An Exclusive Peek Inside Choreographer Mia Michaels' First Book, Which Hits Stores Tomorrow
Working with choreographer Mia Michaels seems to be at the top of every dancer's bucket list. In her decades-long career, she's collaborated with music greats including Prince and Céline Dion; crafted Emmy-winning pieces for "So You Think You Can Dance"; created dreamy works for her own company, RAW; choreographed Broadway's Finding Neverland; and worked with a little troupe called The Rockettes. Now, with the release of Michaels' new book, A Unicorn in a World of Donkeys, out May 1, dancers far and wide can benefit from her career-making advice. Dance Spirit sat down with Michaels to get the inside scoop.
Tell us a little bit about the book.
It's motivational, inspirational, and autobiographical. It's kind of its own thing, because it has stories about experiences that have shaped me, but it also goes into a workbook format that helps the reader access their own inner unicorn—their true uniqueness and authenticity. My lessons are your lessons. What I learned along the way to celebrate my unicorn will help you learn to celebrate yours.
Explain the title for us.
I always knew the title would have something to do with unicorns. When I teach, if someone is really special, I always say "Oh my gosh, you're such a unicorn." A unicorn is someone who stands out and doesn't necessarily want to fit in. They want to stand in their truth and let people see who they truly are. After years of being in the dance world, I came to realize that when I auditioned dancers, I gravitated towards the artists that were tapped into who they are. They allowed themselves to come through in the movement. That becomes a whole different experience to watch.
What made you decide to write a book?
I got to the point where I knew I needed to tell my story in a bigger way. I realized my whole philosophy, concerning individuality, could only go so far in dance. So four years ago, I decided I wanted to write a book. I felt like it was an important message, especially now with everything that's happening in the world. These days, your only true sense of stability is yourself—and your faith in yourself.
What was the process of writing like?
It felt like choreographing on paper. I learned a lot about myself through it, too. It was fun to travel back into my life and see the lessons I've learned and how I've evolved. Writing is very difficult, but I love it. I find it so cool that you can hold the piece of work in your hands, whereas a choreographer's work is in the air. You can only hold it in your memory. It's very poetic.
Is there anything in the book readers might be surprised to learn about you?
I talk about growing up and being a little bit of a misfit because I was different. There are also stories about some of the people that I've worked with, including Madonna, Prince, and Céline Dion. I share some really fun moments and some really devastating moments. It's quirky, it's funny, it's emotional. People will get to know who Mia Michaels is on so many levels—not just as a choreographer, but as a real person.
Check out this exclusive excerpt from A Unicorn in a World of Donkeys:
The truth is, none of us is "normal." We're all unique because we were made that way. "Normal" is just an illusion that Donkeys—the mainstream, the trend followers and rule enforcers—perpetuate so that they feel less afraid.
Denying your individuality because you're scared, insecure, or frustrated has consequences. Fighting or hiding your true nature to fit into a standard is a recipe for depression, boredom, addiction, self-harm, and extreme blandness. I've seen it happen too many times among my students. When I think of the wasted joy and creativity, because of fear, I just want to cry.
The stakes are high for Unicorns to live an authentic life. If they can do it, they have so much to offer the whole world. I can't wait to see what the future holds for people who use their gifts. With guidance and encouragement, young and young-at-heart artists can break new pavement and reimagine what's possible. Leaders can overcome social pressure to conform, turn hate into love and fear into hope. We need more Unicorns to stand up and show themselves, and we need these shining stars to take our beautiful planet into the future."
A version of this story appeared in the May/June 2018 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "Mia Magic."
He got our heads in the game in High School Musical. He pushed it to the limit in Jump In! He welcomed us to Holiday Inn. And now, curly-haired dancing heartthrob Corbin Bleu will be back on Broadway in the spring of 2019 with one of the season's most anticipated productions.
It's contest time! You could win your choice of Apolla Shocks (up to 100 pairs) for your whole studio! Apolla Performance believes dancers are Artists AND Athletes—wearing Apolla Shocks helps you be both! Apolla Shocks are footwear for dancers infused with sports science technology while maintaining a dancer's traditions and lines. They provide support, protection, and traction that doesn't exist anywhere else for dancers, helping them dance longer and stronger. Apolla wants to get your ENTIRE studio protected and supported in Apolla Shocks! How? Follow these steps:
Just in case you missed it: To highlight last Thursday's International Day of the Girl, The New York Times has launched a unique photographic and editorial project called #ThisIs18, all with the aim of spotlighting what life is really like for 18-year-old women around the world.
Quinn Starner is no stranger to competitions. The 16-year-old "So You Think You Can Dance: The Next Generation" alum has been slaying the contemporary circuit for years, winning Best Teen Dancer at The Dance Awards in 2017. But lately she's been more focused on ballet, relocating from Florida to train at the Indiana Ballet Conservatory two years ago. And while she's won awards at ballet competitions like ADC|IBC and Youth America Grand Prix, in June she upped the stakes by going to the USA International Ballet Competition in Jackson, MS—an audition-only event that's one of the world's most prestigious comps. We followed Quinn on her Jackson journey.
