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Dancing & I – Maria Oka’s Story

Written by Maria Oka

I have been dancing since I was 3. My mother took me to a ballet school because I loved dancing.  As time passed, I started to admire my ballet teacher and the older students and loved watching them dance. They practiced very hard in their lessons and rehearsals. When they’re on stage they’re brilliant, shining, and beautiful, which was enough for me to make my decision that I want to become one of them. Since then, ballet became very special when since I was in preschool.

However, committing to dance became very tough when I started to go to middle school. In a typical Japanese middle school students start the after school activities that are held in the school. They seem enjoyable and I felt myself being attractedTime and time again I wanted to be with them. It’s not only looked fun, but there were also peer pressure that made me think that I wanted to be a part of their friend circle. However, I continued to go to ballet school instead of participating in the after-school programs in my school. 

It was hard to be successful in both attending school and ballet classes/rehearsals. When in school, I was supposed to be studying but all I wanted to do is dance. I wanted to become a professional ballet dancer.  

One day, I won a dance competition and received scholarship to attend the Kirov Academy of Ballet in Washington D.C. That’s where my professional dancing life begun.

I moved to Washington D.C. to attend Kirov Academy of Ballet when I was 17. I was extremely excited to be a full-time student in ballet school. This has always been a dream of mine since I was a child. However, I encountered a more difficult thing than dancing, it was the language. I needed to know the language first before dancing. Since I am an international student, I needed to understand English to stand on the same field with the other students. When the dancing teacher made corrections, students needed to get it right and correct it as soon as possible to get better. They needed to work with teachers which I couldn’t do for a while because of the language barrier. For that reason, my first year of being a ballet student was tough. 

After understanding basic English, I got plenty of opportunities to dance, such as getting leading roles at Joffrey Ballet School and other dancing performance from various events. All of those experiences were amazing and priceless.  After graduated from Joffrey Ballet School, I joined Ajkun Ballet Theater directed by Chiara Ajkun.

When the teacher gave the student the choreographed piece, we need to dance with the feeling of the treasure and pleasure, but still add your own color. the choreographer and a dancer, are one team. 

Speaking of color, it is more complicated when we dance as a solo Corps de Ballet makes different. For Solo if the dancer makes a mistake the choreograph and the audience may not recognize there was a mistake.  Since solo can the role with own color. However, Corps de Ballet, if you made mistakes itis obvious to the audience. Like if my leg is lower than other performers. What you show is beauty of the aggregate, which need to dance without your own color. therefore dancing Corps de Ballet is a harder than solo for me. 

While dancing, I got injured a lot. However, it was very difficult for me to take a rest and so I kept dancing even though it hurt for quite a long time, because I didn’t want to miss any of my classes/rehearsals.  I was frustrated, sad, and mad at myself when I couldn’t dance, because I had made the injuries worse and I ended up having surgery. It was common for other dancers that I have known.  I assume the injury is the biggest problem for dancers as well as athletes. When we got injured, all we can do is watch classes and rehearsals. Therefore, a dancer who gets injured experiences a tough psychological time.

I have learned that, to avoid getting injured, I should control my weight and use the proper muscles for the performance.

People who don’t dance may think that a ballet dancer only brings one leg straight to head level, stand on one toe, and spin. Actually, that is still correct since people normally don’t do those things. For that reason, we need a special muscle for dancing, but we’re not allowed to have a big one. Through the injury I have learned that managing our body and physical condition is part of our job. 

As a ballet dancer, I also need to show that dancing is fun, pleasurable, and is one of my favorite moments in my life, in front of an audiences in order to show positive feelings are part of the performance, 

It is often the case, however, backstage, or inside my heart, I have cried on the ground so many times after the performances because I couldn’t dance as well as I expected.  At those moments, I felt like being a dancer is the most stressful thing, but still the most exciting experience at the same time. 

The reasons why I practice day after day is to improve myself because I know that the only way to improve the skills is to practice and to come closer to perfection with practice. In ballet, there shouldn’t be the word “perfect”, but I expect myself to be as close to it as I can.  On the other hand, dancing in front of the audience is incredibly amazing because they also give me inspiration and I can never get enough of it. Dancing is my passion no matter what happens, even if I get frustrated and depressed. Even though there are painful moment both physically and mentally, I love what I am doing, and I am proud of what I am doing.

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