Dancing from LA to TN
Mileles bring their love for dance back home
When you grow up in a small town, it’s hard to dream big. Your vision can be tunneled and sectioned off, and all you can see is what that small town in Tennessee wants you to see. Your biggest dreams can be reduced to simply making ends meet while you pack away all childhood hopes of becoming a rock star. Or an actress. Or a professional dancer.
Meet Justin and Marissa Milele. Wilson County natives, Mount Juliet High School alumnus and living proof that it does not matter where you come from or what obstacles stand in your way, but that hard work and putting your mind to something is a lot of what it takes to make your dreams a reality.
Just like their parents, Mark and Jamie Milele, the siblings had the perfect Southern small-town life. Their parents were high school sweethearts before they settled down in the same town they met, their son was the hometown football star and their daughter happily cheered on the sidelines. William Faulkner would have been proud.
But small-town life isn’t for everyone, and at a young age, you could see that it wasn’t enough for the Milele siblings. So they threw themselves into what they loved doing — dance — and they worked, strived and accomplished turning what they loved into a career.
And now, at the ripe young ages of 22 and 24, with roughly 15-plus dance credits in music videos under their belts, a position on Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass” tour, multiple guest spots on the show “Nashville,” a “So You Think You Can Dance” season and 70-city tour, a highlighted position in Ricky Martin’s current Vegas residency and faculty memberships with Revel Dance Convention, the Milele siblings have made it a mission to share their message of hard work and passion, along with all of the lessons they have learned in their respective careers, with the young dancers in the greater Nashville area.
Established in 2016, the Milele siblings, along with their parents, founded and created their own dance studio, appropriately named the Milele Academy. They have only been in the competitive dance circuit for a year now, but in that year, they have won countless titles — both nationally and at state level, more than 17 choreography awards and scholarships and major recognition from the dance community as a whole.
With the academy’s motto of, “Bringing LA to Nashville,” it is the Milele’s hope to bring all of their industry knowledge and talent to the local youth who are passionate about dance.
“I like to think that we can inspire young dreamers to do what makes them happy and to work hard to make it happen,” Marissa says. “Teaching has always been a passion of mine, and I feel I’m able to inspire young kids — especially in a small town — that you can do what you love for a career.”
Giving their dancers a competitive edge is what draws most students to the academy. Not only because both Justin and Marissa are established names with well-established careers in the industry, but because both Marissa and Justin are still incredibly involved in it.
The pair are constantly working toward their dreams, auditioning and training, with no signs of them slowing down anytime soon. They are constantly traveling all across the United States — sometimes together, sometimes solo — to set choreography for other studios, participate in the Revel Dance Convention as faculty, and take professional jobs — most recently with Marissa being a featured dancer performing beside Demi Lovato on “Good Morning America” — all with the promise to bring their lessons back home to their dancers.
It should be noted that while Marissa and Justin are absent, the learning, training and growth for the students is not put on pause for even a second. Their parents, Jamie and Mark, step up to the plate to tie off any loose ends while a scheduled round of professional dancers, choreographers, Tennessee Titans Cheerleaders, members of the Nashville Ballet, additional contestants from “So You Think You Can Dance,” personal trainers, motivators, up and coming performers such as Bobby Newberry and talent agents from Bloc Talent Agency visit the academy to coach, prepare and counsel the students for their future careers.
This type of training is completely new for most people in the area. While there are students in the academy who view dance as a hobby and there are classes associated with it, the main purpose of the academy is to give the students the foundation for success in what they love doing.
But even with all of this success with the academy in its first year, owning and establishing their own business wasn’t always on the Milele sibling’s radar. Understandably, this wasn’t their original goal.
Justin had plans to take his love for football to the college level, while Marissa wanted to focus on her own career as a professional dancer. But flexibility and answering the door when opportunity knocks is one of many lessons the Milele siblings pride themselves in.
“I had thought I was going to head to college first and play football, but then I decided at 19 that I would use my dance training to pursue what I felt I needed to do,” Justin says. “We knew we wanted to do something good for the community, and of course, once we started the academy and saw that our vision was working, it became an even bigger dream to help so many dancers pursue their own dreams.”
“It has meant absolutely everything to me to see young dancers gaining confidence,” Marissa adds. “I used to struggle a little with being myself, but in time, I’ve learned to become who I want to be. So when I see so many of our dancers come into themselves and believe that they have accomplished something, it is truly life-changing.”
Most of Milele Academy’s classes are held in and around the Nashville area, with a permanent dance studio soon to be located downtown on Church St. currently in the works. But wherever these young dancers are training, there is no denying the magic and growth that is taking place in each and every class.
And if there is any singular lesson that comes out of the Milele Academy, it’s that dreams are not indigenous to any location. They are no longer secluded to only New York City and Los Angeles. You can start anywhere, even in a small area like Wilson County. You can make a difference anywhere, even if it is only within yourself. And that is enough.
Milele Academy is located at 805 Woodland St. in Nashville. For more information, visit Mileleacademy.com.
Written By Isabella Roy