Amanda LaCount was born to move. The second the music comes on at her Dance Spirit cover shoot, the bubbly 17-year-old is shimmying her shoulders and tossing her hair. When she launches into a full-out freestyle to Whitney Houston's "It's Not Right But It's Okay," you can't take your eyes off her.
And yet with every gig she lands, Amanda is challenging some of the dance world's longest-held biases. "I'm curvy," she says, "and I like being curvy. My body is not a bad thing. It's who I am." Here's how Amanda went from talented tot to hardworking pro—and from insecure preteen to body-positive role model.
Is there anything better than a dance convention? Frankly, we don't think so. Although we love getting a guest teacher to come to our studio for a masterclass every so often, there's just something so exciting about packing up our leotards and dance shoes and heading to a convention for the weekend. Here are 7 reasons why dance conventions are, without a doubt, the greatest things ever.
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This story originally appeared on dancemagazine.com.
"So why did you quit?"
It's a question I've been asked hundreds of times since I stopped dancing over a decade ago. My answer has changed over the years as my own understanding of what lead me to walk away from greatest love of my life has become clearer.
"I had some injures," I would mutter nervously for the first few years. This seemed like the answer people understood most. Then it became, "I was just not very happy." Finally, as I passed into my 30s, I began telling the uncomfortable truth: "I quit dancing because of untreated depression."
It's the age-old debate: Is dance a sport? The answer is, without a doubt, YES. Of course, dance is much more than just a sport. But when we get down to the logistics of it all, it's impossible not to recognize it as the athletic endeavor it is. Here are 10 reasons why dance absolutely qualifies as a sport.
Colder weather is (finally) here, which means it's time for a good dance movie binge. But which iconic films should you put on? To narrow your search, we went ahead and ranked 30 of the greatest dance movies of all time.
Of course, we know a list like this is bound to be controversial—so if you disagree with our lineup, have at it in the comments!
Boston Ballet principal Ashley Ellis' dancing is the perfect pairing of ethereal grace and punchy musicality. The Torrance, CA, native began training at South Bay Ballet at age 6, and attended the School of American Ballet summer program in 1998. In 2001, she was accepted into American Ballet Theatre's Studio Company, and the following year, she joined ABT's corps de ballet. In 2007, she became a founding member of Corella Ballet Castilla y León in Spain, under the direction of Angel Corella. Three years later, she headed back to the States and danced with Sarasota Ballet before joining Boston Ballet as a second soloist in 2011. In 2013, she was promoted to principal dancer. Catch her performing this season in the company's Nutcracker. —Courtney Bowers
Let's take a walk down memory lane to this past September, when the #LevelUpChallenge was in full-blown viral mode. Literally thousands of videos of people dancing to Ciara's song "Level Up" flooded the Internet, but only one truly broke it: an amazing clip of the Wilson Central High School Dance Team—and their Assistant Principal, Ranesa Shipman. Never one to miss out on a viral dance challenge, Ellen DeGeneres decided to have Shipman and the team perform on "The Ellen Show"—and the fun didn't stop there.
You and your phone have more in common than you might guess, says Dr. Rafael Pelayo, pediatrician and clinical professor at the Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine. "If you charge your phone halfway, it works for a few hours," he explains. "But it's not performing at its full potential, and you have to be careful about how you use that energy."
It'd be nice to just plug into the wall for nine hours until you hit 100 percent battery, but for (human) dancers, it's not that simple. So DS asked Dr. Pelayo and Dr. Argelinda Baroni, co-director of the Child and Adolescent Sleep Program in the department of child and adolescent psychiatry at NYU Langone Health, how to maximize your own battery life—ensuring you'll dance better and more safely in the process.
Two dancers from different studios on opposite ends of the country meeting at a dance competition may sound like the formula for a cheesy teen-rivalry movie. But it's actually real life for lots of dancers on the comp circuit. Meet four sets of adorable BFFs who found winning friendships at a competition.
We still can't get over the talent on "Dancing with the Stars: Juniors"—like how many YouTube tutorials do we have to watch to become half as good as these mini dancing machines? And just in case you forgot how skilled these prodigies are, this week's theme was sure to remind you: Last night, the ten couples performed to songs that came out the year they were born. (But let's be real, most of these songs aren't really that much of a throwback.)
It's safe to say that the bond between dancing siblings is one of the strongest out there. But for sisters Emma, 16, and Ava Blaser, 10, that bond runs deeper than most can even fathom: The pair continued to dance together throughout Ava's treatment for kidney cancer remission, and they say it helped them heal.