The world first met Maddie and Kenzie Ziegler in 2011, as the 8- and 6-year-old sisters at the heart of the new unscripted series Dance Moms, a Lifetime reality juggernaut that would make them household names. The series chronicled their travails in competitive dance and revealed their indisputable talent, but it also served as a very public time capsule of their childhood. Every win, loss, and memeable ugly-cry was recorded and available to fans to replay over and over... and over again.
Since they took their last bow on Dance Moms in 2016, the Zieglers’ professional lives have evolved in refreshingly different ways. Maddie, now 18, has appeared in several of Sia’s music videos, and her acting credits already include this year’s Music, opposite Kate Hudson, plus Steven Spielberg’s upcoming West Side Story remake. Kenzie, 16, has embarked on a solo career in pop music (she, too, has collaborated with Sia) and emerged as a certifiable social media star, “the best TikToker,” if you ask Maddie. Both sisters have authored books and released clothing and beauty lines. Any move they make on social media immediately garners millions of likes and comments.
Looking back on their hugely successful but often stressful first decade of fame, both Ziegler sisters cite one important constant: their friendship. Yes, they often fought and were pitted against each other on the show, but according to them, the experience of growing up on screen while navigating almost constant pressure to perform actually strengthened their bond. For Elite Daily’s BFF issue, Maddie and Kenzie interview each other about life in the public eye, finding their individual strengths, how they approach relationships (ahem: boys), and why they’ll always have each other’s back.
Our teacher, the environment we were in — it was all very stressful as a kid.
Kenzie Ziegler: When did you realize we had an unusual childhood?
Maddie Ziegler: We got pulled out of school every day to go to dance and film a TV show, so that was not normal at all. We ended up not even finishing [at our] elementary school, because we got pulled out so much for work. And then once we started traveling, people started recognizing us. I remember we were in an ice cream store and someone called our names, and we were so freaked out. Like, how did these people know us? And then we realized, Oh, there’s a lot of attention around our show.
Kenzie: Yeah. It was so unusual, but I don’t even remember a time before.
Maddie: I don’t think we processed how unusual it was for a 6- and 8-year-old. Luckily, me and you had each other.
What’s a time growing up [when] you were glad to have a sister?
Kenzie: When I was younger, I was going through a lot of hate, so I’m glad that I had you. Our teacher, the environment we were in — it was all very stressful as a kid. I’m glad we were doing the same thing so I could have a shoulder to lean on.
Maddie: I feel the same way, even though we fought a lot. And what’s funny is that even though I’m older, most of the time you were the one sticking up for me. We’re so different in the sense that I’m a people-pleaser. I’m super scared to voice my opinion, or at least I used to be. I didn’t want to start any drama. I didn’t want to get in the way. You, on the other hand, speak your opinion. Whenever something’s not right, you’re like, “I’m not going to let this slide.” I admire that about you so much.
Kenzie: I’m the type of person that if I’m in a fight with someone, I don’t really stick up for myself. But when it comes to my friends or you, I will not have it.
Maddie: How did you deal with all the comparisons between us when we were kids?
Kenzie: I handled it pretty badly. I was a bratty kid. We’d be doing interviews, and I’d just be like, “I’m not Maddie,” yelling at you, and you had nothing to do with it. You’re just a good dancer, and we’re sisters, and that was it. But we still get compared to this day. Every sister gets compared, no matter who you are.
Maddie: It broke my heart that you got compared to me so much as a dancer. Like, if you didn’t win, why weren’t you as good as Maddie? That is so heartbreaking. Everyone should be allowed to shine in their own ways. That’s why I was so happy you took [up] singing, because I can’t sing for the life of me. It’s good that we have our own things. We’re allowed to be different.
Kenzie: When’s a time you felt competitive with me, and how did you get over it?
Maddie: Well, literally our whole lives, we competed. And I was absolutely the competitive one in the family.
Kenzie: You still are.
Maddie: I still am, but I’m not as crazy as I used to be. I thought that if I didn’t win a trophy, then I was terrible, I was useless. Now I don’t know where any of my trophies are. They’re so boring.
There was that time we competed in the same category for solos, and you beat me — you got first place, and I got second. I was like, “I cannot believe this. She beat me. She’s younger than me.” It was really hard for me to get over. Now looking back, I’m like, “That is amazing. She deserved that. Her dance was better.”
I thought that if I didn’t win a trophy, then I was terrible, I was useless. Now I don’t know where any of my trophies are. They’re so boring.
Kenzie: I did rub it in your face, but I had every right to because it would never happen again. I remember writing on my trophy, “I beat Maddie with this trophy,” and you were so mad, and I was like, “You’re going to beat me next week.”
Maddie: We could not be more different when it comes to dance and our strengths.
Kenzie: You love contemporary. You would die for contemporary, I’m pretty sure. And you look so beautiful doing it. I’m more into hip-hop now.
Maddie: I feel like our strengths in dance [match] our personalities. I’m so sensitive and emotional, so that’s what I gravitate toward, the emotional contemporary dancing. And you can be super sassy. You were always so powerful, so strong when you danced, and hard-hitting. That’s why you’re so good at hip-hop, jazz, gymnastics. That was always your forte.
Kenzie: Not anymore.
Maddie: I’m sure if I asked you to do a standing back tuck right now, you could do it.
Kenzie: Maybe, but I can’t touch my toes. So that’s probably done.
Let’s talk about how I got you into TikTok, because I did, and I’m the only person you follow, which is so nice.
