~ Her work is a Pathway…from the Longing of the Spirit
to the Ecstasy of the Ordinary ~
Melissa Michaels, Ed.D., is the Founder and Director of SomaSource® Educational Programs, Surfing The Creative® International Rites Of Passage Programs, and Golden Bridge, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to improving and empowering the lives of young people through rites of passage, mentoring, and community support.
She creates movement based cross-cultural educational opportunities focusing on the potential that is available at major life thresholds. Mapping the journey from trauma to dynamic well-being, her work utilizes the expressive and social arts to establish body and heart as resources authentic expression. Rooted in rhythm and fueled by breath, this work inspires the sacred union between Spirit, flesh, psyche, and deed.
Melissa creates safe and provocative learning environments that support communities in the embodied exploration of how creativity serves awakening and connection. Recognizing the essential need for the body in our conversations about how to serve the next generation, she has developed comprehensive programs for assisting youth, and the adults who serve them, as they access their kinesthetic intelligence and their capacity to move with grace, focus, and freedom. Melissa is the author of the book, Youth On Fire: Igniting a Generation of Embodied Global Leaders. It shares the story of this work in principle and practice. Melissa is a first generation teacher of the 5Rhythms© along with being a Registered Somatic Educator and Therapist (ISMETA). She mothers two daughters along with mentoring youth across the globe as they navigate their way home to themselves and their unique life gifts.
Melissa is a social artist, dancing and dedicated to our collective renewal through the liberation of the creative spirit.
~ Elected Winner of the Colorado Dance Alliance 2006 Service to the Field Award for her Creativity, Effort and Passion to make a difference in dance in Colorado. ~
- The Fielding Graduate University, Ed.D., Education Leadership and Change, 2006. (Dissertation: Surfing The Creative® – The Process and Potential of a Body Centered Rites of Passage Program Serving Youth Development.)
- University of Colorado, B.S., Environmental Design, Graduated with Honors, 1983.
- Registered Somatic Movement Educator (RSME) and Registered Somatic Movement Therapist (RSMT), ISMETA, 2009.
- Spiritual Ministry Ordination with Rev. Ron Roth, Full Life Fellowship, 2002.
- Certified Coming of Age Educator, Menstrual Health Foundation and Institute for Renewal of Modern Culture, 1997.
- Certified Pre & Perinatal Fitness Educator, Women’s Health Fitness, DPT™, 1995.
- Certified Movement Educator / First Generation Teacher of Gabrielle Roth’s 5Rhythms®, 1992.
Expertise and Areas of Interest
- Somatic Education
- Rites of Passage
- Peace Leadership from the Soma, to the Soul, to Service
- Youth and Human Development
- Global Woman’s Life Cycles, Transitions, and Creative Power
- Universal Languages of Dance, Music, Writing, and Theater
- Spirituality in Education
Founder and Director of Educational Programming, Golden Bridge, 501c-3, 2006–Present and Melissa Michaels Movement, LLC. Boulder, CO, 1990–Present.
- Developed and taught Body Centered Life Cycles Training for educators, therapists youth workers, parents, and spiritual leaders. Certifying first Generation of SomaSource® Life Cycle Practitioners, 2017.
- Produced Surfing The Creative® Film Short (Golden Bridge Presents: Surfing The Creative Film Short).
- Co-Produced Youth, Truth & Talent Film Short (Golden Bridge Presents: Youth, Truth & Talent Film Short).
- Co-Produced Pictures of the Possible Film Shorts (Pictures of the Possible Videos).
- Developed and taught SomaSource® body-centered transformational programs to thousands of people in numerous life cycles, including pregnant and post-partum families, children K–12, youth leaders in their 20’s, and adults into old age.
- Conducted SomaSource® Foundational Trainings ~ Year-long programs, After-school programs, Summer intensives.
- Developed and taught Shakti Sisterhood programs empowering hundreds of diverse women around the world throughout the life cycle.
- Developed and taught Positive Choices programs for middle and high schools.
- Produced Music CD and Experiential Video/DVD for families in the birthing cycle of life: Dance of Birth™.
- Designed and led student exchange programs taking American students to New Zealand, South India, and South Africa.
- Designed and implemented Surfing The Creative® International Rites of Passage Program – Conducted over 25 times, 1 year, 5 week, and 2 week intensives.
- Recruited, taught, and mentored hundreds of youth from 20+ countries.
- Mentored and collaborated with 200+ faculty, including somatic educators and therapists, peace leaders, youth leaders, and related professionals.
