If you’re one of the millions that have watched Sia’s music videos, you’re likely to recognize the captivating little dancer with the blonde wig. Indeed, 14-year-old Maddie Ziegler has risen to fame and worldwide recognition before most teens have even had their first weekend job. But Ziegler hasn’t exactly enjoyed overnight success. In fact, years of hard work have gone into getting the starlet of Dance Moms fame to where she is now. And it doesn’t look like she’ll be slowing down anytime soon.
Still, Ziegler’s early childhood in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania was that of any regular kid. Her mom Melissa Gisoni, meanwhile, has stressed that any desire to perform came completely from her daughter. “All I did was drive them and pay the bills,” Gisoni told Cosmopolitan in 2016, when discussing Ziegler and her sisters.
And once Ziegler was old enough to try out a few different after-school clubs, dance was the one that stuck. She started dancing at the Abby Lee Dance Company, a Pittsburgh studio run by Abby Lee Miller, at just four.
In a season six episode of Dance Moms, moreover, Miller remembered, “Maddie made an incredible first impression. She walked into the studio… looked me in the eye and she said, ‘I want to take tap and hip-hop.’ And I was like, ‘Who does this kid think she is?!’”
And Miller let the then four-year-old do her hip-hop class, even though it was way too advanced. She added, “I let her take it thinking she’s not going to be able to do it and she’s going to come out crying… but that’s not what happened.”
And it was at the studio that Gisoni and other moms were approached to appear in an upcoming documentary. Originally, this was to be called Just Dance and about dancers and their pushy stage moms. After the casting of Abby Lee Miller herself, then, Gisoni and her daughter found themselves tied into the Lifetime reality show Dance Moms.
Soon Dance Moms started to air to audiences in the U.S. and, later, internationally. This is where Ziegler established a look that would stay with her throughout her time on the show. And that look involved tight ponytails, ballet buns, a few rhinestones and plenty of pink.
Dance Moms wasn’t quite Ziegler’s first taste of having the cameras on her, though. After all, she had done some modeling for dance wear catalogues before the show began. And while it was a small-time gig, it seems now as if it was a sign of things to come. The star now represents Capezio, the top of the pile when it comes to dance brands.
Meanwhile, Ziegler was presented on Dance Moms as the best dancer on the team. Indeed, her position as the class favorite was often the source of drama for the competing moms. Ziegler also had the most solo dances, with memorable routines like those that she performed to Alexx Calise’s track “Cry,” The Parakeetus Band’s “Showing You My Heart” and Rachael Sage song “Among All of God’s Creatures” amassing millions of YouTube views.
Likewise, millions watched Ziegler’s growth as a dancer throughout the five seasons that she appeared on the show. Certainly, it showcased her talents in lyrical dance, tap, ballet, modern dance and musical theater. She also became known on the show for “the Maddie face,” due to her ability to tell a story through her movements and expressions on stage.
However, Ziegler’s talent sometimes worked against her. The constant drama that the show required often meant that the young dancers on the show were battled head-to-head. And Ziegler, then, was always the one to beat. Indeed, as she added to Seventeen in 2016, “I feel like I had so much more pressure on me to be the best in the room.”
And being one of the most striking dancers on the show led to the opportunity that would catapult Ziegler to stardom. In 2014, moreover, unexpected Dance Moms fan Sia contacted Ziegler over Twitter, asking her to appear in the video for her upcoming single “Chandelier.” It was here that Ziegler’s iconic leotard and blonde wig look was born.
And after becoming the star of an award-winning pop video with over a billion views on YouTube, Ziegler was soon performing the dance live on primetime TV shows like Saturday Night Live as well as at the Grammy Awards. The young starlet later told Dance Spirit magazine that her iconic wig made her “feel like Hannah Montana,” as it made her instantly recognizable.
Ziegler continued to appear on Dance Moms after the explosion of the Sia video. She did, however, start to use her newfound fame to pursue other opportunities in showbiz. After admiring her work for “Chandelier,” for example, the executive producer of Pretty Little Liars created a fantasy dance sequence on the show for Ziegler to appear in.
Then the singer used Ziegler again for the music video to “Elastic Heart.” That clip was controversial, though, for a number of reasons. After all, the still very much underage Ziegler was featured dancing alongside a near-naked Shia LaBeouf. As a result, then, many commented that the age gap between the two stars made for uncomfortable viewing. Ziegler took it in her stride, however, and the video marked a move towards more mature work for the dancer.
As more opportunities began to come Ziegler’s way, though, it became apparent that her commitment to Dance Moms would have to end. Towards the end of her final season on the show, moreover, Ziegler was often absent from episodes due to other filming commitments. She left at the end of season six along with her younger sister, Mackenzie.
The big screen was beckoning, however. In 2015, for example, Ziegler began filming for upcoming movie The Book of Henry with co-star Naomi Watts. She also bagged the role of Camille in the animated film Ballerina. After leaving Dance Moms and moving on to professional work, moreover, she left the rhinestones at home in favor of a more natural look. She also bagged a primetime TV judging position on So You Think You Can Dance: The Next Generation.
What’s more, in celebration of hitting her teens, 2016 saw the launch of her clothing line Maddie Style. This was aimed specifically at fashion-conscious teenagers not quite yet ready for adult brands. As she explained to People in September of that year, “Kids’ clothes are either too childish or something I would never wear. And sometimes adult clothes are either too big on me or it’s just too grown up for me. I’m really excited to find the in-between.”
Furthermore, as Ziegler’s grown up, she’s also developed a very close relationship with Sia, who her mom classifies as a very important role model in the teen’s life. Indeed, Ziegler recently finished performing all over the country with Sia on her U.S. tour. And that was an experience that Ziegler has said, in a post on Instagram, “changed [her] life for the better.”
And despite all the glitz and glam of Hollywood, Ziegler makes sure to give back to the fans that have supported her from day one. In 2017, for example, she’ll be embarking on a tour of Australia with her sister Mackenzie to meet and perform for fans. They all likely can’t wait to see what moves the 14-year-old will be pulling next – and neither can we.