Maddie Ziegler in Sia video: Right choice for an 11-year-old?

Maddie Ziegler's dance in the video for the pop song 'Chandelier' sends mixed messages that potentially deter from the young dancer's talent. Is there a balance between compromising with trends and compromising a child?

Screenshot from YouTube
Maddie Ziegler, 11-year-old star of the Lifetime network reality TV series 'Dance Moms' is featured in the video for the song 'Chandelier.' The video has been viewed more than five million times since it posted on May 6.

Maddie Ziegler was born 11 years ago, but when her mom chose to allow her daughter to dance in pop star Sia's new "Chandelier" music video in a nude leotard and blunt-cut platinum blond wig, it felt like we may have just witnessed the girl’s birth as an underage sex symbol.

The video featuring Maddie, a regular on the Lifetime reality series ‘Dance Moms’ has now garnered more than 5 million views on YouTube.

I am happy to see this extraordinarily talented young dancer become an overnight success, yet I wonder where parents must now re-draw the line between making a compromise to insure a child’s success and compromising the child.

That thought comes to me because I saw this video – not through the lens of a pop culture devotee, ruthless dance coach, or music video marketing person – but through the filter of my 10-year-old son who stood mesmerized at my computer this morning.

My guess is that right now, close to 5 million people might think: The song is powerful. The little dancer is transcendent. So, what’s the problem?

It’s not so much a problem, as a conflict for parents like me – who suddenly find ourselves in the odd position of having a 10-year-old boy who wants to watch a video of an 11-year-old girl in a costume designed to trick the eye into thinking she’s a nude version of the singer, whom we are hearing lament her inability to stop being a drunken “party girl.”

As I was looking at news topics online this morning, a still image from the “Chandelier” video popped up as a featured item on Yahoo News.

“Whoa! Is that a naked girl doing a split,” my son Quin asked as he tried to get closer to the computer in order to better view a photo of one of the highlights of the video.

After banishing Quin to the kitchen, I screened the video to determine if it would be OK for him to watch.

The song ‘Chandelier’ is Sia’s poignant cry for help.

“Party girls don't get hurt,” Sia sings off camera, as Maddie literally bounces off the walls, rolls on a bed and appears to fight off invisible hands. “Can’t feel anything, when will I learn? I push it down, push it down. I'm the one ‘for a good time call.’ Phone’s blowin' up, they're ringin' my doorbell.”

The chorus is, “one, two, three, one, two, three, drink,” repeated several times and “Throw em back, till I lose count,” according to lyrics websites.

Seeing this storyline played out by what appears to be a naked child in tenement-like rooms makes me wonder how we evaluate how we are using children in music videos, especially if the result is a child in a video we wouldn’t let our children watch.

I opted not to let Quin watch Maddie’s video because I know the song lyrics and overall message of the video would open a can of worms so big that we would fish for a week for answers to his questions.

As I watched, I wondered if Maddie’s mom felt this adult-themed, sad, dark material is her best option for making her child into a household name.

“Parents don’t have to go that route to get their kids known,” says Lisa Wallace, dance teacher and choreographer for Hurrah Players, a family theater company in Norfolk, Va.

“I have watched Dance Moms, seen Maddie dance, and I can tell you there are too many other avenues available to young dancers for a mom to be making that choice to go with something so mature and negative as a vehicle for her child,” says Ms. Wallace.

Wallace has taught dance for 30 years and both her children, now ages 17 and 22, have made dance and theater their professions.

“Maddie is a role model for the girls I teach,” Wallace adds. “It’s a shame her mother isn’t teaching Maddie to think like a role model because that kind of thinking will get her farther and help her avoid the transition problems other talented young girls like Miley Cyrus had.”

I asked Wallace if the same talent, choreography, and music in the “Chandelier” video would still get 5 million views if Maddie danced in a black leotard against a mirrored dance studio backdrop.

“Maddie is such a good dancer that she doesn’t need to go dark or sexy at her age to get attention,” Wallace said. “Talent like hers would get the views without going that route. That’s what I would tell her mother.”

Wallace says she counsels the parents of her dance students to take a good look at former child star Miley Cyrus before opting to allow an agent or manager to put their child into a video or film.

“I recommend letting kids learn during childhood, do age-appropriate roles and routines, because making the transition from child star to adult star is one very few manage well,” says Wallace. “I feel sad for Miley Cyrus because she’s so talented and working so hard to keep our attention after all her success as a child star, that desperation kicked-in and she’s resorting to bad choices.”

Whether we are Dance Moms, sports parents, or drama dads, if we want our kids to make good choices for themselves, I suggest that we lead by example and make better choices on their behalf today that will aid them in navigating their own futures tomorrow.

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