Abby Lee Miller’s studio dances on without her |
Penn Hills

Abby Lee Miller’s studio dances on without her

Abby Lee Miller has been serving time in a medium-security prison for about two weeks, but a friend and fellow dance instructor has stepped in to run her Penn Hills dance studio under a new name.

“(Miller) wanted somebody to be able to take it over, but also boost it back up to where it used to be since this is where it all started; this is where her mom’s building was,” said Appolonia “Apple” Leake, 23, of Greensburg who trained briefly under Miller and now runs the Appolonia Leake Dance Company, which shares the same initials of Abby Lee’s company: ALDC.

“She had to trust it to someone who she knew wouldn’t run it into the ground and she picked me,” Leake said.

Miller was indicted in October 2015 for bankruptcy fraud.

She entered a guilty plea, and a judge sentenced her to serve one year and one day in prison. She began her term this month.

Miller ran the dance company at her Penn Hills studio on Saltsburg Road until mid-2016. Property records show there are a pair of tax liens against Miller’s property filed by Penn Hills, and the school district is seeking a total of $12,000 in unpaid 2016 taxes. An attorney who represented Miller did not return a message.

The studio, which Miller has owned since 1993, records show, was the backdrop for Lifetime’s hit reality TV series “Dance Moms” for its first four seasons.

Miller was often portrayed as a harsh and critical dance instructor.

Leake, 23, brings a kinder approach to the job, but getting this far so early in her career wasn’t easy, she said.

Leake was born with multidirectional instability, which caused joint, muscle and shoulder problems that led to four surgeries.

“I realized my body just wasn’t made for dancing,” Leake said. “I was just born with a body that went completely against the grain for dancing.”

After each surgery during her recovery time, Leake would spend time in the studio, teaching from a chair.

In October 2015, Leake said she started getting constant kidney infections and required surgery to treat kidney failure.

“It all made me realize that I do love teaching and I’m totally content with teaching instead of dancing,” Leake said. “Obviously my health comes first, but it’s not just about my health. When all those things happened to me, my first thought was always about the teaching, and I realized how strong my passion for teaching was. I wasn’t concerned with dancing — but with teaching.”

While Leake danced for Miller for less than a month a few years ago, she has trained a number of the “Dance Moms” girls over the past year in Penn Hills. Despite operating in the same studio and training some of the same people, Leake doesn’t share Miller’s training methods.

“All the kids here love her,” said Alexia Zufall, 15. “She warms up to people really easily; everyone here feels like family.”

Leake celebrates with dancers when they nail a routine for the first time and she dances with those who need a demonstration.

“She can show us everything since she’s very talented herself,” Zufall said. “If she wants to show us a new move she can show us and help teach us.”

Leake said doesn’t focus solely on the competition aspect of performing.

“I try my best not to break kids’ spirits. I try not to make them cry. I try to, more or less, lift them up versus tear them down,” Leake said.

This year, two of Leake’s dancers and one of the instructors at her studio earned a spot on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” and FOX’s “So You Think You Can Dance.”

Murrysville twins Trent and Colton Edwards, 16, made it through both initial auditions and judge cuts and are now through to the live shows of “America’s Got Talent.”

Ramita Ravi, an instructor at ALDC 2.0, took an unconventional approach when she auditioned for “So You Think You Can Dance” by performing a contemporary Indian dance. She is now one of 30 remaining competitors on the show.

“You have to have an extreme amount of talent to compete against people doing natural styles that all of America loves and do an Indian dance,” Leake said. “She took a risk and it really paid off.”

ALDC 2.0 offers a number of classes ranging from traditional dance, such as ballet and tap, to acro and conditioning and has recently added performance classes for those pursuing singing or acting. People pay a monthly tuition, sign up for one specific class a week, or drop in for individual classes. To be on the ALDC 2.0 competitive or recreational team, a monthly tuition is required.

“My hopes are just to continue making every single kid who walks through my door feel as passionate about dance as I do,” Leake said. “I want to give them the proper training, the proper confidence and anything else that would ever be needed in the dance world to pursue whatever dream that they have.”

Emma Curtis is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-320-7822, [email protected] or via Twitter at @EmmaCurtisPGH.

Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Apple Leake, 23, of Greensburg, helps students in a ballet class inside her facility in Penn Hills on July 20, 2017.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Apple Leake, owner of Appolonia Leake Dance Company poses for a portrait inside her facility in Penn Hills on July 20, 2017.
An Instagram post from 2016 shows Abby Lee Miller handing the keys to her dance studio to Leake.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Apple Leake, 23, of Greensburg, selects songs to dance to during a class at her facility in Penn Hills on July 20, 2017.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Dancers get ready for their lessons inside of Appolonia Leake Dance Company in Penn Hills on July 20, 2017.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Drawings from students hang on a wall inside of Apple Leake's dance studio in Penn Hills on July 20, 2017.
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