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February 2004
Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights: An Interview with Mya

Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights: An Interview with Mya

It seems like most of the latest talent in the Hollywood industry when it comes to African Americans are either music video directors like Paul Hunter and Billie Woodruff or singers and rappers like Missy Elliot. Unlike most of her colleagues in the music industry, singer Mya is taking a different approach to get in the game. Rather than act her way in, she's doing what her she does best, and that is sing. Although she's been featured on many soundtracks like Moulin Rouge and Rugrats, her first appearance on screen came in the Oscar winning film Chicago, singing the Cell Block tango song. She shared SAG award the cast for Best Ensemble. Her singing has led her to be featured in another film, Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights, where she plays Lola Martinez. In speaking with blackfilm.com, Mya talks about her part in the film and how she remembers the original film.

How did you first come onto this project?

MYA: No. No, [it was] through Harvey Weinstein, that's actually the case. I worked with him for the first time on "Chicago" and he invited me to come to Puerto Rico to be a part of this movie and it was very simple. It would only require a few days to one week on my part.

Was he there?

MYA: Well, his son was, I think from J Records, Head of, actually, Miramax Music Division. I'm also in the soundtrack as well. And that's how I got involved.

Were you a fan of Latin music and this kind of rhythm?

MYA: Yeah, the rhythms and the dance itself. I grew up dancing. When I was three years old, my mom would always watch Latin ballroom dancing competitions on PBS. She has tapes and archives of them, so I'm very familiar with that. As for musical artists, I don't have a wide collection and I'm just starting to get that together.

You were on the Carson Daly roast and you were dancing all around the stage. You could've been on the show "Chicago" because of the scene with the chair there. Are you thinking about going the theater route?

MYA: Oh definitely. That's actually the first thing I was going to pursue before I got my record deal. When I was 16, I auditioned for the play, "Black and Blue," here in New York and when I was 15, that was for the European tour. I got the part and didn't go. They weren't going to provide a tutor and I'm not going to go into the rest. (Laughs) But yeah, my father enforced that I finished school and that a parent would be on the road as well. So I didn't do that. But I'm a tap dancer originally. That's my forte. But Broadway's definitely something in my future.

So besides singing, do you have any aspirations for acting?

MYA: I would have never thought that when I was a little girl, because I was very reserved, very shy, just like my mom. It's another form of expression. I think just being on stage and being able to improvise anything. If you're mature, you don't express yourself in many other ways, and I think acting can be the most vulnerable, the most open, and you're not criticized for that. People know that it's a character you're acting. Whereas in singing, you're Mya, and there's a separation between personal and what's going to get you over the top, whether it's controversy or sharing your relationships or your breast, in public. (She laughs.) So it's hard to separate when you have the same name as your birth name. So yeah, definitely acting; I like the art form. It's very therapeutic and it's magical. I think actors, athletes, and anyone who's a public speaker is very amazing or fascinating to me.

Were you a fan of the first film?

MYA: Yeah, I was. Jennifer Grey and the dancing in general. I think the whole theme. I was a little girl, very young then, so I didn't watch it around mommy just because of the title.

Were you thrilled when you saw Patrick Swayze?

MYA: Yeah, he looks good in the movie. He was well with the ladies. He did have a stereotype about him with the opposite family in the movie and the approval. I know how that is. My father was sort of overprotective and wanted the best for his little girl, so I definitely related [to him.] There's a lot of lessons in that movie even though it's dance-based.

Are you getting a video out of this?

MYA: I'm not exactly sure. It's been talked about.

Could you see yourself starring in a film like this?

MYA: I definitely could. Definitely as a dancer but I think, if I were in her shoes, I'd have to learn how to "undance". You know? She's sort of discovers dance in Cuba and achieves it, and she's not supposed to know how to dance.

You said your father's very overprotective÷

MYA: He was, not anymore.

He better not be or else he'd have a heart attack, cause when you're on stage, you just let it on÷

MYA: Oh you know what? My father's an entertainer himself so he knows about stage but he also knows about living under his own roof. (Laughs) Those are two different things. He understands everything about entertainment.

Well when you're on stage or in your videos, you're a very glamorous and sexy woman. But when you get off stage, are you very quiet?

MYA: I'm very reserved when I get off stage. Stage is the forum where I can be what I want to be, say what I want to say and realize at the same time that things do have an impact and consequences. It's sort of character like even though I'm "Mya" and I am myself. It's like acting and it's great to be a woman and celebrate life on stage. That's what it's all about, and bringing people together whether it's singing very youthful lyrics, or singing lyrics that aren't very meaningful. Lots of people relate to it and it's just a moment of escape. That's how I look at it.

When you watch the film, does it seem different from how it was when you were there?

MYA: Well, I want to go to Cuba after this. I definitely want to take a vacation there, that's how it makes me feel. (Laughs) I want to be in warm weather and I also like to experience moments like that, where I go to another country and find something that's been concealed where I'm not necessarily sure with me or my childhood or other people that I take with me. That's what the movie made me think about when I saw it. Just discovering new things and ways of life and really, I think, appreciating culture which I think America tries so hard to find.

