If you've been paying attention to famed "So You Think You Can Dance" judge and three-time Emmy award winning choreographer Mia Michaels lately, you've probably noticed a shift in her work. Recently, the projects she's taken on have been all about giving back.
Whether it's her book, "A Unicorn in a World of Donkeys," which teaches readers how to live a more creative and authentic life; socially-conscious concept videos like "ONLY WE KNOW," a requiem to victims of school shootings; or mentoring aspiring dancers at workshops for both movement and personal growth, Michaels has made helping others a bigger priority in her career than seeking her own success.
Dancers are human, which means they're bound to make mistakes from time to time, both on and off the stage. But what happens when those mistakes burn bridges? In an industry so small, is it possible for choreographers and performers to recover?In a moment of vulnerability, three-time Emmy Award winning choreographer Mia Michaels opened up to Dance Magazine about some of the bridges she herself has burned, the lengths she's gone to in order to rebuild and the peace she's made with the new direction her career has taken because of them. —Haley Hilton
Dance has a long history of social activism. Heck, our website even has a whole section devoted to it. But tackling social justice causes has typically been the territory of mature dance artists and brainy college students.
Not anymore. This year, teenage dancers throughout the country have started getting involved to highlight an issue that directly affects them in the worst way possible: gun violence. And they're doing it through dance.
Summer's coming to a close which means it's time to head back to school and back to the studio. And though we have no doubt that you'll log a lot of dancing this fall, every dancer knows that there's bound to be down time in between technique classes, rehearsals, stretching, and waiting to be picked up. So give your Insta feed a break and check out these dance-tastic books that'll not only entertain you, but might even teach you a thing or two.
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.
A new side job has popped up for savvy dancer/entrepreneurs: online mentoring. Dance students can get answers to their burning questions; pros can earn a little extra cash between rehearsals. It's a win-win.
Check out these four new platforms. All offer a little something different, depending on what you're looking for.
Last year, it looked like "So You Think You Can Dance" might be on its final season. Viewership and ratings were down, and the show seemed to be trying to hang on by switching up its format, focusing on young talent ages 8 to 13 instead of the adult dancers audiences were used to.
But this summer it's back to its traditional formula, and embarking on a 14th season starting next Monday. That means we get another summer where dance gets an audience numbering in the millions.
That much exposure for that many seasons begs the question: What kind of mark has the show made on the dance world?
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It's a big week in dance. From ballet to Broadway, there's a lot to keep up with, but we've got you covered. Here are the five danciest happenings that you should know about today.
1. "Wherefore art thou Romeo?" Alessandra Ferri reprises her famous Juliet tonight with Herman Cornejo at American Ballet Theatre. At 53, she's still got it.
2. Also this evening, the Rockettes kick off their new summer show, New York Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes. Now through August 7, you can check out Mia Michaels' take on their signature kicklines. Before you go, watch a sneak peek of Michaels' choreography, and read about her vision for the production.
3. While this happening is more song than dance, it'll definitely get you grooving. If you haven't already, you'll want to download this track from Broadway for Orlando. The cover of "What the World Needs Now Is Love," which dropped on iTunes on Monday, features vocals by a smattering of Broadway stars, including Lin-Manuel Miranda, Audra McDonald, Idina Menzel, and many, many more. It's a new take on an old tune for a great cause. All proceeds will benefit the GLBT Community Center of Central Florida.
4. Today is day 9 of Keone and Mari's "Preface"—their series of 15 dance videos rolled out over 15 days. From clips of Mari's solo freestyle to Keone's smooth choreo for the guys, it's like Christmas for dancers! You can watch all the installments on their YouTube channel.
5. Last but not least, today is Bob Fosse's birthday. The jazz legend known for his notoriously technical, always inventive saucy choreography would have turned 89 today. Celebrate with some sensual shimmies, a few jazz hands or a movie marathon of his flicks, like Sweet Charity (seen below), Cabaret and All That Jazz.
The "So You Think You Can Dance" choreographer transitions to Broadway.
Mia Michaels. Photo by Jim Lafferty.
The rehearsal room throbs with an upbeat, unmistakable mix of high good humor and careful rigor, as Mia Michaels runs a few numbers from Finding Neverland. The show, based on the 2004 film about J.M. Barrie and the children who inspired Peter Pan, represents a departure for Michaels, who’s perhaps the most famous choreographer never to have choreographed a Broadway musical.
