"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.
(From left) Darriel Johnakin, Diego Pasillas, and Emma Sutherland (all photos by Erin Baiano)
Dance Spirit's 2019 Cover Model Search finalists: Darriel Johnakin, Diego Pasillas, and Emma Sutherland! One of them will win a spot on Dance Spirit's Fall 2019 cover. Learn more about the dancers on their profile pages, and then vote for your favorite below. You can vote once a day now through July 15.
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Imagine attending American Ballet Theatre's prestigious NYC summer intensive, training among classical ballet legends. Imagine taking the stage at New York City Dance Alliance Nationals, competing against some of the country's best contemporary dancers. Now, imagine doing both—at the same time.
Welcome to Madison Brown's world. This summer, she's in her third year as a National Training Scholar with ABT, while also competing for NYCDA's Teen Outstanding Dancer title. (She's already won Outstanding Dancer in the Mini and Junior categories.) The logistics are complicated—ABT's five-week intensive overlaps with the weeklong NYCDA Nationals, which translates to a lot of cabs back and forth across Manhattan—but Maddie is committed to making the most of each opportunity. "I love contemporary and ballet equally," she says. "While I'm able to do both, I want to do as much as I can."
Maddie has an expressive face, endless extensions, and a quiet command of the stage. She dances with remarkable maturity—a trait noted by none other than Jennifer Lopez, one of the judges on NBC's "World of Dance," on which Maddie competed in Season 2. Although Maddie didn't take home the show's top prize, she was proud to be the youngest remaining soloist when she was eliminated, and saw the whole experience as an opportunity to grow. After all, she's just getting started. Oh, that's right—did we mention Maddie's only 14?
There's a story Kate Walker, director of dance at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas, TX, loves to tell about Emma Sutherland, who just graduated from the program. "We were watching the students run a really long, challenging piece," Walker recalls. "Several kids couldn't quite make it through. But Emma did make it all the way to the end, which is when she walked up to us faculty and very politely asked, 'May I please go throw up?' "