicing their dance routines. Each episode has the group learn a routine together along with solo performances for a selected few, then they travel to a competition to perform them.
As I said in my review of the first volume, I had a hard time getting past how supposedly all of this was "real" but more likely the dramatic moments were staged. I still don't know the truth behind that. By this time it appears Abby's personality is being milked for all it's worth, with her repeating her catchphrases such as "Save your tears for your pillow" for anyone who cries and "Second place is the first to lose" (the DVD's cover picture shows her breaking a second-place trophy.) How much of this she does in real life and what she's been told to do by the show's producers is anyone's guess. A memorable "performance" from her in this volume has her throw a chair down hard on the studio floor when she finds out a dancer's mother has forgotten to put rubber stoppers on it as she told her to the night before. This has the mom complain about having to do this, then pulling her kid out and leaving only to return the next day.
Likewise the mothers stir a few things up, most noticeably discussing things they don't like about Abby whenever she isn't in the room. Do they not have a problem having all their words recorded, and Abby most likely hearing them later? In Volume One they mostly commented on her personality and the way she addressed their kids, but here they also criticize many of her choreography choices (at one point calling it "stupid") and complain about being given additional tasks, such as making the costumes for one routine and having to modify props such as what led to the aforementioned chair-throwing incident. They also suspect Abby is favoring some kids over others. At one competition, a girl's solo dance number is spoiled when her music CD skips. Her mother suspects that Abby purposely damaged the CD; she finally confronts her about it which makes Abby furious that she would even suggest such a thing.
Another memorable incident is where one mom dislikes Abby's choreography so much, she secretly changes the moves when her daughter is practicing off-site. The girl performs the modified dance at the competition while Abby's mortified reaction is shown as she watches from the audience. The dance scores favorably with the judges, but Abby gives the mom a serious chewing-out backstage afterwards.
The conflicts with a "rival" studio called "Candy Apple's Dance Company" in Canton (roughly two hours from Pittsburgh) continue as well. In Volume One, one student left Abby's studio for Candy Apple's, but she ends up returning to Abby here (probably a relief to the crew who had to follow her there). At one competition, Abby's only goal is to "beat" this other studio- while they don't win the competition, they still score higher than Candy Apple's so Abby considers the competition a success anyways. Later when they attend a big competition in Hollywood, the other instructor taunts Abby at every chance she gets.
An interesting side-story here is the oldest girl named Brooke also decides to pursue a singing career and writes her own pop song. During the trip to Hollywood, she books time at a professional recording studio and records the song with the other girls in the dance company singing back-up, and Abby later shoots a music video.
All in all, I found this volume much more wholesomely entertaining than the first, although I still had to question how much staging went on behind the scenes. The presence of the camera crew is never acknowledged by anyone during the entire show, and nobody comments on their feelings towards being recorded. While I appreciated the stronger focus on the dancing, the final performances at the competitions are still edited for time- it would have been nice if they had been shown in their entirety.
"Dance Moms" is presented in 16x9, shot on video but at 24 frames per second giving it a more film-like look. For this kind of material I would have preferred the conventional 30 frames per second, where it would have looked more like "live" footage. On standard DVD, the picture is a bit soft, and some compression artifacts appear as over three hours of content are included on each disc.
As before, sound is in 2-channel Dolby Digital. Most of the location sound is mono with stereo music. During almost all scenes there is some musical underscore intending to manipulate the viewer's reactions (and also makes some words hard to hear).
English subtitles in SDH format are included as well as Spanish.
The first two discs each include some short clips where Abby and the moms provide additional comments on moments from the shows we've just seen. Disc 3 includes a "Reunion Show" where executive producer Jeff Collins talks with Abby, the moms, the kids, and the rival studio's instructor in a talk-show format. I was interested to see some input from someone behind the scenes, but here he keeps a talk-show host's persona and the goings-on seem rigged as well, with a few arguments between Abby and some moms arising. This is also presented at 24 frames per second.
I still have to criticize the packaging- as with the first volume, the three single-sided discs are all stacked on top of each other on one spindle inside the case. I'll just say that I don't like this.
While I still had issues with the possibility of the conflicts and such being staged (and yes, I know this is probably the case for most "reality" shows), I found this volume much more enjoyable than the first. I still don't know how accurately it portrays the world of competitive dance, but I would suggest that those who are interested check out this volume first, then watch Volume 1 if they find the participants appealing and want to see more. Watching Volume 1 first, I could see many being turned off enough to forget about Volume 2. I'd still like to hear the unfiltered thoughts of the people who produce and appear in this.
Jesse Skeen is a life-long obsessive media collector and former theater film projectionist. He enjoys watching movies and strives for presenting them perfectly, but lacks the talent to make his own.