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Abby Lee Miller
Photo: Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP

Abby Lee Miller

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Abby Lee Miller became known for her tirades and tough training as the star of Lifetime's reality show 'Dance Moms.' In 2017, she was sentenced to a year and a day in prison for bankruptcy fraud, among other charges.

Who Is Abby Lee Miller?

Abby Lee Miller inherited a love of dance from her mom, started her own company at 14, and by 1980 she had her own studio. In 2011, she became a star in her own right with the Lifetime show Dance Moms, which followed Miller, her students and their diva parents. In 2016, Miller's legal troubles caught up with her. She pleaded guilty to bankruptcy fraud among other charges, and in 2017 she was sentenced to a year and a day in prison. 

Early Years

Being exposed to dance her whole life, it's no surprise that Miller wanted to follow in her mother's footsteps. Miller's mom, Maryen Lorrain, a 50-year member of the Dance Masters of America, ran several dance studios before settling down with George L. Miller in the Pittsburgh suburbs. They had their daughter on September 21, 1965. 

As a young girl, Miller studied dance at her mom's studio in Penn Hills, Pennsylvania. While she enjoyed other activities, including Girl Scouts, ski club, clarinet lessons and charm school, Miller's primary passion was dance, especially competitions. Not a fan of performing herself, she opted for teaching early on. She founded the Abby Lee Dance Company while still a teenager. In 1980 she opened her own dance studio.

'Dance Moms' Debut

Over the years, Miller's students have gone on to dance in such Broadway productions as Footloose, Wicked and The Lion King, as well as in Radio City's Christmas Spectacular. In a twist of fate, Miller went from the sidelines to center stage herself when Lifetime offered her a reality-television show, Dance Moms.

Debuting on July 13, 2011, Dance Moms followed a group of young wannabe dancers at Miller's dance studio and their stage moms. It became a pop-culture sensation, its third-season premiere drawing 2.8 million viewers in January 2013. Season 8 of the hit show began airing on June 4, 2019.

'Dance Moms' Spinoffs

The Lifetime show was such a success that the network gave Miller another series, Abby's Ultimate Dance Competition, which debuted October 9, 2012. The program featured 12 dancers competing for $100,000 and a scholarship to the Joffrey Ballet School in New York. Miller was a judge, along with Robin Antin, founder of the Pussycat Dolls, and dancer/celebrity choreographer Richard Jackson. The show aired for two seasons.

A follow-up series, Abby's Studio Rescue, showcased the no-nonsense dance coach helping other studio owners with their struggling businesses. The show failed to generate much of an audience and disappeared after seven episodes aired in 2014.

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Another spinoff, Abby's Virtual Dance-Off, was set in motion in 2020 with dancers submitting videotaped performances for Miller to render her judgment remotely. However, the show was canceled by Lifetime in June after the parents of two African American contestants from Dance Moms revealed Miller's history of bigoted behavior.

TV Persona

Miller refuses to see herself as a villain, even though that reputation was one of the reasons behind the popularity of Dance Moms. She told In Touch magazine in a 2013 interview that while her methods may seem harsh, there's a rationale behind them. "When I tell a child something the first time, I'm nice. The 15th time, I start to get aggravated. By the 30th time, they're doing 100 push-ups and I'm screaming at them, and of course that's what they put on TV," she said. 

Amidst increasing legal trouble, Miller left the show in March 2016 and was replaced by dancer Cheryl Burke of Dancing with the Stars fame. 

In October 2015, Miller was indicted for 20 counts of bankruptcy fraud. She was accused of concealing income made between 2012 and 2013, totaling more than $750,000. In June 2016, Miller pleaded guilty to bankruptcy fraud and charges she failed to report more than $120,000 in cash brought into the U.S. from Australia. In May 2017, she was sentenced to a year and a day in prison and was ordered to pay a $40,000 fine and spend two years on probation following her release.

Miller began serving her sentence at California's Victorville Federal Correctional Institution in July 2017, and the following March she was transferred to a halfway house in Long Beach. Along the way, she passed classes in personal finance and real estate, and dropped 100 pounds. She earned her release from the halfway house on May 25, 2018.

Cancer Diagnosis

In April 2018, Miller underwent emergency surgery after experiencing "excruciating" neck pain and weakness in her arm. Although she was initially believed to be suffering from a spinal infection, Miller instead received a diagnosis of Burkitt lymphoma, a rare and aggressive form of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma that left her temporarily paralyzed from the neck down.

The surgeon who treated the reality star noted that she had made "some recovery" as they awaited her pathology and oncology results. "We're getting an oncologist involved and we have to figure out what the next steps are as far as chemotherapy or radiation or more spine surgery," he said.

Miller underwent 10 rounds of chemotherapy before declaring herself cancer-free in May 2019, though she continued to undergo physical therapy in an attempt to regain the ability to walk.

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