Two years ago, dance fitness legend Gandalf Archer Mills cut out alcohol and says it totally changed his life. Should you do the same? Or at least consider a dry month to kickstart 2021? Gandalf shares his experiences with alcohol and sobriety in this candid interview.

For Gandalf Archer Mills, standing center stage and leading hundreds though an insane BODYJAM™ workout comes naturally. Talking about his relationship with alcohol, not so much. He says that cutting alcohol from his life was a very personal decision and something that until now he’s kept close to family and loved ones. But he’s really proud of the changes he’s made, so he’s ready to open up, share his learnings, and inspire others.

SARAH SHORTT: You’ve been sober for almost two years now. Why did you stop drinking?

GANDALF ARCHER MILLS: For most of my adult life, since maybe my early 20s, I had regularly consumed alcohol. And, over the years, it went from being a weekly occurrence to daily.

I would have one drink in the afternoon and that was it, or I might end up having five drinks in a day, then do it again a couple of times a week. And what I’ve realized since then was that a constant daily intake of alcohol was making me feel super crap, a lot of the time.

Last year, early 2019, I was tired, all of the time. I would wake up feeling tired, so inhale four or five black coffees. I’d feel better, so I’d smash out a workout and I’d feel better again. But every day, about 2pm, I'd start feeling tired again.

I was teaching overseas and I got sick – not alcohol related – and so I didn't drink for a few days. As the sickness decreased, I thought I’d try not drinking at all for a while. At the time, I wasn’t thinking that alcohol was gone from my life forever. It was more like, I want to see what happens if I don’t drink at all.

In a very short time I was in a much healthier, happier place.

What was the first thing that changed when you stopped drinking?

After maybe two weeks of not drinking, I started to sleep so much better. I would actually fall asleep within five minutes of getting into bed and I was sleeping straight through for seven hours, which felt amazing. It was a different kind of sleep – one I hadn’t experienced for a long time. Before that, I would always wake up for at least an hour every night around 1 or 2am.

I started to sleep so much better ... I was sleeping straight through for seven hours, which felt amazing.

How did not drinking affect your health?

Within a month, I noticed how much better I felt, how much healthier – which never happened when I consumed alcohol every day. I was like, wow this was the best decision ever, I love this. I’m just going to do this forever now.

Did you find it hard to quit?

Honestly, no not really. I felt so much better, so fast, that it was easy to just stick with it.

I grew up in suburban Auckland, so like a lot of people there was alcohol and drug abuse with family and friends. I was surrounded by it. I've seen how substance abuse can negatively affect people's lives for the long term. I suppose I was lucky that it didn’t feel crazy hard for me to make those lifestyle choices. I know that for some people, giving up addiction is huge. It can take years and years, it can be an ongoing battle, and I have mad respect for anyone that does go through that because addiction sucks.

How did you tell people you’d stopped drinking?

Initially, I didn't tell anyone. It was months before I even told my closest friends. It felt like a personal thing – like an experiment where I didn't know what the outcome was going to be. I didn't talk about it because I just didn't really know where it was going or if it was going to last more than three months or six months or a year. I just knew that I really liked it, which made it easier to keep going. When I was two or three months into it, I realized how much I loved not drinking and all of the mental and physical benefits that were showing up. So then, if it came up in a conversation, I'd be like: ‘Yeah, I'm not drinking, I'm just doing this new thing now and I'm really enjoying it.’

I found a lot of people were really surprised when I told them, but the majority were like: ‘Wow that’s so awesome, congrats!’ Some people reacted like I was judging them. I've never passed any judgment on other people’s lifestyle choices. I just said: ‘I’m choosing my own journey and I'm trying my life now without alcohol.’

I started losing weight quite easily and found that, if I did gain a bit of weight I could get back to normal much faster.

What has it been like to socialize without alcohol?

On a night out, and as the night goes on, the music needs to be particularly good for me to continue enjoying myself. But mostly I enjoy causing chaos with my wife – she is a master of mischief at events. I guess, if you’re out with somebody you really like being with, it makes not drinking much easier.

