Photography by Beau Grealy
Styling by Sally Lyndley
Hair by Ramsell Martinez
Makeup by Tonya Brewer
Manicure by Marisa Carmichael
Props by Kelly Fondry
It is not normal for a child who has lived only two years past a decade to have 3.2 million followers on Instagram. Neither is it for one to be the star of a nationally syndicated reality TV show, appear in music videos and on Saturday Night Live, and sit in the front row at New York Fashion Week. But it is normal for 12-year-old Maddie Ziegler.
“It’s really cool but overwhelming. Celebrities know me now, and it’s funny,” Ziegler says, sitting cross-legged on a couch in Adidas track pants and a graphic T-shirt before her Yahoo Style photo shoot. She’s giggling, but then her tone changes: “But I don’t consider myself a celebrity.” Call her what you will, Ziegler is mature and articulate beyond her years, in the manner of someone who’s experienced fame as a child.
Dance Moms may have made Ziegler a household name, but the tiny dancer’s work ethic has allowed her to stretch that success into something much bigger than the fleeting fame of reality TV. When she’s not filming on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays, she checks into homeschool at her tutor’s house from 8:30 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. On Thursdays, school is sandwiched between acting class and ballet. She checks back into school for a bit and then jumps right back into dancing — literally. And that’s just the way she likes it.
“I don’t have to worry about getting ready and going to school,” she says. “I kind of just wake up, go to her house in pajamas. It’s really nice.” But even on her “sloppy days,” the 12-year-old isn’t barefaced (and says she hasn’t been since age 10). “Well right now, I was in a rush, so I kind of don’t have makeup on,” Ziegler says. (All that stage makeup has skewed her perspective, however, because she adds: “I have on primer, really light foundation, concealer, and blush.”)
Since her mom has banned her from wearing heels more than 2 inches high, Ziegler’s exercising her creative streak at the makeup counter. She’s turned herself into something of a makeup aficionado — thanks to beauty bloggers — and rattles off her favorite brands like the ABCs (MAC, NARS, and Urban Decay, to name a few). She is, however, eager to point out that she does have limits: “I don’t go over the top with it. Some of my friends go crazy with the winged liner … I don’t want to look too old, and I don’t want to wear too much where it looks really cakey.”
Mid-interview, Ziegler’s mom hands her an Atkins Diet bar. Her dance teacher, Miss Abby Lee Miller, has tasked her with eating healthier food. “I love snacks, but I’m kind of growing out of them,” she says. “I’m getting into fruit and Clif Bars.” When asked why, she says, “My dance teacher will show me pictures of girls who are rhythmic gymnasts, and they are super skinny. But I don’t want to be too skinny. I think that looks a little gross when you are dancing. You don’t want to be a scrawny, bony thing. When I watch people who are really, really skinny, it’s kind of hard for me to watch them. I feel so bad, like they are just going to break a bone because they don’t have anything on them. I also don’t want to be overweight. You have to stay in shape for dance. I don’t want to be too skinny, but I don’t want to be overweight. I want to be in the middle.”
If that sounds like a lot for a preteen to work through, Ziegler says, “I’m just a little girl from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Living the life!”
Try telling that to her younger sister; 10-year-old Mackenzie Ziegler is having some trouble with Maddie’s breakout fame. “My sister and I are always competing with each other,” Maddie admits. “Hopefully she will get better. She kind of just like gets mad because more people want to interview me. But that’s just her being my sister. If she was my friend, she wouldn’t care.”
If fewer people wanted to interview Ziegler and she found herself with a free day, she’d like to curl up on the couch and watch the episode of Austin & Ally on which she recently guest-starred, The Hunger Games, and her favorite show, Pretty Little Liars (on which she’ll also appear, on June 30). She’d whip up some kitschy home music videos with her dance team friends and then go shopping at her favorite stores: Forever 21, H&M, and Topshop, all the while listening to Sam Smith and Taylor Swift on repeat, the latter of whom she has just grown to love. “Taylor’s amazing. I love her new taste!” Ziegler says, wide-eyed. “When she came out with ‘Shake It Off’ I was freaking out. I am so much more obsessed with her than I was before. I wasn’t that big of a fan until now.”
Not surprisingly, Ziegler’s finding it increasingly difficult to sit still. “I don’t want to just be a reality star. I don’t just want to live my life in a stressful mess. I’m obviously not going to be doing competitions for the rest of my life. I definitely want to do movies and acting and dancing.”
Lucky for Ziegler, Sia — whom she calls her “No. 1” — is doling out sound advice. “Always stay humble and don’t get cocky, because it’s annoying when people are like that. She also said to never work too hard. It’s good to keep dancing every day, but if you aren’t passionate about it, don’t do it.”
A lack of passion is one thing Ziegler need not worry about.