Miral Kotb is something of a wunderkind.  A graduate of Columbia University, she’s been writing software since age 9 and dancing since she could walk.
She’s also the creator of iLuminate, a group of futuristic glow suit dancers that appeared on season 6 of America’s Got Talent (they finished 3rd)

Screen shot 2011-07-06 at 6.38.40 PMImage via NBC

and an act that is taking the world by storm.  DeFY New York caught up with Miral to talk life, dance and iLuminate.

DeFY:  Hi Miral, thanks for sitting down with DeFY New York. A computer science degree from Columbia while simultaneously pursuing a professional dance career, where did you find the time?!

Miral: Keeping busy and being productive is a part of who I am. While studying computer science at Columbia, I danced each day, both at Barnard College, and in New York City. I also choreographed and performed for a student group at Columbia. Dance was the emotional and physical outlet and computer science was a way to busy my inquisitive mind. Having these two loves helps keep me balanced and excel at each field individually.

DeFY:  How old were you when you decided to turn your idea for iLuminate into a reality?

Miral: After college graduation, and working at Bloomberg for 6 years, I decided to go the freelance route as a software engineer. I started working for different companies writing iPhone applications, and while attending an Apple conference, the initial idea behind iLuminate emerged: the ability to wirelessly control lights on dancers’ bodies from the palm of your hand. When producers from “America’s Got Talent” came calling, the iLuminate technology had already been used by artists such as Chris Brown, Christina Aguilera, and The Black Eyed Peas. In the summer of 2011, America chose the dance-in-the-dark sensation as one of the top finalists on the show. Since then, iLuminate’s unprecedented technology, programming and artistic direction have catapulted the show into a phenomenon that mesmerizes audiences across the globe.

DeFY: What did your friends and family think about your idea for iLuminate? Were they supportive from the beginning?

Miral: I come from a family of entrepreneurs so they were very supportive. My parents opened Mediterraneo Market and Café, a restaurant in Houston where Mom is the chef and my Father is the manager. Also, recently, my sister opened up Mina’s Miami, a more contemporary version of the original restaurant. So, an entrepreneurial spirit is in our blood. I grew up seeing how hard my parents worked each day to see their dreams come true, while maintaining a life-love balance.

DeFY: Take me back to the first time iLuminate performed and your idea came to fruition. What was the venue? Did things go smoothly? What was running through your mind?

Miral: The first time iLuminate performed in a major public venue was at the MTV Video Music Awards, with Christina Aguilera and her backup dancers. I was incredibly nervous because it was live TV. It worked, but my nerves really got the best of me. I have learned to relax more at shows since then.

DeFY: You describe the show as a comic book brought to light. Did/do you collect comics and if so did that inspire the show?

Miral: I actually never collected comic books. But I did like to draw when I was young. And I especially liked painting.

DeFY:  I understand there have been some wild requests for the suits to be used in shows across the country. How do you make sure that the suits will be safe and what are some of the more unique requests?

Miral: There have definitely been quite a few unique requests to borrow the iLuminate suits. We can appreciate that so many groups want to be a part of the iLuminate movement, however we just use our best judgment to see which requests we can accommodate. Also, we always make sure we have one of our well trained technicians at a show to oversee the ‘use’.

DeFY: At the age of 21 you were diagnosed with cancer and that put your love of dancing on hiatus. How did you stay positive during that time?

Miral: It was the love and support of my family, friends and boyfriend that got me through the surgeries and treatments. I also kept my thoughts positive and did not let my faith waiver.


DeFY: I caught the Off Broadway show and enjoyed every moment. How long will people have the opportunity to get to NYC to experience iLuminate live? Are there plans to take the show on tour?

Miral: New Yorkers will be able to enjoy the show through January 18 and then iLuminate will tour throughout the US, Europe, South America and Asia.

DeFY: While watching the show I couldn’t help but think about Afrika Bambaataa and Soul Sonic Force’s Planet Rock video and how well iLuminate meshes with break dancing. Do you or any of the dancers have any affiliations with any break dancing crews?

Miral: One of the original dancers for iLuminate is Flip “Ivan” Velez, who is huge in the break dancing scene. And we constantly hire break dancers each year for both our Off-Broadway show and industrials we do across the country and world.

DeFY: Lets talk footwear. Are there any particular brands or sneaker model you prefer dancing in?

Miral: I am a contemporary dancer, so I usually go for jazz sneakers by Capezio. But I know that various cast members like Nike Dunks, Adidas Boots and PUMA.

DeFY: Speaking of break dancing crews and sneakers, Adidas and PUMA were (and to some degree still are) big in the b-boy scene (PUMA sponsored one of the most iconic break dancing films Beat Street). Have any of these brands approached you for sponsorship and would you be open to a product collaboration with either of the brands? An iLuminate PUMA suede perhaps?

Miral: iLuminate has been approached for various sponsorship opportunities in the past. The group is always open to new ways to collaborate.

DeFY: Your favorite time period for music? (80’s, 90’s, etc.)

Miral: All…. I really can’t narrow it down.

DeFY: You’ve worked with artists such as Chris Brown and Black Eyed Peas, who would you like to work with in the near future?

Miral: Pharrell

DeFY: Where can everyone go to follow all your projects and all things iLuminate?

Miral: We have a show in New York City playing now through January 18th, 2015. We plan to take this show on the road internationally in 2015 with Paris as the first stop.
To buy tickets and keep up with iLuminate visit: iLuminate.com
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