Photo credit: Lee Cherry
When you think about the early seasons of ‘So You Think You Can Dance,’ choreographer Mia Michaels’ name always comes up. She was a part of the incredible talent who brought dance to the forefront again and who helped shape many young dancers’ careers.
Her three-time Emmy Award-winning routines are still talked about in 2017. Everyone knows “The Bench” piece or “Addiction,” because they resonate whether you watched the live broadcast or a YouTube clip years. later. Her emotional choreography always draws the viewer to a raw place and it’s beautiful.
The last time we saw Michaels was during Season 10 for the Top 8-group number. For anyone who thinks she’s officially done with the show, it looks like the door is still open.
Michaels has kept busy on the East Coast by taking on challenges like Broadway, a new venture with the Joffrey Ballet and her own personal project where she aims to mentor young dancers. And don’t forget that upcoming memoir — it’s guaranteed to be filled with all of the Mia Michaels moments ‘SYTYCD’ fans love.
Here’s our Dance Network interview with Mia Michaels:
Dance Network: The number one question I get every season of So You Think You Can Dance— and I'm sure you know what it is — are you coming back?
Mia Michaels: As of right this second, I'm going to say no. But there might be a possibility of me coming back and being a part of the show in a very new way, which I'm very excited about. We are in talks about me coming back, but it's not confirmed yet. And, it will be in a different position.
DN: Is there a particular moment in the series for you that just really shines?
Mia: It was a wild ride from Season 2 through Season 7. The show was on fire. That was when we had the dancers like tWitch, Danny [Tidwell], Travis [Wall]. It was all these amazing artists coming through the show. It truly was magical.
I feel like as one of the choreographers along with NappyTabs, Wade [Robson] and Tyce [Diorio], we all were big fans of each other and we were all supportive, It was really cool and I feel like we were all very inspired and had this really healthy, competitive spirit with each other as well.
DN: Did you guys realize at the time that you were redefining the role of a choreographer and making household names out of this entire group?
Mia: We had no idea. I get this call that they wanted me to be a part of a reality show. And I was like, "No. I don't think I can do that.” I was focused on authenticity and at that point, there was a lot of train-wreck television. Then, I did a little digging and found out the producers were Nigel [Lythgoe] and these people who were very respected producers and had a really impressive track record with American Idol and different shows that he had done in London. And so, I joined the show.
We had no idea that when we first started, it was like the little show that could. It turned into this amazing machine for choreographers and dancers. They made the name choreography a household name, where people who didn't even know the word before.
DN: How did you get introduced to producer Harvey Weinstein? I know you’ve worked on two projects now — Finding Neverland and New York Spring Spectacular show.
Mia: Diane Paulus, who is the director of Finding Neverland, had seen my work through So You Think You Can Dance and she's the one who wanted me to be a part of Neverland.
Harvey owned the rights to Neverland since he produced the film. He had to meet me and it was awesome from that point on.
It's cool watching him work because he's a walking book of knowledge on the history of films. He's kind of brilliant because his mind is going a million miles an hour; and he has these assistants who are constantly taking notes.
I know that was his first Broadway show, so it was cool watching him, learn about the theater. It was a very long collaboration, but it was a good one and I think we all grew tremendously. The spirit of the show is so special and so tender.
DN: What were some of the challenges working on the Broadway stage?
Mia: It's a long journey — especially when you're doing an original Broadway musical, you're starting from scratch. It's about all pulling together and being creative and then figuring out what works. I must have choreographed 100 numbers and things were let go of.
The story is the most important thing and so, when you're telling a story and people are moving, they can't be in the air dancing while singing and telling the story at the same time.
I think I grew the most by watching Diane, who is a really fearless leader. As a woman, watching her run the world of Neverland was really, really impressive and inspiring. I think I learned so much about collaboration and how important it is to be open to everyone's ideas.
DN: And I love that you wound up with two So You Think You Can Dance alums as Peter Pan. You didn’t work with Melanie Moore or Amy Yakima on their seasons, correct?
Mia: I had never worked with Melanie before and it was incredible. She's such a star and it was incredible working with her. I created the role of Peter Pan on her. We created a Broadway beast.
And then comes Amy Yakima who was equally as strong. It was very cool
Photo credit: Kelsey McNeal/FOX
DN: I am thrilled to hear that you are working as an artistic director for the jazz and contemporary program at the Joffrey Ballet. I know you've taught there before, but what made you take on the challenge of this new role?
Mia: I built my career as a choreographer and master teacher and I did everything I wanted to do. So now, what I feel is a huge calling for my life is inspiring people, training people and mentoring people. To be doing that with the Joffrey and creating a program is exciting. I’m going to create a program that's going to train and develop what the “ultimate artist” is.
DN: What would you like dancers to improve upon in the professional world?
Mia: It feels like style is a thing of the past and I want to bring that back. I want to find that again — just the grace, the finesse and the savviness of being an amazing dancer.
Because of shows like So You Think You Can Dance, you have to have kind of a lot of things in your pocket. You have to be able to do a lot of things because you can't just be a good jazz dancer — you have to be a great contemporary dancer, you have to have technique. You have to know hip-hop because that's a huge thing right now. You need to have a lot of stuff in your back pocket so that you can work.
DN: Who are the working dancers who excite you right now?
Mia: Teddy Forance and Chaz Buzan. I find that they're constantly evolving and constantly growing and changing. Those are the people that I like to work with. Those are the ones that I want to help put even further so they can take the world by storm as an artist.
DN: Tell us about the book you are writing.
Mia: A Unicorn In A World Of Donkeys is coming out the spring of 2018. It is about standing in your authenticity. It's about never conforming.
Since I was a little girl, I was the rebel. I was the one who danced to my own beat. I did my own thing. I never conformed. I always stayed true to myself. I never tried to be like anyone else. I always stayed true to whom Mia was and that is why I wrote the book. I start the book tour in January.
DN: You also launched Mia Michaels Live recently. What can dancers expect on the website?
Mia: It's a monthly subscription master class series and mentorship program. It's like this really cool underground movement — there's group mentoring, there's private mentoring. You get an hour of a master class with me every month and because of the way it's shot, it feels like you're in the studio with me.
There's an artist of the month; which are challenges for dancer of the month, choreographer of the month, and studio of the month. And eventually, after 12 months, three artists will win of artist of the year.
It's a place where you can train, challenge yourself and you can get inspired. I want to help to create others. I want other people to touch success, touch their dreams and I want to be a part of it.