Final Run of Mia's Master Class
“You don’t love me because of my choreography. You love me because I puke my soul out to you.” - Mia Michaels
It was a long, exciting, anxious two days of competition. Saturday prelims had passed and Sunday dawned to early morning wake up calls (some as early as 430am) for all the day’s performers. It was a day full of show after amazing show of hard working teams putting their all out on the floor in the last Regional Finals of the season. But, scores had been announced almost an hour ago and the arena was still full of people. The stands were filled with only a few dozen spectators, but the floor was covered with about 275 dancers of all ages in rehearsal clothing ready to listen, soak in, and obey. Everyone had that very tired “it was a long 2 day regional” look on their face, but there was a under-lying thrill too. Everyone was stretching to be ready for her, showing off their flexibility like they do on the preview clips at So You Think You Can Dance. There was loud laughter and excitement all around me. From the staff members corner of the floor, we watched the youthful spirits, the young performers show off their skills. And I sat on the floor with the older crowd, stretching my second, among the many waiting, watching. After all, the great Mia Michaels was coming for a Master Class at UCF Arena after the WGI Southeastern Power Regional.
I was immediately transported back to WGI World Finals 2008. The rumor was Mia Michaels was somewhere in the building watching World Finals that night and she was a big supporter of our activity. That year, I was marching with Fahrenheit World and we were 13th going into Finals. I was so excited cause somewhere SHE was here...watching me…and I was going to impress her!! We went through body warm up and had been moved into equipment holding. It was this cute little hallway between the two warm-ups that you stood or stretched in for about 5 or 6 minutes before moving on. I remember stretching my ponche arabesque on the wall because it was in my show and hearing…“oh, my GOD- it’s her!” I immediately dropped my leg from the wall and stood up and saw this short lovely blonde woman being escorted by several security officers through the group and through a door as quickly as possible. My heart stopped…Whoa. She. It took several minutes to pull myself out of the giddy euphoria of watching a Great cross my path. As I took the floor for Finals, I remember looking up at the crowd, breathing them in, then at the glass windows that held the skybox and wondered if she was looking down on me right at this moment.
The sudden movement of everyone standing up and clapping took me out of my flashback and I jumped to my feet too. I joined in the clapping and watched my students strain their necks to catch a glimpse of her. She waved to us and it took her about 10 minutes to get on the stage. I smiled as the crowd around me held the same giddiness that I had felt 5 years prior. I felt a quiet awe, but more deeply, a respect I didn’t understand then, but did now. She held her arms to the group and welcomed us. She was so honored that we stayed to see her and that she survived the mini hurricane/thunderstorm outside. I caught myself thinking, “Of course, we stayed! You are Mia Michaels!” She spoke of how much she loved coming to see us and the enthusiasm we have in our sport. It seemed she was in awed by us as much as we were of her. After introducing us to her assistant Danny and asking if we were already stretched, we began the class.
As we went through the learning process and showed off in groups, she stopped us periodically and spoke. She gave us wonderful uplifting quips. In no particular order, and by no means in her exact words, these stories/phrases stuck in my mind:
* Everyone is built different. Not everyone can be that 10% that can take their legs up here. (She waves her arms above her head) Not everyone has the ability to take their legs and wrap them over your head and tie them under your chin in a bow. You have to make the movement yours. If you own it and truly embrace the movement, you will shine no matter where your leg ends up.
*Make the movement yours. If you have to adjust the choreography to fit your body and embrace it, do so. You know what your body will and won’t do. Don‘t be upset that your leg isn‘t up here. Just love what you do and put all your passion into it.
*She said something about not looking like everyone else. Being true to yourself. If you want to dye your hair half blue and half purple. Do it. If you want to wear crazy clothing, do it. If you want to change the choreography and make it your own, do it. Be truly you. This was an odd thing to say to a room full of guard members. In the color guard world, it is all about looking exactly the same and immediately I go in my instructor head “NO! NO! I work so hard to get you all to look the same” but in my performer mode, I say “I do that every chance I get.” So did she. Do it.
* “I’m not angry at you but…” I did laugh out loud the 3 or 4 times she said this. I couldn’t imagine this woman being angry at anyone. But then again, I wasn’t one of her professionals. They might know differently. I personally wouldn’t want her mad at me.
*She said how much she loved working with the Winterguard community. How fearless we are and grateful. She told us how dancers can get a bit snotty and stand with their arms crossed just watching then doing it after but how she loved our enthusiam and wilingness. She said how can you be scared of a head stand when you throw things into the air and catch them? She loved coming to work with us...Well, we love her too.
