Today we’d like to introduce you to Misako Aoki.
Hi Misako, please kick things off for us with an introduction to yourself and your story.
I opened Misako Ballet Studio in 2003. My mission was to teach ballet rigorously while also empowering students to feel the joy of their self-expression through dance. For me personally, ballet allowed me to stretch the limits of what I thought my body could do and gave me confidence that spread through my whole life—I wanted students to benefit from that experience too.
It was tough in the beginning managing a studio, teaching classes, mothering two girls, and being an immigrant with a Japanese primary language, navigating the demands of owning a small business. But I have always been blessed with people who supported and encouraged me along the way. Plus, my resiliency as a Japanese woman helped me endure the tough times.
Three years later, I went a step further and formed a professional dance company, Misako Ballet Company, as a way to share my joy and love of ballet with Marylanders, to expose the community to Japanese culture in a unique way, and to provide an avenue for my best dancers to showcase their talent to a wider audience.
In 2016, I made another bold move, opening a second studio, Misako Beats in Marriottsville, with the intention of highlighting a greater variety of dance styles, in addition to ballet and modern. Unfortunately, we had to close that studio last year because of the impact of the pandemic. It has been a challenging 18 years, but I strive to keep reinventing my approach to my businesses. With Covid-19 we taught classes virtually, something I could never have envisioned.
But Misako Ballet Studio weathered that storm and this year I’m grateful we get to end the year with a scaled-down version of our Holiday performances at the studio as last year we did this virtually.
Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall, and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
I came to the United States as a foreigner so I could not teach at any studios unless I had a work visa. It took quite a while and lots of help and patience to get this so I could teach. For about a year, I practically volunteered my time as a teacher. After about nine years, I got a Green Card and was able to open my own studio.
This was an incredibly bold move to make as an immigrant and it did not come without its own set of challenges, but with each one, I pushed forward and overcame.
As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
In addition to being a business owner and ballet teacher, I am also an Artistic Director for my professional dance company, Misako Ballet Company. In this role, I have created a new dance style by coupling western ballet with Japanese culture. I have made five original one-act of ballet using Japanese folk tales.
The Moon Princess, my most recent one-act ballet, was especially gratifying for me as I created it from a simple Japanese tale. I juggled the roles of artistic director, choreographer, set designer, costume selector, and lighting designer while also still doing all the work of managing my studios and teaching classes.
It seemed impossible that I could pull together a successful show. Yet, I did (with much help from my friends and supporters!). By adding creative costumes, props, and Japanese music, in addition to the exquisite skill of my ballerinas, I created such a memorable ballet that some audience members were moved to tears of joy. This is precisely why I do what I do, and it is what keeps me motivated.
I am also committed to showcasing the richness of Japanese culture in a variety of ways. In 2019, I held our first Aki Matsuri/Japanese Fall Festival, which was so successful, that this year, we presented a second Aki Matsuri/Japanese Fall Festival. This was in collaboration with the Embassy of Japan, the Baltimore Kawasaki Sister City Committee, Maryland and Kanagawa Sister State Committee, and the world languages departments at UMBC.
The purpose of this festival is to enrich Japanese-American relations in our community. The celebration included vendors, demonstrations (tea ceremony, Japanese drums, Karate, Kendo, Koto music), exhibits, and activities for people of all ages and walks of life.
Last summer, I also started to run Japanese Culture Camps for young children to introduce Japanese language, animation, songs, folktale, making Kimono, making paper stories to children who may not otherwise get this exposure.
We have a performance coming up: Ballet Bouquet “A Valentine Dance Celebration” on February 13 at 2 pm at Jim Rouse Theatre (Website: https://www.misakodance.com/
If we knew you growing up, how would we have described you?
When I was a first-grader, I was so shy I could not speak loud enough to say anything.
But by the 3rd and 4th grades, I had formed a committee to make wall newspapers. In 5th grade, I enjoyed being a leader of the class and very often invited all my classmates to my house and played together. In my middle and high school, I practiced ballet 3-4 times a week and in senior year I practiced every day.
This hard work, passion, and dedication paid off and I got a scholarship to go to the Royal Ballet School in Britain. The rest, as they say, is history.
- Email: email@example.com
- Website: www.misakodance.com
- Instagram: @misakodance and @misakoballet (2 separate ones)
- Facebook: Misako Ballet Studio and Misako Ballet Company (2 separate ones)