"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.
In our "Dear Katie" series, MCB soloist Kathryn Morgan answers your pressing dance questions. Have something you want to ask Katie? Email firstname.lastname@example.org for a chance to be featured!
I'm 14 and have been studying ballet seriously for about three years. Even though I feel ready,my teachers haven't put me on pointe yet. Am I doing something wrong? Should I ask them about it, or is it pointe-less?
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's Samantha Figgins (Andrew Eccles)
Samantha Figgins is currently in her fifth season with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (and was a Dance Spirit cover girl back in 2013!). But what many people don't know is that the gorgeous dancer suffers from single-sided deafness. As a baby, Figgins contracted spinal meningitis, which caused her to lose all hearing in her right ear. She never gave up on her dance dreams, though, and fought her way through uncomfortable situations, never missing an opportunity to learn and grow. Now, after getting her first pair of hearing aids, she opens up about her path to success. —(As told to Courtney Celeste Spears)
Sara Esty as Maggie in "A Chorus Line" (courtesy Esty)
Sara Esty's ethereal grace and sophisticated charm have won over ballet and Broadway audiences alike. The bunhead-turned-Broadway-baby began training near her hometown in Gorham, ME, at the Maine State Ballet's School for the Performing Arts (with her equally fabulous twin sister, Leigh-Ann). She enrolled full-time at the Miami City Ballet School in 2004, and joined Miami City Ballet as an apprentice in 2005. In 2006, Esty won the Princess Grace Award, and she was promoted to soloist at MCB in 2011. After leaving MCB in 2014, she made her Broadway debut in An American in Parisas the understudy for Lise, and went on to share the role of Lise with her sister on the show's national tour. Most recently, she was seen in 5th Avenue Theatre's production of Marie, Dancing Stillin Seattle, WA. —Courtney Bowers