Dance Moms’ Kalani Hilliker dishes on her relationship with Abby Lee Miller
By Stephanie Wolf of Dance Informa.
Abby Lee Miller’s heated diatribes, strong opinions and tough-love teaching techniques have helped turn Lifetime’s Dance Moms into a ratings juggernaut. Kalani Hilliker, Capezio Athlete and one of the featured performers on the current season, says there’s much more to the queen of competition dance’s intimidating on-camera persona. After a fourth-place finish on Abby’s Ultimate Dance Competition, the 13-year-old dancer has continued to work with Miller, both on and off set. While she admits Miller is “kind of scary,” she says they have built a special bond and she’s learning a lot about life and dance from her.
Born and raised in Scottsdale, AZ, Hilliker has been dancing since she was two, when her mom put her in ballet classes. “My mom thought it was cute to put me in a tutu,” she says. The early ballet lessons paid off, as Hilliker went on to dance on Disney Channel’s Shake It Up, ABC Family’s Bunheads as well as Abby’s Ultimate Dance Competition and Dance Moms. The latter two gigs have proven to be the most fruitful—not so much in terms of recognition and accomplishment, but because she has found a mentor in Miller.
"Abby and I have a strong relationship,” says Hilliker. “On the first day of Abby's Ultimate Dance Competition, we just clicked; it was like us against the world. We have a good bond and are a great team."
Abby’s Ultimate Dance Competition was a huge challenge, but one Hilliker says she embraced happily—so she is, of course, thrilled to be a part of Dance Moms and to continue working with Miller. She says Miller is an incredible teacher, who encourages her to train in a multitude of styles and performance disciplines.
Hilliker also stands up for Miller’s seemingly combative style of coaching. “People might think she's mean,” she says, “but, off camera, she is actually super sweet”—and, according to Hilliker, really cares about her young dancers. "She has taught me so much, and I love her,” says Hilliker. “I love her choreography and we work well together. I don't know what it is, but it works."
Her experiences on and off camera with Miller have helped solidify her dreams of pursuing a career in dance. "Dance is my life! I've been doing it since I was two, and I'll be doing it until I'm 100 years old,” Hilliker says. She would love to appear on a show like So You Think You Can Dance, as she idolizes many of the finalists from the series. “I think that it's good experience and it's like Abby’s Ultimate Dance Competition, but without all of the drama," she says. Hilliker also makes it out to LA often for auditions and will continue filming Dance Moms through early 2014. But she adds that she hasn’t committed to a specific dream. Film, television, stage, New York City, Los Angeles—she wants to try it all and see what sticks.
For now, fans can catch Hilliker on Lifetime, working hard to stay at the top of Miller’s highly competitive pyramid. And, while she may not know what’s next for her dance aspirations yet, she is excited to be surrounded and inspired by so many individuals already working in the industry.