This week’s Dancer/Choreographer feature goes to Mia DiLena. Mia a professional dancer from Toronto, received her Certificate of completion in 2009 from The Ailey School (home to Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater) in New York City. There, she worked with several multi-award winning teachers and choreographers such as Camille A. Brown, Pedro Ruiz and Milton Myers. At an audition in 2008, Mia was one of the few dancers selected from the student body to perform with the Alvin Ailey Company at the New York City Center Theater as part of the company’s 50th Anniversary featuring Oprah Winfrey as honorary chair. After graduating, Mia was accepted into the 2009, 2010 and 2011 editions of Springboard Danse Montréal directed by Alexandra Wells. Here she had the chance to work with many prestigious choreographers and companies like Margie Gillis, Ballet Jazz de Montreal and RUBBERDANDance. Prior to her post-secondary education, Mia received the Proficiency Award in Dance from her high school, Etobicoke School of the Arts. She also passed her Royal Academy of Dance (R.A.D.) Advanced 1 Ballet Exam with Distinction, and was accepted into the distinguished National Ballet School of Canada summer intensive. During Mia’s time as a competitive dancer, she won several regional titles and top overall awards at American Dance Awards and other competitions. She also won a 1st place full scholarship for an exchange program to study ballet in Genoa, Italy in her final year of high school.
Mia was chosen at an audition for the role of Gracie Shinn in Disney’s The Music Man starring Kristen Chenoweth and Matthew Broderick. Later, she played the lead youth dancer in the Bravo! Fact film, From Time to Time, directed by Moze Mossasnen and choreographed by Ginette Laurin. Mia has danced in several Toronto based dance companies including Helix Dance Project, directed by Linda Garneau, Conteur Dance Company, directed by Eryn Waltman, and Bridge To Artists, directed by Vlad Novitski. Mia had the extreme honor of performing with and assisting Teddy Forance and his entire esteemed faculty at his workshop, Generation IV Dance, in Massachusetts in 2012 and 2013. In 2012 and 2014 Mia was invited to dance with Bridge Dance Concepts, directed by Derrick Yanford, at the EDANCO International Contemporary Dance Festival in the Dominican Republic. She has also been featured in music videos, including Heaven by Blake McGrath, Time’s Up by Aleesia, and Graceland by Allan Rayman. As well she performed for Aleesia at the CityTV’s New Year’s Eve Bash in 2011 at Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto.
Mia has travelled throughout Canada teaching on the faculty of many workshops and dance studios. She currently teaches and judges for On The Floor directed by Mitchell Jackson and Lisa Hupe, FRESH Dance Intensive directed by David Norsworthy, and Vlad’s Dance Company directed by Vlad Novitski. Mia has also had the pleasure of assisting many respected choreographers in Canada and the U.S. including Derrick Yanford, Teddy Forance, Jason Winters, Vlad Novitski, and more.
Mia is enthusiastic to see what’s next for her career and is always thrilled to see the exciting things her fellow Toronto dancers are involved in.
Bio provided by Mia
Find out what Mia had to say in this week’s feature…
Nikki: Do you remember the first time you started dancing?
Mia: I remember watching my brother doing gymnastics at home when I was 3 years old and I tried copying him. My parents put me in gym too and the coaches told me I should try dance as well to help with that aspect. When my mom told me I got to wear makeup and a costume, I was sold! But I remember loving dance from the first day.
Nikki: Do you remember the first song you choreographed to? (or your earliest memory)
Mia: When I was very young, I always danced in my room and made up stuff to my Paula Abdul cassette tape… But I think my first real piece of choreography was a solo to Breathe Me by Sia. My first piece I set on a group of dancers was to Empty Buildings by Catherine Feeny. They were my guinea pigs.
Nikki: Your personal advice for dancers when it comes to free styling?
Mia: Don’t waste time being afraid. I wasted so many years by feeling insecure. As soon as I felt that what I had to contribute to a room was valid, I never stopped. Free styling/improvising is sometimes the most amazing feeling. You get lost in the best possible way. There are so many ways to shape your free style. You can take a cue from the music, you can give yourself different tasks, consider different qualities (speed, resistance, etc.) and so on. If it’s at an audition, take into consideration what the panel is probably looking for and highlight your strengths.
Nikki: Getting in the zone to choreograph, what does it take for you?
Mia: It’s different depending on the time of day/weather/who I’m working with/ the environment etc. Today I warmed up with one of my students with some awesome lights, chill music, some crunches and a large coffee! Sometimes I know exactly what I’m setting out to choreograph and other times the bodies in the room help me get in the right head space and “in the zone”.
Nikki: Who are some of your biggest influences in the dance industry?
Mia: I have many!! Where do I start? Crystal Pite of Kidd Pivot is brilliant. I can’t think of a more fitting word to describe her. Jiri Kylian’s choreography, Petite Mort, on Nederlands Danse Theatre, is breathtaking and awe inspiring. It definitely influenced my understanding of technical and musical execution. Here in the city: Vlad Novitski. Or as he’s more well known, Vlad. I owe so much of who I am as a dancer and choreographer to him. I think I’ve been influenced by many of my experiences, some I’m aware of and some just seeped in. I worked with many choreographers at a program called Springboard Danse Montreal and I think much of what I experienced there altered and influenced me. For example, after working with a company in Montreal called RUBBERBANDance, I noticed my choices as a mover were changing. Also, I’m often influenced by any dancer that is driven. It’s so stunning to watch someone with drive.
Nikki: Name a Toronto choreographer you enjoy working with and why?
Mia: Linda Garneau takes the cake. She really creates your ideal working environment and relationship. She’s unbelievable to work with. I just finished her latest show, The Waiting Room, with her company, Helix Dance Project, and some of the words that kept circling through the cast were compassion, generosity and love, to list a few. I felt lucky and grateful everyday to be in that rehearsal room. She’s a master of MANY crafts. People will work with her til the end of time.
Nikki: Name one of your favourite artists to work with and why? (ie; another dancer, choreographer, musician etc)
Mia: This is a hard one to narrow down. But I think I will go with Vlad. For people who don’t know him, he’s known for his ability to tell a story through dance. I’ve never cried more than when watching his work. Working with him as a dancer, he creates some of the most complicated, intricate but beautiful movement I’ve ever done. To this day, (after knowing him for over 10 years) he still creates movement that only he can duplicate. It’s that intricate. But he loves finding organic movement with each person he’s setting choreography for. In my opinion, he’s shaped some extremely stunning dancers that are currently working in this industry.
Nikki: Qualities you believe Toronto dancers possess?
Mia: I feel like there’s something so unique about each dancer that has come from Toronto. High levels of talent and skill, are present, but something individual about each one. However, I’d say perseverant, technical and respectful are some of the qualities that Toronto dancers are known for.
Nikki: Any advice for emerging dancers and choreographers working/training in Toronto?
Mia: I think we’re all trying to figure things out as we go. But being able to become what the industry needs at any given time is very important. One day you might be in a contemporary show and the next day you might be in a mainstream music video. The more versatile you are, the more opportunities you’ll receive and the more fun you’ll have along the way. Also, I’ve always been a supporter of the “trained” dancer. I think it’s crucial to keep training and honing your skill. You have to find work and audition, but don’t stop growing and developing your craft. As for choreographers, I think the best advice I could give is the more you do, the better you get. You learn what you like about your own voice.
THANK YOU MIA FOR SHARING YOUR LOVE & PASSION WITH T.D.O.T. XO
CHECK OUT SOME FOOTAGE OF MIA DANCING