there’s something about maddie ziegler
We meet the 12-year-old dance prodigy with stars in her eyes and the world at her dancing feet.
Dress No. 21. Socks Falke.
Maddie Ziegler is like any other 12-year-old girl: she's hopelessly in love with Zac Efron, spends her free time shopping at the mall, is obsessed with social media and is a massive fan of Taylor Swift. Then again, she's also the star of world famous reality TV show, Dance Moms, has starred in not one but three music videos for Australian singer Sia, has over 3.4 million followers on Instagram, and Taylor Swift is a massive fan of hers too.
Born Madison Nicole Ziegler on September 30th, 2002, Maddie lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It was at the age of two that her mother, Melissa, first put her into dance school, a move that would ultimately shape her young daughter's life. "After my first recital, I came off crying," recalls Maddie, peppering every other word with "like." "I didn't want to leave the stage. I loved it so much that my mom put me in for another year, and I've been doing it ever since!"
On July 13th, 2011, at just eight years of age, Maddie was thrown into the limelight as the first episode of Dance Moms aired on A+E's Lifetime channel. Born of America's obsession with talent shows and reality TV - in which turbocharged distortions of the American Dream are dangled like carrots in front of the masses, and wherein anyone who's hungry enough can snatch their fifteen retweets of fame - Dance Moms follows the lives of six young girls from the Abby Lee Dance Company and their *quite competitive mothers. A cross between Toddlers & Tiaras and The Mickey Mouse Club, which over the years have spat out stars including Honey Boo Boo, the nine-year-old pageant queen who's constantly tanked up on Go-Go juice, and Ryan Gosling, Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera, the premise of Dance Moms is to pit the young against the younger, and even their own siblings, as is the case for Maddie, whose younger sister Mackenzie is also on the show. "We have a pyramid and Miss Abby ranks us from top to bottom," explains Maddie, who, much to all the other mothers' dismay, is always at the top, although it's something she's somewhat hesitant to admit: "I am at the top most of the time, yes, but I don't mean to be rude or anything."
Now in its fifth season, Maddie and the other dancers have spent a great deal of their formative years on the show. On the cusp of being teenagers, not only are they dealing with the obligatory growing pains that all girls go through - body issues, first loves, heartbreak, having to decide who the hell you want to be- all of which have been made that much harder thanks to the all-seeing, ever-prying lens of social media and the unrealistic ideals of beauty it propagates . These girls also have to deal with Miss Abby, who once threatened to "finish" a girl if she didn't stop crying. Add to this the pressures of competing against rival dance schools and being watched by millions of people across the globe, and you don't even begin to scratch the surface. "I prefer competing off the show," says Maddie. "It's less stressful and we get to be with our friends. In normal dance world, we only do ten competitions a year, but on the show we do, like, 32, plus all of our regular competitions, so it's kind of hard." Maddie's distinction here between the show and what she refers to as "normal" is all too poignant.
Throughout our phone call, Maddie's mother can be heard in the background, so much so that at one point Maddie has to move away: "I'm sorry, hold on, I literally cannot hear you, my mom's being loud." On the one hand, this acts as a telling insight into the life of a child star and her mother-manager, or "momager", but on the other, it's a perfectly normal glimpse into the life of a young girl living at home. "My mom can only be my mom," Maddie insists, "she can't be anything else." Amid the trolling and lolling of the digi generation, it's all too easy to fall into the narrative of pushy mothers and submissive daughters, the clickbait currency upon which Dance Moms is founded, but aren't we all, to some extent, the product of our parents? More importantly, isn't carving out an identity for ourselves, against the one our parents prescribe us, an integral part of growing up? "I thought dance would just be a fun activity," explains Maddie's mother, Melissa. "I never imagined that she would be so talented. We are very blessed, to say the least." Maddie might have a lot of stress for a 12-year-old, but clearly she has the support at home to manage it.
In May of last year Maddie appeared in the music video for Sia's hit single Chandelier. Contorting her body as if it were a rubber band, and dressed in nothing but a nude leotard and Sia's signature choppy blonde wig, Maddie danced her way from quiet renown to global stardom. "Maddie's the most professional person I've ever worked with," says Sia of their time together. "So astute, so gifted, and an incredible channel. I love her dearly."
After Chandelier came Elastic Heart, in which Maddie stars alongside Shia LaBeouf, and finally, the beautifully melancholic Big Girls Cry. The pairing of Maddie and Shia, who's 17 years her senior, sent Twitter into a shitstorm, so much so that Sia tweeted: "I anticipated some 'pedophelia!!!' (sic) cries for this video. All I can say is Maddie and Shia are two of the only actors I felt could play these two warring 'Sia' self states." Having to deal with such negative attention could have easily taken its toll on someone so young, but Maddie remains defiant: "I don't really care what other people say. We thought it was amazing, so that's all that matters. Shia is an amazing person and he really took care of me." Indeed, far from this being an incident that speaks of Maddie's naiveté, if anything, it's one that reveals just how mature and grounded she really is — attributes which will no doubt help her in the future as she navigates her way around the pitfalls of fame.
No longer known as just the kid from Dance Moms, Maddie, who turns 13 in September, is about to enter the next stage of life, that coming of age period when all young girls crave independence as they set about building their identity. "I'm excited about becoming a teenager," she says, "and being able to do stuff by myself like going to the mall and hanging with my friends, without my mom driving me everywhere or having to have a babysitter." The significance of the next few years for Maddie will be huge as she transitions from the child she's always been to the adult she's always dreamed of becoming. As for role models, Maddie has her sights set high: "I would love to meet Cara Delevingne. That whole friendship group - Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid - they're all so pretty." So what, then, does the future hold for this one? "I want to keep dancing and doing music videos. I also want to do movies, scripted TV and be able to sing, too. I need to be able to do all three just in case. I definitely want to be famous, but I also want to be a real person when I go back home. I'm just a kid from Pennsylvania." Hardly, but we admire the sentiment.
Photography Petra Collins
Styling Stella Greenspan
Text Tish Weinstock
Hair and make-up Tonya Brewer at Dew Beauty Agency
Styling assistance Derek Ezra Brown
Special thanks to Kelly-Marie Smith and Melissa Gisonr