Mayu, how old were you when you took your first ballet class? Who introduced you to it?
When I was 3 years old, a friend of my mother was taking her daughter to a dance school and decided to bring along my sister and me for the class. That’s when I first fell in love with dancing. When I was 7, I asked my mother to take me to a ballet class because I wanted to wear pointe shoes for the first time.
What’s your advice to a kid who’s dream is to become a ballerina one day?
Make sure you follow your dream step-by-step and at own pace. It’s important to enjoy the journey and do your best every time you dance and train.
What’s your advice to the parents? How can they help/motivate kids to study ballet?
I don’t think a parent or teacher can actually give a dancer motivation. The passion has to come from the dancer herself. I couldn’t become a professional dancer without my family’s support but my parents never forced to me to became a ballerina. I knew the path I wanted to follow and what I wanted to become. My parents helped me most by encouraging me to focus on dance and by being genuinely supportive of my goals.
What would you recommend to a much younger you when you just started?
Make sure that you enjoy dance and build confidence. Use dance to show and express who you are, and know why it is that you are dancing.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Japan.
Did you immediately feel passionate about it?
Yes, I immediately loved dance.
How did your first teacher work with you? What are some aspects of the teaching approach that stand out in your memory?
My first ballet class ever took place in my hometown, Kanagawa, a suburb of Tokyo. So my first teacher ever was a Japanese ballet instructor. I remember that she loved the dancer Alessandra Ferri and also loved the Royal Ballet, which performs in London. She taught me the basics of foot technique, which to this day is one of my strengths as a dancer. When I was younger, I was always dreaming about joining a European ballet company, which is a habit that I attribute to her influence.
At what age did you realize ballet was what you wanted to do with your life?
When I was around 10 years old I started to seriously think I could become a professional.
Becoming a successful ballerina takes lots of hard work starting at a very early age. What qualities do you think are required to be in this industry?
I think it’s important that your connection to dance goes beyond love. If you want to be a successful ballerina, dance should be an actual need, something you can’t live without. After that, it’s important for a ballerina to have both perseverance and persistence. A dancer will also prioritize dance in their life, and that decision should feel natural and obvious, not like a sacrifice is being made.
You’ve studied under several ballet teachers throughout your life. Take us on a brief history of your different studios/where they were/how old you were/etc?
I was born in Japan and have studied and performed dance internationally. The first professional schools I enrolled in were the A.M. Student School (The Maki Asami Ballet, Honor Student Class) and The School of The Tokyo Ballet (Professional Division) in Japan. Later, I decided to travel to France by myself to further my dance education. I was lucky enough to receive full scholarships from the Conservatoire Supérieur de Paris and the Conservatoire National Supérieur Musique et Danse de Lyon. I graduated from both and I was privileged to receive a diploma of “national highest study” in choreography (CES and DNESS) from the Conservatory in Lyon. I also trained at Victor Ullate in Spain and the famous Alvin Ailey School in New York. I’ve had a lot of wonderful ballet instructors in my life, including the head teachers and principal dancers of the Tokyo Ballet, the Opera National de Paris,the Bolshoi Ballet, the Bejart Ballet, and the New York City Ballet.
How did you put your anxiety aside and embrace the role when you perform on stage in front of hundreds of spectators?
When I take the stage, I close my eyes and I take a deep breath to stay focused and confident. But practice is the only thing that really lessens my stage fright.
Who is your favorite artist(s)? What are some things that have influenced your work?
Rudolf Nureyev, Noëlla Pontois, Sylvie Guillem, and Maurice Béjart have been major influences whose works opened me up to a new world of dance, beyond everything I had learned about ballet when in Japan.
What was the most memorable concert you have performed so far?
Once a year, I perform the Nutcracker at Children’s Hospital for the sick kids who are not able to visit the theater.
How often do you practice?
Typically my weekday officially starts with a company ballet class from 10:00 am to 11:30am, but I also take time to stretch and warm up before and after class. After class, I usually rehearse until 5pm. Sometimes I have additional night rehearsals from 6pm to 9pm, and on weekends for a couple hours. Also, I have to continue practicing my technique, so I often take extra classes after rehearsals or during my days off. I also train at the gym and work with a personal trainer once a week to stay strong.
What inspires and motivates you?
Viewing the work of other artists is always inspiring.
What do you do or work toward in your free time?
I love watching and supporting fellow dancers. I can watch dance forever! I also love visiting art museums and watching movies, tennis, and professional basketball.
We’d like to recommend few books:
Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina
Determination meets dance in this memoir by the history-making ballerina, Misty Copeland. The story of her journey to become the first African-American principal ballerina at the prestigious American Ballet Theatre.
Apollo’s Angels: A History of Ballet
Jennifer Homans, a historian, critic, and former professional ballerina, wields a knowledge of dance born of dedicated practice.