Moving with Mama Mia

Moving with Mama Mia

By Michael Reed

On the same floor where guards performed and confetti cannons shot off after the World Class Finale hours before, approximately 500 eager students got up to attend a Master Class with world-renowned choreographer Mia Michaels. After three days of performances and a late night, it would be easy to excuse the young men and women if they slept in. They were having none of it. They wanted to be here.

With confetti swept away and a stage set up in front of the WGI banner at the back of the floor, several hundred eager students started filling the floor wearing dancewear and workout clothing. Some sat in small groups. Some stretched and chatted with friends. The sense of anticipation was palpable.

Mia Michaels is no stranger to the world of WGI. She has given post-Championships clinics on multiple occasions, most recently in 2014. Earlier this year, she presented a workshop for around 300 students after the Southwest Power Regional in Texas. She has a lengthy list of accolades, including several seasons as a judge and choreographer for So You Think You Can Dance, and numerous routines for internationally acclaimed recording artists.

After telling the kids “the most important thing is not movement but how we speak through the movement,” she encouraged the dancers to discover who they are through movement. A warmup exercise focused on each area of the body as the participants released tension, starting with the head, down through shoulders and arms, all the way to “the space between your toes,” eventually limbering up the entire body.

It was amazing to watch how much nuance the performers were able to get into the first eight counts of the routine she taught. The students soaked up everything like sponges, with most recalling multiple details by the second time through. Eventually, they learned a complete routine. While each one performed the same moves, there was individuality to the choreography as the dancers applied what they learned in the warmup.

There were high fives and cheers when the kids did the full routine for the first time. When Mia asked “should we try it with music?” there was a huge “YES!” in response. After running through the choreography all together, the students were broken up into groups to allow more room to move. Each group danced to cheers of their peers.

As the groups quickly switched back and forth, their level of self-confidence grew. While people were changing places, Mia shared motivational thoughts or provided tidbits about how she approaches her craft and to help set a positive frame of mind for the students. The groups were given time to develop their own improvised choreography to the music, allowing them to feel inspired in the moment.

WGI Hall of Fame Member Ruth Ann Medworth brought her Northview High School guard to the clinic. Her guard had just performed in Scholastic World Finals the evening before. She reflected on the benefit for her students to attend the clinic.

“So many of our students haven’t gotten to go to places where they could see a fabulous dancer like that, or even today just to watch the other dancers where she did improvisation, and because we’re so ingrained in trying to get all of our counts together, they don’t always get to enjoy just the freedom of being a dancer. I think today was a great opportunity for them to just be themselves and not have to worry about what anybody else thought.”

When asked what aspects of Michaels’ wisdom she could incorporate as an instructor, Ruth Ann answered, “She has so many fabulous things to say and talking about inspirational ideas and how you should be yourself. Certainly with students this age, they’re trying to find which way to go and what to do, and she really pushed to be yourself. I think those are great words I can take to emulate so that they can feel comfortable with what they do.”

The Northview members who attended found the session valuable. Senior Lauren Swearingen stated, “I thought it was very inspiring. I went outside of my comfort zone. You just freed yourself and she made you feel so comfortable, and it was just very inspiring for next year.” Sophomore Paige Fry added, “I also thought it was very inspiring and it made me thoroughly energetic about everything. It’s a good learning experience.”

By the time the clinic concluded, the students had worked up a sweat. The tired but pumped up dancers felt uplifted and had a deeper appreciation of both the art of dancing and a positive way of viewing life. As the performers filtered out of UD Arena, Ms. Michaels stayed around, talking to them and having pictures taken with small groups.

Mia shared thoughts on their efforts for the season, putting the competitive aspect of guard into perspective. “You’re walking away a better person. Placement doesn’t validate your worth as an artist. A trophy comes home and collects dust. Your soul does not. By you being here this weekend, you’ve already won because you pushed yourself to be better for the whole year. You are awesome!”

About the Author: Michael Reed provides online and print media content for WGI, Bands of America, and Drum Corps International. 2017 marks his sixteenth year of writing for WGI. He is an active music arranger, composer, and all-around avid pageantry fan. Michael was a member of the Cavaliers Drum and Bugle Corps and holds a bachelor’s degree in music composition and music education from Ball State University. He currently works in the health care field and resides in Fishers, Indiana.