Miko Fogarty tells what it takes to be a teenage dance star

by Kaori Shoji

Special To The Japan Times

Unlike the stereotype of your average American teen, Miko Fogarty (16) is not talkative or exuberant. In this way she seems somewhat shy and reserved, almost as if she leans toward the Japanese part of her lineage despite being brought up in the United States. Or perhaps she’s just sure of herself as a ballerina and sees no need to act demonstratively offstage. But when Miko does speak, it’s with sweetness and precision. This is what she had to say in conversation recently with The Japan Times:

Was there a defining point in your life when you decided that ballet was it for you?

There was a defining point but nothing that was really dramatic. I’ve been dancing ballet since I was 4 years old and at that time I watched a lot of ballet DVDs that were on the table in our living room. They were really inspiring. I loved watching them, and I just loved ballet. I kept going from there, and I guess I never stopped.

Can you talk a little about music and ballet, because the two are so closely linked. Do you have a favorite composer?

Yes, it’s true that you can’t have ballet without having music. Most people think ballet is all about the different routines and positions and the skills — but what we’re doing really, is dancing to music.

My favorite composer is Tchaikovsky. I really love his music — which is lucky for a ballerina. I used to love Chopin because my mom used to play Chopin all the time when I was little. She practiced in the living room and I would hang around and I loved listening to her.

Can you tell us the flow of your day?

I get up, I have breakfast — which is an important meal for me because it’s the only time in the day I eat carbs, that is, cereals. And then I go to the studio for ballet class. And then I have home school, and in the late afternoons I’d have ballet class again. And then I would come home, do my homework and fall asleep. But that’s because I don’t go to regular school.

When I was 8 or 9, things were different — I’d get up, go to school like everyone else, finish up at around 3 in the afternoon and start ballet class at 4. I would be in practice for two or 2½ hours, then my mom would pick me up and drive me home. But now I practice five or six hours a day, seven days a week.

Do you ever have the urge to gorge on pizza, or a bag of Oreos or something?

Umm, not really. I try to avoid carbs as much as possible. In the morning, I’d have cereal, but not the sweet kind. Mostly muesli and granola, which I really like. I try to drink a lot of milk with that. And I eat a lot of fruits and veggies and yogurt. Mostly in the car though, because my mom and I are always driving to the studio or to competitions.

Body weight is an important issue for a ballerina. Did you ever worry or struggle with your weight?

No! I started ballet when I was really young but even as a little kid, I understood that if I wanted to do ballet, I would have to be careful about what I ate. And as time went by, I got really busy with practicing and there was no time to eat.

Having a full stomach interferes with the training and makes me feel a little bad, and I understood that. Everyone around me understood that, too. So I just learned to make the right choices and control what I ate — portions and all that. So weight has never been a problem for me.

Do you ever look at other kids your age and feel the need for a change, or to shift your priorities around?

Not really. For one thing, the other kids I know are doing ballet and they’re just as dedicated as I am. Ballet is something that takes a lot of dedication, so there isn’t a whole lot of time to wonder about another life, or what other people are doing.

And then, because I don’t go to a regular school there are no chances to really mix with kids who aren’t doing ballet. I don’t have time for TV, so I can’t know much of what’s going on in a regular high school. I used to miss my school friends when I actually went to school but I have my ballet friends, so it’s okay. Not watching a whole lot of TV helps. At home, we don’t even have cable!”

How do you draw on such a high level of commitment and motivation, where does that come from?

It comes from everyone around me. My parents’ support and their constant encouragement, for example. All my ballet mates are so motivated, too. It’s like there’s a constant pressure for everyone to keep up their commitment and to do their best and all. I only have to look around, and there are a hundred reasons to keep pushing myself forward.

How do you keep your concentration from flagging?

Well, I love what I do so it doesn’t take that much of an effort. But I think that not going to a normal school really helps.

In the United States, home-schooling is normal and lot of professional kids do home-schooling. Most of my ballet friends are home-schooled. It’s a very common thing for ballet kids. When we get together, it’s almost always for practicing, and when we talk, it’s usually about ballet. So it works out for us.

What would be your advice to aspiring ballerinas either thinking or not thinking about giving it all up?

I think that as long as you love it, you should keep doing it. And even if you decide to quit, ballet will help you later on.

I mean, you learn to push yourself even when you don’t want to. You learn to have confidence in yourself. You learn to listen to and obey your teachers. No one even thinks about rebelling against the teacher — ever! Your teacher is your god. So this will come in handy when you’re applying for a job or after you get it and you have to do what your boss tells you. Discipline and dedication are always good things to have.

If you had three days to do anything but ballet, what would you do?

I’d go camping with my father. Actually, I do that a lot; every six months I go away for a few days with my dad on a camping trip. He loves camping and so do I. We wouldn’t do anything special, just be in nature and relax. And after a few days of no ballet whatsoever, I come back and feel my limbs all relaxed and energized. And I can slide into the practice routine and feel great. My muscles will be all limbered up. There’s a real difference after a break.

Japan has traditionally revered ballet and ballet dancers. There’s something about the stoicism and asceticism of ballet that really appeal to the Japanese. Do you have any thoughts about that?

Whenever I come over for a visit, I get the feeling that the Japanese love ballet, and not just ballet but the arts in general. I think it’s wonderful, because in the U.S. there’s not much of a ballet culture. It’s not so bad in San Francisco where I live, but in many other cities, people are just not interested, or they don’t want to try and understand what it’s about.

And I know it’s worse for the boys. For a lot of boys in America, it’s very hard to be a ballet dancer. It’s hard to find support, and very hard to find schools and studios outside of big cities where boys can really practice.

In Japan, though, it’s different — it’s like everyone understands, and wants to offer support. Even boys can dance, and there are star dancers here. Also, people are a lot skinnier and the food is better so the whole environment is just a lot nicer for dancers!