A Whole New Maddie
About a year ago, Maddie Ziegler received a life-changing message…via Twitter. Edgy Australian musician Sia, who’d become a fan of Maddie after seeing her on the reality show “Dance Moms,” wrote to ask if the then–11-year-old comp kid would like to appear in a music video. “I thought the message was a joke or something, because famous people don’t usually Tweet kids to ask them to be in a video,” Maddie says. “But two weeks later, I was flying to L.A. to learn the choreography for Sia’s ‘Chandelier.’ I thought it would just be a fun little project, but it turned out to be pretty major.”
(Photo by Lucas Chilczuk)
Very major: That video, which featured Maddie dancing an eccentric, emotional solo in Sia’s signature blonde wig, completely transformed the young dancer’s career. It racked up more than 500 million views on YouTube, was named the top video of 2014 by Rolling Stone and received a Grammy nomination for Video of the Year. Within months of answering that fateful Tweet, Maddie had performed with Sia on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” and “Saturday Night Live.” And in early 2015, she appeared in a second internet-breaking Sia video, “Elastic Heart,” in which she danced alongside actor Shia LaBeouf.
One thing’s for sure: While she’s still a favorite of “Dance Moms” fans, Maddie’s no longer just a reality TV kid. “I think people have started to see me completely differently,” says Maddie, now 12. “I feel like Hannah Montana: I’ve got my normal brown hair when I’m competing and on ‘Dance Moms,’ but when I put on that blonde wig for Sia, I go undercover—I become a total weirdo.”
(Photo by Lucas Chilczuk)
As astonishingly grown-up as she can seem in “undercover” Sia mode, Maddie is still very much a kid. She lives far from Hollywood’s lights, in Pittsburgh, PA, with her mom, Melissa, and little sister, Mackenzie (both of whom are also “Dance Moms” fan favorites), and her stepdad, Greg. She continues to train and compete with the Abby Lee Dance Company, where she’s been a student for more than eight years. When her schedule allows, she still takes dance and acting classes at least four days per week. Education is still a priority; she switched to homeschooling a couple years ago to make sure she could fit classes and homework into her increasingly crazy schedule. She enjoys moments when she gets to relax with her family, film makeup tutorials or go to the mall with friends—“normal kid” stuff, as she says.
Being a Celebrity Kid
Those “normal” moments are becoming fewer and farther between, though. These days, Maddie’s not only working with Sia, but she’s also often followed by cameras from “Dance Moms,” which just finished its fifth season. During filming, Maddie’s on set Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday afternoons for at least four hours—and that doesn’t include off-camera rehearsals and travel time to competitions each weekend. “So many opportunities have come from ‘Dance Moms,’ and I’m grateful for that,” Maddie says. But she has conflicted feelings about the show, which she’s been filming since she was 8. “Almost every episode has something I wish wasn’t there, and sometimes I just want my privacy.”
Thanks to her “Dance Moms” and Sia-related successes, Maddie has an insane social media presence: more than 2.5 million Instagram followers, 605,000 Twitter followers and 117,600 Facebook fans. (And those numbers don’t include the followers of the hundreds of accounts Maddie obsessives have created in her honor.) That level of fame means she’s constantly being approached by admirers, which is both exciting and, sometimes, stressful. “It’s hard to take pictures with fans because if I take one picture then everyone wants one,” she says. “Sometimes, like when we’re at Disneyland, I just have to say, ‘Sorry, it’s my day off, and I just want to have fun.’ But I never want to be rude to fans—usually they’re amazing!”
(Photo by Lucas Chilczuk)
Broadening Her Horizons
While her training with ALDC and all those extra “Dance Moms” rehearsals gave her a strong dance foundation, working with Sia was Maddie’s first real exposure to dramatic acting. And while Maddie says she’s always silly and crazy when she’s alone with her friends, showing her wacky side in front of a camera was a new challenge. “I gave her some pretty extreme emotions to portray,” says Ryan Heffington, who choreographed “Chandelier” and “Elastic Heart.” “I’d ask her to hiss like a possum, and at first she just couldn’t do it because she’d be laughing so hard.” Eventually, though, Maddie found her inner actress and embraced the strange. “By the time we started shooting, she’d become comfortable with weirdness,” Heffington says. “At this point, she can do anything I ask her, no problem.”
Now that Maddie’s fully embraced her dramatic side, the next step is conquering the acting world. And she’s already gotten started: She recently made an appearance on Disney’s “Austin & Ally.” “That was just so cool, because it’s my favorite show,” Maddie says. “Dance will always be my number-one passion, but I definitely want to keep doing scripted TV shows, and I’d love to be in a movie.”
Heffington agrees that Maddie is made for a multifaceted career. “She’s an incredibly passionate artist—not just as a dancer, but also as an actress,” he says. “She has the capability to cross over to other art forms and expressions besides dance.”
(Photo by Lucas Chilczuk)
The Next Steps
So, what does Maddie want to be when she grows up? “I don’t want to wait until I’m older—I want to do everything now!” she says. And it’s clear that this preteen phenom isn’t slowing down anytime soon. “My schedule is very hectic, and it might be a little stressful sometimes,” she says. “But I have so many fun things happening every day. I’m definitely loving life right now.”
Birthday: September 30, 2002
Nicknames: “My full name is Madison, so Maddie is my nickname. Some people occasionally call me Mad Dog.”
Pets: “We have a maltipoo puppy named Maliboo. She’s the cutest little thing—she’s like 4 pounds—and I love her so much.”
