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Mia Michaels Turns Raw Emotion Into Expressive Movement

Lee Cherry

Choreographer Mia Michaels does not like to stay still.  In addition to choreographing numerous competitive dance numbers for contestants on "So You Think You Can Dance," Michaels also trained and choreographed the actors in this year’s feature adaptation of "Rock of Ages" and flexed her acting muscles in dance feature "Step Up Revolution."

"The Producers asked if I would read a part, and Tom Cruise suggested I do it," said Michaels.  "I took his advice.  It was my first acting experience and I fell in love."

While a bite from the acting bug opened the doorway to a new discipline that allowed her to express the truth in the moment, her work as a choreographer has been dedicated to expressing the raw qualities of life one experiences daily.  In the process, she’s earning five Emmy nominations, three Emmy wins, and countless industry praise.

Michaels finds inspiration used to create a dance routine in all facets of life, from the seemingly non-descript to the most dramatic.  The peacefulness of a quiet room, the brutality of two rams locking horns, a janitor toiling away with a mop are a sample of influences that have resulted in moving, expressive dance routines.  She combines the visual beauty and the emotional response she feels witnessing each encounter through motions, gestures, unity and physical movements of dance. 

When preparing a routine, Michaels is mindful of the dancer’s abilities she is working with.  She’ll showcase their particular skills and athletic capabilities.  This is a corner stone for working with the talent on "So You Think You Can Dance," where a majority of the contestants have trained and excel in a particular discipline.  Just as with any form of sport, different dance styles require different muscle groups, motions and characteristics.  The ability to determine physical strengths is also beneficial when choreographing actors with limited training. 

"You have to tailor the work to their strengths," said Michaels.  "A great choreographer can make anyone look good, regardless of whether they have two left feet."

Prior to choreography, Michaels spent years working as a dancer, taking her first lessons at the age of three.  As with any extensive, strenuous athletic endeavor, the impact nearly forty years of dance has placed upon her bones, muscles and joints has taken much of the pleasure out of performing.  She is much more content to find ways to "paint pictures" and tell stories through the movement of other dancers.  In addition to ensuring they use their bodies correctly during routines to prevent injuries, Michaels always encourages young dancers to be creative and explore their own styles.

"You are perfect just the way you are.  Every one of us is unique," said Michaels.  "Find your differences and celebrate them.  Let the world know who you are."

While choreography is a passion for Michaels, she has started to explore other storytelling arenas.  She’s developed the concepts for two untitled musical drama scripted series that she’s currently shopping around to networks.  She’s also created an untitled reality series that is currently in development with the Weinstein Company that she is very excited about.

"I’m not attracted to (reality series filled with) melodrama.  That desperate type of drama feels cheap," said Michaels.  “This reality show will explore a new realm: it will have a different kind of voice, it’s grittier.  There will be real human challenges, real struggles.  We’ll tap into stuff so real you’ll laugh, cry and cheer!"

In addition to developing various television series, Michaels is also looking for a talented writer who she can collaborate with to develop an idea she has for a Broadway musical.  One of her biggest goals at this time is to find a film or stage musical for her directorial debut, an aspiration she is very excited to explore.

"Directing shares some similarities: it’s close to what I do," said Michaels.  "I’m a storyteller, with a different kind of voice.  I like telling a real, raw human story."