Mia Michaels is an American choreographer best known for her judging and contemporary choreography on the TV show So You Think You Can Dance. She has worked with musical artists such as Celine Dion, Madonna, Tom Cruise, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Ricky Martin, Gloria Estefan, and Prince. In 2005 she choreographed Cirque du Soleil's world tour, "Delirium" as well as Celine Dion's Las Vegas show "A New Day..." for which she was later nominated for Emmy. In 2007 she won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Choreography for her "Calling You" routine on season 2 of So You Think You Can Dance; she won again in 2010 for her work on season 5. She was a main judge of So You Think You Can Dance together with Adam Shankman and Nigel Lythgoe for season 7. She choreographed the dance sequence of "Get Happy" in Season 7 Episode 15 of the "House" episode "Bombshells".
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Hi everyone! I'm Mia Michaels, a the three-time Emmy Award winner for my choreography on “So You Think You Can Dance” (FOX). I am also the choreographer for the new musical “Finding Neverland,” now in previews on Broadway.
Ask me anything!
Can you tell us a bit about what the process was like for creating a routine on SYTYCD? For example, how much would a piece be planned out before finding out who would be dancing it, versus working through the creative process with the dancers themselves?
I would find out the couple I was working with, and that night I would go into rehearsal with my assistants and create the piece on their bodies, keeping in mind the dancers I would be setting it on. Then the next day I would be in rehearsal with them, and I would have a total of 5 hours to put the work on them.
I am getting married next year. I need to learn to dance for her sake, and have no experience at all. What's the best way to not make a fool of myself?
I think having a special wedding dance is very romantic, but everyone can dance. Trust yourself and dance the night away with your beloved!
Who was your favorite couple to work with on SYTYCD? Do you have any plans to return?
No plans to return at this time. I don't have a favorite couple, because they were all exceptionally talented in their own ways, how could you possibly pick one?
What's your favorite dance sequence or choreography from any movie or play ?
West Side Story. It's the most timeless piece of choreography; it never gets old. Jerome Robbins rocks.
Where do you draw your inspiration from? How does working on a TV show like "So You Think You Can Dance?" differ from working on a Broadway show?
1) Real life, and crazy, out-of-the box artists, whether it be musicians, dancers, visual artists, anyone who's breaking a lot of rules.
2) So many differences! Theater is much more of a collaboration of mutual minds, where as my experience on television was just my voice and my inspiration and direction for that particular show. Every genre and job is a completely different experience, depending on what is needed.
Which piece of choreography/dance that you've done was the most rewarding experience for you personally? Why?
Neverland has been so rewarding because of the metamorphosis I have gone through in the last two years. It's been the most challenging project, opening me up to the fluid nature of creating theatre. To be open to everyone's thoughts and ideas, making me much less selfish as an artist, which is a huge gift for me as a person.
Who are some of the crazy, out-of-the box rulebreakers that influence you the most?
Tim Burton, Bas Luhrmann, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Andy Warhol, William Forsyth, Fosse, Sigur Ros, and, back in the day, The Police (They were radical early on, though now they're more commercial.)
Have you tried working with Bryan Gaynor? I know he keeps coming back to dance for the show, but he is really inspirational to me. I would assume he would be inspirational for other people too.
I have not worked with him, however, I do think he's a wonderful talent.
Do you have a happy place, a location where you just feel complete and utter contentment when you are there? If so, what is it?
Also, just wanted to say I loved the Rent piece you choreographed for SYTYCD Canada, it was amazing!
My home. I recently moved back to New York, and I've never been happier. I love being home.
coming from a professional, would you consider Chris Brown a talented dancer?
Honestly, I haven't seen enough of his work to comment on his dancing.
I am about to graduate from College in one year. I want to know what is the best way to start my career as a choreographer?
You need a space where you can workshop and develop your own vocabulary as a choreographer; a safe space where you can have your own group of dancers to develop your voice. Once you find your voice, you need to get into the mix, get an agent, put your work out there. It has to be seen. You can be an artist and only you know about your artistry, or you put yourself out there and be OK with failure. Every failure is a step toward winning eventually. So, in short, get in there and let the world see your work, no matter what stage you're at!
Mia, I love all your dances. I loved the dance you choreographed with Twitch and the bed.
My question is if you have ever had a dancer you couldn't wait to work with? One that touched you more than you expected?
Every human body brings something different and something inspirational; my movement comes from a deeper place than the physical. I would love to work on dancers with what would traditionally be considered limitations, like dancers in wheelchairs; to me that would be the most fulfilling and beautiful piece.
If you don't have a dance studio near you, you could take a few trips a year and go to dance conventions that come close to your hometown. I am involved in JUMP, and I know that goes all over the country, with junior classes.
Mia!! You are pretty much my all time favorite in the history of ever! Who are some of your favorite choreographers? Any up-and-comers we should be keeping an eye out for?
I'm very picky; Here are my favorites: William Forsythe, Jerome Robbins, Bob Fosse, Wade Robson, Jiri Kylian. I get so wrapped up in my own work, I unfortunately don't get many chances to see new and up-and-coming choreographers, though I love to when I can.
I have been so excited for the musical Waitress, and even more excited to learn of your involvement! Can you tell us anything about this project, and working with Sara Bareilles?
We haven't started it yet, but I am very excited as well. I love the story. Sara and I have a connection through the Emmy-winning work I did with her music on SYTYCD, and the music Sara has created for this is absolutely amazing.
Mia - you're AMAZING!!!!! What's it like working with Matthew Morrison? He's so dreamy!
