06/08/2012 09:18 am ET

Mia Michaels: 'Rock of Ages' Choreographer Dishes On Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin

This is turning out to be a huge year for Mia Michaels, choreographer extraordinaire and former "So You Think You Can Dance" judge. The three-time Emmy Award winner's choreography will be showcased in the big-screen adaption of the hit Broadway musical, “Rock of Ages," where her moves are performed by Tom Cruise, Julianne Hough, Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand and Catherine Zeta-Jones. The project reunited her with SYTUCD judge alumnus Adam Shankman in the Warner Brothers film that premieres in Los Angeles on June 8, and opens in theaters June 15. And if that wasn't enough, Michaels makes her own acting debut in the dance blockbuster “Step Up 4: Revolution,” set to hit theatres the end of July.

Michaels’ expertise and motivational approach in dance has made her a highly sought-after guest instructor and choreographer worldwide. She has held faculty positions at some of the world's leading dance companies including Alvin Ailey, the Joffrey Ballet, and the International Dance Festival of Italy.

The Huffington Post recently caught up with her.

This has been quite a year for you. We have to ask: What was it like to work with Tom Cruise? Is he a natural-born dancer?

Actually, he is not! But what he is is a work horse and a perfectionist. By the end of "Rock of Ages," he pulls off the dancing so totally and completely. The audience will see him dancing as a natural. And it's because he simply doesn't stop until it's perfect. He's my all-time favorite student because of his attitude and work ethic.

What does he dance to?

He dances to "Pour Some Sugar On Me," and was just outstanding. By the way, he did a duet with Julianne Hough that was cut from the film but will be on the DVD that was one of my favorite numbers -- "Rock You Like a Hurricane." Adam told me they wanted something raw and gritty and I guess that just opened a can of worms with me and I went with it! Not PG-13 though!

You also worked with Alec Baldwin on the film. It's hard to picture him dancing.

I didn't work as closely with him, but boy is he funny. He processes things very carefully, is a really smart guy. He came into this not as a dancer, nor did he want to be. His role didn't require the kind of movement that some of the others did.

Any anecdotes from the set you can share?

Yeah, one in particular involving Alec sticks with me. As I said, he's a really funny guy. There came a moment when he crowd surfs -- you know, just dives right into a crowd of people. He just went for it! Adam and I were laughing so hard we fell off our chairs. Boom! Just dove in! It was awesome!

This was your first time working on a movie. How was it?

I want to do it again! It was a totally awesome experience as a whole. I mean, it was hard work -- a ton of work -- we worked seven days a week sometimes, had a lot of 18-hour days, but it was so much fun working with the different personalities. I'm known as a serious contemporary choreographer, you know, a serious artist. But Adam said 'we're going to tap into rock and roll and humor' and it totally forced other sides of me to come out as an artist. I love being stretched like that.

And, as a 46-year-old, did you find that you connected with the music?

Absolutely. This is the music I grew up with. It's what I listened to in high school -- although the truth is I was more into punk rock. I listened to Debbie Harry, the Police, the Ramones. Also, we shot in Miami, which is where I grew up. It was like being home again and going back to my teenage years. I totally tapped into the rockers. I never would have thought to choreograph to it.

So you have "Rock of Ages" opening in June, and then in July you are making your own big-screen debut as an actress.

Yes, I play the director of a dance company in Miami -- the Miami connection again! -- in "StepUp 4." Tom Cruise and Adam encouraged me to read for the part. It was really very scary; I've never done anything like that before. But I had such a great time.

What's your philosophy about branching out like this?

Well, they say you are supposed to have two careers. I'm having a big one as a choreographer. I want to direct musicals -- both stage and film. I think it's important to keep challenging yourself and not getting too comfortable. Once you get comfortable, you're just existing. It's all about enjoying the journey. I am constantly taking on challenges like "Rock of Ages" and acting. My goal in life is to constantly grow.



Mia Michaels