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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Conn chapter.

On Dance Moms, young Maddie Ziegler seemed to have it all. She possessed extraordinary talent beyond her years, always won first place, and was the golden child of notorious dance teacher Abby Lee Miller, who ensured Maddie got the best choreography and the most opportunities. Despite all that, things were not as great as they seemed. From a young age, Maddie was under a lot of pressure from Abby to win and live up to her idea of what a “perfect dancer” was, to stay on Abby’s good side.

Both fans and the moms resented Maddie because Abby would always compare the other girls to her, or give her opportunities at the expense of the other girls when Maddie couldn’t control any of that. She didn’t ask to be the favorite. Fans thought that Maddie was a brat because of her “bratty” moments or moments where she freaked out over not winning, but she was just a kid in a high-stress environment with a lot of pressure on her. With the recent Dance Moms reunion, I figured there was no time like the present to talk about this, so with all this in mind, let’s discuss why we owe Maddie Ziegler an apology.

Maddie’s interviews

One of the reasons people thought Maddie was stuck up was because she came off cocky and unlikable in her interviews, saying things like “I don’t really know what it’s like to lose.” When the truth was, many of her interviews were coached. On High Low With EmRata, Maddie explained, “There was male producers saying…’Say you’re the best, say you’re better than everyone else’ — so I was perceived kind of like a little brat in the first season.” When we are kids, as Maddie illustrated here, we are taught that we should do whatever the adults in charge tell us because they have our best interests at heart. As Maddie learned here, that is not always the truth. In reality TV, it is common to take one person and cast them as the “villain character” because it makes good television, but to purposely portray children in a bad light is just awful. 

Maddie’s “Bratty” moments

Another reason people disliked Maddie is because she was judged harshly for her “bratty” moments on the show. Since Maddie had so many high expectations of her, she’d freak out whenever she was not able to meet them. For example, she was unable to act happy for Mackenzie (her sister) when Mackenzie beat her, or when she said “You know, I’m Maddie Ziegler, I’m a perfectionist, and I like to win, and that’s just me,” after she got third place. Watching the latter clip now, it seems as though Maddie was just regurgitating what the adults around her kept saying about her and telling her. “Oh, Maddie always wins and she tries so hard to be perfect.” In addition, Maddie was under so much pressure from Abby to be the “winner” and “perfect dancer” that if she didn’t live up to that, then she’d be letting Abby down or Abby would be mad at her for losing. I also think that Maddie felt that she was letting Abby down because the last time she did a solo, Mackenzie beat her, so she felt that she would be seen as a failure by her teacher because she was unable to be the winner, which was her role on the team, twice in a row. So as you can see, Maddie was not a “brat,” but just a stressed kid under a lot of pressure.

The Manipulation of Maddie Ziegler

Another reason people thought Maddie was a brat was that she was seen as “not grateful” for Dance Moms because she didn’t like to talk about her time on the show after she left, and when she did, she was very vocal about the trauma she experienced. How could she speak so negatively about her Dance Moms experience when she was Abby’s favorite? People didn’t acknowledge or sympathize with Maddie’s trauma because, unlike Paige or Chloe, the abuse she endured at Abby’s hands was not as obvious. Yes, Maddie was Abby’s favorite, and yes, that allowed her to get away with things the other girls wouldn’t, but unlike the other girls, the abuse Maddie endured was much more insidious. No, Maddie was not berated daily, but she was abused in more subtle ways.

One way Abby manipulated Maddie was by attempting to isolate her and use her success to drive a wedge between Maddie, her friends, and her sister. She would tell Maddie that all of her friends were jealous of her and would never be happy for her success. This likely would have made Maddie feel incredibly alone and like Abby is the only one who really cares about her and is happy for her. She also constantly compared all of Maddie’s teammates to her, which must have been really uncomfortable. She would even compare Mackenzie to Maddie constantly, which must have been difficult for their relationship as sisters. 

Another really manipulative instance is when Abby refused to let Maddie have a solo because Maddie didn’t disobey her mother and come to class when all the moms were striking for the Hylands. Abby basically yelled and cried at Maddie, making Maddie feel like she was betraying her by listening to her own mom. This is quite manipulative because Maddie didn’t do anything wrong by listening to her mom. She was just a kid, and kids are supposed to listen to their parents. She couldn’t exactly go against her mom because she was so young. She was only about 10, way too young to be making decisions like that for herself. For Abby to suggest Maddie should purposefully disobey her own mom at that young age is just ludicrous. This put Maddie in the unfair position of having to choose between her mom and her dance teacher — two very important figures in her life.

Another way Abby manipulated Maddie is the amount of pressure Abby put on Maddie to win. According to MackZBoss, “What I find interesting are the humongous expectations (Abby) has for kids doing an extracurricular activity, and I guess she admires Maddie for living up to these expectations.” Maddie had an immense drive and work ethic for such a young age, but due to Abby’s high expectations, she still felt a lot of pressure to constantly maintain that image to please Abby. After all, nobody can live up to all the humongous expectations Abby had all the time, and everyone needs a break every now and then.

It is kind of ludicrous to expect kids to want to devote their *entire* lives to an extracurricular activity. I mean, they’re kids! They’re in the stage where they’re trying things out, and they need time to play and be kids too. Also, Abby sent the message that if Maddie didn’t win, she’d be letting everyone down. On High Low with EmRata, Maddie said, “I was kind of seen as like I guess the lead dancer, or like, the most, like, well-treated dancer. But in a way now, looking back, a lot of people have started to say this, it’s like ‘whoa she actually had the most pressure on her’ because (Abby) was like ‘you’re my golden girl, so you have to lead everyone to victory every time’, which is just like not sustainable.” I agree! Having to lead everyone to victory every time as a little kid is definitely not sustainable! Even though the moms and fans held a lot of resentment towards Maddie for the favoritism, everyone needs to realize they shouldn’t take their frustrations out on Maddie. She didn’t choose to be the favorite.

While we thought Maddie Ziegler was luckier than the rest of the cast, the truth was, she was unlucky in her own ways. It seemed easy to dismiss Maddie as being “ungrateful” for what Dance Moms provided her, but the truth was, nobody validated the trauma she went through. Unlike the rest of the cast, who were abused in obvious ways (like yelling), Maddie Ziegler was abused in more subtle ways, like being manipulated, that are harder to notice at first glance but still are equally damaging. It is important that we recognize that Maddie was not a “brat,” but simply a kid in a high-stress environment with a lot of pressure from the adults around her. When people attack her for not being “grateful” for Dance Moms, they should realize that being the favorite is not all it’s cracked up to be.

Nicole is a senior at the University of Connecticut studying communication and gerontology. Her hobbies include crocheting, writing, playing the flute, and biking. Her favorite TV shows are Bob's Burgers, Bluey, and The Simpsons.