Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Review: Dance Moms 6x18: One Last Dance

It's not often that I find disability representation on shows where there is usually none (or very little.)  But last night's episode of Dance Moms had quite a bit.  Not so much representation, though, as inspiration porn.  It features four of five common inspiration porn themes Able-Bodied Heroes, People as Props, Gawking Without Talking and the SuperParent were all prevalent here.

[Image shows a little boy happily swinging in an adaptive swing.  His wheelchair is beside him.]

Abby gives one of the little girls on the mini team a solo, entitled For My Brother, and then asks the girl's mother to "share a little about him."  Now this girl's older brother is not at the studio.  He's at home.  Mom immediately wells up with emotion and says, "I'm sorry.  It's really sad."  Mom is consoled by her daughter, while the daughter and all the other little dancers get emotional, too.

Mom proceeds to share super personal details of her son's medical history.  Trauma surrounding his infancy that resulted in surgery and a subsequent brain injury.  "He doesn't walk," she says.  "He doesn't talk."  It sounds a lot like Cerebral Palsy to me, but no one comes right out and says that.

If you've been reading here long at all you know how I feel about a disabled person's medical history being shared without their consent or permission.  For context, the boy in question looks to be a young teenager.  I don't know the extent of his disability, but I remain pretty committed to my feeling that if a child cannot consent to the sharing of their personal information in a way that is readily understood, or they genuinely don't or can't understand what they are being asked, don't share.  That's when extra caution is needed, not less.

Abby says this will be a very special dance for the little sister to do in honor of her brother.  Abby speaks via interview about how this girl is very mature in all areas.  And that this is because she "has to be."  Because "the person she should be able to look up to, she has to take care of."  She says the dance will show "what it's really like at home."

There are so many things I take issue with here.  First, the notion that having a disability automatically demotes you from your birth order in the family. (It doesn't.)  This older brother is still older than his younger sister, regardless of what happened to him when he was a baby.  Secondly, the insinuation that a ten-year-old child is somehow responsible for taking care of her older brother is just plain incorrect.  (Mom says in an interview that they have nursing care.)  Also, I want to know how Abby presumes to know what it is like for this little girl at home.  Because it sounds to me like Abby is just going out of her way to portray this older brother as a burden to his family.

The totally damaging view of disability does not stop there, though.  One of the other mothers (with two daughters on the elite team, who are leaving the studio as this is their final week) has a problem with Abby dedicating so much of her attention to the mini team and not on the two longtime students.  So she cuts off the mini mom with a swift, "I'm sorry this has been your life, but..."

Not "I'm sorry your kid had a traumatic infancy."

I'm sorry this has been your life.

Can I just say that those of us who are disabled are not life-ruiners?  The notion that we are is nothing short of damaging.

The single thing that was done right (which I am fairly sure was for the cameras) was when Abby went up to the older brother at the competition and talked to him about the dance.  Like, it shouldn't be worth noting that someone is decent to a disabled person, but some people are freaked out at the idea of talking to a disabled person.  So, kudos to her for that...I guess....


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  1. Hey Tonia, Thanks for writing about Dance Moms & Inspiration Porn! I noticed your referenced the Inspiration Porn Resolution. I'm one of the co-authors so it was a delight to see you mention it! If anyone wants to read more, it's here:

    1. Alice, Yes, I did and I thought about linking it last night. I didn't because I mentioned them very briefly. However, in a previous post I did link back to the source: as I went into more detail for each of the points. I hope this is okay! I think your guidelines are great and I have been using them when I analyze TV shows and movies as well!