Maddie Ziegler's Transformation From Dance Moms To Hollywood Actor

Maddie Ziegler has been in the spotlight since she was a kid. In 2011, at 8 years old, she became a rising dance star on Lifetime's "Dance Moms," a reality series based on the careers of young dancers as they trained and competed across the country for the Abby Lee Miller Dance Company. It was also the same show that put internet personality JoJo Siwa on the map.

"Dance Moms" helped Ziegler break out in the world of entertainment. She caught the eye of singer Sia and became known for starring in the music videos for "Chandelier" and "Elastic Heart," which have racked up billions of views on YouTube. Speaking to Vulture about stepping out of her comfort zone of strict dance routines to shoot the videos, Ziegler shared, "It was really out of the box and it expanded me a lot, because I'm used to competition dances where you're like, 'Point your legs!' But this time it was like, you just need to let go and feel it."

Ziegler has since changed career paths. Though she's known for being a brilliant and famed dancer, this young star is capturing the attention of many for her breakout movie roles and, hopefully, many more to come.

Maddie Ziegler was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Maddie Ziegler comes from a big and blended family. She was born on September 30, 2002, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to parents Kurt Ziegler and Melissa Gisoni. Two years later, the couple welcomed Maddie's sister, Mackenzie. Before her parents wed, her father was previously married and had two sons, Ryan and Tyler, born in the '90s. In 2011, Maddie's parents divorced, and her mother remarried to Greg Gisoni in 2013. Gisoni also had children from a previous marriage, twins Matthew and Michele, born in 1985, making them become Maddie's step-siblings.

Although Maddie is close with her siblings, her relationship with her father became strained when she, Mackenzie, and their mom had to relocate to Los Angeles to film "Dance Moms" in 2015. In 2023, Mackenzie, a singer as well as a dancer, wrote a song about their father titled "Anatomy." Speaking to People, she shared that Maddie was a huge help with the song's music video as she choreographed it. "We grew up the same, so it kind of was a moment for us to share together, and it was super emotional," she noted.

She found herself in the spotlight at age 8

Maddie began dancing at age 2, and by 4 years old, she was dancing competitively. By 8, Maddie, her younger sister, and their mom were asked to join the cast of "Dance Moms," a show filmed at the Abby Lee Dance Company in Pittsburgh, where the Ziegler sisters and other young dancers trained in dance and performed across the country with the studio's competition team. "My family got cast and ended up doing six seasons," Maddie explained to SBJCT. "We basically just learned new dances every week and competed with them every weekend. It was a fast-paced environment and had lots of drama."

Speaking to Cosmopolitan in 2022, Maddie shared that being in the limelight as a young girl was sometimes difficult. "I felt like, 'I hope the teachers are taking me seriously, because all these girls are asking me for photos and I'm here to work,'" she recalled. "It was really hard for me to set the two worlds apart because I absolutely adored when people would come up to me and say they started dancing because of me ... But at the same time, I'm like, 'Oh, I'm also here to try and win a scholarship.'"

Sia's music videos showcased her dance skills

Maddie Ziegler became a household name thanks to "Dance Moms," but she became known around the globe when she was cast in Sia's music video for "Chandelier" in 2014. Speaking to SBJCT, Ziegler shared that Sia contacted her through X, formerly known as Twitter. "She was actually a huge fan of 'Dance Moms' and saw lots of potential in me. I'm so grateful that I was introduced to her world of art and creativity," she said.

Ziegler became Sia's muse, and she starred in several more music videos for the singer, including "Elastic Heart," which caused controversy after it also starred a half-clothed Shia LeBeouf. Ziegler also danced in the music videos for "Big Girls Cry," "Cheap Thrills," and "The Greatest." She even joined Sia for numerous live appearances, including performing "Chandelier" on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" and at the 57th Grammy Awards.

Ziegler has had nothing but exceptional things to say about working with Sia. "She created such an amazing family around us, so we felt safe," the dancer told SBJCT. "Filming those music videos was life-changing for me ... With each performance, I learned more and more, and having the energy of the audience screaming the song lyrics was pretty special."

Ziegler disassociated herself from Dance Moms

Maddie Ziegler had a tough time dealing with people's perceptions of her from watching "Dance Moms." On-screen, she was often portrayed as a perfectionist and even a brat. However, she shared with Cosmopolitan that Abby Lee Miller constantly instilled in her the need to be the best, which put a lot of pressure on a young Maddie. In fact, she and Mackenzie Ziegler wanted to leave the show sooner but were under contract.

