Kamryn Smith is only 7 but she’s already accustomed to being a star.
On the mantel in the Ahwatukee home of her parents, Cameron Smith and Adriana King, is a slew of trophies and medallions she has won in dance competitions she’s entered since she was 2 and a half years old — one taller than her.
But come next Tuesday, Kamryn’s star power will get the kind of steroid injection that only comes with exposure on a nationally televised reality show that is so popular it’s about to begin its eighth season. The show airs on Lifetime Tuesday nights and you should check your cable station listing for times.
The Kyrene de Milenio Elementary soon-to-be third-grader — and her mom — will be appearing as season regulars on “Dance Moms,” a Lifetime network show that spotlights talented young dancers and the angst, rivalries and triumphs experienced in competition season by their biggest fans and supporters — namely, their mothers.
Off and on for the last few months, Kamryn and her mom have been staying in Pittsburgh taping the show, subtitled “Dance Moms: Resurrection,” at the Abby Lee Miller Studio.
Miller is the show’s principal character who runs a strict and demanding regimen for the young dancers as they prepare for a national competition.
It’s a “resurrection” for Miller because she has returned from the show after serving a one-year federal prison term for bankruptcy fraud and a year recovering from a rare form of cancer that required her to re-learn how to walk. And after filming a number of previous years of “Dance Moms” in Los Angeles, Miller opted to return to Pittsburgh, where she filmed Season One and where she started her career as a choreographer and dance instructor.
For Kamryn, Dance Moms Season 8 is a giant leap in a career that began at the old Centerpoint studio in Ahwatukee.
When it closed, she moved over to the Phoenix Dance Cooperative, a nonprofit dance studio on the Warner-Elliot Loop in Ahwatukee that trains dancers in competitive dance and is run by a board of parents who put studio fees into hiring the best choreographers they can find.
While she may be the youngest of the Dance Moms dancers this season, Kamryn is no less experienced.
In her five years of dancing, she has won her numerous awards — the biggest, in both size and significance, being the trophy she received when she was named the 2018 Petite National Dancer of the Year at Rainbow Nationals in Florida.
Still, her mother said, the show is no cakewalk.
“It’s a lot of pressure,” her mother said. “I mean, she is only 7, so she’s going in with these big kids. Most of her teams that she dances with now are older, so she’s used to it. But it is a lot of pressure because it’s people whom she’s never danced with before. These are kids and this is not a preexisting team. This is a bunch of kids from different studios brought together into one team and now you have to figure out how to work together.”
Of course, it’s just not the dancers who are under pressure. The moms don’t know each other either, so they get a little information from the producers and learn a little bit about each other communicating on social media.
But it’s not like anything that finally happens on the show.
“If you have people who’ve never met before, it’s kind of hard not to be a little primed because we don’t know each other,” Adriana explained. “So after weeks of being with each other we finally know each other and that’s when the ‘real’ comes out.”
And it’s not scripted, she stressed.
“It’s all real life,” she said, adding:
“The premise of the story is to show how moms really react in the real dance life world, kind of like in sports where parents are yelling and screaming and things like that,” Adriana explained, “The kids are technically the stars. The moms are just the drama starters or the drama finishers, whatever you want to call it.”
Because she has spent weeks away from school, Kamryn has been joining the rest of the dance cast in classes in Pittsburgh when she’s not on camera. Additionally, her teachers at Milenio also send her homework and related material so she is keeping up long-distance with her class.
Each week of filming is grueling in many ways.
Typically, Monday is more or less a school day since there’s no shooting.
On Tuesday, they would gather to review what happened last week and preparing for the next day, which is “pyramid day” — one of the focuses of the show that often pits some moms and dancers against Miller as she tells them candidly who did well and who didn’t.
Miller mounts the dancers’ pictures on a bulletin board in the form of a pyramid to show how well she thought they performed the previous week.
Despite the consternation that ensues, Miller uses the pyramid to motivate the girls to get better. “Your goal is to always be on the top of the pyramid. That means you did your job,” Adriana said.
As for the weekly competition, Adriana wants fans and viewers to know those routines really are learned in a matter of hours each week.
“They learn their dances in two days,” she said. “They don’t have time on Friday because that’s travel day, when they go on buses to the next competition. So yes, they learn their dances in two days and on Saturday, they compete.”
And yes, moms and dancers really do get irritated and angry.
“You have to be kind of natural when you’re on air or you have to be at an extremely good actress,” Adriana said. “You actually are annoyed. At that point you really don’t care because it’s a natural reaction.”
Ultimately, though, the show means the most to Adriana because of what it means for her daughter.
Adriana said she was a dancer as a child and though she had gotten to be very good, “my mom couldn’t afford it and I was taken out.”
When Kamryn at age 2 started bugging her about wanting to take dance lessons, Adriana happily obliged.
The surprise came in seeing how quickly Kamryn began mastering dance.
“I don’t think I realized how well she would do,” her mother said. “And she did and she did it on her own. So, I just felt like she was just an extension of what I wanted to be and she did it at an earlier age than I was.”
Nor has it come easy, as Kamryn puts in three or four hours a day three or four days a week in rehearsals and practices.
The entire experience, Adriana said, has been eye-opening.
“I have a new-found respect for reality stars,” she said. “It’s hard work.”
For her part, Kamryn displayed no sign of exhaustion. Possessed of a seemingly boundless energy, she’s already preparing for new competitions this summer.