A little more than nine years ago, the world was introduced to a pint-sized dynamo with pirouettes for days, seemingly flawless extension and enough charisma to captivate some 2 million-plus viewers, with everyone from Derek Hough to Katherine Heigl chiming into the Dance Moms conversation.
Admittedly though, Maddie Ziegler has little to add. "I've probably only seen one entire episode from start to finish," she revealed in 2017, the then-14-year-old releasing her (first) book, The Maddie Diaries.
When her mom Melissa Gisoni signed her and little sister Mackenzie Ziegler up for the Lifetime show that launched Abby Lee Miller and her sextet of tween ballerinas into the public zeitgeist, "It was supposed to be a documentary for six weeks, of them just following the dancers and their moms," Melissa detailed to Cosmopolitan in 2016. "So we signed a contract when it was called Just Dance. But then it morphed into Dance Moms and then [came] Abby Miller and all the craziness."
The unquestioned teacher's pet, Maddie was forced to bear the weight of her front-and-center crown in a world where second place was considered first loser and everyone was scrapping for a spot on the top of the pyramid. "I learned a lot of lessons. I had the craziest time when I was with her and on that team," she shared with People nearly a year after she exited stage left in 2016. Still, she continued, "I was stressed at 11 years old, which shouldn't happen!"
Ultimately, as she put it in her memoir, "I just wanted to dance; I didn't want all the drama."
Though we'd argue it turned out pretty okay for Maddie.
Turning 18 today—an occasion she'll no doubt celebrate by casting her very first presidential vote, something she's been urging her 13.7 million Instagram followers to do for weeks—she's long ago made the grand jeté from her reality roots into bigger and better opportunities.
Discovered by electropop musician Sia when she was 11 ("She watched the show, Dance Moms, and from there she just tweeted me," Maddie told E! News), the Pittsburgh native has starred in seven of her mentor's music videos, racking up billions of YouTube views; joined the Australian singer-songwriter on her 2016-2017 Nostalgic for the Present Tour; and filmed her forthcoming directorial debut, the drama Music, alongside Kate Hudson and Leslie Odom Jr.
Maddie's resume also includes parts in everything from 2017 thriller The Book of Henry to the upcoming West Side Story remake, her New York Times best-selling memoir, a YA trilogy, a Fabletics collection and, with any luck, more fashion lines and a beauty brand. And, yes, the onetime So You Think You Can Dance: The Next Generation judge can still turn fouettés around most of the competition.
Arguably the biggest star to emerge from Abby's bootcamp, she's certainly not the only one still shining bright. Not in a world where the mere mention of JoJo Siwa is enough to send an army of tweens into convulsions.
And having saved year's worth of tears for their pillows while livin' on the dance floor, these young women deserve every trophy that life sends their way. Here's how they're handling their turns as soloists.
Before starting college at Pepperdine University in the fall of 2019, the actress wrote a book titled Girl on Pointe: Chloe's Guide to Taking on the World. She started a YouTube channel to keep fans updated on all her projects. And for those who loved the dancer's mom Christi Lukasiak, she remains Chloe's biggest fan. "She always encourages me to follow my dreams, as does my entire family," Chloe shared with E! News. "Everything I've done up until now has been possible because of my family's belief in me."
Her latest project—kicked off while she was quarantining away from Pepperdine's Malibu campus due to COVID—sees the author sharing poetry on Instagram with the handle @chloelukasiakwrites.
After being a member of Cheryl Burke-led reformed dance troupe The Irreplaceables, Kendall starred in the 2019 movie Rapunzel: A Princess Frozen in Time. She also set her eyes on the music industry, Kendall K's list of singles including the 2017 track "Where Would I Be Without You." As for her friendships with the girls, Kendall had a "family reunion" with co-stars Maddie Ziegler and Nia Sioux in 2019 before meeting up with Brooke Hyland and Paige Hyland this June.
The dancer's music career began with her 2014 album, Mack Z. In 2018 she released her second album titled Phases. That same year, the singer was a finalist on Dancing With the Stars: Juniors and launched her own cosmetics line called "Love, Kenzie." But her most recent endeavor was a group project, Sia agreeing to join her on the 2020 track "Exhale."
