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.
There's a reason Mia Michaels' nickname is "Mama Mia." The legendary choreographer invests deeply in her dancers, whether they're competitors on "So You Think You Can Dance," members of the Radio City Rockettes, or part of her own elite assistant squad. And now, Michaels is launching a project that aims to give more dancers access to her gifts as a teacher and mentor.
Mia Michaels. The Rockettes. They're names that're synonymous with amazingness—which means a Mia/Rockettes collaboration is pretty much guaranteed to be fantastic.
We got a little taste of Michaels in Rockette mode last year, when she choreographed the New York Spring Spectacular's opening number. But for this year's updated New York Spectacular Starring The Radio City Rockettes, which opens June 15, Mia's in charge of EVERYTHING: She's both choreographing and directing. And that means she gets to train the full powers of her wildly creative mind on some of the world's most impressive—and impressively disciplined—dancers.
This morning, the Rockettes performed a bit of Mia's choreo on "The Today Show." It's actually the opening routine Michaels created for last year's show, set to "Welcome to New York." But as a preview of things to come, it's pretty darn exciting: The heartbeat-themed number features all the fine-tuned precision we've come to expect from the Rockettes, shocked into vibrant life by Michaels' high-energy choreography.
Photo via @therockettes on Instagram
This rehearsal clip alone is giving us serious #canongoals:
Watch the whole appearance, which includes an interview with Mama Mia, below—and then get your hot little hands on some New York Spectacular tickets.
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.
It’s official! Not only are the Rockettes unveiling a brand new summer show this year—titled New York Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes—but they’ve also tapped genius Mia Michaels to choreograph and direct.
That’s right: Michaels will be given full creative reign. And after the awesome opening number she created for last year's Spring Spectacular, we’re super excited to see the finished product. "The Rockettes are such a special group of women, and no other dance company in the world delivers the same kind of passion, femininity and power through dance. It is going to be an epic ride!” Michaels says in a Rockettes press release.
A classic kickline from last year's Spring Spectacular show (photo by Jason Allen via USA TODAY)
The show will pay tribute to NYC, following the adventures of a brother and sister who get separated from their parents during a trip to the city. The siblings will make their way through the Big Apple, receiving help from various landmarks come to life—from the Wall Street bull to the George M. Cohan statue in Times Square.
A few favorite elements from last year’s spring show will make an appearance this year, too: The 26-foot Statue of Liberty puppet and the jaw-dropping tap number in real rainfall to “Singin’ in the Rain” (sans Derek Hough, unfortunately) will return. What won't be included this time around? The Spring Spectacular's celeb cameos, either in person (à la DHough) or via voiceover. The leggy Rockette ladies will be the stars of the show, which we're more than OK with.
The epic "Singin' in the Rain" tap number from last year's Spring Spectacular (photo by Dan Niver via NewYork.com)
The New York Spectacular runs all summer (June 15–August 7) at Radio City Music Hall. Be sure to check it out when you’re in town for Nationals or summer intensives!
Hi! How are you? Busy, I bet! Har har. (Ho ho?)
Look, I know I'm late—it's Christmas Eve, and I'm sure you're dealing with all kinds of #reindeerprobz—but I thought I'd reach out to you anyway. Because I'm not just some girl who'll be happy with a Kylie Lip Kit and Adele tour tickets. (Actually, if you can get me either of those things, you are an actual MAGICIAN and I will worship you forever. But I digress.)
No, Santa: I'm a dancer. And that means I have special gift needs. Needs that I want to make sure don't go undocumented.
And so here, in no particular order, are the things I really, actually, genuinely want for Christmas. Take notes.
2) Gisele Bethea's feet. Gimme.
3) The Fraternal Twins' swagger in general, and facial expressions in particular.
4) Yanis Marshall's everything. Just...everything.
5) Speaking of everything: all the things from Maria Kochetkova's t-shirt line.
6) Tickets to Hamilton sometime before next summer. Again, you'll need to work some magic here, but I believe, Santa. I BELIEVE.
7) My very own pointe shoe Christmas tree. (And, on a related note, several air fresheners.)
WANT. (screenshot via YouTube)
9) For the following people to make cameos in Center Stage: Dance Camp:
- Zoe Saldana
- Ilya Kulik
- Susan May Pratt
- Julie Kent
- The girl who said "Did you see how on I was?"
- That old salsa club lady
- Warren Carlyle—specifically, Warren Carlyle doing this
- Channing Tatum (a little series crossover never hurt nobody)
- AMANDA SCHULL, OBVIOUSLY. WHERE IS AMANDA SCHULL???
