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"I'm Forever Grateful Towards Ballet": Miko Fogarty Opens Up About Her Decision to Stop Dancing, and Her Exciting Next Steps

Miko Fogarty. Photo by Andrew Ross, Courtesy Birmingham Royal Ballet.

Where in the world is Miko Fogarty? Just three years ago, she seemed unstoppable. After being featured in the 2011 ballet documentary First Position, she became a teenage social-media star, winning top prizes at competitions in Moscow and Varna and at Youth American Grand Prix, and dancing in galas around the world. Last most of us heard, it was 2015 and she had just joined the corps of Birmingham Royal Ballet. A year later, she dropped off the ballet radar.


Turns out Fogarty, now 21, was taking time off to reevaluate her life, including the role she wanted ballet to play in it. She is now starting her junior year as a biology major at University of California—Berkeley and is considering going to medical school. (Her brother and fellow First Position subject, 19-year-old Jules, is a junior in the Berkeley economics department.) On the side she teaches private ballet lessons and gives master classes, and is the part-time conservatory director at San Jose Dance International, a new school in the San Francisco Bay Area led by artistic director Yu Xin. We caught up with her by phone.

Last we heard, you were at Birmingham Royal Ballet. Where have you been over the last couple of years?

I've been kind of quiet on social media about what I'm up to. I hope in the future to be more open with my followers on my daily life. I'm kind of in the process. Right now I'm a premed student at Cal and I'm researching science, which is completely different from what I was doing a couple of years ago. I'm also teaching a lot. I love teaching ballet; it's definitely one of my passions.

What led you to change your path?

Even before I joined a company, I started losing the passion for dancing ballet and feeling like it wasn't the career that I imagined myself doing for much longer. Of course, I didn't open up about this on social media; I didn't want to discourage anyone else. I felt like I had achieved a lot already in ballet, and I was ready for something more to experience. After a whole year of considering it and reevaluating my choices, I decided to apply for college. I was very sure of my decision when I made it, and I have no regrets.

Where did you start your college education?

My first year was at Feather River College, which is in Quincy, California. It's a tiny school in the mountains. It was a nice break from the city life I was living and all the social media. Then I came back and took courses at Contra Costa College.

You were so young when First Position came out, and it catapulted you into the spotlight. Did you burn out? Or did ballet just run its course for you?

I don't mind having followers and posting on Instagram, and being part of First Position was absolutely an honor. That's not what made me want to change. It was ballet as a career—I was going into class and every day I was like, this is not what I want to keep doing. Even performances —when I was younger, I liked the feeling after a performance, but before and during it was kind of nerve-racking for me. It was kind of hard to enjoy; especially competitions. I thought that would change when I joined a company. It was a little better, but I didn't feel the euphoria I hoped I would feel.

You were so known for competitions and galas. I would never have suspected you were so nervous.

I performed better when I was nervous. But I don't want to be nervous all the time. And another side of ballet is always being so skinny. That was really mentally hard for me to sustain healthfully. That caused a little bit of depression for me. That was another reason I decided to do something else.

What were the positives you got from ballet?

Ballet has honestly given me so many amazing experiences. Traveling, knowing how to work hard, how to be disciplined about doing something is such a great skill to have in any field. Ballet taught me how to push myself past my comfort zone. It kept me healthy, and I got so many friends out of it. I'm forever grateful towards ballet. And it will be part of my life forever.

Tell me about San Jose Dance International.

We're still in our infancy. We're just putting together different events, such as Dancing for a Cure, which is a performance to donate to patients with cancer and their families. I recently led a (variations) workshop. It was really fun to teach variations and technique to students in the Bay Area. It's what I do on the side, I guess; right now my full focus is school and research (on brain tumors, at UC—San Francisco). I teach private lessons and occasionally master classes, and help out with SJDI.

Is there anything you want to say to other dancers who might be going through some of the same things that you've gone through?

Be true to yourself, and don't be afraid to switch careers just because you've done ballet for so long or worked so hard. If you feel like you're gonna enjoy a different kind of career, then go for it. But make sure you make your decision well enough that you know you won't regret it. You can have as much ballet as you want in your life – you can have a lot or a little bit, or somewhere in between, like I've been doing. And I want to say thank you to everyone who's been supporting me through this journey.

Music
Mary Malleney, courtesy Osato

In most classes, dancers are encouraged to count the music, and dance with it—emphasizing accents and letting the rhythm of a song guide them.

But Marissa Osato likes to give her students an unexpected challenge: to resist hitting the beats.

In her contemporary class at EDGE Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles (which is now closed, until they find a new space), she would often play heavy trap music. She'd encourage her students to find the contrast by moving in slow, fluid, circular patterns, daring them to explore the unobvious interpretation of the steady rhythms.


"I like to give dancers a phrase of music and choreography and have them reinterpret it," she says, "to be thinkers and creators and not just replicators."

Osato learned this approach—avoiding the natural temptation of the music always being the leader—while earning her MFA in choreography at California Institute of the Arts. "When I was collaborating with a composer for my thesis, he mentioned, 'You always count in eights. Why?'"

