Dancer Naomi Tanioka joined Kansas City Ballet in 2019. Her first season was going so well until the pandemic happened, but Naomi didn’t let that get her down. Learn more about her and the path that brought her to Kansas City.
Q: TELL US A BIT ABOUT WHAT GROWING UP AND TRAINING IN JAPAN WAS LIKE?
A: I started really getting into ballet when my family moved to Sapporo, Hokkaido, and I joined Chida Toshiko Ballet Studio. I started training for a competition, and I had never danced by myself on stage before. It was super nerve racking but also very exciting because I had been watching all the older girls rehearse for competitions, and I felt like I was taking the next step. Growing up in Japan, there was a lot more pressure to do well and always aim for a perfection. I learned a lot of discipline and etiquette from being with my studio in Japan.
Q: WHEN DID YOU COME TO THE U.S. AND WHAT DID YOU DO WHEN YOU GOT HERE?
A: I came to the U.S. in 2014 to join the Studio Company with Ballet Arizona. I had been in Canada for six years prior to moving to Arizona, so it was a drastic weather change from -20 degree blizzards to 100 degree heat waves.
Q: HOW DID YOU BECOME INTERESTED IN KANSAS CITY BALLET?
A: I was dancing with Cincinnati Ballet prior to joining Kansas City Ballet. There, I had the opportunity to work with Devon Carney and Kristi Capps when they came to Cincinnati to set his Sleeping Beauty on us. I absolutely loved working with both Devon and Kristi during this process, and despite having a short time to set the entire ballet, the rehearsal process was very smooth and efficient. I remember being in a fairy variation rehearsal, getting coached, and feeling so grateful and also wanting to learn much more from them. That’s when I really felt strongly that I wanted to join Kansas City Ballet. After taking a company class as an audition and feeling the positive atmosphere in the studio, I strongly desired to join the company.
Q: LAST SEASON WAS YOUR FIRST WITH KCB, WHAT DID YOU ENJOY ABOUT THAT EXPERIENCE (BEFORE THE SHUTDOWN)?
A: I was honestly having the best season of my professional career before the shutdown. I absolutely love the environment and atmosphere this company has from class to rehearsals to performances. I feel motivated and inspired every day to come to work and be surrounded by incredible artists and staff that I can respect for not only their skill, but their passion and dedication for this art form and for this company. Devon shows a great care for each dancer in the company. I felt welcomed and valued right away. I am so grateful for the opportunities I got during the season, to learn various roles in every production, and one of my highlights would be performing snow queen in The Nutcracker.
Q: DO YOU HAVE ANY HOBBIES?
A: One of my hobbies is sewing! I’ve been sewing and making my own dance wear for six years now, and I have an Etsy shop called TaniokaWear. I love making dance wear for my colleagues and seeing them excited for their new work clothes!
Q: WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE THINGS ABOUT KANSAS CITY?
A: I think Kansas City has so much culture of art in the city, with many art museums like the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, live music at bars, murals all around downtown, and theaters everywhere. I miss live performances so much, and I hope that Kansas City Ballet and other performing arts can perform live again soon! I also have to add that I love the BBQ here and Slap’s is my go to!
Header photograph by Brett Pruitt & East Market Studios.