You're involved with some programs to help young girls gain self-esteem. Can you explain that what that is?

MYA: Well Secret to Self-Esteem, that's what it's called, and was formed by the Partnership of Women's Health at Columbia University, along with Secret anti-perspirant and basically the program is geared towards developing a healthy self-esteem with tips and let those entail setting goals and standards for one self to find what positive body image for young girls. The program is basically targeted to young girls from ages 11 to 14. There's a symposium that is held each year that includes female athletes, authors, psychologists, entertainers, actresses to speak about their personal experiences with dealing low self-esteem issues as a teen, from adolescence to puberty, through schools, private schools, and different markets or areas of the United States dealing with low self-esteem issues, and trying to define a pinpoint as to why it happens and why the statistic remains, or is discovered, that there is a low self-esteem decrease in young girls at age 12. And me, being part of the entertainment business, when you're trying to be successful and be that sassy woman or what they call a "diva," wearing tight mini-skirts, you kind of contradict yourself from where you come from. You sort of set, or become part of the standard, of what is considered beautiful or successful and that's why I got involved. To sort of offer people the reality of the business, like airbrushing or makeup for three or four hours. The diets, the plastic surgery, and going home at the end of the day, facing low self-esteem issues regardless. That's what we talk about and in trying to develop a healthy self-esteem and trigger what is important for longevity in life versus what makes us feel beautiful at the moment.

Does this bring you back to how you were when you were young?

MYA: Yes, I read from my diary. I was in seventh grade which I still kept. I share it with these girls and they laugh, and we laugh together because it's so silly, you know? The people that were talking about me back then are very insignificant to my life today. [But] they were very significant in that they developed character for me. Things get better and people wonder why Mya was never teased. But three or four hours of hair and makeup, wardrobe and style, etc.. So much is focused on the physical or outer-being that when we base our lives around that, what's left? So I do read from my diary to show the girls that things change and get better. Treat others how you want to be treated and that you're probably going to have self-esteem when you turn on the TV, or open up a magazine, or watch music videos regardless. So that's not how real people live. We are processed commodities who try to maintain a bit of reality as much as we can. That's reality.

What other music do you listen to besides your own?

MYA: I listen to a lot of stuff I hadn't gotten a chance to listen to when I was younger. I didn't really know much about O'Brien or the Ohio Players, or Sly and the Family Stones. Nina Simone, I was just introduced to. The reggae or dance hall world wasn't really a part of my life. I It was always the 70s funk because of my dad and the music that he did. Rick James and Prince. So anything I can get my hands on for that matter.

The press makes it seem like people like Janet Jackson and Madonna are desperate to reinvent themselves to get more publicity. Do you learn from other people's mistakes or desires? Do you think that far in the future how you're going to handle your career?

MYA: I do. I think about it everyday. I'm faced with the fact that I can be very popular tomorrow if I go get married. And it's not that serious to me and I publicize it. I can also sell lots of records and be this superstar, what they call today, if I make it on the cover of a magazine. But what's to sort of prevent me from doing those things, which is not to say that I won't (laughs), I don't know what triggers people because I have never really been in their shoes before. Sometimes it's about artistic or personal freedom. I have experienced that kind of freedom yet. But what I think keeps me in check or prevents me from making those moves because I'm happy with happy with having a mediocre career, if that's what people want to call it based on record sales and figures, or if I'm number one on Billboard charts or on the cover of magazines. I know that does not justify my artistic capabilities or it won't jeopardize a Broadway show of mine if I choose not to do it. So I see other things in my future and I think, when you know your values, or your goals, you don't have to succumb or surrender to those things. I'm O.K. having a comfortable life. I don't have to live in a mansion and drive Aston Martins or Ferraris.

What do you think about the Superbowl controversy? Do you think the FCC will limit artistic freedoms of artists when it comes to music videos?

MYA: Yeah, I think primetime television is different from MTV. Had it been on MTV, O.K. it would have been mediocre. Something expected. Something to talk about briefly but it wouldn't have been a big fiasco. It would have been the norm. It would have definitely been talked about but not as negatively without repercussions that Janet is facing now. In that sense, the general public is more aware of what artists do to sometimes bring about the talk, which we as people, love or we buy into. I'm going to name an artist, which I normally don't do normally, but there's a certain point where artists don't have to surrender to that. In certain instances, when artists have great talent, like Christina Aguilera, there's a balance. We criticize her for that because she doesn't have to do it. Yes, we know that, however people are talking about it and now she's known, and now she's on the cover of every magazine, and now she's following it up with a very meaningful, in-depth single afterwards. Sometimes, I think with the way the music industry is these days, you sort of have to do something to get that attention if you want those record sales. You have to determine what you want and what you're willing to sacrifice for yourself and your soul. That's all. If you're O.K. with it and the end of the day, then be you.

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