Maddie Ziegler Reflects On The ‘Toxic’ Environment On ‘Dance Moms’ Growing Up

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By Anita Tai.

Maddie Ziegler is finally speaking her truth about her peculiar upbringing.

The dancer-turned-actress is Cosmopolitan‘s cover star for their Issue 4: The Fame Issue. She spoke with the outlet about living in the public eye from a young age, and what she’s learned since leaving reality TV.

The moment Ziegler realized she was famous came quite early for the star.

“I was 8 and we were in an ice cream store, me and the girls from ‘Dance Moms’, and people were calling our names. We were weirded out, like, ‘How do they know our names?’” she recalled. “Then I noticed it gradually — everywhere we went, at any dance competition — swarms of people. It didn’t make me excited. In a way, I was kind of embarrassed.”

Ziegler was on six seasons of the reality show “Dance Moms” from 2011-2016. The show focused on a group of child dancers and their show moms, along with their demanding instructor Abby Lee Miller.

READ MORE: Sia Defends Her Decision To Cast Maddie Ziegler As An Autistic Character In New Movie ‘Music’: ‘I Can’t Do A Project Without Her

Living in the spotlight wasn’t all glamour, however, and the young star found herself judged based on her character on “Dance Moms”.

“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,” she shared. “I was just doing whatever they told me to do because I thought that’s what you did. They set you up for failure.”

Maddie Ziegler – Photo: Josefina Santos for Cosmopolitan
Maddie Ziegler – Photo: Josefina Santos for Cosmopolitan
Maddie Ziegler – Photo: Josefina Santos for Cosmopolitan
Maddie Ziegler – Photo: Josefina Santos for Cosmopolitan
Maddie Ziegler – Photo: Josefina Santos for Cosmopolitan
Maddie Ziegler – Photo: Josefina Santos for Cosmopolitan
Maddie Ziegler – Photo: Josefina Santos for Cosmopolitan
Maddie Ziegler – Photo: Josefina Santos for Cosmopolitan

Eventually the pressure and scrutiny of the public became too much and the dancer wanted out.

“I started to feel like, ‘It’s so peaceful outside of this world. I can’t be in this.’ My family and I really tried to leave for the last three seasons. But when you’re in a contract, it’s really hard. Eventually, I finally got out,” said Ziegler.

Her dance instructor Miller did not take the news well.

READ MORE: Abby Lee Miller Hit With Backlash By Britney Spears’ Fans After Critiquing Singer’s Dance Moves

“She was distraught. For the longest time, we felt so guilty. She trained me, she helped me, but also, I knew I would be okay without her and I was sick of being in a toxic environment,” she said.

In fact, Ziegler hasn’t spoken to Miller since she left the show.

“I was like, ‘This is not for me. I can’t do this.’ I haven’t spoken to her since,” she said. “I feel at peace. Definitely.”

Miller, who has found herself in legal trouble and health issues since the show, including a prison sentence and a battle with with cancer, responded to Ziegler’s words in a video posted to her YouTube channel.

“What I don’t understand [about] the pressure, the ‘toxic’ situation — if it was so toxic, why did you keep doing it? I had to, I tried to quit many a time, and I was forced to come back to set because I signed a contract,” she said. “Newsflash: the kids in the original cast never had a contract. The moms had a contract, but the kids, well… they were just kind of there on a handshake.”

The dance instructor claimed she never had an inkling that Ziegler was unhappy.

“I thought she wanted to be there… If she said, ‘I don’t want to go, I’m not going,’ kicking and screaming, stomping her feet, I’m sure her mother wouldn’t have brought her — or she would have come and talked to me about it. She never did that,” she continued.

“I know that what I did for Maddie, with Maddie, helped her succeed,” she defended.

READ MORE: Sia Says She Once Stopped Maddie Ziegler From Getting On A Plane With Harvey Weinstein: ‘That Was Really Disgusting’

“Sadly, it’s always the ones you do the most for that kick you in the can-can,” she told TMZ. Responding to Ziegler’s comment that she was now “at peace” with no longer speaking to Miller, she said, “I hope someday I’m at peace with it all, too.”

Since leaving the environment of television and growing older, Ziegler says she’s learned a lot.

“I will always be a perfectionist, but not in the way where in ‘Dance Moms’ you would see me crying and then I just suck it up and get right back to it. I’m going to therapy, talking to people, doing all the things. I’ve learned I’m not going to be in trouble if I’m feeling bad or if I have an injury,” she explained. “That’s the biggest difference. It’s amazing that I’m able to feel my feelings and not just push them down. I’m also just really clean. That’s where my perfectionism has transferred.”

For now, the 19-year-old is focusing on her new acting career.

“Acting is taking over my world. I love it so much. I don’t know how I’m booking roles because I feel like I’m such a newbie, but I’ve been working really hard at it,” she shared.

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