Photo credit: Jim Lafferty.
As a three-time Emmy Award winner for So You Think You Can Dance, Broadway choreographer and author, Mia Michaels, has accomplished more than some artists ever accomplish in their entire careers. For Michaels, the success was sweet, but it wasn't feeding her soul. She was ready for more beyond all of the accolades.
That's where the next-generation Mia Michaels came about. It wasn't something she forced, it was something that resonated with her as she grew on a personal level. She wanted to share that growth with her students.
"I feel like it moved organically. It was definitely the next evolution of myself as a teacher," she told Dance Network in a recent interview. "I've had quite the journey myself, but I think when you're transforming yourself and you're growing and evolving... it's a natural thing to want to share the wisdom and the inspiration to help others."
In fact, Michaels gets as much out of as her dancers do.
"I find that my greatest joy when I'm teaching is that it's not about kids getting my steps anymore or being the fiercest dancer in the room," she explained. "What I find the most rewarding is when you see that thing that goes off in their eyes and all of a sudden they just get it and they hear you. That for me is the most rewarding thing. I just grew into it. I stepped into the 'Mamma Mia.' "
As a master teacher, "Mamma Mia" does have some thoughts about dancers navigating social media these days. Too much of their self-worth is often wrapped up in likes and number of followers.
"I find that social media is a really tricky thing because they're so worried about validation outside of themselves," she said. "They're constantly looking on social media to get validated as a dancer, as a person, whatever it is. And when they don't, it's real. It really affects them in a negative way. And so for me, take it for what it is, use it wisely."
The other big issue is that classes aren't always the safe haven for learning and making mistakes anymore. Sometimes, it's all about the show and not about the technique.
"People don't even take class anymore. People go into basically do videos to post on social media. I find it crazy. I find it absolutely ridiculous that people don't really go in with the mindset of I'm going to be better," Michaels shared. "They go in hoping to get on the video of the choreographers so that they can be on social media. I get why the choreographers use it — for their business. But there has to be a balance. Where's the training now?"
In 2018, Michaels published her first book, A Unicorn in a World of Donkeys: A Guide to Life for All the Exceptional, Excellent Misfits Out There. Part memoir, part self-help book, she shares her own stories of trials and tribulations through her rise in the dance industry. One major component is her focus on body positivity — an area where dance has not always succeeded in prior decades. Michaels does believe there have been some steps in the right direction as of late.
"I think it's going to be a long, slow journey, but I think at least we're taking steps in that direction. And I'm seeing more professional jobs hiring normal-size bodies and even thicker girls, which I love," she said. "I just think it's so important that it's not about that. It's about — are they good enough? Are they very good? Then hire them. You know what I mean? It's not about looking a certain way."
As a choreographer and a teacher, this is an important lesson she wants to drill into dancers' heads — a size is just a size. There's nothing more to it.
"We've been so programmed our whole life to think that there's something wrong with us if we're not a certain size and that goes into the dance world, too. You see dancers who are a little thicker and they're walking in already defeated because they immediately think no one's going to accept them. I hate that because I'm seeing all these beautiful bodies, different shapes and sizes and beautiful movers. It just doesn't matter and I wish people would stop putting so much focus on that."
Her own journey has her now directed at enjoying the ride more. In a recent #10YearChallenge Instagram post, the differences in Michaels could be seen from the side-by-side photos.
"My eyes are softer and they are more open now — it's more flow instead of forcing. I saw how harsh I was before. It was push, push, push. I had something to prove," she concluded. "Now it's more like relaxing into the flow of life and enjoying it. And being the best that I can be. That's it."
Mia Michaels' book, 'A Unicorn in a World of Donkeys: A Guide to Life for All the Exceptional, Excellent Misfits Out There,' is available on Amazon.
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