L.A. Dancer and Choreographer Misha Gabriel
Rarely does a dancer inspire the same kind of fan frenzy as the singers they back up onstage. Yet wherever Misha Gabriel goes—from conventions to concert venues—he leaves a trail of new admirers in his wake.
One look at Misha in action leaves little doubt about the source of the hype. Equally at home pirouetting and popping, Misha fuses his classical ballet training with an innate hip-hop sensibility. The result is a silky smooth, light-footed, seemingly effortless way of moving. When asked about his influences, Misha cites mentor Brian Friedman, likening both of their dance styles to a “jazz/funk–tinged, sexy, almost girly hip hop.”
Named Co. Dance’s “Performer of the Year” and Urban Jamm’s “Most Well-Rounded Dancer” in years past, Misha is currently balancing his convention instruction work—he teaches at Starpower and Monsters of HipHop—with an increasing commercial presence. Recent projects include dancing in Omarion’s “Ice Box” and Beyoncé’s “Get Me Bodied” music videos, Janet Jackson’s “20 Y.O.” tour, and choreographing a piece for Justin Timberlake “FutureSex/LoveShow” tour. Get to know this versatile dancer (formerly known as Misha Hamilton) as he dishes on his dance life.
From Pointe to Poppin’
Born in Florida, in 1987, Misha was introduced to dance by his mother, Irina Brecher, a ballet dancer from Romania. “My sister and I were home-schooled, and my mom taught us classical ballet every single day for the first 10 years of my life,” says Misha. “Just ballet.” At the time, Misha’s mom ran a small ballet school for 20 students out of her house. When the family relocated to Denver, she opened a large studio called Soul Motion, where until recently, Misha was co-director and taught hip-hop classes. (The studio closed when Brecher moved to L.A. in early 2007 to be closer to Misha and his sister Natasha.)
By age 14, Misha was eager to step outside the boundaries of ballet. He began taking classes in lyrical, jazz and modern. One day while exploring a local athletic club, a hip-hop class caught his eye. “I went back the next day in tight jazz pants and jazz shoes,” says Misha, remembering his relative lack of street cred. “I was a ballet kid. I had no idea what was up.”
But it didn’t take long for him to catch on. While attending a hip-hop festival later that year, Misha met Kenny Jimenez, a teacher he says “taught me everything I know about hip hop.” Jimenez later recruited him to become the youngest member in the Motion Underground Elite Dance Company.
Bitten by the hip-hop bug, yet still devoted to nurturing his skills in every form of dance, Misha became a fixture on the convention circuit. “I started taking classes from Brian Friedman and Marty Kudelka, and fell in love with their styles,” he says.
In 2003, he started winning competitions and in 2004 he got his first big break. While attending Brian Friedman’s “Be Free” convention in Denver with friends Randi Kemper and Tony Testa, Friedman handpicked all three to dance on Aaron Carter’s “JukeBox” concert tour. “It was my first professional job, and I didn’t really know what to expect,” says Misha. “Looking back, it was probably the best experience of my life.”
As the Carter tour concluded, Misha reluctantly decided it was time to leave home for L.A. “It was nice that Brian happened to book out-of-state dancers for Aaron’s tour, but that’s rare,” Misha says. “I wanted to be a working dancer. And since the minute I moved out here, I’ve been blessed to be able to work steadily.”
“Working steadily” is somewhat of an understatement. After hitting the ground running, Misha hasn’t looked back. He’s booked jobs with artists like Omarion, Beyoncé and Raven-Symoné, and last year he scored the holy grail for dancers—a perch on Janet Jackson’s “20 Y.O.” world tour.
Although the tour has been plagued by rumors of internal strife and dancers being fired, Misha relishes the opportunity. “We’ve sort of had to re-audition in rehearsals, just to make sure we’re on point. ‘Who deserves to be here? Who’s hungry?’” says Misha. “If you can hold on and make it to the tour, you can handle it. It’s been an amazing, crazy, emotional six months.”
So far, Misha has appeared with Jackson on a six-month publicity blitz for the album—from “The Today Show” to “Oprah” to the Billboard Music Awards. The dancers continue to prepare for the world tour, which is expected to kick off this summer.
Visions for the Future
Having made his mark on the L.A. dance scene, Misha is now at an exciting career crossroads. Many dancers spend years paying their dues before landing a high-profile choreography gig, but Misha recently proved the exception. Last summer, he got a call from his friend Marty Kudelka, a choreographer on Justin Timberlake’s “FutureSex/LoveShow” tour. He enlisted Misha and Nick Bass (who was already dancing on the tour) to co-choreograph the live stage number for “Cry Me a River.” Misha, a long-time fan of Timberlake, was thrilled.
“When planning the choreography, we wanted it to go from zero to 100,” says Misha. “The movements got bigger and more aggressive throughout. And the end is so explosive. I lost it. I was just bawling watching the dancers onstage. When they start rocking out, it’s really powerful.”
Also powerful is the friendship that formed between Misha and Bass, who are now roommates in L.A. The two are inseparable, personally and professionally. “We’re constantly listening to songs, editing videos, writing treatments,” says Misha of their creative collaboration. “We’ll be out in the streets of New York, filming us dancing in front of cars and people. Then we’ll edit it just for fun.”
Currently, they are also teaming up to teach hip-hop classes at North Hollywood’s Millennium Dance Complex. According to Misha, their opposite dance styles mesh well into a funky sort of fusion. “Having a partner makes everything you do twice as powerful,” says Misha. “I consider Nick to be the best dancer in the world. If you have a partner that dope, that is limitless.”
Students at Millennium agree; the pair’s classes are insanely popular and regularly packed. Looking ahead, Misha and Nick hope to build on the buzz by creating their own international convention. (Misha currently teaches for Starpower and Monsters of HipHop, while Bass teaches for Jump.)
As Misha prepares to turn the big 2-0 in May, he’s been reflecting on how he wants his career to evolve. He’s already worked alongside numerous Hollywood heavyweights, but hopes to continue challenging himself as a dancer. Like many talented triple threats, Misha wants to delve into singing and acting. He also plans to explore the possibility of doing more choreography on the heels of the Timberlake gig. There’s no doubt about it—wherever Misha goes, his fanatical fans will follow.
Fabulous Audition Story!
When Misha was 16, he flew to NYC to assist Brian Friedman at The Pulse workshop. Misha and his friend Tony Testa had arrived a few days early to take classes at Broadway Dance Center, which was abuzz with talk of a Madonna audition. Misha had never auditioned for anything, and talked Testa into attending—just for fun.
“Tony and I got there around 6 a.m., and we wore our hats really low because we thought we’d be typecast as being too young,” remembers Misha. To both Misha’s and Testa’s surprise, they were still standing at day’s end when the crowd was cut from 700 to 300 dancers. Choreographer Jamie King was impressed and asked them to contact their parents for permission to tour as minors. The next day, they returned to make the top 20, auditioning for the Material Girl herself. Though it didn’t pan out, Misha looks back at the experience fondly. “When I was 16, I was so small and scrawny; it would’ve looked awkward onstage,” he says. “It was the hardest—and best—audition of my life.”