Above: Laura Michelle Kelly and J.M. Barrie understudy Kevin Kern lead the cast. Photo by Jim Lafferty.
“It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” she says, “because of the hours, the amount of time it takes to do an original musical.” The clock started ticking two years ago, at Diane Paulus’ American Repertory Theater, which presented the world premiere last summer in Cambridge, Massachusetts. And doing Neverland, Michaels says, has changed her profoundly. Still, wearing black leggings and a roomy black cardigan, on her feet tweaking a lift or demonstrating a precise arm position, she’s the familiar, in-charge choreographer who spent nine years on “So You Think You Can Dance.” “Push the clarity,” she tells the cast when they all reach upwards in a stylized tableau. Later, she’s urging them to “really take up space,” spreading her arms and veering about “like when you’re a kid and you’re flying around like an airplane.”
Right: Sawyer Nunes and Aidan Gemme. Photo by Jim Lafferty.
Everyone seems to be having fun, and it’s not just because the number portrays a rambunctious romp in the park, or because the bouncy song by British popsters Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy is matched by Michaels’ bouncy movement. “We are a family,” she says, “and it is the most amazing feeling.” It’s a theme she returns to again and again, this joy she’s found in her Neverland collaboration. Throughout her career—which includes not just “SYTYCD” but concert tours, dance companies (one of them, RAW, her own) and a sprinkling of musical theater—she’s been a solo act. “I’ve always isolated myself and been on my own journey, just doing my art, my craft,” she notes. “And now, all of a sudden, I have this amazing, creative, warm family with arms open. It’s changed my life.”
A key member of that family is Paulus, the Tony-winning director. “There’s a lot of female energy in there,” Michaels notes. “I’ve worked with many male directors through film and television, and they’ve always kind of let me do my own thing. With Diane, there’s an intimacy in our process, where everyone’s hands-on. Probably it’s because, being women, we’re very passionate about every single moment and we nurture the moment. Especially her being a mom, she knows how to nurture the creative process and really pull it from people. Gestation. Gestation.” And working with the child actors in the cast has “softened” Michaels, allowing her a new kind of connection.
Left: Kern with Colin Cunliffe. Photo by Jim Lafferty.
“Having a female director was key to tapping into the emotional and the intimate moments of this piece,” she adds. Regular viewers of “SYTYCD” know such moments abound in Michaels’ choreography. “The show taught me that I was a storyteller,” she says. But how will her totally contemporary idiom work in Neverland’s Edwardian England? “The score is pop,” she replies. “So you’ve already crossed that line. It’s not a museum piece.” She adds that because her movement has always “come from a classical space, it works in this time period.”
Nor is she thrown by the absence of the camera to underline or camouflage specific moves. “I came from the stage first,” she explains. “And I always created for the viewers in the studio. Then I would adapt the camera to the piece.” Grateful as she is to “SYTYCD” (“If it wasn’t for that show I wouldn’t be here today,” she acknowledges), “I was so ready to be back on the stage. Live theater, live performance—it’s real, it’s honest, and what you get is what you get.”
Right: Fred Ogdaard and Jaime Verazin. Photo by Jim Lafferty.
Dance captains: Jaime Verazin, a former MOMIX dancer making her Broadway debut, and an assistant, Julius Anthony Rubio, who made his debut in 2011 in Wonderland. Both joined Neverland after auditioning for swing jobs.
Assistants: Verazin also serves in this capacity, along with Kevin Wilson, a Los Angeles–based dancer-choreographer.
Dance ensemble: “There are seven dancers, the rest are actor-movers. But, believe me, they’re dancing,” says Michaels. “Actors—my god, they have so much to bring to the table. It’s like this big library of knowledge and creativity and humor, and it just opened up my eyes as a choreographer.”
Pre-show warm-up: “When we start we have a full circle. A moment where we all connect and we really hold hands and we look at every single person in the eyes,” says Michaels. “In our own quiet way, we go through the journey that we’ve had together. It’s the most amazing spiritual energy and connection.”
Above: Jonathan Ritter and Emma Pfaeffle. Below: Jonathan Ritter and Cast. Photos by Jim Lafferty.