Interview: ‘Dance Moms” Abby Lee Miller to talk on ‘Dancing with the Stars’

“Dancing with the Stars” (Mon. at 8:00 p.m. on ABC) has had a cavalcade of celebrity guest judges this season, but none have known much about the dancing they're seeing — until now. Abby Lee Miller, the tough-as-nails instructor on Lifetime's “Dance Moms,” is taking the fourth chair at the judges' table, and you can bet we'll be getting some actual insight about dancing. We won't, however, see her dressing down the stars, it seems. Too bad. I spoke to Miller as she prepped for her one-night gig tonight about why she's judging instead of dancing, who her favorite is (yes, America, you're right on this one) and who she thinks might take home the mirror ball. 

Why judge “Dancing with the Stars” instead of being a competitor on the show?

I would have to say it is my mother's favorite show. Was. She passed away Feb. 8th, and it's such a shame she's not here to see me judging it. They've invited me to be a contestant for two seasons in a row, but we shoot my series at the very same time. I mentioned to somebody, if you ever need a guest judge, call me! So now I'm judging.

Are you going to be as tough on the celebrities as you are on the kids we see on “Dance Moms”?

I have my own competition show, and I've judged dance competitions for 26 years, all over the U.S. and Canada. S,o I definitely am used to calling out mistakes. That's what they pay me to do,  not to pat them on the back. I'm there to say things like you don't stretch your back knee and straighten it; I'm there to find fault. But this is a little different, because I'm not going to be able to go into the studio with them the next day to fix what's going wrong. I hope it helps them, though. 

Do you have a favorite thus far?

The ice dancer people [Meryl Davis and Charlie White]? The girl? She's absolutely great. I have a hard time distinguishing between her and the pros on the dance floor. 

Obviously, there are a lot of other people on the show who are really struggling. What do you think when you see dancers who are so awkward and unskilled? 

I'm going to get in trouble here, but I want to yell at everyone's mom. Why did they not put them in a dance class when they were young? How have we had this so many seasons with people whose parents didn't send them to school, people who say they've never even taken a dance class? Every child should dance! I like the celebrities, I like the out-of-their-element aspect of it, but as a dance professional, I know how hard it is for struggling dancers, it's a tough road. It's hard to get a job, to get exposure. The truth is I'd much rather see the professionals get a chance to dance.

A lot of times viewers at home seem to let bad dancers go through and send home more talented hoofers. What do you think we're getting wrong at home?

The viewers go for the entertainment value, the costuming, the whole package. They're not looking at technique; they're looking at what wows them. You can have a package of really great scenes with great costumes and lots of flash, and the public doesn't know what the carriage of the back is supposed to be like or where the placement of the hands is supposed to be. They haven't studied that. Costume and choreography has a lot to do with a winning number.

Since you are a professional, is there anything you would change on “Dancing with the Stars”?  

I would like to see the show, rather than making ballroom dancers do lyrical and contemporary, I'd like to see a lot more musical theater. The footwork and the timing and the partner work lends itself to Broadway more than it does to bare feet and rolling around on the floor. So I'd want traditional musical theater, 'Guys and Dolls,' that sort of thing. Just the history of Broadway, like Michael Bennett's [the choreographer of “Follies” and “A Chorus Line”] work.

You've gotten a reputation for being mean. Does that bother you?

I don't care what people think, really. I figure if celebrities and entertainers are taking about me, that's a good thing. It's when they stop talking about me is when I should worry. 

Obviously, you have a thick skin. Do you think that's important for the celebrities on “Dancing with the Stars”? 

I do think that they are really putting themselves out there. It's no easy task putting yourself out there, and when you're putting yourself in a situation completely different than what you're used to doing, it's tough. Whether you're an ice skater or an athlete, those people have to be a little, not cocky, but extremely confident. They have to figure 'what the heck?' and take a risk. That's the personality they need to have. When you play pro football for X number of years, you're already confident. You've let the critics dig at you and destroy you in the  newspapers, and yet you get up to fight another day. It takes a certain kind of person to do this, so they're heroes to even decide to get into the show. 

So you think pro athletes have the edge? It has certainly held true in past seasons. 

I think the people who make it to the end are champions. They're winners. They're cutthroat and so competitive and that's why they're left in the competition. Whether they're from dancing or sports or something else, they are truly competitors. I've had parents say to me they have competitors who happen to dance, not dancers. And that's what it takes to win.

I guess you've already picked your favorite to win. 

I never say never! Don't put your eggs in one basket!

Do you think Abby Lee Miller will be a good judge on “Dancing with the Stars”? Do you think guest judges should know more about dancing and not just be fans of the show?