'Dance Moms' Recap S4 E27 The Understudies: Abby Cancels Group Number

The Dance Moms scorecard on season 4, episode 27
The Dance Moms scorecard on season 4, episode 27

Previously on Dance Moms, studio owner Abby Lee Miller began the process of deciding which of the Abby Lee Dance Company (ALDC) teams (Elite or Select) and soloists will be performing in the upcoming Nationals (their biggest annual competition). This week on Dance Moms season 4, episode 27, "The Understudies," Abby designates Chloe Lukasiak and Kendall Vertes as stand-ins for Maddie Ziegler, who has a potential scheduling conflict due to an acting gig. Meanwhile, the moms are tired of Abby comparing their kids to Maddie, so they keep a scorecard detailing the offenses. Abby keeps score in her head, and when she's had enough, she retaliates by secretly pulling the group routine.

As Dance Moms S4, E27 "The Understudies" begins, Abby congratulates the team for their first place win with the "Tribal Council" number (from Dance Moms S4 E26 No More Crybabies), then she reveals her pyramid, the system she uses to rank the dancers of the ALDC. This week's pyramid from the bottom up:
Kendall Vertes: had timing issues in the group dance.
Chloe Lukasiak: was fine, but gymnastics aren't her forte.
Mackenzie Ziegler: came in 3rd last week.
Nia Frazier: featured in "Tribal Council"; led team to victory.
Maddie Ziegler: won overall high score solo.

This week, the ALDC will be traveling to the Sheer Talent competition in Wayne, New Jersey, where they will compete against Abby's nemesis, Cathy Nesbitt-Stein, and her Candy Apples Dance Center (CADC) team including Gino Cosculluela, Maddie's recent duet partner (and first kiss). Maddie is assigned a contemporary solo called "Fool Me Once," but she may not get to perform because she's on-call to tape a web series in Miami. Just in case, Abby names Chloe and Kendall as Maddie's understudies, so they will learn the solo too. The group will do a contemporary routine called "Playing with Matches" in which Maddie will have the lead role, but if she's away, no-one will take over that position. Before they begin rehearsals, Abby reminds them that she still hasn't decided who she's entering in Nationals besides, of course, Maddie.

The parents head up to the Mom Loft, the mezzanine where they hang out, gossip and talk studio business while the girls rehearse. The moms are unhappy that Maddie was assigned a solo when she may not be there to do it, but Melissa (Maddie and Mackenzie's mom) stays mum on the topic. Meanwhile, in a talking head interview, Abby explains that the group routine title "Playing with Matches" has to do with the old saying, "If you play with matches, you're gonna get burned," and that it's a metaphor for "Don't cross me or you'll burn the bridge."

As the team runs through the group number, Abby becomes frustrated with Kendall, and then starts comparing the girls to Maddie (an ongoing issue throughout the series) and asks them, "Why can't you all just rise to the occasion and be like her? Figure it out!"

Jill (Kendall's mom) says, "The kids are defeated every time they're compared to Maddie. That doesn't make them work harder any more, it makes them angry and feel like 'why bother trying?'" Holly (Nia's mom) notes an inequity between the negative things Abby says to Nia, Chloe and Kendall, and the positive things she says to Maddie, so the moms decide to keep a record of it.

Before long, Kendall is leading with 6 negative comments, Chloe and Nia both have 4 negatives, and Maddie has 7 positives. At one point, Abby tells Nia, "You are not worth my energy." The next day, the moms make a giant scorecard to hold up in the Mom Loft window for Abby to see. Since Maddie only gets praised by Abby she's not listed, and Melissa interprets that as a slight, saying, "Once again the moms are singling Maddie out, her name's not even on the board." Jill assures her that if Maddie starts getting negative remarks they'll add her.

Abby watches Maddie rehearse her solo, but when the other girls join her, Abby gets busy checking her phone. She does, however, notice the giant scorecard in the window. Abby's not sure what it is exactly, but says whoever put time and effort into making that sign should have used it to put a brain in their kid's head.

During the next group rehearsal, Abby calls out Mackenzie for being "pigeon toed," so Melissa gets to put a tick on the score card. As the tally grows, Holly says, "There's no hiding from these numbers, there's no hiding from the truth."

Maddie tells Abby that the board is "for how many times you get in trouble." Abby thinks the board has become a huge distraction, so she heads up to the Mom Loft. When Jill mentions that Maddie wasn't corrected when her feet were sickled (out of proper position), Abby sees that as proof that everyone is jealous of Maddie.

Abby heads back to the rehearsal floor and tells the girls, "We are fixing you so that you go out there and you are better, because it's a whole lot tougher out there. Are you tough enough to take it? Can you tune it out? Are you gonna cry? I know exactly what comes out of my mouth, and I know exactly how many kids that I've gotten out of Pittsburgh who are now successful. Lots of them." Then Abby tells the camera, "You either respect me and you value my teaching method and you want your child to be in my program and get better, OR, you can't handle the heat. Take your money, take your kid, and go somewhere else."

Competition day arrives. As the ALDC enters the building, a voice comes over the PA system: "Welcome to high school, Abby Miller. Report to the office. You have been very bad girl. Teacher brutality will get you a session of banging erasers." It's Candy Apple coach Cathy Nesbitt-Stein, who continues to make "announcements" including insults about Christi's dress (Christi is Chloe's mom).