Yes, he is very, very handsome! He's a workhorse; he's open and very, very gracious. Did I say hardworking? He makes my job easy because he's such a natural star/dancer/singer/actor and a great guy!
Did you ever tried on dancing to Bollywood music?
I have not!
There can be many changes made before a show opens officially on Broadway. Have there been many drastic choreography changes to any of the musical numbers in Finding Neverland? Did you find those changes difficult to make or was it easy to change your choreography?
Major drastic changes, yes, in every department. Due to the lack of time that we have to get all the changes in, it's very stressful, but we always manage. We have a great team that works together, and all the changes are for the better.
First off you are awesome and beautiful! So my question is: if you could only eat 1 thing the rest of your life what would it be? Also when your choreographing these dances do you ever think to yourself "yeah, this is going to make grown men cry?"
1) Italian food. Pasta.
2) No, I never do. I usually don't even think about what people will think of my work. I just do what I truly believe in. As long as I'm telling the truth that's all that matters to me. But, I'm glad I can make you cry. :)
Hi Mia! My name is Emma and I am from Toronto, Canada. I recently graduated university and am trying to find my passion! There are so many options for us millenials out there and I was wondering if you had any tips that could help me suss out what direction I should head towards?
Follow your heart, and know that anything is possible. For instance, a family member of mine found her passion and, at 48 years old, became a doctor. Sometimes, it takes longer than others, but it's never too late to find your passion.
What would you be doing if you weren't choreographing?
Interior decorating or fashion designing. Definitely one of those.
Does Kelsey Grammer provide comic relief on a day-to-day basis or is he ultra focused on getting his work right?
I would say both. Kelsey is an actor's actor and brilliant at what he does. His timing is impeccable, and he's generous and open to new challenges. Someone who's brilliant and willing to push themselves and grow: what's better than that?
If you could bring any show or story to Broadway what would it be?
I have a couple projects in my back pocket that I am very excited about bringing to the theatre in the near future. I definitely have been bitten by the theatre bug and will be hopefully doing a lot more.
How did you find yours?
I was born into a dance family and the world of dance. It's a natural gift for me, and I've honed my craft for my whole life, so it's second nature to me. I would not be able to live without the ability to communicate through movement.
Hi Mia! I am in color guard and we LOVED having you come to WGI. Such an inspiration. What did you think of color guard? Will you come back?
All my experiences in color guard have been amazing. I love that community and would most definitely come back in the future.
With this new project did you find yourself looking to other adaptations of Peter Pan to draw inspiration from or did you immediately have ideas for what you wanted to do with the project choreography wise?
I think that there's a certain amount of research on any project. I think it's important to know the story and the characters and what has come before. But, sometimes I believe that too much research paralyzes your own interpretation and natural, instinctive creative choices. It's a delicate balance. Sometimes, ignorance creates a freedom that would not necessarily be there if you are bogged down in the details and history. Know the facts, and begin to dream.
Mia, you are an inspiration to so many people and have achieved what many only dream of. As such I figure you would be someone good to ask this question too. Where did you get your start and what advice would you give to those trying to follow in your footsteps?
I was always a kid with a lot of dreams and a lot of goals. I really pushed myself my whole life. I've realized that what you put into your career is what you get out of it. My career and my artistry are the most important things in my life. Your artistry is the one thing in your life that you'll always have. So, keep pushing, dream big, and work hard.
I love, love, love your routines from SYTYCD. I really miss them.
You don't have the "conventional" dancer's body. Was it ever too much pressure to get that body? How did you stay motivated to dance?
I was always a thicker girl and because of the fact that I struggled with it. But it pushed me to become a creator as opposed to a dancer. So in restrospect, I’m grateful of my physique as it shaped me into the artist I am today.
Hey Mia. I've been missing you on So You Think You Can Dance lately.
If you were to cast one contestant from So You Think You Can Dance into any production based on how well their style fits, who would it be, and what production would they be in?
I did. Melaine Moore in Finding Neverland. She was born to play Peter Pan.
I am such a fan of your work. I had the enormous pleasure of taking a class of yours. The deep connection to my own body and feelings after that one class left such an impact. Even now, years later. Thank you for that.
My question-how often (if at all) do you have a moment of “this is not going to work” when creating, only to have to the dancer surprise you and it being one of your more favorite pieces? Alternatively, have you ever been so excited to work with a dancer/piece of music only to have it not live up to your expectation
I have had pieces not live up to my expectations before, but there have also been moments where it ended up working out well. You can never completely predict if something is going to work, but you have to know when to not waste time and throw something away. I tend to know right away if something is going to work. I don't want to spend a lot of time developing something that I know is not worth it.
Mia- how is it working with the wonderful Laura Michele Kelly? She's the reason I came to see the show....and it was first night of previews!
She's a butterfly, and a fairy, and she's inspiring. She's a beautiful, free spirit and having her play Sylvia Llewelyn Davies was the perfect fit.
Mia, I want your opinion on a matter. My girlfriend and I have been together for a number of years. We have always lived away from each other though, so a physical distance has always existed. However, a kind of emotional distance has been building since she started going to college. One of my close friends from work has stepped in and has become the person I go to for everything. As such feelings more than friendship have been developing (I haven't acted on them). I was wondering if I should confess these feelings to my friend or try and weather the storm and work things out with my current gf? We've had this problem before but it just feels as if she doesn't care enough to try and work at it. I'm stuck on what I should do. Thank you.
Who's your best friend and who do you love?
> West Side Story
All of it.