Transforming Japan into a true Ballet country with our passion for ballet! Interview of Wake Up Point Shoes!

In our 33rd interview, we interviewed Aoi Mochizuki and Karen Suzuki from Wake Up Point Shoes.

They study in different universities—Aoi studies at ICU (ID 26) and Karen studies at SFC—but together they are running Wake Up Point Shoes.

Aoi and Karen shared us their love for ballet, issues in the ballet industry, and more. Please read the article to learn about these topics!

Q1. What activities do you do in Wake Up Pointe Shoes?

Wake Up Point Shoes have a motto/goal, which is, “in 2050, youths working in different fields, yet sharing love for ballet, transform Japan into a true Ballet country.” To achieve this, we create student-led communities and facilitate events.

The issues of working conditions and wages in the ballet industry are often seen as problems within the dancers, but we want to create a community where people with a love of ballet can each help to give back. Although there are communities and organizations that dance ballet, there are not many communities that analyze ballet from a social perspective, so we are focusing on student-led activities.

Q2. What are your specific activities?

We mainly engage in five activities.

(1) Hosting events

Every month, we invite people who have experience in ballet (lawyers, writers, etc.) to hold events under the theme of “Ballet x I / Society.” We felt that it was a shame to see students who had continued ballet but had to leave ballet after high school and/or college entrance exams, and we wanted to provide a place to discuss the impact of ballet on oneself and society through events.

(2) Interviews

This activity is for those who want to become professional ballet dancers, and we mainly interview dancers to learn about the realities of the professional ballet industry. In the past, we have interviewed Kizuka Suzuki, a ballet student affected by the war in Ukraine, Nozomi Iijima and more. In the future, we would like to interview people with experience in ballet.

(3) Study debriefing session (round table reading)

The debriefing session aims to connect ballet and “academics” by deciding on a designated book and reading it. The members, Aoi and Karen, are studying different programs at different universities, so we discuss with varying interests and perspectives.

(4) Ballet Appreciation Group

While previous activities have focused on those who have experienced ballet, the Ballet Appreciation Group invites university students who have never seen ballet to attend a ballet performance, where they are given explanations and actually see the performance. In July, however, we are planning a large-scale event with a focus on students from the University of Tokyo. Before and after viewing the ballet, the social background of the performance is explained so that the audience can gain a deeper understanding of the work.

(5) Instagram live and outreach activities

On Instagram, we promote our activities through posts and live-streaming.

Q3. When did you start this activity? Also, what prompted you to start your activities?

Around the winter break of my sophomore year of high school (2021), I participated in a business contest called Jacobs Teen Innovation Challenge and submitted an idea to prevent the mass consumption and disposal of toe shoes and to circulate them under the theme of Ballet x Environmental Issues. It was a contest that was advertised in our school, and all the members who happened to gather had something in common: they had all been deeply involved in dancing and had some awareness of the issues involved.

The name of our organization, Wake Up Pointe Shoes, comes from the name of the project we devised at this competition.

You can read more about our beginnings in this NOTE article. We started our activities as Wake Up Pointe Shoes just before entering college, with the intention of giving shape to the discussions and other ideas of Aoi and Karen.

Q4 How did you feel when you started?

The team members who happened to get together had ballet in common, and I was surprised to find that there were social problems very familiar to us. Ballet is considered to be a very beautiful form of art, but I feel that there is a contradiction in that it has so many problems. We love ballet so much that we keep coming up with ideas. We have a very positive feeling of wanting to improve, so we are both striving hard to make those ideas a reality. I don’t think the feelings we had when we started have changed.

Q5. When do you find it rewarding?

Aoi: When I was actively conducting interviews, many people gave me positive messages such as “Good luck!” or “I think this is a serious issue and I would like to be actively involved” and it is rewarding when I actually feel that someone is supporting me. 

Karen: Recently we have been organizing events and I am very happy to see that many people of the same generation have a love for ballet. Some people are crying when they hear the guest speakers because they have a passion for ballet, and when I meet such people, I think that perhaps by continuing these activities, there may be more people of my generation who can empathize with us. I aspire to create a hob for people to freely share their thoughts because there are not many places for such people to communicate.

Q6. Is there anything you have noticed about your activities or anything you would like ICU students to know? Also, if you have any ballet pieces you would like to recommend to ICU students, please let us know.

