How Maddie Ziegler Says Dance Moms Set Her Up For Failure, And Why She Hasn’t Rewatched The Series

Maddie Ziegler in The Fallout.
(Image credit: HBO Max)

Back in 2011, the Lifetime reality show Dance Moms became the ultimate in guilty pleasure entertainment. Viewers tuned in to watch Abby Lee Miller’s pre-teen dance team dominate their competition, while their mothers fought — either with Abby or each other. But amid all the chaos that arose over the years, one thing was basically guaranteed: Maddie Ziegler was going to win. It wasn’t all trophies and celebrations for the young dancer, though, and she left Dance Moms and her controversial dance teacher in 2016. She recently opened up about the show that made her famous, and why she’s distanced herself from it since then.

Maddie Ziegler has come a long way since Pittsburgh’s Abby Lee Dance Company. She’s worked with Sia in multiple music videos, served as a judge on So You Think You Can Dance, and appeared in multiple TV shows and movies, including Pretty Little Liars and To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You. More recently she played Velma in Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story and starred alongside Jenna Ortega in The Fallout. But to do all that, she told Cosmopolitan, she first had to shake the reputation that Dance Moms had given her. Ziegler said: 

People thought I was a brat because in all my interviews, I would say, ‘I’m the best. I know I’m going to win.’ But that’s because the producer was telling me to say that. I don’t think I’m better than everyone else. I was just doing whatever they told me to do because I thought that’s what you did. They set you up for failure.

To be fair to everyone involved, Maddie Ziegler was often the best, and she usually did win, but it’s still a ridiculously large target to put on a child’s back. Take that and add to it the other mothers’ constant gripes that Maddie always got the best solos, the best costumes, the most attention, etc., and it was pretty obvious that none of the dancers were having much fun. The YouTuber said even though she was just a kid (she was 8 years old when Dance Moms premiered), it was the most stressful time of her life:

I had more stress at that age than I did once I left. I have dissociated so much from that time. I’ll see fans post scenes from Dance Moms and I’m like, I literally don’t even remember that happening. It’s weird because there were really amazing times, but there were also a lot of things that were really, really not great for us kids.

So wait, being dumped on by all of the adults around you and seeing your mom fighting and crying and being kicked out of the dance studio wasn’t a situation you wanted to be in for longer than six years? 

Maddie Ziegler said she had to unlearn so many things that Abby Lee Miller had taught in that “toxic environment,” adding that she hasn’t spoken to her former dance teacher since she left the show. (Miller, for her part, lashed out at Ziegler and her other former students in April for not reaching out when the dance teacher served eight months in prison for financial fraud.) Not only does the 19-year-old dancer not plan on ever speaking to her former teacher again, but she refuses to even watch old Dance Moms episodes. The one time she tried, she said she had to turn it off: 

I did watch a little bit of an episode from the very beginning to show my boyfriend because I was like, ‘You cannot watch this, but I’ll show you what I looked like.’ And we both were like, ‘This is sad. We need to turn this off.’

Despite getting her start on Dance Moms, being on the show wasn't always easy for Maddie Ziegler. But it seems like the dancer-turned-actress is continuing to look forward. If you, however, would like to relive the early days of the show, five seasons of Dance Moms are available for streaming with a Hulu subscription. Ziegler’s movie The Fallout can be streamed with an HBO Max subscription, and West Side Story is available on HBO Max or with a Disney+ subscription.

Heidi Venable
Content Producer

Mom of two and hard-core '90s kid. Unprovoked, will quote Friends in any situation. Thrives on New Orleans Saints football, The West Wing and taco trucks.