After being nominated for one of the highest global honors in ballet in May, Misa Kuranaga could be forgiven for relaxing her grueling training regime or wondering what else she has left to achieve. But the 34-year-old from Osaka remains as motivated as ever.

As principal ballerina of the Boston Ballet she practices in class every morning, pushing herself to correct weaknesses and set goals for improvement. Unlike the intensive support given to students, professional dancers rarely receive corrections on form from teachers, and coaching is offered only on the ballet parts to be performed, so Kuranaga gratefully grabs every opportunity for feedback and takes the lead on her skill development. She attributes her self-disciplined approach to hitting bottom in Japan as a teenager after reaching the top very early.

"As a child, I won all the domestic competitions. Then my teacher told me there were no more competitions I could compete in until I was older," she explains. "Since I was 9 years old my whole life had been about competing so I felt really lost."