Aoi: I have an image that relatively many ICU students were or are involved in ballet. There are those who are doing their best while balancing university life, and there are those who quit because they wanted to concentrate on their studies, had a conflict with the teacher, or didn’t get along with their friends, etc. I think that there are many different images of ballet depending on the person. I think that the ballet in yourself is a part of your foundation, your core—something that is important to you. So, I would like you to value the fact that you have ballet in your heart. I also hope that even if your dream is not to be a ballet dancer, you should cherish seeing ballet on Instagram or going to see a performance from time to time.

My favorite ballet is Onegin by the Paris Opera, which I saw in about March 2020. The story and the emotions of the main character really came through to the audience, and everyone including myself was crying. I realized that this kind of ballet was actually existed. Until then, I had only seen classical ballets such as Swan Lake and The Nutcracker, but Onegin is a modern work that moves many people. Also, my favorite dancer is Nozomi Iijima, so I really like her Romeo and Juliet. Please go see it!

Karen: There are many people at SFC who are dedicated to what they are passionate about, and I think that kind of energy is very strong. It is different from just participating in the Business Contest or doing something for the sake of an assignment, but I think it is very strong to be able to push forward because you love it. I feel that the Wake Up Point Shoes organization has come this far just because of our love of ballet, and I truly love this energetic atmosphere. I know there are people who don’t have much they want to do in college, but I think that something close to home, not just ballet, can lead to a theme they can work on, and I wish there were more college students who could push forward with it.

I recommend Kitori from Don Quixote by Marianela Nuñez, a principal dancer of the Royal Ballet. I think that ballet is just beautiful and graceful, but her dancing is like an actress in every detail, and you can tell that she enjoys dancing from the bottom of her heart. If you want to experience the passionate love of ballet, I hope you will watch it.

Q7. What do you want to appeal to or convey to society?

Karen: First of all, I would like to address the ballet industry. I think that the ballet industry is still very closed, with a structure where only talented people become dancers and those who are not so talented are weeded out. Even if they do not become professional ballet dancers, their love for ballet will not change; but I sometimes feel at events that there are many people who have left ballet and become traumatized by it. I think it’s a waste, and if you have a chance to be involved with ballet again, we would like you to be honest about your love for ballet and share with us how you can be involved with ballet in your own unique way. We would be very happy if you could join the Wake Up Point Shoes community.

Since Covid, I think we often hear that Arts & Culture, not just ballet, are unnecessary reasons to go out. However, in a world with many different values and complicated structural conflicts, what people feel when they see culture and beautiful things transcends national borders, and I believe that it is something that can be shared. What I want to convey is that I hope that our society will become a place where people can feel the beauty of art, including ballet, and have a moment to relax.

Aoi: I feel that there are conflicts even among ballet dancers, and that there is a structure in which people want to improve ballet from various angles, but they are in conflict with each other, and it is getting worse. I hope that we can be a bridge for dialogue so that we can avoid such conflicts between people who want to improve ballet from different methods, different teaching methods, different ways of dancing, etc.

Q8. What are some of the things you would like to do or challenges you would like to take on in the future?

Our immediate goal is to expand the size of our community. People who used to do ballet or are interested in ballet are always welcome, so one goal is to expand this wave of ballet love.

I would also like to try policy proposals while I am a university student. Among Japanese legislators, there are some who were principal dancers in Hong Kong who became members of the Diet, and they have formed the Japan Parliamentary Ballet Union, and some of them are surprisingly active in the political world. I think the goal we set when we started this activity is to have more in-depth discussions about how ballet can be viewed and supported in terms of policy, and to make policy proposals as a result of these discussions.

In addition, I would like to incorporate the activities we are currently conducting as an event into a career design workshop. This is not only for those who have experience in ballet, but also for those who have become professional ballet dancers, and what they will do in their second career. I would like to do a career design workshop where we can think of places where these people can work as their next step.

I would also like to create a work on the theme of “plant people” (field of environmental anthropology focusing on the linkage between humans and plants). I believe that there are not many ballets that have created works on environmental awareness. In the concept of how to relate to the environment, there is the “plant people,” a concept that takes the form of solidarity between people and nature, and I would like to create a work based on this theme. I also know a paper about plant people, which I hope you will read.

Hash tags:#学生団体 #バレエ #ballet # wakeuppointeshoes 

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