Mikiel is the Stormzy-approved dancer fighting autism stigma with his art

A beautiful short film from the creative directors for Stormzy and Dave tells professional dancer Mikiel’s incredible story of struggle and triumph

This intimate character study tells dancer Mikiel’s story of passion and struggle, as well as showcasing the 22-year-old dancer’s stunning talent, and ultimately, his fight to be understood and accepted for his pursuits and his autism.

TAWBOX, award winning creative directors for the likes of Stormzy, Dave, Mabel and AJ Tracey debut this short film, Misunderstood, exploring the life and work of professional dancer Mikiel, who is autistic. In the film, Mikiel opens up about living with autism and how it has influenced his career, which has led to him performing at Glastonbury in 2019 alongside Stormzy. Dance, for him, is a way to be truly expressive and free himself from feelings of being misunderstood. 

When Amber Rimell and Bronski, co-founders of TAWBOX, saw Mikiel perform for the first time, they knew he had something to say: “We both knew there was an incredible story and triumph behind the way he moved his body and executed his facial expressions,” Rimell tells Dazed. “We are beyond ecstatic that Mikiel bought into our vision, and even more proud to share this platform with him.”

We caught up with Mikiel to talk about his craft, his vision, and any advice he would give to aspiring dancers with disabilities.

Do you have any heroes or teachers who particularly inspired you growing up, who still inspire you today? How do you feel about being someone who aspiring dancers can look up to yourself?

Mikiel: There have been many people who have inspired me throughout my life, but some of my all-time heroes in dance are Freedom of Dance, Urban Strides, Alex Mechanikool P, Clara Bajado, and Michael Jackson. My mum and brothers are a big source of inspiration to me too, who have continued to support me to achieve my goals and dreams. 

It feels great being someone who aspiring dancers can look up to. I used to be that student who looked up to other people too and reaching that stage and to do the hard work pays off.  

How old were you when you fell in love with dance and do you remember the moment you knew it was what you’d do with your life?

Mikiel: My Mum mentioned that I was actively dancing to music from three months old. I danced at the Notting Hill Carnival at the age of five and I didn’t stop, everyone was watching me because I was so young.  

The moment I realised that I wanted to become a dancer was when my brother took me to one of his dance lessons in Uxbridge, I was nine years old at the time.

Are there any artists who you see as dream collaborators or people you’d love to work with? 

Mikiel: There are so many people that I would love to work with. Dancers I would really like to work with would be Joan, Princess K, Bagsy, Zara and Ysabelle. The artists who I would one day love to work with would be Coldplay, Frank Ocean, IAMDDB, Travis Scott and Kendrick Lamar.  

With the country going in and out of coronavirus lockdowns, and people spending a lot of time at home, do you have advice for those who want to dance but don’t have access to any facilities?

Mikiel: I would tell people to find a safe space inside or outside of your home where you feel comfortable and dance to the music. Take someone outside with you that you can trust and that you’re not shy to dance in front of. You can also go online and teach yourself because that’s what’s trendy at the moment!

Can you define that feeling of being misunderstood, and how dance allows you to work through it?

Mikiel: I’ve always been misunderstood. Being autistic has always made me feel like I’m capable of doing many things, especially when it comes to dance. But the most challenging parts have been with interactions and responses from other people. As many people look at me and think there’s no disability, no autism. I’ve even been told that people “don’t care” about special needs within the industry. Autistic people are very sensitive, and dance has helped me to find a way to calm my mind and work through my emotions.  

What would be your advice to young people with disabilities who want to get into dance?

Mikiel: Never let your disability hold you back, because how you move will make you unique. You create your own style, just be free to express yourself in the ways that make you feel comfortable. Don’t overexert yourself or exacerbate the sensitive parts of your body. Allow yourself to enjoy the music, feel the rhythm and just flow.

Watch the stunning short film Misunderstood, by TAWBOX, above. Misunderstood is the first in the series of short films called 1WRD Series, following the journeys of professional dancers in the world of music