Maddie: It took a very long time for you to convince me to join. I had a fake account just to watch your TikToks. I would also try the dances, but I would just put them in my drafts.
Kenzie: You were telling me, “I will never tell you my TikTok,” [then] you followed my account, and I was like “Why is BonjoviLover...”
But I remember you called me a few months ago, and you were like, “I’ve made a TikTok,” and I was like, “There’s no way.” When I film a TikTok, I film it once, then I post it. I don’t really care what I look like. You did it 10 times and were like, “What do I say? What do I do?” And I was like, “It’s just fun. You can do whatever you want on it.”
Maddie: I didn’t understand. Now I’m better at it. A little bit. But I do love the app, and that is because of you. You are the best TikTokker, without a doubt.
Maddie: You do the best transitions. You do the best dances, but also, like you said, you’ll learn a dance and film it once. You don’t even watch it back; you just post it. You have such a carefree mentality about it, like, “This is me, whether you like it or not.” It’s so amazing.
You’ve definitely helped me realize, in relationships, that I can’t let guys walk all over me.
Kenzie: You’re just hyping me up.
I like the app because you can be very real. On Instagram, everyone has to look perfect, and we worry about what we post. But on TikTok, you can post a video with no makeup, straight out of bed, or doing the craziest, stupid stuff, and everyone will think it’s funny or be like, “Oh, I love how authentic you are.” It’s more of a drama-free zone. The other day, you and I filmed that TikTok of us just shimmying in a car, and it was just fun and everyone loved it.
Maddie: People have started to comment way more positive things.
Kenzie: Before you joined, when we would learn dances together on my account, the comments would be like, “Maddie’s better.” And I was like, “OK, we know.” I stopped posting with you because I was like, “This is just so stressful and annoying.” And then I was like, “Whatever, I’m going to post with her again.” And I did, and it was way worse. So then I posted a video and said, “Hey, I know you all think it’s cool to compare us, but I’ve been compared to her my whole life. So if you’re going to comment, just comment something positive.” Now it’s more like, “They dance so well together. They look like they’re having so much fun.” I think people understand now that we don’t do it to compete.
Maddie: Exactly. We do it for fun.
Is there any good advice I’ve given you over the years, as an older sister?
Kenzie: You’ve definitely helped me realize, in relationships, that I can’t let guys walk all over me. Now I don’t do that at all, but you saw it firsthand, and you were so angry about it, and I totally shut you out. I was like, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Then I really thought about it, and I was like, she’s right. Every time you’ve been right.
Maddie: I was like, “I think he’s using you,” but you’re blinded when you’re in the middle of a relationship. Eventually you understood. I knew you would. It’s one of those things where even if I told you a million times, you had to figure it out yourself.
I think as much as I’m a people-pleaser and you stand up for yourself, in relationships you’re a people-pleaser, too. We both want to make everyone happy around us. We don’t want to stir the pot. That’s how Mom is, too. Our whole family.
Kenzie: It’s a blessing and a curse.
Maddie: It is. But I’m really happy we’ve both gotten to a point in relationships where we’re comfortable voicing our opinion without worrying we’re going to hurt someone’s feelings.
Kenzie: And we can talk to each other. When I was younger, I wouldn’t tell you a lot of things, because I thought you would either tattle on me or tell me I was doing something wrong. I’m glad we’re older and more mature. We don’t live together anymore, which is sad, but now we’re best friends.
Maddie: I was thinking about that the other day, when we were in the car together crying-laughing. Usually we’d be screaming at each other, and now we’re having so much fun.
Kenzie: What’s your least favorite thing about me? I’m just curious.
Maddie: I can’t think of anything.
Kenzie: There’s something.
Maddie: How impatient you are. If I don’t do something you asked for straight away, you’re so mad.
Kenzie: My answer ties in with that.
Maddie: What is it? I take too long?
Kenzie: No, it’s how you zone out. I’ll be like, “Hey, Maddie, can you take pictures of me for this?” And you’re just not answering. I’ll be like, “Maddie.” And you’ll be like, “What?” And I’ll say, “What did I ask you?” And you’re like, “I don’t know. I wasn’t listening.”
Maddie: It’s not personal. I do it to everyone. I’m very distracted.
Oh, I have a question. I moved into this apartment and have a guest room all nice for Kenzie, and she never comes over. Why?
Kenzie: You know why I don’t come over.
Maddie: Because you can’t drive. Get an Uber.
Kenzie: I’m not allowed to Uber anymore. Mom just says, “Don’t Uber. It’s scary.” But another reason is, “Hmm, do I want to go over to Maddie’s and she’s going to fall asleep at nine o’clock?”
Maddie: Remember when we had a sleepover and started watching TV, and you were like, “You’re not going to fall asleep now, right?” And I was like, “Definitely not.” And I was out.
Kenzie: You’re a grandma, fully.
Maddie: Sorry, this is so random, but do I have to pick you up today?
Maddie: I have to take this girl everywhere.
Kenzie: Getting my license in a week. Just wait.
Top Image Credits: On Kenzie: Louis Vuitton clothing and shoes, Jennifer Fisher earrings, Talent’s own earrings; On Maddie: Chanel clothing, bracelet, and belt, Lizzie Fortunato earrings, Mejuri rings, Free People socks, Dr. Martens boots
Photographer: Paley Fairman
Stylist: Tiffany Reid
Hair: Danielle Priano
Makeup: Tonya Brewer
Manicure: Emi Kudo & Thuy Nguyen
Set Designer: Bette Adams
Bookings: Special Projects
Videographer: Sam Miron