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“How Maddie Ziegler Became Our ‘First Digital Dance Star’”

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“When I was 8, I wasn’t doing what 8-year-olds are doing now.”

It’s funny to hear Maddie Ziegler appraising the cohort of talented, tiny dancers coming up behind her. After all, she’s just 13. But Ziegler, best known as the platinum-blonde-bewigged stand-in for camera-shy pop singer Sia, is already a bit of an old hand when it comes to dancing onscreen. “We did more old-school dancing, but they’re way more advanced,” she continues. “Even 9- and 10 -year-olds are so good at hip-hop — their freestyling is amazing, and I’m sure some of those kids choreograph their own dances.”

Ziegler’s dancing career (on TV, at least) began in 2011, when the Pittsburgh native emerged as the preternaturally polished standout on six seasons of Lifetime’s reality show Dance Moms, where Sia first discovered her. This week, Ziegler will join Paula Abdul, Jason Derulo, and Nigel Lythgoe on the judging panel of So You Think You Can Dance: The Next Generation, the reality juggernaut’s first foray into competition for the 8- to 13-year-old set.

Competition can instill plenty of good habits in young dancers — stage presence, attention to detail, showmanship — but it can engender plenty of bad ones as well — favoring precision over artistry, and a tendency toward mugging that Ziegler herself once suffered from (it even had a name: “Maddie Face”). Breaking those depends on both training and working with teachers who will push a young dancer toward greatness.

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