Maddie Ziegler isn’t Saving Anything

Rebutting the Huffington Post

The Huffington Post published an article earlier this month, titled “Why Maddie Ziegler Matters to the Dance World,” by Alexandra Villarreal. In the piece, Villarreal argues that Maddie Ziegler, of Dance Moms and Sia’s Chandelier video fame, is “more than a dancer. She is a lifesaver.”

Before I even write anything else, let’s be clear: Maddie Ziegler is no savior to an art form that developed long before her and that will continue to develop long after her.

As a whole, the piece is written with a narrow-minded and somewhat myopic view of dancing. While the author comes off as a dance classicist, citing mainly classical ballet dancers and those choreographers studied in dance history classes as innovative, the crux of her article is that a “contemporary” dancer is revitalizing all of dance as an art form.

To imply that there are only two sects of dance, those being ballet and contemporary, in itself is wrong; the dance world is multifaceted. Anyone with even a basic understanding of the dance universe would know that within just those two categories lie a multitude of divisions and niche genres, not to mention all the types of dancing that fall outside those (I won’t get into that here). Looking at dancing as bifurcated in this way leads me to believe that Villarreal has no such basic understanding of the dance world she writes about.

Stating that nothing great has come from dancing since the 1960s, she lists off those dancers who supposedly are important and great. These are mostly world famous principals—household names rather than other technically great dancers or even choreographers. Checking names off a list: Taglioni, Fonteyn, Kirkland, Baryshnikov, Graham, Tharp, Kent, Whelan. Sections of her article read like dance history for beginners, and it is clear that the author of this piece is, in fact, a beginner.

Her uneducated status becomes even more clear in the fact that she implies that the kind of contemporary dance seen on Dance Moms is representative of all contemporary dancing. There is nothing wrong with the kind of competition dancing seen on television (I, myself, practiced it for quite a few years). I take nothing away from Maddie Ziegler, or any other competition dancer, when I say that that kind of dancing is an over-processed, formulaic, watered down version of contemporary dancing, designed to be easily scored and judged in a competition setting.

I am glad that the author has discovered dancing, in whatever capacity; the art form could use more appreciation from those outside its tiny and tightly-knit community. What Maddie Ziegler does is, indeed, an art form, an easily digestible one, and she is well trained and technically very good. However, she is not the “savior” of the dance world. Just because the limelight of pop culture shines a little brighter on her than on the likes of Roberto Bolle, Lil Buck, Joshua Bergasse, Monica Bill Barnes, or any other dancer out there, doesn’t make her the shining hope of all future dance.

It’s interesting, as well, to note that the author is lauding Maddie Ziegler for being a standout in a lazy, entitled group of “millennials.” By making these sweeping assessments, without facts or sufficient research, she’s exhibiting exactly the kind of narrow-minded, lazy, and fame-seeking behavior that she deplores at the beginning of the article.

The bottom line is that Villarreal, and anyone unfamiliar with dance or anything else, must learn that being on a reality show, cast in a few music videos, and interviewed on television, doesn’t make Maddie Ziegler, or anyone else, the savior of anything.

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