"I knew I would be okay without [Abby Lee Miller]," Maddie affirmed. "And I was sick of being in a toxic environment. I was like, 'This is not for me. I can't do this.'" The dancer also stated that she never spoke to Miller again since leaving the show after Season 6 when she was 13 years old.

During an interview on the "High Low with EmRata" podcast, Maddie explained that her childhood revolved around dance and filming "Dance Moms," but she has disassociated herself from her past. "I also have blocked out so much of my childhood that I actually don't know what my life was like, even just before working," she said. Although she was taught to be "perfect," Maddie expressed that she has since tried to "unlearn all those traits," adding, "It's an ongoing battle 'cause I liked some of the traits that I had when I was little, 'cause I was so determined ... Now, I'm also like, 'Hey, if I mess up, like, it's not the end of the world.'"

Her acting career began with small television roles

Maddie Ziegler first dove into acting while she was still on "Dance Moms." Her journey began with some bit parts and small roles in television, including appearing in episodes of "Drop Dead Diva," the Disney Channel's "Austin & Ally" and Freeform's "Pretty Little Liars" in 2015. She would later move to star in bigger productions, including voicing Camille in the 2017 animated movie "Leap!," which also starred Elle Fanning.

However, Ziegler herself would never guessed that her profession would shift from dancer to Hollywood actor. Speaking to Wonderland magazine in 2021, she denoted, "I definitely found acting through dance. That was never my goal, I was just set [on] becoming a professional dancer."

She has even credited "Dance Moms" for helping launch her acting career, despite the falling out she experienced when exiting the show. "Obviously, I have my feelings about that [show], but if I didn't do it, I would not be where I am right now at all," she told Teen Vogue. "I wouldn't have been found by Sia, I wouldn't have found my love for acting through music videos, and I wouldn't be where I am, literally, right now talking to you."

She became a best-selling author at 14

Maddie Ziegler's stardom on TV and in the world of dance brought her other incredible opportunities, including a book deal. In March 2017, she released her official memoir, "The Maddie Diaries," in which the dancer delved into her life and rise to stardom while also doling out advice for her young fans. As soon as it was released, the book earned a spot on The New York Times Best Seller list, making Maddie a best-selling author at just 14 years old.

Sitting down with the Build Series to discuss her memoir, Ziegler shared that although it is out of the ordinary for a teenager to publish a memoir, she wanted the world to know that she was so much more than what people perceived her as on "Dance Moms." In addition, she shared tidbits about her life that people wouldn't normally know about, including her passion for painting. "I am a normal teen too ... I am just a kid from Pittsburgh who just had big dreams and now I'm doing all of this stuff," she reflected. "It's really important to remember that I have to stay grounded."

Movie roles soon came her way

Maddie Ziegler's first major live-action film role was in 2017's "The Book of Henry." In the film, Ziegler stars as Christina, the next-door neighbor of her genius classmate, Henry, who, along with his mom, portrayed by Naomi Watts, sets out to help Christina from of her abusive stepfather. 

It was a profound and intense role for Ziegler to portray for her first time on the silver screen. "I was so excited to take on this role because it is so different from my actual life and so serious," she noted to Hollywire about why she chose to play Christina. "And it's actually really sad and scary."

In the same interview, Ziegler shared how being in Sia's music videos significantly helped her nail the part. At times, her role in the film required her to act without saying lines, which meant she had to emote through her facial expressions and body movements. "Every role that I've done with Sia is so crazy and serious and something I have to, like, really channel every time," Ziegler related. "So it really helped me get into my role of Christina."

The Sia-directed film, Music, was seen as problematic

At the beginning of 2021, Sia released her directorial debut, "Music." The film centers around Zu, portrayed by Kate Hudson, a newly sober woman who becomes the guardian of her non-verbal autistic half-sister, Music, played by Maddie Ziegler. However, Ziegler wouldn't earn much praise for the role. Instead, critics found the film lackluster and insensitive to those with autism.

A review of the movie by Teo Bugbee of The New York Times read, "Neither Ziegler nor Sia are autistic, and their collaboration on this film reduces disability to mannerisms that look indistinguishable from mockery." In addition, Bugbee called the movie "bizarre" and added that the film "parades confused ideas about care, fantasy, and disability with a pride that reads as vanity." Ouch.

