A Michigan-Born Dancer’s Secrets to Success
As a professional dancer with Rioult Dance New York, Michael Spencer Phillips knows the importance of keeping your body conditioned and healthy. He also knows about hard work.
Originally from Brighton, Michigan, Phillips’ physically grueling schedule includes an average of eight hours a day in rehearsals, five days a week (when he’s not traveling the world for performances). In addition to his Monday through Friday rehearsals, he spends his personal time taking ballet class five days a week and cross training with Pilates and yoga. He also enjoys biking, hiking, paddle boarding and volleyball and recently took up surfing. While not many of us can dedicate ourselves to this extreme level of training, his motivation and dedication to his craft is inspiring.
A few years ago, Phillips suffered a potentially career-ending injury. During a live performance, he was taking off for a jump when he fell to the ground in excruciating pain. The diagnosis was devastating. His adductor had separated from his pelvic bone, retracting into his leg and breaking a piece of the bone along with it. His doctor told him that he may never walk properly again, let alone dance. But that didn’t sit well with Phillips. “There was no way this was going to be the end of my career, it just wasn’t an option,” he says.
The road back
The day after enduring a seven-hour-long surgery, he began the long process of recovery with physical therapy. Less than a week later, he was on a stationary bike. He would average eight to 10 hours a day in physical therapy, six days a week. But his dedication and perseverance paid off. Today, he’s dancing again and very thankful for modern medicine, the doctors and physical therapists that have given him back his career. “The fact that I’m doing everything I was doing before the injury is miraculous,” he says.
His biggest lessons
Every day Phillips is grateful for his body, and he tries to take care of it as well as he can—especially as he gets older. “As a professional dancer, the body doesn’t respond that same way at 36 as it did at 25,” he says. “As I’ve matured in my career, I’ve come to realize the importance of lengthening and strengthening all those smaller muscles so that they remain flexible and support the big muscles.” One way he does this: He uses resistance bands instead of heavy weights to avoid putting too much stress on his joints. He also fits in time to do Yoga, Pilates and swimming.
Phillips also credits his home state of Michigan and his parents for encouraging a healthy, active lifestyle at a young age. “Even in the Michigan wintertime, we were always active as a family,” he says.”My brother played hockey, my sister and I danced all year and we regularly went skiing as a family.”
Words to live by
To all the young dancers in Michigan, especially those entering the #MiKidsCan dance contest or aspiring to reach the professional level, Phillips has a few words of encouragement. “So many times people believe that it’s only about talent,” he says. “It’s not.” Phillips notes that talent certainly helps, but in his experience it’s only a part of what is really necessary to succeed. “I believe it’s about 25 percent talent and 25 percent being in the right place at the right time,” he says. “The other 50 percent is showing up and doing it over and over, day in and day out, no matter what. You have to have perseverance.”
If you liked this post, you might be interested in these other blogs about Michiganders who are dedicated to pushing themselves physically:
- Be Brave Swim: Three Women and the Straits of Mackinac
- Running Tattoo is Permanent Reminder to Choose Health for One Michigan Man
- From Overweight and Unhealthy to Competing in a Triathlon
Michael Spencer Phillips studied under Betsy Carr in Michigan and attended the prestigious Interlochen Center for the Arts. He earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Michigan. In addition to his role with the Rioult Dance Company, he is currently on faculty at Interlochen and the Dance Arts Academy in Traverse City and regularly teaches master classes at the University of Michigan and throughout the country.
Photo credit: Rachel Neville