This forced Osato out of her creative comfort zone. "The choices I made, my use of music, and its correlation to the movement were put under a microscope," she says. "I learned to not always make the music the driving motive of my work," a habit she attributes to her competition studio training as a young dancer.

While an undergraduate at the University of California, Irvine, Osato first encountered modern dance. That discovery, along with her experience dancing in Boogiezone Inc.'s off-campus hip-hop company, BREED, co-founded by Elm Pizarro, inspired her own, blended style, combining modern and hip hop with jazz. While still in college, she began working with fellow UCI student Will Johnston, and co-founded the Boogiezone Contemporary Class with Pizarro, an affordable series of classes that brought top choreographers from Los Angeles to Orange County.

"We were trying to bring the hip-hop and contemporary communities together and keep creating work for our friends," says Osato, who has taught for West Coast Dance Explosion and choreographed for studios across the country.

In 2009, Osato, Johnston and Pizarro launched Entity Contemporary Dance, which she and Johnston direct. The company, now based in Los Angeles, won the 2017 Capezio A.C.E. Awards, and, in 2019, Osato was chosen for two choreographic residencies (Joffrey Ballet's Winning Works and the USC Kaufman New Movement Residency), and became a full-time associate professor of dance at Santa Monica College.

At SMC, Osato challenges her students—and herself—by incorporating a live percussionist, a luxury that's been on pause during the pandemic. She finds that live music brings a heightened sense of awareness to the room. "I didn't realize what I didn't have until I had it," Osato says. "Live music helps dancers embody weight and heaviness, being grounded into the floor." Instead of the music dictating the movement, they're a part of it.

Osato uses the musician as a collaborator who helps stir her creativity, in real time. "I'll say 'Give me something that's airy and ambient,' and the sounds inspire me," says Osato. She loves playing with tension and release dynamics, fall and recovery, and how those can enhance and digress from the sound.

"I can't wait to get back to the studio and have that again," she says.

Osato made Dance Teacher a Spotify playlist with some of her favorite songs for class—and told us about why she loves some of them.

"Get It Together," by India.Arie

"Her voice and lyrics hit my soul and ground me every time. Dream artist. My go-to recorded music in class is soul R&B. There's simplicity about it that I really connect with."

"Turn Your Lights Down Low," by Bob Marley + The Wailers, Lauryn Hill

"A classic. This song embodies that all-encompassing love and gets the whole room groovin'."

"Diamonds," by Johnnyswim

"This song's uplifting energy and drive is infectious! So much vulnerability, honesty and joy in their voices and instrumentation."

"There Will Be Time," by Mumford & Sons, Baaba Maal

"Mumford & Sons' music has always struck a deep chord within me. Their songs are simultaneously stripped-down and complex and feel transcendent."

"With The Love In My Heart," by Jacob Collier, Metropole Orkest, Jules Buckley

"Other than it being insanely energizing and cinematic, I love how challenging the irregular meter is!"

For Parents

Darrell Grand Moultrie teaches at a past Jacob's Pillow summer intensive. Photo Christopher Duggan, courtesy Jacob's Pillow

In the past 10 months, we've grown accustomed to helping our dancers navigate virtual school, classes and performances. And while brighter, more in-person days may be around the corner—or at least on the horizon—parents may be facing yet another hurdle to help our dancers through: virtual summer-intensive auditions.

In 2020, we learned that there are some unique advantages of virtual summer programs: the lack of travel (and therefore the reduced cost) and the increased access to classes led by top artists and teachers among them. And while summer 2021 may end up looking more familiar with in-person intensives, audition season will likely remain remote and over Zoom.

Of course, summer 2021 may not be back to in-person, and that uncertainty can be a hard pill to swallow. Here, Kate Linsley, a mom and academy principal of Nashville Ballet, as well as "J.R." Glover, The Dan & Carole Burack Director of The School at Jacob's Pillow, share their advice for this complicated process.

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Teachers Trending

From left: Anthony Crickmay, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem Archives; Courtesy Ballethnic

It is the urgency of going in a week or two before opening night that Lydia Abarca Mitchell loves most about coaching. But in her role as Ballethnic Dance Company's rehearsal director, she's not just getting the troupe ready for the stage. Abarca Mitchell—no relation to Arthur Mitchell—was Mitchell's first prima ballerina when he founded Dance Theatre of Harlem with Karel Shook; through her coaching, Abarca Mitchell works to pass her mentor's legacy to the next generation.

"She has the same sensibility" as Arthur Mitchell, says Ballethnic co-artistic director Nena Gilreath. "She's very direct, all about the mission and the excellence, but very caring."

Ballethnic is based in East Point, a suburban city bordering Atlanta. In a metropolitan area with a history of racism and where funding is hard-won, it is crucial for the Black-led ballet company to present polished, professional productions. "Ms. Lydia" provides the "hard last eye" before the curtain opens in front of an audience.

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