Maddie Ziegler Calls 'Dance Moms' 'Toxic' and Feels 'at Peace' with Abby Lee Miller out of Her Life

"I knew I would be okay without her and I was sick of being in a toxic environment," Maddie Ziegler said

Maddie Ziegler; Abby Lee Miller
Photo: Emma McIntyre/Getty; Steven Ferdman/Getty

Maddie Ziegler is opening up about her "toxic" experiences on Abby Lee Miller's Dance Moms.

Ziegler recalled the many challenges associated with her time on the Lifetime reality series — including working alongside Miller, the infamously tough coach that worked alongside the young dancers — and revealed how she has felt after ceasing contact with Miller, 56.

"She was distraught [when I left]. For the longest time, we felt so guilty," Ziegler, 19, recalled in Cosmopolitan's Issue 4: The Fame Issue. "She trained me, she helped me, but also, I knew I would be okay without her and I was sick of being in a toxic environment."

She continued, "I was like, 'This is not for me. I can't do this.' I haven't spoken to her since. I feel at peace."

PEOPLE has reached out to Miller and Lifetime for comment.

Ziegler was one of Dance Moms' original stars when it debuted in 2011 and stayed with the show for six seasons until her exit in 2016 — though she says her family "really tried to leave for the last three seasons."

She explained, "But when you're in a contract, it's really hard. Eventually, I finally got out."

maddy ziegler
Josefina Santos for Cosmopolitan

Ziegler told Cosmo her all-star persona on the series wound up causing her grief even when the cameras weren't rolling.

"People thought I was a brat," she said. "Because in all my interviews, I would say, 'I'm the best. I know I'm going to win.'"

She continued, "But that's because the producer was telling me to say that. I was just doing whatever they told me to do because I thought that's what you did. They set you up for failure."

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Ziegler also dealt with normal adolescent problems on screen. And though she had no control over her changing body, some viewers still made unwelcome negative comments.

"I literally hit puberty in front of everyone on TV, and that's a super-weird thing," she recalled. "I started developing boobs and I got my period and my body started changing, and people were like, 'Oh, she's gaining weight. She's getting fat.' And I'm like, Whoa! I'm literally becoming more of a woman!"

maddy ziegler
Josefina Santos for Cosmopolitan

Since leaving Dance Moms, Ziegler has only burnished her résumé.

She became Sia's protégé, appearing in many of the Australian singer's music videos. She nabbed prominent acting roles in films like The Fallout, West Side Story and The Book of Henry. And as the author to her Maddie Diaries memoir and a trilogy for middle-school-aged kids, she has become a New York Times best-selling author.

That said, she admitted, "I still have a hard time considering myself famous. I know fame is a very wide spectrum, but still, I just don't think I'm famous. I see people like Rihanna [as famous] … I always say I'm 'well-known.'"

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