maddie ziegler exclusive

Finding good friends can be hard to do. You don’t have to tell that to Maddie Ziegler — she knows all about it. The 14-year-old former Dance Moms star seems like she has everything she could ever want: She’s an amazing dancer who performs with Sia, she’s pursuing her dreams of becoming an actress and she’s written a book. But even Maddie has dealt with fake friends.

“I learned at a very young age that not everyone is your true friend and not everyone is going to like you,” Maddie admits to J-14 exclusively. That’s a rough lesson to learn, and Maddie says she had to go through some hard times before realizing that it is possible to find real buds.

Maddie’s home-schooled now, but back when she was attending public school, she had a crew of friends that met up every morning. They’d sit together in the school entrance to catch up and chat before heading to homeroom. Sounds like a blast, right? For Maddie, it would have been…except there was one member of the squad who kept trying to bring her down.

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“One girl in our group would say mean things to me like, ‘Why are you wearing your hair like that?,’ or ‘Your outfit’s ugly,’” Maddie confides. She couldn’t believe that someone who was supposed to be her “friend” would be so cruel to her. It didn’t make sense. “I would go home very upset and would often cry,” she confesses. Maddie never learned why this girl was so mean to her, but going through this experience helped her learn to distance herself from friends like that. She didn’t need their negativity in her life.

Learning to let go of the meanness was important, but it isn’t the only lesson Maddie learned from her frenemy. It also helped her discover the qualities she should be looking for in a real friend. “I look for someone who is kind to others, sweet and caring,” she opens up.

And now that she’s busy traveling the world for her career, her closest buds need to be understanding, too. “My schedule is very busy so they have to get that,” she explains. And luckily, Maddie’s found a crew of besties who have all the qualities she’s looking for. “I have the most amazing friends!” she smiles.

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One of those amazing friends is Stranger Things star Millie Bobby Brown. The two have formed a close bond ever since their worlds collided months ago. “Millie came to a filming of So You Think You Can Dance and came in my dressing room to meet me,” Maddie says. “After, we would DM each other.”

And although Maddie’s had friends who let her down in the past, she felt like she could trust Millie. They became close after one experience: “She’d never had a sleepover, so of course, I had to have her over for her first one,” Maddie laughs. “The fire alarm went off at my apartment complex at 3 a.m., and we had to go outside. She asked me, ‘Is this normal?’ I laughed so hard.”

Such a silly experience cemented their friendship. “We just make each other laugh so much,” Maddie shares. And the dancer knows that having someone around who puts her in a good mood — instead of bringing her down — is important.

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Click through the gallery to meet Maddie’s inner circle, the BFFs she surrounds herself with now.

Interview and story by Caitlin Murphy. “Maddie’s best friendship advice: ‘Let go of the drama!'” originally appeared in the May 2017 issue of J-14.