As a dancer you’re not getting paid great money. We’re at the bottom of the food chain. We’re a small part of somebody’s big picture and that’s often hard for some people to realize.
By FELICIA C. HANEY
This past weekend “Step Up: Revolution,” the fourth installment in the “Step Up” dance movie series, lived up to its original name, “Step Up 4Ever” – not in the sense that it stepped up to the plate at the box office, but it ranked a mere fourth place drawing in only $11.8 million. This was the worst opening of the “Step Up” franchise to date. But it did seem to draw a crowd in Cleveland when one of the film’s stars, Misha Gabriel, headed a flash mob at South Park mall last week just before the film’s opening. As part of his three-day run in the city, CP2 popped in on the Miami-born-Colorado-raised two-stepper and locked down an interview with him at his hotel.
Here he spoke of how he’s already peaked in his dream of becoming a professional dancer and now he’s ready to step up and revolutionize the acting world.
FCH: So, what brings you to Cleveland?
MG: Here to promote the film. We did a little flash mob at South Park mall and we did an advance screening for the people who were there. Really good turn out. We worked with Rock City Dance, a local dance studio out here, and we prepared a number that we performed at the mall. So, it was a little spontaneous performance and everyone at the mall was sorta surprised.
So this is your first film…
As far as acting, yes. It’s a great film. I’m extremely excited about my first film. It was a dream job that I never wanted to end. It’s the fourth installment in the “Step Up” series and definitely I think one of the most unique dance films. The plot is completely original and all of the dance scenes are just mind blowing and explosive. Some of the best dancers and talent in the U.S.
With such long hours of shooting paired with dance, how do you keep up?
To shoot the opening scene we had to shut down Ocean Drive in Miami and dance for three days in the heat. Really, really grueling, intense work. But it paid off. I’ve been building my stamina for the past… How long have I been dancing? The past 20 years…
You don’t even look 20 years old!
Uhmm, I’m 25, thank you very much [smiling]. Yeah, it’s just something as a dancer you’re just always working at. Increasing your performance ability.
A lot of yoga, cardio?
Yep. Yoga, cardio, a lot of working out. A lot of dancing. The best way to train your dancing is to dance.
Let’s talk about the dancing. I know your mom has an extensive background in ballet…
I do as well. My mom’s a teacher but I trained in ballet for 15 years.
Your interest or hers?
Both. When I was a kid I loved it. There was always dance around my house, always music. But, when I hit 10 or 11 I hit a phase I think a lot of teenage boys go through where they didn’t think dance was cool anymore and they were getting made fun of.
Yeah, especially ballet. I just went through this weird moment where I didn’t want to dance anymore so my mom forced me to keep dancing even though she really didn’t care if I became a professional dancer. She wanted to teach me as part of a discipline. And, I was homeschooled so it was part of my curricular activity. So I stayed with it, fell back in love with it and it became part of my life, my identity. I knew myself through dance. It paid off. Thanks Mom!
How’d you make the transition from ballet?
I made the transition when I was about 14 or 15. I started taking dance classes at the local YMCA. And the minute I found hip-hop it was… awesome.
Have you caught the acting bug?
That’s the best way to put it. Up until the film I felt I had reached my plateau as far as dance considering I danced for Michael [Jackson]. It became hard for me to go down from there. After that, I no longer felt that high of being like “Oh my God I booked Mariah [Carey], awesome. And now if I got that same opportunity, even with an artist I haven’t worked with before, it wouldn’t excite me the same. God bless him, but I just couldn’t go to the Justin Beiber auditions.
Well, dancing for Michael is some people’s ultimate career high, and for you to be able to do that at such a young age and before he passed must’ve felt amazing.
It was my ultimate career high, at the time. I danced for the best there is and felt that I accomplished what I needed to. Now I think my career high has changed career paths. Two years ago I was going through a transition period and all my friends were booking tours with Chris Brown and I could’ve done that if I wanted to, but I had to step away to make that transition for myself. Two years later, I got “Step Up,” the opportunity I had been waiting for.
Todd Sams is a choreographer from Cleveland who’s done some work with Chris Brown and Usher. Are you familiar with him?
Yes, the “My Way” video is iconic. He’s an amazing choreographer. I never danced for him, but I learned his choreography because I danced for Michael and learned the repertoire. He’s a genius.
What is the longevity for a dancer? Is it like being an athlete?
Of course. It’s not like being a gymnast when you’re done at 21 or something, but it has its limits. It’s definitely something I have a passion to do forever, but I’ve seen so many people make the mistake of thinking they can make a career out of dancing forever and then succumb to injuries. As a dancer you’re not getting paid great money. We’re at the bottom of the food chain. We’re a small part of somebody’s big picture and that’s often hard for some people to realize. I’ve seen other people make the transition from dancer to choreographer to director. That’s definitely the goal. At some point it’s time to move on. I would love to continue on in the acting world.
Well some people have made the transition from dancer to actor and others have made the transition from dancer to J. Lo’s boyfriend/husband. Have you ever dated any of the people you worked for?
I have not. I think it’s all for the best.
How well do you get to know the artists you work for?
Depends on the artist. Justin Timberlake became a very close friend of mine. Janet [Jackson] was actually one of my first big breaks. She is such a sweetheart. I danced for her for about 3 years. I danced for Mariah for seven months, went to Japan with her and everything. Never met her once. Hillary Duff, childhood friend. It really just depends on the person.
Who was the most fun to work with and who was the most difficult?
Justin and Janet as far as choreography goes. Janet gave me a chance to choreograph her video and that was just such an honor for me.
Did she flash you her boob?
[Laughing] No! I moved out to LA because of a project I worked on with Justin and I knew from back then that he was a dancer. He picks up really easily. He just gets it. As far as hard to work with… No one was hard. Hillary Duff really isn’t a dancer so it was a challenge for me to find choreography to fit her, but she doesn’t really need to dance.
And after this film, hopefully Misha won’t need to dance either. Watch for him in “Step Up: Revolution” in theaters now as well as other upcoming projects.