- Directed youth performances focused on the arts, community and healing.
- Conducted Movement Masses in four countries for thousands of people.
Additional Public Presentations Conducted
SomaSource® Body/Spirit/Human Development Presentations and Workshops
- Interfaith Conference: Coming Together through Contemplative Practices and Dialogue 2017: Colorado College.
- United Nations Youth Assembly 2014: Keynote Youth, Truth & Action. (Video: Melissa Michaels Presenting at the United Nations )
- Universities including: Colorado College, Fielding Graduate University, Naropa University, Pitzer, University of Beijing, and Prescott College.
- Trainings with Diverse Women, Youth, & Educators: South Africa, Madagascar, Kenya, New Zealand, South India, and Uganda.
- CIYOTA Conference with Hutu and Tutsi Refugees Building a Peace Movement Pan-Africa: Uganda.
- Emerging Women: Changing the World through Feminine Leadership and Entrepreneurship: Movement Mass~ Boulder, Colorado, 2013.
- NROPI Youth and Community Building Conference: Creative Process and Rites of Passage ~ Baltimore, Maryland, 2013.
- IgniteGood Huffington Post Initiative for Millennial Entrepreneurs: Movement Leadership ~ New York City, New York, 2013.
- Body Mind Centering Annual Conference: Threshold Dancing ~ Boulder, Colorado, 2013.
- Unites States Association for Body Psychology Annual Conference: Threshold Dancing ~ Boulder, Colorado, 2012.
- Fielding Graduate University: Embodied Leadership Workshop ~ Alexandria, Washington, 2012.
- Courageous Women, Fearless Women Retreat for Women Touched by Cancer ~ Shambhala Mountain Center, Colorado, 2011 & 2012.
- Life and Death Matters: The Dance of Life ~ Boulder, Colorado, 2011.
- Naropa University: Pathways Towards Peace ~ Boulder, Colorado, 2012, 2011, 2006, 2005.
- The Erotic: Exploring Critical Issues ~ Salzburg, Austria, 2009.
- Tui Community ~ Aotearoa, New Zealand, 2009, 2005, and 2004.
- Prescott College: Master’s Colloquium & Expressive Arts Therapy Institute ~ Prescott, Arizona, 2008, 2009.
- Peace Jam: A Call to Action ~ Denver, CO, 2009.
- Aotearoa and Australian Creative and Art Therapy Associations: Arts Therapy Symposium ~ Auckland, New Zealand, 2008
- Institute of Noetic Sciences: AUM Conference ~ San Rafael, CA, 2007.
- California School of Integral Studies ~ San Francisco, CA, 2007.
- Auroville Community ~ Tamil Nadu, South India,
- Whole Family, Whole Child Conference ~ Fair Oaks, CA (Keynote), 2004.
- Passageways Institute ~ Boulder, CO, 2002.
- Dance Therapy Association ~ Denver, CO, 2002.
- Colorado School Mediation Project: Peace Leadership Conference ~ Denver, CO, 2002, 2001.
- Women’s Theological Center ~ Boston, MA, 2001.
- Safehouse: Art Triumphs Over Domestic Violence ~ Boulder, CO, 2001.
- Girl Scouts of America ~ Boulder, CO, 2001.
- Spirit and Action: International Youth Conference ~ Santa Cruz, CA, 1999.
- Association of Pre and Perinatal Congress ~ San Francisco, CA, 1999, 1997.
- Colorado Dance Festival ~ Boulder, CO, 1999.
- Shining Mountain Waldorf School ~ Boulder, CO, 2000, 1998, 1997.
- Co-Founder, Global Passageways: Coming of Age in the 21st Century ~ 2008.
- Director, After School Program, Friends School ~ Boulder, CO, 1991–1992.
- Director, Small World Summer Camps ~ Boulder, CO, 1989, 1988.
- Administrative Assistant, Creative Arts and Photography Company ~ Boulder, CO, 1984 – 1988.
- Research Assistant, Dr. Elise Boulding, University of Colorado ~ Boulder, CO, 1985–1986.
- eTown eChievement Award, 2016.
- Fielding Graduate University Fellowship in Social Innovation, 2013/2014.
- Colorado Dance Alliance: Service to the Field Award, 2006.
- Colorado School Mediation Project: Peacebuilder of the Year Nominee, 2001.
- University of Colorado: Dana Giffen Soper Memorial Scholarship Award, 1982.
