Mia Michaels says unicorns "are the originals of the universe." Photo by Russ Mezikofsky

Mia Michaels Has a New Book for All The “Donkeys” Out There

Mia Michaels was 90% done writing her autobiography when something changed.

She had plenty of material to fill the pages, from racking up three Emmy Awards on So You Think You Can Dance, to choreographing her first Broadway musical Finding Neverland, to collaborating with Prince, to revamping New York's famous Radio City Rockettes.

But then she stopped. "There was so much material. I had almost the entire life autobiography done, and then I was like, no. I want to inspire the world," she says, laughing warmly. The resulting book, out today, is called A Unicorn in a World of Donkeys: A Guide to Life for all the Exceptional, Excellent Misfits Out There.


It's sure to stump booksellers on which section to shelve it in. Michaels calls it a workbook slash motivational self-help book, and it has her own life experiences sprinkled among quizzes, lists, charts, inspirational quotes and exercises.

Being a "Unicorn" Brought Her the Prestige She Holds Today

The first chapter introduces Michaels' unconventional upbringing: A daughter of two "hippie" models, she grew up with metal braces on her legs due to a childhood growth discrepancy. "My hip, leg and feet bones weren't developing at the same rate, making one foot bigger, and my hips turned inward," she writes. Beyond this, her natural physicality did not lend itself well to ballet, and she eventually stopped dancing as a teenager.

Swinging back to the dance world as a teacher and choreographer, creating on her own terms, Michaels fought her way to the prestige she holds today. "The world worships the original," she writes, "Unicorns are the originals are the universe. I am one of them."

Choreographing Broadway's Finding Neverland. Photo by Jim Lafferty

She defines a unicorn as, "an exceptional person who revels in his or her peculiarity, despite the tremendous pressure—from parents, teachers, friends, boyfriends, girlfriend, society in general—to be just like everyone else." A child is a unicorn until those forces tame him or her into a donkey: "One who blends, a member of the crowd."

The first workbook quiz is meant to help people figure out which category they fall into: a unicorn, a donkey, or a unicorn in donkey's clothing. The book's 12-step process is mean to help the latter reveal the "glitter layer" underneath.

She Wrote the Book Because Too Many Dancers Are "Donkeys"

Michaels' inspiration for the book stemmed partly from her experiences teaching on the convention circuit. "People gravitated towards my classes because of the message and the life lesson they were learning, not really the choreography," she says, "so I saw how important it was that more people, especially now, need to stand up, rise up in their authenticity and not conform."

When I ask if the dance world has more donkeys or unicorns, her answer is a resounding, donkeys. "Because dancers hide behind steps. It's all just beautiful exercise!" She notes it's particularly pronounced in ballet, where conformity of body type is everything.

Mia Michaels convention classes are always packed–students love her inspirational life lessons. Here, she's teaching at the Dance Teacher Summit.

Her solution? First, figure out how your ego, sensitivity and fear are standing in your own way—yes, through a series of "True or False" questions.

Some of her suggestions are concrete, like going on a cell-phone free adventure. Sometimes they're personal: She tells about her own exercise philosophy and how love for her bulldog Lily helps her "sink into" herself. Sometimes, Michaels borrows wisdom from other great unicorns: She shares a particularly poignant letter that Twyla Tharp wrote to her.

Amid the eclectic conglomerate of activities and anecdotes, Michaels' guide and her story strike on a little bit of magic for those willing to work for it.


On Mia Michaels' own reading list? Unf*** Yourself: Get Out of Your Head and Into Your Life f by Gary John Bishop. "It talks about how we have literally 50,000 thoughts a day running through our heads. If they're negative, they're doing that kind of work in your life. Whereas if you constantly have positive things flowing through your brain, your life just changes."

On the horizon post book launch? A contemporary footwear line called Soul Step Pro. "I'm taking care of people's souls, now I have to take care of their feet."

Latest Posts


Matthew Murphy, Courtesy DKC/O&M

MJ The Musical Casts Its Michael

MJ The Musical has found its Michael Jackson: Ephraim Sykes.

If there's anyone who's up to the task, it's easily Sykes. The Tony-nominated triple threat has proved his mettle time and again in six Broadway shows. No stranger to the soul and pop genres, he was in the casts of Memphis and Motown The Musical, and is currently starring as David Ruffin in Ain't Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations.

GO DEEPER SHOW LESS
Ailey II artistic director Troy Powell teaching an Ailey Workshop at NYCDA. Courtesy NYCDA

NYCDA Is Redefining the Convention Scene Through Life-Changing Opportunities

Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.

"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."

Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.

Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:

GO DEEPER SHOW LESS
Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB

Dance Magazine Award Honoree: Sara Mearns

Sara Mearns is a force. There is a monumentality to her dancing that was apparent even as a young corps member of 19, cast in her first Swan Lake with New York City Ballet. She threw herself into the role heart and soul, stretching each shape to the limit, trusting the music to carry her to a deep place (and her partner to save her should she go too far). In the 13 years since, her dancing has gained in power and focus, while never losing that edge of risk.

GO DEEPER SHOW LESS
contest
Enter Our Video Contest