Ziegler herself managed to stay out of the controversy surrounding the movie, as the project was written and created by the "Chandelier" singer. Revealing she was 14 when "Music" was filmed, she told the Independent that she recognized why people would have differentiating opinions about it. "I understand why people would want someone who's actually on the spectrum with autism to play this character," she said. "But in terms of the dance sequences, I think that's why Sia chose me to bring the dream world to life. It was all [made] with good intentions and with a good heart."

Her breakout role in The Fallout

Serious roles would come Maddie Ziegler's way again with 2021's "The Fallout." Starring opposite scream queen Jenna Ortega, Ziegler portrayed high school student Mia, who befriends Oretga's character, Vada, as they navigate their lives after a school shooting.

The movie sends a powerful message, with Ziegler and Ortega's characters resonating with audiences. In an interview with Max, the actors revealed that filming the project allowed them to learn much about themselves. "I am an extremely independent person, and so is Mia, and I really learned that it's okay to lean on someone and it's okay to find comfort in someone," Ziegler shared. "I am really good at hiding my emotions and kind of dealing with them internally. But throughout making this film, it was almost like a little therapy session in a way, because I learned that it's okay to express how you're feeling and it's okay to not want to be alone."

Although "The Fallout" centered around Vada, Ziegler's character also received praise from critics. Film School Rejects called her performance "stoic yet sensitive and vulnerable," and Geek Vibe Nation declared, "Maddie Ziegler delivers a staggering performance here that will hopefully more firmly establish her legacy outside of her association with the aforementioned pop hitmaker," referring to her work with Sia.

She's had two serious public romances

Maddie Ziegler has no extensive dating history, but she has revealed her relationships to the public twice. Her first was with influencer Jack Kelly, which began in 2017. The couple was open about their romance, posting photos of each other on social media. However, that seemed to be the demise of their young love as they split sometime in 2018.

In 2019, she opened up to Marie Claire about her dating life, "I had a public relationship for two years, and I am never, ever going to make any relationship as public as much as I did. I learned my lesson. On Instagram, people have assumed certain people that I am dating, but I'm just like, give it a rest." When it came to her next relationship, Ziegler kept it low-key.

The dancer-turned-actor reportedly began dating Australian musician Eddie Benjamin in 2019, but it wasn't until March 2020 that they made it public. Ziegler appeared extremely happy with Benjamin when speaking to Entertainment Tonight in January 2022. "I feel very excited every day that I get to date him. We have such a good time together and we were best friends for a really long time before we dated. It's like I'm just hanging out with my best friend every day." Unfortunately, the couple amicably split a year later.

She shined in Fitting In

Up next for Maddie Ziegler was a leading role in director Molly McGlynn's semi-autobiographical film, "Fitting In." The 2023 movie centers around 16-year-old Lindy, played by Ziegler, exploring her sexuality and coming to terms with the fact that she has been diagnosed with MRKH syndrome, a rare reproductive disorder.

Ziegler was incredibly proud to work on the movie. She told Teen Vogue, "I am a very harsh critic toward myself, and it's hard to be proud, but the first time I watched ['Fitting In'], I was like, Wow! I did things that I didn't know I was capable of, and I'm proud, which is rare. I don't usually say that."

Between starring in "The Fallout" and "Fitting In," Ziegler also got to work with famed director Steven Spielberg in his adaptation of the 1957 musical "West Side Story." Ziegler played the role of Velma and got to showcase her dance skills. In 2024, the dancer-turned-actor got to work with her "The Fallout" director Megan Park again in the film, "My Old A**." 

She was honored by Teen Vogue

Maddie Ziegler was selected by Teen Vogue as part of their "New Hollywood Class of 2024," a group of rising stars in the acting world. In addition to Ziegler, the magazine highlighted Ariana Greenblatt, who appeared in "Barbie," Christopher Briney, best known for "The Summer I Turned Pretty," and Megan Suri of "Never Have I Ever," among others.

Ziegler has accumulated quite an impressive acting resume by just 22, but there's surely a lot more to see from this up-and-coming actor. Will an action/adventure film be next for Ziegler? She told Teen Vogue that she has taken a liking to roles that require more action, seeing herself as the next female assassin, like Scarlett Johansson in "Lucy." Plus, with her dancing abilities, doing stunts shouldn't be that challenging for Ziegler. "I don't know what my life would be like without working," she remarked. "But I love it so much, and I don't want to stop."