Associations, Memberships, and Affiliations
- Auroville International, USA
- American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (AAHPERD)
- American Counseling Association (ACA)
- Celebrating Life Ministries
- Colorado Association of Psychotherapists (CAP)
- Dance and The Child International (daCi)
- International Expressive Arts Therapy Association (IEATA)
- International Somatic Movement and Therapy Association (ISMETA)
- National Dance Education Organization (NDEO)
- National Rites of Passage Institute (NROPI): Strategic Partner
- StarHouse ~ All Seasons Chalice (ASC)
- United States Association for Body Psychotherapy (USABP)
Educational Publications and Creative Products
- Book, “Youth On Fire: Birthing a Generation of Embodied Global Leaders,” Golden Bridge Press, Boulder, CO. 2017. Youth On Fire
- CD, “IGNITE, A Moving Rites of Passage Journey,” Co-created by Melissa Michaels & the Golden Bridge Rhythm Keepers, 2016.
- Article, “Birthing Embodied Global Leaders,” in Conscious Dancer Magazine. Winter 2013.
- Paper, “Youth: Self, Sex, and Spirit,” in The Erotic: Exploring Critical Issues, Inter–Disciplinary.Net, 2009.
- Chapter, “Dancing For Our Lives,” in Finding the Flow: True Stories of Finding Strength and Healing Through Adversity, New Page, Ltd., New Zealand, 2006.
- Interview in Diamonds, Pearl & Stones: Jewels of Wisdom for Young Women from Extraordinary Women of the World, Health Communications, Inc., 2004.
- Article, “Navigating The Edge From Center: International Youth Work,” in Evolve, Auroville International, Winter 2003/2004.
- Article, “Surfing The Creative Edge with Youth,” in Wild Heart Journal: Art, Creativity & Spiritual Life. Volume 6, Issue 2, 2003.
- Video, “The Dance of Birth, An Invitation to Move with Melissa Michaels & Friends,” Wild Life Productions, LLC., 1999.
- CD, “Birth, A Moving Journey From the Longing of the Spirit to the Ecstasy of the Ordinary,” Wild Life Productions, LLC., 1997.
Selected Youth Initiatives Mentored
- African Lions: Youth arts program with and for youth living in the townships, Durban, South Africa.
- Mohanam Project: Cultural Center for children in the villages focused on the interface between traditional and modern, Kottakarai, South India.
- Women’s Fertility Educational Programs: Providing youth and adults information about their creative cycles, healthy sexual practices, and self-care in general, Boulder, Colorado.
- Voice Of Youth: International Music and Arts Tour bringing the sounds and practices of positive creative expression to youth across the globe, India and New Zealand.
- Positive Hip Hop: Positive Youth Development: Self-discovery and empowerment groups and classes serving young women from diverse cultures, Boulder, Colorado.
- The Hermanito Project: A project to raise funds for and awareness about the needs of at-risk Latino young men, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
- I adore tending to my 2 daughters ~ one in a doctoral program in Clinical Psychology and one a bilingual Social Worker serving in Puerto Rico ~ as well as the two other young people I have adopted, my 3 step-children, my 7 grandchildren, and all of their contemporaries.
- I am committed to bringing people together for body-centered transformational experiences and dialogues from diverse cultures, ages, classes, races, tribes, religions, and countries.
- I am a dancer, trained in the 5Rhythms®, Pilates, Mime, Eurythmy, Yoga, Tai Chi, African Dance, Sacred Dance, and Ritual Theatre.
- Professional and Personal References are available upon request.
An Article about Melissa
An article about Melissa
Youth Development-Celebrating the sacred dance of body and heart
By Christina Eisert
Boulder Weekly, June 3, 2004
Some people have a natural sexuality. Authentic beauty flows through them effortlessly, around them even. The rest of us can’t help but respond to it.
This kind of power seems to belong on stage, civilization’s longstanding vehicle for transformation. Theatre and dance, at their essence, are sacred. Stage productions make us cry because they ring a bell deep in the darkness where we remember that the ancient origin of comedy and tragedy is ritual. We worship actors and actresses because they have a power flowing through them, a stage presence, if you will, that we respond to. They move us. Technically, they change us.
What if we all could possess this stage presence? And what if we used that power not to transform an audience, but to transform ourselves?
This is the crux of Boulder-based Melissa Michaels’ work, Wild Life Productions. A movement-based educator, Michaels runs rites of passage programs for families and youth. Under her direction, dance is used to process emotions. For Michaels, using the body to work through childhood issues is part of the transition from youth to adulthood. Her local practice draws participants from all over the globe.
Michaels is currently in a doctoral program in education. Working with youth is her main focus, but she also trains adults-usually teachers and therapists-to work in body-centered ways in their own fields.
