Maddie Ziegler is paying tribute to her late grandmother, who died from cancer before she was born, through dance and philanthropy.
“My mom always told me that she would have loved to meet me and that we would have gotten along so well,” the former Dance Moms star — who is teaming up with nonprofit organization Dancers Against Cancer for their latest PSA video — tells PEOPLE exclusively. “I think that she makes me a stronger dancer.”
Ever since dedicating her solo dance routine to Scarlett Cherry’s “Angel” to her grandmother, Ziegler, 14, says she has been her “little good luck charm” watching over her whenever she goes out on stage.
“I didn’t really know what was going on at the time, but my mom put me in because she thought I’d look cute in a tutu,” she says of how she got her start. “Ever since my first recital, I came off stage crying because I wanted to go back on.”
She adds: “I literally fell in love instantly.”
Through her partnership with Dancers Against Cancer, Ziegler is supporting the charity’s mission to provide financial support to dance educators, dancers and parents impacted by cancer. The organization’s annual Industry Dance Awards, which recognized Christina Applegate this year for her health advocacy work, were held earlier in August.
“I’m so inspired by all of the girls I met because they are so strong and they’re incredible dancers,” she says of working with the charity. “It’s really amazing that they’re fighting, that they’re so strong and they love dance. It’s dancers supporting other dancers.”
Caitlyn Feddock, who is now in remission after being diagnosed with cancer in the eighth grade, is one of the dancers involved in the organization.
“One day, a random day, I started having really bad stomach pain,” she says. “At first I thought it was appendicitis, but it ended up being an ovarian torsion. I ended up having to get an emergency surgery.”
After further investigation, doctors found that Feddock had a tumor with cancer.
“I remember my mom telling me, and I was crying so much,” she says of first finding out about her diagnosis. “I was really upset, but I wouldn’t let it stop me.”
With help from chemotherapy treatments, the 15-year-old dancer is now in remission.
“I just need to thank Dancers Against Cancer and everybody for their amazing support,” she says. “I wouldn’t have been able to get through a hard time like that without them.”