We met Nia Sioux in a dance studio in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania back in 2011 thanks to Lifetime’s hit reality series Dance Moms. Ten years later, Sioux is a multi-hyphenate: performer, college student, and author with her own original Facebook series Dance With Nia.

She has more on her plate than your average twenty-year-old, with a focused eye on encouraging other young people to believe in themselves and pursue their dreams.

We spoke and talked about her experience as a child in the public eye, what she’s learned, how she’s healed, and where she’s going now:

Photo Credit: Ana Ochoa

Darrah Brustein: I was stalking you online before this interview and saw that you were traveling — welcome back!

Nia Sioux: I went to Antigua on a little birthday trip. I’m 20 now– it’s crazy that I’m not a teenager anymore, it’s kind of weird. 

Brustein: That’s the funny thing with numbers. We can have such identities wrapped into them and connected to them. 

Sioux: Absolutely. I actually feel different, especially since I live by myself now.

Everyone says, ‘Oh, you always have the most fun in your early 20s’. I don’t know what they mean by ‘fun’, but I’m going to try to have some of that! Nightlife and just going out to eat by myself — I love it. 

Brustein: That’s actually a skill, to be alone.

Sioux: I like being by myself. It’s nice.

Brustein: You are well ahead of your years! The world got to know you on the hit show Dance Moms and they also got to see you face some extreme challenges like bullying and growing up in the public eye. What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned from being on the show?

Sioux: I’ve learned so many lessons! I learned how to work with difficult people. I also learned how to pick up choreography really quickly. As a dancer, that’s really helpful. I also learned how to persevere through hard times. I think that’s what the show really has taught me because now,

in my everyday life, going on jobs and whatnot, it really did prepare me. I don’t think I’ve been on a job that was quite as stressful as that one, so it definitely prepared me and got me ready for the entertainment world.

Brustein: It’s pretty amazing to have the most stressful job of your life when you were only a child. 

Sioux: Yeah, that’s very interesting. Obviously, I’ve had very stressful times and have gone through a lot since then. 

Brustein: Now you’re in college. How does that rank?

Sioux: Oh my gosh, well, that’s pretty stressful. I’m currently in a summer class. It was definitely a total shock going to college and getting work in while doing the whole college thing. I’m still getting the hang of it. But I’m trying my best and I’m excited to hopefully actually be on campus this fall!

Brustein: Your social media presence feels really authentic to the person I’m meeting now.

Sioux: I try my best on social media to be myself because I hate when you meet people and then they’re not who you expect at all. What you see is what you get with me. I’m not trying to be someone who I’m not. I don’t edit my photos. You’ll be able to recognize me. I keep some things private because I don’t want to put everything on social media. Sometimes people see public figures and think that they’re somehow different from everyone else and that simply isn’t true. Everyone is a human and I hate that people think that just because they’re on TV or everyone knows who they are that they’re somehow different from you. Obviously we have our differences, but ultimately we’re all human and no one’s perfect. 

Brustein: You’ve come into another lesson here that most people take so many decades to learn. I’d imagine some of that comes with having been a professional child in that you learned lessons early. When you show up on social media in the way that you do, it gives others permission to show up more fully and authentically, as well. Whether or not you’re doing it with that intention, it’s such a beautiful gift you’re giving yourself and other people, too. 

Sioux: Thank you! I’m trying my best. I know how scary social media can be and growing up in the public eye, it’s hard to figure out what’s real and what’s not. The more real I am, the better because it creates a space for everyone to do the same.

Brustein: “Trying your best.” That is really all we can do, right? And to come to terms with that shifts perfectionism, which in the dance world is something I’m sure that you were told to strive towards. When one gets comfortable with that, they know they’re no longer chasing the myth of perfection. And that offers so much freedom.

Going back to Dance Moms: you’ve shared in other interviews that it “still has a negative effect on you” and that you “wouldn’t change anything”. Are you open to elaborating on what that effect was and how you cope with it?

Sioux: Yes. Whenever I think of Dance Moms, I know that I learned so much from the show, and I am so grateful for that opportunity to be able to dance, meet so many amazing people, to travel, and to be with my mom. I was put through a lot. As a child, it was a lot to endure: a lot of yelling, a lot of swearing, being put down all the time. And not only being put down by people in your physical life, but also being put down by people on the internet. The show was super-negative, but I try my best to turn it into a positive. I look at the great things that I got from it and focus on those instead of dwelling on the negative stuff, because, honestly, that’s just going to hold me back. If I keep focusing on what happened in the past, bringing it up again, and thinking about it, that’s just so unhealthy. Plus, all that’s going to help me in the future. 

Brustein: Did you have tools that have helped you heal or move forward, in addition to what you’ve shared?

Sioux: Definitely prayer, a lot of prayer. And having a support system. That’s what got me through. My relationship with God and also my family: my mom, dad, and brothers, who humbled me so much.

Brustein: You mentioned your mom. So many people fell in love with her. How is she doing?

Sioux: She’s doing great! She’s in Pittsburgh right now with the family. We have a new puppy, so she has her hands full. I talk to her every single day. She is literally my best friend. Honestly, fifty percent of my day is me calling my mom: “How do I do this? How do I do that?”

