Beloved three-time Emmy Award–winning choreographer Mia Michaels returned to teach at Broadway Dance Center for the first time in a decade and brought the house down with her emotive and inspirational choreography. Set to the Harry Styles hit “Sign of the Times,” her combination challenged dancers to fight their inner demons and recognize the legends that they truly are.
For the first two verses of music, Michaels asked the dancers to spell the words “I am,” along with their own descriptor of choice (i.e. enough, resilient, whole), with their bodies, reminding them of their worth and potential for improvement. From there the choreography dove into swirling movement that pushed dancers off balance and out of their comfort zones. Shifting between fluid release and violent shakes she created a physical depiction of a common human experience—overcoming hardship.
Just as the group round of class was beginning, Michaels requested that the dancers be open and pour their whole selves into the choreography, citing her own history of doing so. “I’ve been completely open with you all. I’ve told my life’s story through bodies around the world. That’s why I’m Mama Mia.”
When class finished, Michaels sat down with students for a Q&A and book signing to promote her new book, A Unicorn in a World of Donkeys: A Guide to Life for All the Exceptional, Excellent Misfits Out There.
Check out some key takeaways from her discussion!
1. People talk, so behave gracefully.
Alluding to times in her career where she felt she may not have handled herself appropriately, Michaels reminded dancers that nobody wants to deal with drama and recommends they act with humility and gratitude.
“I’ve burned bridges, and I am rebuilding them now,” she says. “I thought people would understand that my passion was what came with hiring me as an artist, but they didn’t. People don’t need drama.”
2. She’s not afraid to get political.
When asked about the inspiration behind her piece Hyper-Ballad (performed on Season 14 of “So You Think You Can Dance”), she admits it was political.
“The dancers were representing renegades who were trying to change the world, but felt powerless in this political climate,” she says. “That’s something I’m focusing on right now in my work.”
3. Be OK with not having total control.
“I redid the choreography for the opening of Celine Dion’s show 19 different times,” Michaels says. “Finding Neverland was the same way. The directors know what they want, and there are other collaborators involved, so as a choreographer you have to be OK with not always having the final say.”
As a tip for managing this common problem, Michaels recommends giving directors three different options to choose from that you already really love. If you have done all you can to give the director what they want, while staying true to yourself, and it’s still not working, she recommends you graciously give up the opportunity.
“If you can’t give them what they want without feeling like you want to scream, then walk away,” she says.
4. Life’s a rollercoaster.
“There will be times when life is really good, and your highs are so high,” she says. “Enjoy it, because soon you’re going to come crashing right back down. But you know what? That’s OK, because you’re going to come back up again. Let this rollercoaster shape you into who you really are. You were born a legend.”
Here’s part of the Q&A following Michaels’ class:
You can find Michaels’ new book on amazon.com.