10) To live inside the Bieber "Sorry" video. Forever.
Got it? K thanks Santa! Safe sleighing! Tell Dancer and Prancer I say hi!
Melanie Moore bursts onto the Finding Neverland stage with a gigantic center-split leap the moment the curtain rises. She’s dressed as Peter Pan—yet over the course of the two-and-a-half hour Broadway retelling of J.M. Barrie’s path to creating Peter Pan, Moore dons nine costumes, six pairs of shoes and four wigs. In fact, her backstage quick-change choreography is just as intense as Mia Michael’s high-energy onstage choreography. “My fastest costume change is about 45 seconds,” Moore says. “It’s certainly never boring!”
What does it take to prepare for such a whirlwind? And what does this season’s most buzzed-about Broadway show actually look like backstage? To find out, we followed Moore as she prepared for an evening performance at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre.
Melanie Moore (as Peter Pan) flying over the cast of Finding Neverland (Carol Rosegg, courtesy Richard Kornberg & Associates)
1. Once Moore arrives at the stage door, she signs in before heading up to her dressing room. “We have to be at the theater 30 minutes before curtain, but I tend to get here about 45 minutes before that,” she says. “I put my wig on at the half-hour call, and I like to be basically ready to go once I’m wearing it.”
Moore's dressing room (photo by Matthew Murphy)
2. Moore shares a dressing room on the fourth floor of the theater with three other dancers. They all do their own makeup.
3. Next, Moore gets her hair wig-ready. She twists tiny sections and pins them close to her head.
4. Moore warms up wherever she can—often in her dressing room, or, if there’s room, onstage. “I do so much jumping and running around in the show,” she says. “I usually start on the floor, stretching out.”
(Photo by Matthew Murphy)
5. The wig master helps Moore put on a wig cap that she wears throughout the show. Her microphone is attached to the top of the cap. “I wear four wigs, starting with the Peter Pan wig,” Moore says. “But my favorite is the mullet I put on for the pirate scene at the end of Act I. I requested to wear that wig. I’ve decided that my pirate name is Mandy Jo.”
6. The stage is kept really cold because of the dry ice used during the show. “The floor is freezing, so I usually keep my Uggs on before the show,” Moore says. “I start out barefoot, so I need to keep my feet as warm as possible.”
(Photo by Matthew Murphy)
7. Finally, it’s time to put on the first costume and become Peter Pan. Moore actually has two Pan costumes: “This is my regular one—it’s really tight so I can be lifted and do a lot of partnering,” she says. “The other is my Flying Pan costume. It’s big enough to fit a full-size harness underneath.”
When the Tinker Bell lights aren't onstage they're stored in four buckets off stage right (photo by Matthew Murphy)
Pop quiz! Who's getting really excited for this Sunday's Tony Awards?
a) The Broadway community.
b) Your grandma.
c) Anybody who loves dance.
d) ME ME OMG ME.
e) All of the above.
The correct answer, of course, is E. But let's put special emphasis on C here for a minute, shall we? Because the official lineup of Tony Award performers was recently announced, and holy LaDucas is it ever jam-packed with dance.
Oh yeah. There's gonna be a LOT of this. (Robert Fairchild and Leanne Cope in An American in Paris; photo Sara Krulwich/New York Times)
First of all, there'll just be more performers on stage, period, than at any previous Tony Awards. And since this was a particularly glorious year for dance on Broadway, a lot of them are going to be world-class dancers.
Top highlights include:
-the American in Paris mashup of "An American in Paris (pas de deux)," "'S Wonderful" and "I Got Rhythm," featuring Tony nominees Leanne Cope and Robert Fairchild doing fellow nominee Christopher Wheeldon's choreo;
-On the Town's medley of "Lucky to Be Me," "New York, New York" and "Times Square Ballet," with choreography by Josh Bergasse performed by Tony nom Tony Yazbeck and the stellar ensemble (hi Ricky Ubeda!);
In case you're wondering what Mia choreo on Broadway looks like, here's a sneak preview. (The cast of Finding Neverland; photo Sara Krulwich/New York Times)
Also, Kirstin Chenoweth and Alan Cumming—whom I'd like to present with a pre-Tonys award for Broadway People I'd Like to Be Best Friends With (prize is a selfie with yours truly; COME FIND ME TO CLAIM IT!)—will be hosting. So, that'll be great, obviously.
Click here for the full list of performances, and be sure to catch all the musical theater action this Sunday at 8 pm ET on CBS.