A song "about needing to just breathe and have a party," as Kenzie put it to People, "I sent her the demo and she was like, 'Oh my gosh, I love this song so much.' I wrote the song, but I wasn't sure if I was going to release it, and she was like, 'Oh my gosh, if you don't release it by yourself, I'll take it from you or I'll just be on it with you.'" Expect more dance bangers in the future, with Kenzie telling the outlet an EP is in the works: "I have lots of songs that I've done, but I'm still trying to figure out which ones are my favorite. So after quarantine is over, I'm definitely going to be back in the studio."
After leaving Dance Moms, the YouTube star (she boasts nearly 12 million subscribers) has become the unofficial tween queen thanks to an exclusive licensing deal with Nickelodeon, branded merchandise with retailers and even a sold-out tour across the country. "One of the biggest things that I ever learned from Dance Moms was either to sink or swim," JoJo previously shared with Kelly Ripa. "Not, like, physically, actually in a swimming pool. But to really just be able to survive and to want it."
These days, as she pals around with the likes of Miley Cyrus, Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton, she's doing more than treading water. At 17, she's determined to expand her lines even further, eager to brand a trampoline ("Jumping on my face would be really fun," she told Kidscreen in 2018) and ink a deal with Kraft Mac & Cheese "because I want to eat my face. I want them to be JoJo shaped." Beyond that, she told the site, "I've done a Nickelodeon movie [2018's Blurt], but I want to do a big-screen movie. And a full album."
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The star of The Bold and the Beautiful and Sunnyside Up continues to stay in touch with her more than 1 million fans through YouTube and book future acting gigs. (On the docket: drama The Lies I Tell Myself and sci-fi flick IM/Mortal.) And this past May, she released her first children's book, Today I Dance.
"I know that I am young and have a lot to learn, but I also know that I am young and have a lot to give," she shared on Instagram following her June graduation from high school. "I'm so excited for the next adventures life has in store for me. Moving on to the next chapter, I want to encourage our generation that we can be the change. We have so much power and I have hope that we will make the world a better place."
Now based in L.A., the dancer, actress and entrepreneur shares a new YouTube video with fans every Friday where she gets "to show you beauty, challenges, collaborations, and my life!" She also launched an exclusive dress collection for Promgirl. And, yes, she still considers the dance studio her "happy place."
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Since leaving Dance Moms in 2016, Maddie's career has skyrocketed thanks to appearances in music videos for Sia songs such as "Elastic Heart" and "Chandelier." Her memoir The Maddie Diaries became a New York Times best-seller and a YA trilogy followed. Today, she has more than 13 million Instagram followers and continues to explore dancing, acting and modeling opportunities, with two big releases coming up, Sia's forthcoming directorial debut Music and the 2021 West Side Story remake.
While this Dance Moms alumna isn't as active on social media when compared to her co-stars, the high school cheerleader recently celebrated her 2020 graduation with a special guy named Darius Turner. And yes, fans. She's still dancing!
They grow up so fast! The Dance Moms fan-favorite documented her prom on Instagram in 2019, promising to be active on YouTube all summer long. Still dancing, the Twilight fanatic ("Robert Pattinson is the love of my life") is embarking on her senior year of high school. "I've gone to four high schools now in four years," she shared in a Sept. 28 Q&A sesh with her 3.1 million Instagram followers. "I really like school."
Since leaving the show, Paige attended high school in Pennsylvania where she was able to model for various brands including Sherri Hill. Next on her agenda is three more years at West Virginia University, where she's dating fellow sophomore, defensive back Jayvon Thrift.
It's hard to believe, but all the way back in 2016, Brooke graduated from high school. Having dabbled "in the world of fame," as she put it in a January post to her 3.5 million Instagram followers, "I was able to have more fun than I thought was humanly possible with the best of friends, new & old. I traveled to 17 different countries." She went on to attend Ohio University, collecting degrees in marketing, management information systems and business analytics, before road tripping to California to begin her new life as a social media influencer.