If there’s anyone out there that knows a thing or two about persevering through a toxic environment – and coming out the other side of it all the better – it’s Dance Moms’ Nia Sioux. The 19-year-old spent years facing a number of forms of emotional and verbal abuse on Lifetime’s Dance Moms, including favoritism and racism. Now, she’s forging her own space to welcome others into – free of harsh judgements and unconstructive feedback – and working with the likes of Michelle Obama to inspire others to do the same.
Cultivating A Completely Positive Environment
Every week on Instagram, Nia hosts Role Model Monday, where she highlights ordinary people doing extraordinary things, and it’s part of what kicked off the journey to Dance With Nia, a new web series where Nia – and her guests with disabilities – dive into their experiences, particularly with ableism, in the dance world, the entertainment industry at large, and in life.
“Everyone has amazing talents, and contributes so much to this world,” she tells Her Campus. “When Facebook and Brat TV came to me with this idea of [specifically] highlighting dancers who are disabled, I was like, ‘This is amazing!’ There’s so many beautiful dancers who are disabled out there who we don’t get to see, who aren’t highlighted like they should be.”
As an executive producer on the new series, Nia’s making sure that that’s exactly what happens. “It’s very much dance heavy, but it’s really about the dancers,” Nia says. “Actually getting to highlight them in a positive light, and [allowing them] to tell their story through their own eyes.” Because when it comes to people with disabilities, others still tend to feel uncomfortable for some reason.
“The more that we highlight in the media that there are dancers who are disabled, and are working and doing amazing things, the more that [others] can see them,” Nia says. The more diversity we can show the more inclusive we can be, improving not only the industry, but the world at large.
Nia’s trying to make that happen by sharing their journeys the way that the people who lived them want them to be told. “When I was on Dance Moms, I felt like I wasn’t highlighted the way that I wanted to be. I’d done reality, and I’d seen how they can turn storylines into something that they’re not, and I wanted this to be the exact opposite,” she says. “I wanted it to be their show. I know how things can get twisted, so that’s why it’s so important to me [for] people to be able to share their stories the way that they want, with no alterations.”
On Connecting & Reconnecting
Nia’s gotten to connect with dancers across the spectrum, from students to teachers to professionals, who happen to be blind, or deaf, or have fibromyalgia, or a number of other disabilities, and it went much deeper than just hearing and sharing their stories.
Nia became friends with most of the dancers featured on Dance With Nia, learning so much from each one. “I honestly owe them so much because they’ve all taught me not only how to love myself, but how to fall in love with dancing again. [They taught me] how to be confident, [they taught me] technical things and musicality,” she says. Some have already made plans to take a class together, and for those that are instructors, Nia’s looking forward to taking a class under them and spending more time in the studio.
Nia doesn’t dance as much as she used to, and she no longer competes. “After the show I definitely lost my passion for dance for a little, because it was such a toxic environment. It kind of knocked me down a few pegs,” she says. “[But] I went back into the studio around people that I grew up with, teachers I’d had when I was an itty bitty baby, and it felt very grounding.” She came to realize that dance wasn’t something she should give up, and working on Dance With Nia, where creating such a positive environment and working with so many amazing dancers helped to reignite her passion, further proved that.
While she may have needed to step back for a bit, Nia’s a prime example that it’s never too late to pick your childhood passions back up. “I think it’s very important to take time off,” she says, “because you have to figure out if you really love it or not.” But you’ll figure out quickly whether it’s meant to be or not. “It takes time to grow, because whatever your journey, whatever your story might be, you need time to take a breather – but I think it’s so important to remember that you can always get back into doing something that you used to love to do,” she says, and she went back to the studio just for the fun of it, judgment not included.
“I think, with life in general, you get so caught up and forget about things that you love to do,” she says. “I really appreciate the show for showing me how to fall back in love with dance, and to make it a priority, because it’s so powerful; it can literally heal a soul.”
Helping Others Find Their Power
But Nia’s power reaches far beyond the dance studio. “All I want to do – what I stand for – is to amplify people’s voices and make them heard,” she says, and part of that is in helping other people make themselves heard, which she spent a lot of time doing during the 2020 election season with Michelle Obama’s When We All Vote.
“Working with Michelle Obama has literally been a dream,” Nia says of one of her biggest role models, “[and] getting involved with When We All Vote this past presidential election was a dream come true as well.” Nia never really thought before about how powerful social media could be to engage young voters, but she was able to use hers to encourage them to use their own voices and their own platforms to fight for the changes they want to see in the world. “People need to realize that they do have power,” she says, and one of the most powerful weapons – or tools, depending on how you look at it – that we wield is our vote. “People want you to think that it’s not, but it is… Your vote is your voice.”
She Thinks That’s Just What She Was Made For
Dance Moms may have given Nia the opportunity to experience some of these unacceptable issues for herself, but she’s confident that, even if it had been a positive experience, she’d still be fighting for others’ voices to be heard today. “I feel like I was put on this Earth to do this. My whole family has instilled in me since I was really little to help others, and to stick up for yourself, and [that] you have a voice you need to use,” she says. “I would always stand for this, even if the show was super positive and really happy all the time, I’d still be doing this.”
And as difficult as the show could be, Nia learned a lot from her time on it. “With the good there’s always bad, but even though it left me with a sour taste in my mouth I’m never going to take that time for granted,” she says. “It was challenging, but I made it through and I’m able to do such fun and cool things and experience so many amazing adventures, and I couldn’t imagine myself not doing it.” She knows the show is a big part of who she is today.
As for what comes next, you’ll just have to wait and see. Nia spills that she filmed a movie in Canada earlier this year, but can’t share any of the deets just yet. Stay tuned!