At just twelve years old, Maddie Ziegler has been parodied by Jim Carrey on SNL, released her own clothing line with her little sister Mackenzie, and danced in a life-sized bird cage with Shia LaBeouf.
Maddie Ziegler started dancing at the age of two, the age at which most kids are learning to walk up stairs. By the age of five, when most kids are learning the alphabet, she started dancing competitively. These are just two examples of how Ziegler is a prodigy of her chosen art form: dance, which she has mastered before her teens. Avatar to Grammy Award nominee Sia, breakout star of reality series Dance Moms and, a few hours after we meet, her curriculum vitae will broaden with a performance on Saturday Night Live. It’s a combination of moxy and stage gravitas that has put this young lady on a well-fuelled rocket ship to superstardom.
Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Ziegler recalls a story told to her by her mother, one of the aforementioned ‘Dance Moms’ of the popular Lifetime series. In the story, Ziegler explains how she came running off the stage during an early performance of The Nutcracker with her face streaming with tears. She missed the stage the very second she walked off. Maybe we’ll put her in for another year, mom quickly thought. Spoiler: This was the right move.
Shortly after, Ziegler and her younger sister Mackenzie enrolled at Abby Lee Dance Company. That’s when ‘reality’ came knocking. “At first when we did the show, it was developed as a docu-series, so we thought this will last maybe a season,” Ziegler explains. Season 5 premiered in January, 2015. The show satiated the viewers’ appetite for a bizarre ensemble of embattled mothers, verbally setting each other on fire in an almost ancillary behind-the-scenes look at the world of competition dance. “I don’t even watch the show,” Ziegler admits. “We live it, we don’t really have to see the show. It’s weird seeing yourself on TV and when the moms are fighting. I don’t like to see that, so my whole family just doesn’t watch it.”
Instead, Ziegler does what she knows: she dances, eight hours a day, six days a week, between classes and shooting the show. When she’s not dancing, she might be at the mall with friends (“my happy place”) or filming a guest appearance on her favourite Disney show, Austin & Ally. She’s doing her best to balance normal life with her ever-escalating fame. Once Dance Moms is a blip in the oversaturated reality spectrum, Ziegler will remain, making reality TV her ladder, not her landing. There’s no doubt she’s kept her head screwed on. “The other day while we were filming, she answered someone’s question so eloquently,” recalls Abby Lee Miller. “There wasn’t an ‘um’, a ‘like’, or even a ‘well’ in her intelligent, meaningful, response. Inside I was jumping up and down. I was so proud that this little precocious peanut had developed into such a well-spoken, confident young lady. Of course, I didn’t let her know this. I’m a teacher – I always have to keep my students on their toes!”
Ziegler made headlines last year by breaking free from the land of reality stars after Grammy Award nominated singer/songwriter Sia (who penned Rihanna’s Diamonds and Beyoncé’s Pretty Hurts), reached out over Twitter asking if Ziegler would like to be in the video for her lead single, Chandelier. Loud screams ensued. She got connected with Sia’s agent straight-away and was on a plane to LA two weeks later. “Incredibly surreal,” is how she describes the whirlwind experience. The video, which features a bleach blonde bobbed Ziegler playing a Sia avatar, exploded, racking over half a billion views on YouTube.
Ziegler was recently back in LA, filming Sia’s follow-up single, Elastic Heart. This time she appears in a giant life-sized birdcage opposite a very shirtless Shia LaBeouf. Because of Sia’s decision to obstruct her face from any and all promotion for her album, Ziegler has become the de facto face of the campaign. She joined the singer throughout a promotional tour with stops on The Ellen Degeneres Show, So You Think You Can Dance, and on SNL, a performance she felt “nervous and excited” about.
If one thing is made entirely clear, it’s Sia’s profound influence on the young performer. “She’s taught me to be myself; not to let fame get to me,” says Ziegler. “She said it’s not fun letting everything get to you and having to be so serious in life. She told me I’d have more fun being silly. ‘Stay in the moment. But have fun. Don’t let anything be too serious.’ Before I met her, I was really, really serious, always thinking ‘I need to stay focused,’ and now I take the time to be silly when I’m in rehearsal. Life is more fun that way.”