In her practice Michaels uses dance and movement both as somatic therapy and rite of passage. Her students learn how to process emotions, even the tough ones like trauma and anger, through movement-a process know as movement therapy. The focus is on life transitions: birth, adolescence, adulthood, death. Michaels calls it “threshold work.” “We use the dance to both heal our wounds and also to remember our essential selves, who we really are,” she says.
According to Michaels, our bodies hold our emotions within them. Dance, like theater, can be a vehicle for transformation, to release what the body holds and inspire what the heart will manifest.
“Our trauma and our brilliance are in ourselves, in our bones and our tissues and our organs and our fluids. I think we’ve all seen that just talking about our lives, telling our stories doesn’t necessarily catalyze transformation,” says Michaels.
In other words, telling the same terrible story over and over again may serve only to trigger the body’s memory of the negative event. Michaels suggests slowing down and trying to notice how the story is imprinted in the body rather than getting lost in the story’s text.
“We can begin to unwind the trauma,” she says. But “it really can’t happen just through talking.”
At the present Michaels’ major focus is her International Youth Camp, an intensive five-week program for young people ages 16-28 seeking a rite of passage into adulthood.
Movement and dance are the primary tools, but the experience is nothing like a traditional dance class. Instead, the work focuses on truthful expression.
Students learn to process their childhood, all its triumphs and its traumas, by discovering the connection between emotions and the body.
“We give young people the opportunity to renegotiate some of their earlier developmental needs,” says Michaels. “As a culture we’re having a hard time navigating and completing our adolescence.”
Young people are the re-inventors of culture, and Michaels’ effectiveness with youth might stem from her use of their own cultural inventions. Hip-hop and dance hall music and movement play a large part in her classes, alongside world music, live drumming and even silence. Ever returning to the threshold, Michaels says, “I feel like I’m re-enlivening something that is very traditional, yet in a strongly contemporary way.”
Working within the framework of youth culture helps Michaels create a level of emotional safety for her students. She wants people to feel good in their bodies. But often Michaels finds herself serving young people caught up in cycles of behavior that if unchecked could destroy their bodies. They come to Michaels to heal.
“A lot of young people come in with addictive behaviors. Whether it’s lying or doing heavy-duty drugs or being promiscuous or whatever. Most have been depressed or had some kind of habit going on,” she says. But this is where Michaels says change occurs most profoundly.
Dance and movement heal by letting the emotions be expressed through the body, she says. A certain honesty emerges. According to Michaels, it is harder to poison a body that has learned to feel its own heart.
As students’ work in the group progresses and their bodies become more limber and less self-conscious, emotions are released in waves of laughter, fits of anger, shouts of inner pain and gratitude. A certain intimacy develops.
Community is central to Michael’s’ work. The dancing is intimate, yet a class can have 40 people or more spontaneously moving together in relative harmony. Learning to respond to the emotional needs of others is part of the process. Michaels says healing comes from both the self and from the connection developed within the group as a whole.
Healing happens, she says, “through the strong, loving, integral community of young people around each other, and also through the presence of an elder community that’s really dedicated to these kids.”
Michaels considers modern adolescence to be seriously lacking in substance and guidance. Her youth camp is designed to bridge the gap between youth and adulthood through dance with the direction of a group of elders who themselves have completed an apprenticeship program. Young people become accountable to themselves, to each other and to this group of mentors. From this fertile medium, transformation begins. Dance becomes the journey, the ritual, the rite of passage.
“Throughout time there was a marking of the end of childhood and the journey into adulthood. The elders took the young people through some sort of initiatory process, along with teaching them the skill they needed in order to navigate,” Michaels says. “We do that in a pretty haphazard way in our culture.”
Through the youth camp and through her work with adults-including parents and teachers-at different stages of life, Michaels hopes this lost legacy can be restored.
Already her work is having an impact. Many of her students are making their own way in the world now and are incorporating the work into their current projects.
“The people who’ve worked with me are out there doing really interesting multi-cultural work through the body. Working in schools, running programs of all kinds, just doing really interesting things through the body with young people,” says Michaels. “Not just here [in Boulder]. I had a student who just was in India working with village youth. So it’s got its own little wildfire.”
Michaels says the young people she sees getting involved with Wild Life are very serious about making a difference on the planet and in their communities. They may have learned these values from their teacher.
Ever the dancer without an audience, Michaels says, “My deeper commitment is not to a beautiful dance form, but to keep humanity alive and mobilized.”
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