*At one point, she asked us to do improv after our written choreography. I was in group 1 at the time. She stopped us after a little bit into the improv and asked why 2/3 of the young dancers were just standing there, not doing anything. They stared at her silently. She asked if they were nervous to dance in front of her and some answered yes and some just stared at her silently. She smiled at the crowd in front of her then she told us this story of her dad who was her first dance instructor and how she was thankful for him because even at a very young age of 6 or 8, he allowed her freedom and she was able to change the choreography in the classes she took from him. That was how she became a choreographer. She took risks- to try something new. To experiment. She allowed herself the ability to just be and create. She encouraged us all to just be and create. Don’t be afraid. If you don’t try, you will never know. Then made group 1 do it again. It was a much different experience.
*She spoke about Beyonce. Beyonce wasn’t born amazing, she said. She told us how Beyonce NEVER mocked through anything. It was always full out at rehearsal and how she sung on the treadmill to build her lungs and to push herself harder and harder. She spoke of the hard work she did and that made her amazing. It made her great. Mia encouraged us to work hard and be amazing. To be great.
As we reached the end of the est. 2 hours class with her, she pulled us all out for one last ensemble dance and improv. She told us this wonderful phrase.
“You don’t love me because of my choreography. You love me because I puke my soul out to you.”
I had to think about that for a moment and recall what it was like to be a performer again and why part of me still missed it so. It wasn’t just the shows, cute costumes, makeup, or choreography. It was the crowd- the people. It was the moments when people had come up to me and said “Oh my gosh, you were amazing!“, “I couldn’t stop watching you”, “I love your show”, or “I watch you every time!”. I knew I had touched them. They had saw into my soul just a little. Just a few hours earlier, one of my students looked at me as we stood at the Paradigm table and our finals performace from WGI 2005 was on our television. She said to me in awed by our floor feature, “I wished you still performed. I wish I had had a chance to watch you on the floor.“ I smiled brightly.
Then my mind flipped over to the past and all the students whose lives that I had touched and how so many of them had taught me things. They had thanked me at the end of the season for what I have given them and I returned the thanks for what they had gave to me. I had to hope that what Mia was telling us was what I gave to my students, how they felt. I looked back at the girls I had with me on the floor and smiled….These were my current students, my shining stars. Again, I hoped that I give them just a drop of what Mia gives to the world.
The last run of the choreography wasn’t my best run because I was so caught up in her words for a few moments I forgot the dance. I was surrounded by the energy of all that could and all that will and all that might. It was the first time I was able to dance on the floor with certain other amazing people - performers and choreographers - and I was just wrapped in that feeling.
As we continued to improv, I took the risk to dance towards other people. Some I knew and some were strangers in this guard world I didn’t know, but yet -we are all a big guard family right? So, I danced with them. I touched hands with them and felt their energy around me. Mia requested that we all end in a position that best explained how our hearts and bodies felt about dance and to close our eyes.
So here I stood in the middle of a crowd of dancers with my arms wide open, eyes closed, and a fullness in my heart as I listened to her speak of greatness in ourselves and in our sport and the values of dancing.
I wished someone would of video taped her speeches. I would watch them again and again. Mia really is as lovely and passionate in person as she is on TV. I honestly got caught up a couple times watching the awe in the crowd, the pure attentiveness of the people in that room, that I know I missed quite a few things she said. If I could go back, I would make sure that I paid more attention.
At the end of the session, she thanked us greatly but really, it was our honor. Most of the crowd rushed over to take a picture and shake her hand. The other half too tired to do anything but grab their things and go home shower then to bed. I too wanted to be part of that crowd that rushed up to her, to shake her hand and thank her for coming, but I allowed the masses to surround her instead. I was content to stand in her energy for a few more minutes and be grateful of just that. I did however manage to take a great picture of her joy in being in the guard world: a sport of the arts and of passion.
As I grabbed my bag and watched as they whisked her out of the arena and back towards the airport off to who knows where with who knows who, I knew that I was glad to have been there. I felt sad for my friends and fellow performers who decided not to take this experience and I was hopeful that another opportunity to take her class again comes soon.
So I share this with you all….Dance from your soul. Shine from within. Never take a moment for granted. You never know what tomorrow will bring.
And Thank you, Mia Michaels and Danny. Thank you.