• Kyodo

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Japanese dancer Fumi Kaneko has expressed joy over her recent promotion to principal dancer with the U.K.'s The Royal Ballet, saying it "feels like a dream."

"I am still surprised and it hasn't sunk in," said Kaneko, 29, in an interview Wednesday, after The Royal Ballet announced the previous day her promotion to principal — a top-ranking dancer who often plays a leading role.

Kaneko, who is set to appear as the principal in Christopher Wheeldon's "Within the Golden Hour" on Thursday, said she "couldn't believe it" and that she had cried tears of joy when told the news.

Having started training at a ballet school in Osaka Prefecture when she was 3 years old, Kaneko said she was determined as a child to someday become a "world-recognized ballerina."

The city of Osaka native said, "I just loved ballet and wanted to continue doing it," adding that her determination grew as she became older.

Kaneko won a gold medal at the Varna International Ballet Competition in 2008, then silver medals at international competitions in Moscow the following year and the United States in 2010.

She went on to join The Royal Ballet in April 2011, and was promoted to soloist in 2013. Five years later, she became first soloist, one rank below principal.

Her roles with The Royal Ballet have included that of Princess Aurora in "The Sleeping Beauty," Odette and Odile in "Swan Lake" and the Sugar Plum Fairy in "The Nutcracker."

She is the first Japanese dancer to be elevated to the rank of principal with The Royal Ballet since 2016, when Ryoichi Hirano and Akane Takada were promoted.

Coming to the U.K. alone was not easy, Kaneko said, recounting how she underwent surgery twice due to serious injuries that forced her to stop training for a period.

"It was a long road, but I hope that by coming this far, I can give hope to people who are thinking about doing their best," she said.

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