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Brylee Mills: A rare breed

07 Jun 2017
Amputee Brylee Mills talks about dance, photography, and her new passion project - motivational speaking

Talking to professional dancer Brylee Mills is an inspiring experience. At 21 years old, she speaks with confidence and maturity about the lessons learned throughout her extraordinary life.

Losing her arm in a car accident at age 6 hasn’t held Brylee back from anything, navigating ongoing challenges and barriers to pursue her list of “passion projects.” Now based in Auckland, she performs and teaches dance, works at a local gym, runs her own inspirational photography business, and tours New Zealand as a motivational speaker.

Speaking to me from Dunedin, on tour with leadership event ‘National Young Leaders Day’, Brylee described herself as a “rare breed” amongst motivational speakers. Typically she said this domain in New Zealand has fallen firmly in the hands of ex All Blacks, other professional sports people and successful business people, not 21-year-old young women. “I talk about my story and what I’ve learnt from that as a 21 year old, overcoming obstacles so you can do what you want to do.” One of the key elements for Brylee when working towards a specific goal and staying positive she said was surrounding herself with the right people and learning to accept their support.

In 2015 Brylee was accepted into Sydney’s prestigious Brent Street Performing Arts Studio. The only person in her class with a disability, she said, “They didn’t know my story or how to deal with me. It was like a big elephant in the room. It took a long time for it to be talked about in an easy way.”

“I didn’t grow up as a person with a disability. I grew up as just a person. I don’t really identify myself as a disabled person. There’s no denying that I’m different though. People feed off what I say and how I behave. I don’t behave like a disabled person, so people don’t see me as ‘that one-armed girl’, they see me as Brylee.”

Brylee recently finished a show with Trip The Light Dance Collective in Auckland, and reflecting on the experience she wrote in a Facebook post, “To be respected and seen as a dancer and not a dancer with a disability has been empowering over the past few months for me and something that hasn't happened for me before in the NZ dance industry!”

Brylee bubbles with enthusiasm when she talks about her Brent Street experience, “It was such a big year. I loved it. I got to dance every day, it was epic.” Upon returning to New Zealand, paid dancing opportunities were limited though, so entrepreneurial Brylee has developed a portfolio career made up of dancing (when opportunities arise), teaching, photography and motivational speaking, with a side of reception work at a gym during quiet times.

“I reached further than I ever thought I would in dancing. I love dancing and if the opportunity to work as a professional dancer came up, then yes I’d take it. But I’m not going to spend endless amounts of time trying to make it happen. Speaking is my purpose now, it’s what I’m here to do.”

In a spirit aligned with her motivational speaking, where Brylee connects with and inspires school children to channel inner strength to achieve their own personal goals, Brylee’s photography work provides a similar platform to empower young girls, build self-esteem and leadership skills. She runs “Warrior Workshops” for young dancers, where her growing ‘tribe’ of dancers get together for artfully crafted photo shoots, while at the same time skillfully leading topical conversation around issues facing young girls in today’s world.  

Her most recent photo shoot was inspired by geometric lines, where Brylee introduced a conversation about straight lines and angles, which led on to a discussion around perceptions of perfection. “These shoots are so much more than just photos and so much more about empowering our warriors to be inspired to be the best versions of themselves!”

“It’s difficult when the media’s view of perfection and beauty of four-limbed women is so pronounced. It’s challenging sometimes to feel strong and beautiful in that environment.”

When we spoke, Brylee was also in the midst of filming a documentary about her life and journey of self-discovery. The documentary, “Being Me Brylee” will be aired on TV1 on 18 June at 8.30pm. It will also be available on demand via