Dream meal: Steak and broccoli, with cheesecake for dessert
Favorite TV shows: “Austin & Ally” and “Pretty Little Liars”
Biggest pet peeve: “When a metal fork scratches against a plate. It’s like nails on a chalkboard.”
Hidden talents: “I’m obsessed with doing hair and makeup, but people kind of know that about me. I’m like an open book. Everyone pretty much knows my life.”
Biggest role models: “All professional dancers, but especially Misty Copeland. Sia is also a role model to me—she’s like my best friend. I have to include my mom and all of my dance teachers, too. They’re such such big inspirations.”
Proudest dance moment: Performing at the Grammy Awards
Who would play her in a movie: Bella Thorne or Olivia Holt
Favorite subject in school: Language arts. “I’m hating math right now, so definitely not math.”
Biggest advice for other dancers: “You have to love what you do. If you’re not passionate, it’s hard to truly express yourself every day.”
There’s nothing quite like sharing the spotlight with your sister. Here, Maddie Ziegler and 10-year-old sister Mackenzie—a fellow “Dance Moms” girl who has a burgeoning music career of her own—discuss the ups and downs of dancing, filming and growing up together.
(Photos by Lucas Chilczuk)
Dance Spirit: What’s it like to dance alongside your sister?
Maddie: Normally we’re not on the same team since she’s with a younger group,
but for “Dance Moms” we have to dance together. I’m always telling her what she’s doing wrong and giving her corrections, which makes her angry. But we do love
Mackenzie: Sometimes she tells me in rehearsal that I’m doing things wrong, so we get mad at each other. But in the end, we’re nice to each other and say we’re sorry. When I have a solo, she gets me ready for it. And she does my hair and makeup.
DS: How are the two of you different?
Mackenzie: I do more acro and jazz, and Maddie does more lyrical and contemporary. Outside of dance, I’m doing more singing and she’s doing more acting. I’m going to record my second album soon.
Maddie: Dancewise, she’s more energetic and bouncy, and she does a lot of tricks. And we have different interests now. Singing is her thing, for sure. Whenever I’m singing, she’ll be like, “Stop singing. You’re horrible.”
DS: And how are you similar?
Mackenzie: We’re both good tappers. I learned a lot about tapping from her.
Maddie: Sometimes we make the same faces. People will say, “You look exactly like your sister when you do that!”
Misty Copeland. Her name is synonymous with exquisite artistry and outspoken advocacy. And her visibility has made a huge impact on the ballet world. Ballet's relationship with race has always been strained at best, hostile at worst. But Copeland's persistent message and star quality have finally forced the ballet industry to start talking about racial diversity, inclusivity, and representation. "The rarity of seeing ourselves represented is sad," Copeland says. "The more we see every hue and body shape represented on the stage, the more possibilities young dancers feel they have for themselves."
The Olympics are always full of inspiring Cinderella stories, where athletes no one had heard of mere months ago end up blowing all expectations out of the water, and maybe even nabbing a medal in the bargain. But we've recently caught wind of a different kind of Cinderella story—and it's one we really, really hope shows up in the Closing Ceremonies of the PyeongChang Olympics, airing tonight on NBC starting at 8 pm Eastern/5 pm Pacific time.
Being a dancer comes with the task of having to entertain the same questions over and over again from those outside the dance world. Of course, we love having our friends and family take an interest in our passion—but if someone asks ONE MORE TIME whether or not we've met Travis Wall, we might just go crazy.
Here are 10 questions that dancers hate getting asked.
Contemporary phenom Christina Ricucci has super-flexible hips, which means she can stretch her legs to unbelievable heights. But when she noticed herself making contorted positions in class, Ricucci realized she was approaching her extensions all wrong. "I went back to the basics in class, squaring my hips and using my turnout," Ricucci says. "I learned to create proper positions, rather than whacked-out versions of them."
Some dancers are so wonky they have a hard time supporting their high legs, while others struggle with limited flexibility. But no matter your facility, you can find a balance of stretch and strength to achieve your fullest range of extension. It's not about how high (or not) your legs can go: It's the quality of the movement, and how you get those legs up, that counts.
Last month, we asked why there wasn't a Best Choreography category at the Oscars—and discovered that many of you agreed with us: Choreographers should definitely be acknowledged for their work on the super-dancy movies we can't get enough of.
Now, we're taking matters into our own (jazz) hands.
We've decided to create a Dance Spirit award for the best cinematic choreography of 2017. With your input, we've narrowed the field to four choreographers whose moves lit up some of the best movies of the year. Check out our nominations for best choreography below—and vote for the choreographer you think deserves the honor. We'll announce the winner on Friday, March 2.
Once upon a time (until the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi concluded, to be exact), figure skaters had to compete to music without words. Before this rule change, a skater faced an automatic point deduction if the music even hinted at vocals. Understandably, there were *a lot* of Olympic programs skated to classical music, and you'd tend to hear the same music selections over and over and over.
There are plenty of current Olympic figure skaters who'd make beautiful dancers (first among them Adam Rippon, whose gorgeously choreographed long program won the internet, if not the gold). But today, as we wait for the women's figure skating competition to crown its new champions, we wanted to throw it back to one of the most beautifully balletic skaters of all time: Sasha Cohen.
The high-flying leaps of grand allegro are meant to be incredibly exciting. But at the end of an intense ballet class, when you're exhausted, it can be hard to give them the attention they deserve. Want to pump up your big jumps? Follow these 10 vital tips from Jennifer Hart, curriculum director and instructor at Ballet Austin.