In the Candy Apple dressing room, the team prepares for their "Love Letter" group number and Gino suits up for his solo called "The Warrior." Cathy asks Gino how he feels about competing against Maddie, and he answers, "I think Abby makes her look better than she really is." Cathy thinks the way Gino was treated during his brief tenure with the ALDC will drive him to win against Maddie. She also thinks that the last time the ALDC and CADC competed, her team was robbed, and if they pull this one off it will be "the win of the century."

Over in the ALDC dressing room, we discover that Holly brought the score card. I do wish Abby would stop comparing the girls to Maddie, but I also wish the moms weren't airing the studio's private business at a competition. This is not going to end well.

Jill asks Abby if all three girls can do the solo, and Abby pulls her aside and says if Kendall does the same routine after Maddie, she will humiliate herself. Christi interrupts them to inform Abby that everyone, including the kids, can hear the conversation. Abby then announces that Maddie and only Maddie will be dancing the solo. I don’t always agree with Abby, but I don’t always disagree with her either, and in this case, Kendall and Chloe were understudies, and since Maddie is present, they don't get to perform. That's how being an understudy works.

The competition begins. Gino dances first with his "Warrior" contemporary solo; he is shirtless and wears black shorts, a black arm band and a tribal face tattoo. He is very good. Maddie follows with her "Fool Me Once" contemporary solo; she wears a pale pink two-piece sequined costume with a matching head band. She does a fantastic job.

Backstage, Jill and Christi are still upset that their daughters didn't get to do solos too. Christi tells Melissa, "Your kids succeed on the backs of our kids, because in order for your kids to succeed, ours have to be the losers." By the time Abby arrives, the silence is deafening and the scorecard is in her eye-line. Holly tells Abby the ticks represent every time she's said something disrespectful or humiliating to the kids. Abby responds that she had planned to use Nia in a piece about Maya Angelou next week, but now that was off. Abby also refers to Nia as having "big flat feet," and says no-one would know Nia's name without her. Holly is incensed that Abby would retaliate on a kid, but Abby says that Nia is 12, and she could "have kids and get married in some countries." Holly gets up, calls Abby and her words "ugly," and she walks out.

The other moms follow Holly, but she refuses to talk in front of the cameras. After a few minutes, she encourages everyone to return to the dressing room to get the girls ready for the group routine. Abby tells the camera, "I am beyond angry; I am downright finished with these women... Nobody is gonna talk to me that way, ever again in my life. I have no idea what I'm going to do with the group routine, but something tells me the moms aren't going to like it." And then she exits the dressing room.

In the next scene, Abby is sitting in the audience, and we see the moms take their seats next to her. The competition resumes with the CADC doing their "Love Letter" lyrical number; the boys wear grey pants and red shirts, the girls wear poofy dance dresses with grey, red and white tutus.

As the ALDC waits in the wings in full costume, an announcement is made: "Ladies and gentleman, the group number 'Playing with Matches' has been withdrawn and will not dance." Backstage, Gianna "Gia" Martello (Abby's assistant choreographer) gathers the team: "Girls, girls, come here - the reason the group dance was pulled has nothing to do with you, it's how your mothers treated Abby in that dressing room. I don’t know what it was and you don't know what it was, but that was the reason, okay?" The girls go out to the audience and ask Abby why the number was pulled, and she says that when one gets punished, everybody gets punished. It's such a shame, the poor girls were blind-sided and once again, I wish the studio business was left at the studio.

The team takes their place on stage for the awards ceremony. In the Pre-Teen Solo Division, Gino gets 2nd Place, Maddie wins 1st Place. In the Pre-Teen Group Division, the CADC takes 4th Place.

Jill says that Abby pulling the number was a case of killing two birds with one stone: she got to punish the moms and make it so there was no chance they'd lose to the CADC. On that note, Abby says, "I want to make something perfectly clear: pulling the number had nothing to do with Cathy and those "Rotten Apples" being there. This was about respect, and this was about me being in control."

Abby enters the dressing room with Maddie's big trophy and a big "woo-hoo!" She tells the moms she's not sure who will be dancing at Nationals, but she's not getting on a plane and getting all the way there to have a repeat of what happened in this week's dressing room. "It's quite obvious with your visual display that you have a problem with my teaching methods. I didn’t sign up for you, you signed up to take class at my studio and you did it every year. You knew darn well what you were signing up for. The screaming and the yelling and all the nonsense, that's what Cathy does… I lowered myself to you, to your standards."

Holly interjects with, "You could never lower yourself to my standard because you're already beneath my standards... look at the observables of your behavior and think about that and reflect." Abby tells Holly that Nia and her Maya Angelou tribute are benched, and Holly says that's a reflection of who Abby is. Holly tells the camera, "There comes a point that's a defining moment, like you know what? It's not worth it. This is not the right environment for me or for my kid."

As Abby walks out on the conversation, she leans back into the dressing room and whispers, "Straighten your knees and point your feet," and Holly finishes the sentence with "and get some class."


Next week on Dance Moms season 4, episode 28 titled "Another One Bites the Dust," it's the girls' last chance to impress Abby and secure a spot at Nationals; Sarah Reasons from the Select Team takes a turn performing with the Elite Team; Jill argues with the Select moms, and it looks like Abby and Cathy Nesbitt-Stein have a huge argument. Also in the episode: Abby's black studded bag; I love that thing.

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Dance Moms airs Tuesday nights at 9/8c on Lifetime
Photo courtesy of Lifetime

Posted on Wednesday, September 10, 2014