I love waking up in the morning and feeling great. I remember hangovers… man they are the worst. When I was younger they never seemed that bad – or perhaps they were and I just pushed through it. But getting hangovers later in life made me think: ‘What the hell? Why would I do this to myself?’

And 2020, yowzers what a year huh? For myself, this was an excellent time to look at those behaviors and patterns we engage in without really thinking about it. I realized we don’t have to do what we have always done. Now I know that if I’m invited to a party or event and I don’t want to go, I just won’t go. Because maybe, if you feel you need to be drinking to enjoy yourself, then it’s not something you really want to do?

It’s commonly thought that alcohol helps us to relax. How do you relax instead?

I think people feel they need alcohol to relax; that was certainly something I thought. But I learned that I was craving a state change, and so I’ve found other ways to create that change.

I discovered that I love being in peaceful environments, ideally in nature. When I'm traveling (wow remember traveling?!?), I just walk and ride bikes and find really scenic places – and stay the hell away from looking at my phone. I certainly wouldn't call myself proficient at meditation, but I've learned some basic skills and that's helped me find comfort too.

I’ve also got four kids and a big job, so it's really loud in my house all of the time. As soon as it's quiet, I can switch very quickly into a relaxed headspace. Last night, after all the kids had gone to bed, I went downstairs and sat looking into the garden. It was warm and raining – it was divine. I sat there staring at nothing, just being in my own head. That’s what I find most relaxing.

I’m really happy that I no longer have an alcohol habit and I now maintain a lifestyle where I get to choose when I drink – versus it being out of my control.

Would you ever drink again?

I turned forty six months ago and I had a big party. And, if I'm completely honest, it was cool, there were some amazing moments of dancing and laughing, but also I didn't have the best time.

Partly it was because I was trying to organize everything. But I think the other reason was that I did have a few drinks. When everyone arrived they pulled out some whiskey and I was like: ‘Oh, I’ll have some whiskey.’ So I had some whiskey and tequila, which was super fun for a minute. But then, after two hours, I didn't feel in control. And feeling in control of my headspace and environment is one of the things I love most about not drinking.

I’ve also had some red wine a couple of times since then, just because it was ridiculously good wine and I wanted to enjoy the flavor. But even the small amount of alcohol I’ve had in the last six months, I haven’t really enjoyed. It’s just not for me anymore.

I’m really happy that I no longer have an alcohol habit and I now maintain a lifestyle where I get to choose when I drink – versus it being out of my control.

The life that I've been rewarded with by not drinking is far superior to the life I had before where I felt like I needed to have alcohol to enjoy myself, to relax, or to have fun.

So what advice would you give to someone who is considering sobriety?

There are probably lots of people who feel like they could use a month off alcohol. If you feel like that, and this is just my suggestion, how about take a whole year off?!

I was reacting a certain way to alcohol and I decided to remove it from my life and see what would happen. I feel amazing. Now, I like being in my head. I like me. And I like not having to step out of that; I really enjoy my own presence more, being in my own headspace. I love not feeling dulled or foggy, being in a constant daze. The life that I've been rewarded with by not drinking is far superior to the life I had before, where I felt like I needed to have alcohol to enjoy myself, to relax, or to have fun at parties.

Gandalf’s top tip …
If you’re considering cutting out alcohol, listen to your body and take it day-by-day. You don’t have to think of it as a rule etched in stone. Maybe start with less alcohol each week? Or one night off a week? Or, why not, try Dry 2021? It’s your life, you’re in control.

Gandalf Archer Mills is the Les Mills’ BODYJAM Program Director. He’s spent his working life delivering legendary dance workouts – collaborating with some of the world’s best dance talent and unleashing the freshest choreography and music every three months.

Not sure you’re ready to give up completely? Check out this expert advice for smart drinking and how to spot the healthiest alcohol options.

Low-carb beer? Low-sugar wine? A drink a day keeps the doctor away? When it comes to alcohol there is no shortage of advice – so it pays to know the facts.


Will alcohol make you live longer? Probably not, but that doesn't stop the regular headlines suggesting that moderate drinking can enhance your health. Read up about the complicated link between alcohol and your health.


This article was first published in the Les Mills Instructor News