Brustein: You’ve said that you never felt wanted on the show. If you’re open to sharing, I’m curious how that narrative has impacted you over time and how you’ve rewritten it, if you have?

Sioux: On the show, I was told so often that I wasn’t wanted there. A lot of people ask me, “Why did you stay if you felt as if you weren’t wanted and it was hard for you?”. First of all, we had contracts. People always forget about that. Second, my parents have always taught me to honor a contract. Third, I was the only Black girl on the show for a majority of the show. I was not going to let them make me or Black girls, in general, look inferior. I’m allowed to be here just as much, and I’m deserving to be here just as much as someone else. I definitely felt that they were trying to kick me out by saying that I wasn’t good enough, that I wasn’t wanted. My reaction was, “I don’t care if you want me here. I’m staying.” 

Brustein: You went from that show to now having your own show! Can you tell us about that?

Sioux: I worked on a Facebook series produced by Brat TV called Dance With Nia. It’s available now across the Facebook family of apps, including Instagram, Facebook Watch, and Messenger’s Watch Together. I’m both the host and have an Executive Producer role. It’s all about dancers who have disabilities. These dancers are amazing people, but when I tell you that on top of that, they’re amazing dancers.

Photo Credit: Brat TV

Brustein: You’ve talked about the amount of confidence that they showed you and how much that taught you about your own confidence. Can you share a little more about that?

Sioux: Absolutely. When I was doing competitive dance, I definitely lacked confidence. I had some, but definitely not enough. I was knocked down so much that it was hard for me to believe in myself at times, and I still dance from that place from time to time. But those dancers, each and every one of them has taught me how to be confident as a person and as a dancer. Every single one of them was extremely confident, and not in an arrogant way. I learned a lot from them.

Brustein: We all struggle with confidence. When we are able to surround ourselves with other people who are living their embodied confidence, no matter their circumstances, that rubs off on us. I use the term “borrowed confidence” often. By this, I mean that when we lack confidence in ourselves, we can borrow it from other people. Especially, we can borrow it from people in the way that they see us, until we can believe it for ourselves. It sounds as if you had this around you with people who were radiating confidence and it spilled over onto you.

Sioux: That’s absolutely it, you explained it perfectly. One of the dancers, Claire, who’s a wheelchair dancer, was telling me about how she was bedbound for two years, and the wheelchair was her way of being free. It was her chance at dancing again. For her it’s freedom and liberation. Imagine not being able to move. It just puts everything in perspective. It’s all about the way you look at it.

Brustein: Whether or not you realize it, you model for people the ability to have dreams in a lot of different areas and to chase them wholeheartedly. What would you say to people who feel as though they have big dreams and they’re afraid to chase them, or they have really different types of dreams and they don’t know where to start or how to balance them all?

Sioux: I always ask people about this, as well. I tell people about my dreams. I have dreams in acting, music, dancing, and performing. Also, I love helping people. The possibilities are endless. I’ve been told before that “you can’t do it all”. Maybe not all at the same time. It’s crazy to think that I can’t do some things. If you have a dream, you need to go for it. Take one thing at a time. And don’t be afraid to fail. I know that sounds kind of cheesy, but honestly, if you do something and you fail, you don’t actually fail as long as you learn from it.

Sioux with her children’s book “Today I Dance” | Photo Credit: Emmai Alaquiva

Brustein: If you keep going, no matter how it turns out, that wasn’t a failure because it created the path to that next thing and you learned.

Sioux: Exactly, and I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. My dreams are huge. I want to be an EGOT one day. That sounds kind of insane, but you never know. I’m throwing it out there. I’m going to manifest it.

Brustein: The fact that you are comfortable to say it goes a long way. If you can’t say it, that means you really haven’t owned it, which means you don’t truly believe it, which means you’re not going to create it. So the fact that you can say that out loud tells me that there’s some part of you that truly believes that it’s possible. That is what it takes to make it a reality. 

I also want to encourage you in your desire to help people and tell you that you already are. And there may be different incarnations of that in your future because. We are all seeking out “purpose”, and that can be developed and embodied in so many different parts of our lives in so many different ways. For you, helping people is probably the through-line that you’re going to see across everything that you do and your career.

Sioux: Thank you for saying that! I forget that sometimes. Then I look to people I don’t know who have no idea that they made a huge impact in my life and it clicks. You have no idea the impact that you can make on someone or on the world. So just go for everything because you never know how many people you can help and what you can do. 

Brustein: You have a lot on your plate. And with that comes time management and energy management. What are your strategies to do those while working to keep everything operating at a high level?

Sioux: Well, it’s funny that you asked that because it’s been hard for me to keep my energy up while there’s so much happening. Going on vacation helped a lot. I came back and was so overwhelmed. Something that helps me is to take little naps throughout the day.

I’m trying to figure it out because sometimes I just want to lie in bed all day and do absolutely nothing, but I can’t. If I had to pick one thing, it’s remembering why I started, and that’s usually a pretty good motivator. Remember what you want. It’s more the discipline to actually do it, not necessarily the motivation.

Brustein: It’s not a sexy answer, but it’s a truthful answer. When we reconnect with our mission and our “why”, we realize no one ever feels like doing the work every day. Knowing the science of our biological rhythms helps, too.

Sioux: Oh my gosh, that is so helpful!

This article was originally published on Forbes.

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