Mia Michaels has worked with everyone from Madonna to Prince to Celine Dion, and was one of the few dancers chosen to pay tribute to Michael Jackson at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards. While she has become a household name due to her judging stint on the US version of So You Think You Can Dance, there’s more to Mia that catty comments. We sit down with one of the most exciting visionaries in contemporary dance to talk Tom Cruise, hot dads and why dance could end war.
HOW DID YOU FALL IN LOVE WITH DANCE?
I was born into a dance family so it was all I knew and luckily I did fall in love with it at a very early age. The love I had for it brought me many wonderful successes and priceless moments and experiences as a creator of movement. The love I had for the art of dance brought me to where I am today.
WHAT’S YOU EARLIEST MEMORY OF DANCE?
After My father aka. the Original Marlboro Man, left the modeling industry, he moved from New York and to Miami to follow his actual passion, which was to have his own dance studio. The first time I saw dance, I was in diapers, swinging a bottle to the beat of the music to what seemed like an ocean of middle-aged women who all were dressed like Jane Fonda, they were clearly there to get their jazzercise on and stare at my hot father!
YOUR FAMILY ARE ALL DANCERS – COULD YOU IMAGINE DOING ANYTHING ELSE?
If you would’ve asked me that 10 years ago, I would’ve said no but as careers evolve and life happens, my inspirations, goals and dreams are beginning to lie more in creating and directing. I will always be a creator of movement, it’s a big part of who I am and will always be and as I transition into new territory I will take on the many wonderful years of being a choreographer with me.
DID YOU EVER WANT TO REBEL AND STUDY SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT?
I have always been a rebel, luckily it has somehow always worked for me. I have never conformed or tried to be like someone else. But I do recall when I was 14, I wanted to be a normal teenager instead of dancing all day, everyday so I quit for a year and I ate pizza, rode my bike, hung out with my friends and talked to boys on the phone and after a year of that I felt my heart was not fulfilled and I needed to get back into the studio and take it seriously. Anything I have wanted to explore has always been somehow connected to the creative. Because I like chaos inside of a structure, I would be a horrible banker or secretary. I will always be an artist. Because I like the chaos!
TALK US THROUGH HOW DANCE BECAME YOUR CAREER, HOW DID YOU GET IT KICK STARTED?
I never danced professionally due to my body type so after many, many rejections, I decided to create my own world of dance. My first project that really put me on the map as a choreographer was my own New York City based dance company, R.A.W (Reality At Work). After my stamp as an up and coming choreographer to look out for, I was then contacted by Madonna to be one of her choreographers on her Drowned World Tour in 2001, which led to Celine Dion and Franco Dragone of Cirque du Soleil, contacting me to create “A New Day” at Caesars palace, the biggest live stage show in history at that time, that ran for five years to sold-out audiences every night. From the success of this show and the exposure, a famous London-based television producer, Nigel Lithgow, came looking for me to be a staple on his new dance show, So You Think You Can Dance. The show became a huge hit on Fox and has now lasted over ten seasons and has awarded me five Emmy Nominations and three wins, as well as making me a household name and exposing my art to the masses.
YOU’VE WORKED WITH HUGE NAMES FROM MADONNA TO PRINCE – WHO HAS BEEN THE MOST MEMORABLE?
Working with Franco Dragone, the creator of Cirque du Soleil and the director of Celine’s “A New Day” stands out. The creative process with Franco and the entire creative team took an entire year to get the show up on its feet. It was a huge chapter in my life. It resulted in my very first Emmy Nomination, and Oprah did a special on opening night. What I learned from Franco was priceless and what I took with me then, is helping me transition into a directing now. Also, working with Tom Cruise during the creative process of “Rock of Ages.” His work ethic and tenacity and passion for his craft was insatiable and one of the most inspiring things to watch. He always kept pushing to be better and never sat back on his laurels.
WERE THERE ANY EXPERIENCES THAT LEFT YOU COLD – WAS ANYONE OVERLY DIFFICULT?
Madonna was definitely the worst experience in my career, shocking? But clearly the good outweighs the bad, otherwise I wouldn’t still be working in this industry.
HOW DO YOU CHOREOGRAPH FOR A CELEBRITY – WHERE DO YOU START THE PROCESS, DO YOU NEED TO UNDERSTAND THEIR PERSONALITY FIRST TO FIGURE OUT WJAT WORKS?
I usually have an improvisation session to study their natural and or organic quality of movement. I use this along with an understanding of what the project requires and understanding what the celebrity’s needs are. It’s a tailoring of my vision and their strengths. My job is always to disguise weaknesses and make them look like superheroes. When I work with actors the movement is created by the natural gestures of the character.
WHO IS THE MOST NATURALLY TALENTED DANCER THAT YOU’VE WORKED WITH?
Desmond Richardson who is a contemporary dance legend and Rubinald Pronk from the Netherlands Dance Theater. A very young and up-and-coming monster is Chaz Buzan, who is ironically currently touring with Madonna.
HOW IMPORTANT IS DANCE IN THE ARTS – DO PEOPLE PUT ENOUGH IMPORTANCE ON IT?
I think the arts in general need to be more prioritized than they are. In Europe I feel the arts are so much more respected than they are in America, which is sad to me. I feel so strongly about dance that I am bold enough to say, if everyone danced, there would be no war.
IN THE UK DANCE IS BEING CUT FROM SCHOOL CURRICULUMS, WHAT’S YOUR VIEW ON THIS?
I think dance and creative movement is a great tool that can help change children’s perspections of themselves and their bodies. It helps them feel more comfortable and less inhibited. Which helps creative expression, which leads to positivity, creating self-esteem. It allows people who feel awkward to find a home and comfort within their body. Dance is a language spoken through the body, not through the mouth and it is also great exercise. To see it cut from school’s is unfortunate. I teach thousands of children all over the country and I seen first hand the positive impact it has in children’s lives – physically, emotionally, spiritually and artistically.
DO YOU HAVE A SIGNATURE STYLE?
Some people call it contemporary. Some people call it a fusion of movement. I call it Mia.
YOU WORKED ON SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE FOR SEVERAL YEARS – HOW HARD IS IT JUDGING OTHER PEOPLE’S STYLE?
It’s not hard, the most challenging thing is to have to edit my mouth at times because I’m so passionate about my craft. I am not as forgiving!
IS THERE ANYTHING IN YOUR CAREER THAT YOU HAVEN’T DONE YET THAT YOU FEEL YOU NEED TO ACHIEVE?
Absolutely. The next decade of my career I really want to focus on creating, directing and choreographing my own original Broadway musicials, Mia Michaels style. Two artists I would love to collaborate with are Sting and Tim Burton. In addition, write a memoir, as well as be the creator of original musical dramatic series for television; create and direct musicals for the big screen. Also, have my own television show for choreographers and use my brand to build The World of Mia Michaels….basically creating an empire. So, I gotta go.