Abby Lee Miller
Originally from Pittsburgh, Abby got her love for dance from her mother, Maryen Lorrian Miller, who is a 50-year member of Dance Masters of America. Maryen owned seven dance studios in Miami, Florida, prior to marrying George L. Miller of Pittsburgh and giving birth to Abby. Maryen taught classes all over the city before opening her main studio in Penn Hills. Abby took classes at her mother’s studio throughout her formative years. After traveling with her mother to several national dance conventions, she was inspired and captivated by the newest “dance craze” competitions! At just 14 years old, she started the Abby Lee Dance Company. In 1980, she opened her own dance studio and estimates she has taught 3,000 to 4,000 students throughout her career. Now known for her incredible dedication, discipline and passion, Abby is one of the most sought-after dance teachers in Pittsburgh, as she has turned out numerous professional dance stars.
Abby explains her history with dance:
Obviously, I took classes all my life at my mother’s studio. Intuitively my mother chose not to push me or let me hang out at the studio. My dad took me to my class each week in addition to Girl Scouts (how much fun can you have for a quarter a week?), clarinet lessons (really hurt right after your braces were tightened), roller skating, ice skating, sewing lessons at Sears, swim team in the summer, ski club in the winter, and let’s not forget Charm School!!! I was lucky to accompany my mom and her staff every summer to several national dance conventions — I learned from some of the most amazing originals, pioneers in the dance world. I became interested in this new thing forming called “DANCE COMPETITIONS!” At the age of 14 I started the Abby Lee Dance Company, and the rest is history!
I hate to be onstage; never enjoyed performing — that’s one reason why I am a great teacher … I don’t envy or compete with my students. My dreams for them are sometimes greater than their own but never confused with mine.
Highlight performances of Abby’s dance instructor career:
The first day “Footloose” moved into its home on the Great White Way and one of my students stepped on a Broadway stage. Without his knowledge, I snuck into the theater and was granted permission to watch rehearsals. My friend AC Ciulla was the choreographer. He sat down on the steps next to my aisle seat and asked my opinion of the choreography … that was a moment. Another would be attending the Tonys! All the awards and titles my students have won over the years are very important to me.
Abby’s former students who have gone on to become professional dancers: Mark Myars — First job: “Carol of the Bells” solo at Radio City in the Christmas Spectacular. First Broadway show: Original cast, “Footloose,” and he went on to become the dance captain for “Wicked.” Now he is the dance supervisor for the casts of “Wicked” in London, Tokyo, Amsterdam and Belgium. This year alone he was called in to swing principal tracks in the Broadway casts of “Wicked,” “Come Fly with Me” and “West Side Story.”
Asmeret Ghebremichael — First job out of high school: Principal swing for three different tracks for “Footloose” on Broadway. She went on to perform in “Spamalot,” “Lion King,” “Aida,” “In the Heights,” “Legally Blonde” and “Book of Mormon.” I drove her butt to NYC myself four times for callbacks for “Footloose.”
I have had dancers in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular for 26 years. I have had 13 dancers contracted to work in Japan at Tokyo Disneyland. I could go on and on …
Does she still keep in touch with these former students?
Yes, of course, I still take their butts to dinner! They don’t send me any percentage of their earnings — I’ve wised up! I know that I am with them in spirit every single time they step on a stage or into a class.
What Abby has learned most from having a career as a professional dance teacher:
It takes 15 years to make an overnight success!
What inspires Abby most about dance:
The entertainment value, the ability to make something so difficult look so easy and the raw emotional execution.
What she hopes to teach her students about the performing arts:
Survival skills. Absolutely everything they need to know to be employable professional dancers.
What skills Abby thinks most of her students will walk away with after completing her classes:
Proper dance technique, as well as a realistic look at life, an understanding that everyone is replaceable and everything is possible! They should be able to stand taller, speak confidently and be comfortable in front of a mirror or on a stage.
What Abby loves most about teaching dance:
I love the joy in a child’s face when they achieve a goal or master a trick for the very first time.