"Be open to where life takes you. Follow your instincts."
Mia Michaels may be a household name now, thanks in large part to her role as a judge and choreographer on “So You Think You Can Dance.” But her journey to dance industry fame hasn’t been easy.
Mia was born into a dance family in Coconut Grove, FL. Her dad owned the Joe Michaels Dance Studio—a landmark in Miami for 35 years. But while she had all the dance access you could dream of—including regular trips to NYC to take classes—she discovered early on that she wasn’t built to be a professional ballerina. “Dance came naturally to me, and I was so passionate about it,” Mia says. “But I fought my body type. It was always a problem. People would say, ‘She’s so good, but her body…’ It pushed me to start creating movement—if I couldn’t be a dancer, I’d make my own world of dance. My body was a blessing and a curse.” By the time she was 8, Mia was creating shows for the kids in her neighborhood. “I was already yelling at people,” she jokes. “I’d say, ‘You have rehearsal now! Just come!’ ”
As a teenager, Mia choreographed for the teen company at her dad’s studio. The dancers performed her work at competitions, and Mia made a name for herself by bending the rules and often getting disqualified (she didn’t adhere to time limits, for example).
At the same time, Mia was trying to build her career in NYC, but “I was a no-name,” she says. She couldn’t get hired as a teacher, so she took a job cleaning toilets at NYC’s Broadway Dance Center. “The city wasn’t having me yet,” she says. Her break finally came when Frank Hatchett called her to sub a class at BDC. After that, the studio kept bringing her back to teach. She formed a company, RAW, which lasted for two years, and served as the creative director of The PULSE On Tour with Brian Friedman.
Then Madonna called. “I was set to be a concert dance choreographer,” Mia says. “Then this other world opened up: the commercial world.” Mia was hired to choreograph Madonna’s Drowned world tour, but she didn’t enjoy the experience. “It was my first big job, and I was like, ‘If this is what being on top is like, I don’t want it,’ ” she says. “I was disheartened.” But Mia’s next job turned out to be her favorite: choreographing Celine Dion’s A New Day show in Las Vegas. From there, her career took off: Nigel Lythgoe, executive producer of “SYTYCD,” saw Dion’s show and loved it so much he hired Mia. (She has since won three Emmy Awards for her work on “SYTYCD.”)
Last year, Mia was both on the big screen (playing Olivia in Step Up Revolution) and working behind it (as choreographer for the film Rock of Ages). While Mia rocked her onscreen role, she was “terrified to read for the part,” and says Tom Cruise and Adam Shankman—whom she worked with on Rock of Ages—“made me do it.”
Now Mia is on faculty with JUMP, and her career is about to explode again. She’s creating a TV show for choreographers, and she’s working with the Joffrey Ballet School’s summer intensive to host a Mia Michaels Summer Intensive in L.A. this year.
In the meantime, “I’m on a mission to create an empire,” Mia says. She wants to direct and choreograph original Broadway musicals and feature films, and she wants to someday have a live touring stage show of a her own. “It’s time,” she says.
Harper Watters is a ballet dancer for today's generation. A social media maestro and a charismatic performer, the Houston Ballet soloist is equally at home in front of the camera hosting his hit YouTube series, "The Pre Show"; interacting with fans on his crazy-popular Instagram account; or showing off his beautiful classical technique onstage. It's a multifaceted identity that's proven to be invaluable to his career—and it's taking him to places he never even dreamed of.
Getting corrections from our dance instructors is how we grow, and as students, it's important that we do our best to apply every correction right away. But sometimes—whether it's because we're in physical pain, or have a lot on our minds, or are just not paying attention—those corrections don't sink in. And from a teacher's standpoint, giving the same corrections time and time again gets old very fast. Here are 10 important corrections dance teachers are tired of giving. Take them to heart!
Summer intensive auditions can be nerve-racking. A panel of directors is watching your every move, and you're not even sure if you can be seen among the hundreds of other dancers in the room. We asked five summer intensive directors for their input on how dancers can make a positive impression—and even be remembered next year.
When we think of a dancer who's broken barriers, American Ballet Theatre principal Misty Copeland tends to be the name that comes to mind. And though Copeland has been a crucial advocate for equality in the world of ballet, Raven Wilkinson—a mentor of Copeland's—is considered one of the original pioneers of the movement.
In 1955, Wilkinson became the first African American to dance with the renowned Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Her fortitude in the face of bigotry and hate cemented her legacy. Now, with the release of the new children's book Trailblazer: The Story of Ballerina Raven Wilkinson, a new generation of dancers will be inspired by her tale of overcoming obstacles to achieve a dream.
The book details Wilkinson's life, from her experience as a young dancer training in Harlem, to her run-ins with the Ku Klux Klan while on tour with Ballet Russe, to her later ballet career in Europe. "There were times where my heart really hurt because of the situations I had to deal with," she says. "But I always had faith that I was made to be a dancer and that I was gonna dance."
Dance Spirit spoke with Wilkinson to discuss the new book and get her take on racial equality within the ballet world.
Postmodern pioneer Trisha Brown redefined how dance is seen and felt. A founding member of Judson Dance Theater, Brown frequently collaborated with other experimental artists like Yvonne Rainer, Merce Cunningham, Twyla Tharp, and Steve Paxton.
She embraced pedestrian movement, pairing everyday gesture with rhythm and fluidity. "It's liquid," says Wendy Perron, who danced with Brown in the '60s and '70s. "Like a river with many tributaries, water coming out of a faucet, or being on a raft and seeing the water move away in different directions." Brown also pushed beyond stages with choreography in fields, museums—even on the sides of buildings.
There's a common misconception that a dancer's body has to be thin. But the truth is that talent knows no body type, and the number on the scale never determines an artist's capabilities. Here are some extraordinary dancers fighting the stereotype of what a dancer "should" look like.
We always love a good halftime performance. And we LIVE for halftime performances involving talented kids. (Fingers and toes crossed that Justin Timberlake follows Missy Elliott's lead and invites some fabulous littles to share his Super Bowl stage.)
So obviously, our hearts completely melted for 5-year-old Tavaris Jones. Tavaris may have just started kindergarten, but during Monday night's game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors, the Detroit native danced with the panache of a veteran pro at halftime.