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The Little Match Girl — Debut Ballet Performer Yurino Niyama

From the very young age of three, Yurino Niyama has always known she wanted to be a ballet dancer. As she prepares for her debut performance at Pacific Ballet Dance Theater as The Little Match Girl, in Glendale, CA on December 9, 2023, Yurino Niyama has perfected the art of ballet through intense training and great mentorship.

Yurino, age 6 (Photo courtesy of Yurino Niyama)

Born in Miyakonojo city in Miyazaki-ken and raised in Fukuoka, Japan, Yurino was encouraged by her family to excel in various creative outlets. “My mom let me do a lot of things like play the piano, Japanese calligraphy, and swimming, but the thing that I really liked was ballet.” Her decision to pursue ballet led her to begin her international training.

Finding that her training and studio in Japan did not have an extensive ballet program, her mentors encouraged her to seek an intensive ballet program in Russia and Canada. However, Yurino recalled how arduous her journey in a summer intensive program at Russia’s Bolshoi Ballet Academy was:

“When I went there, I was in sixth grade, so I was 12 years old and over there, I really liked it, but while I was there, I realized I could not be a professional ballet dancer in Russia because my body type is so different. They really care about the body type.”

However, that did not deter Yurino from dreaming of becoming a ballet dancer, and she set her eyes on summer intensive programs in North America.  At 13, she went to Canada’s Alberta Ballet School, She said the following about her experiences:

“It was fun for me. I found that there are a lot of differences between Russia and Canada; they still care about body type, but they are not as strict as Russia. Russia is more like competing with each other, but in Canada, they are still competing, but they are more friendly, and I really liked that, so I decided to go to ballet school in Canada. I stayed one year.”

Yurino completed her training in Canada and was eager to return to her native country to finish her academic schooling.

Yurino learned that in the United States, she could earn a degree in dancing and learn English. She once again decided to move from Japan and continue her college education, first at community college and then transferring to the University of California at Irvine. It was there that she earned a Bachelor in Fine Arts and continued pursuing her ballet career. While in college, Yurino was able to broaden her understanding of diverse dance routines.

“I started to learn contemporary and Jazz and other styles of dance; that was really difficult for me because I only learned ballet my entire life, but learning other dances or making me expand more of my artistic side was really fun.”

Since she has been in the United States, Yurino has found traits that have helped ease her mind on the challenges of “ideal” body types in ballerinas and toxic competitions. She said,  “Here most people have confidence about themselves and have confidence about their bodies.” Surrounding herself with peers who motivated her and encouraged her regarding her technique rather than appearance shifted Yurino's mindset that skills and practice are at the core of striving for her absolute best in every routine.

Yurino, age 24 (Photo courtesy of Yurino Niyama)

In addition to the traits she has embraced in the US, Yurino acknowledges that her cultural identity has transcended into her life as a student and a dancer. Yurino says, “The Japanese mentality of ‘work harder’ brings me here and go to university… and makes me improve, study, and train more.”

Yurino acknowledges the indispensable support of her mother, who has given her unconditional trust and guidance to persevere through all obstacles. Yurino says, “My mom, she is my mentor. She always trusts me and supports me and advises me when I face difficulty.  Even though she is in Japan, I feel like without her support, I couldn't be staying here; and without her trust, I couldn’t be here.”

In the United States, Yurnino has led her life with vigor and aptitude, enabling her to apply to the Pacific Ballet Dance Theater. Yurino recalled her audition, “I arrived at class, and Ms. Natasha told me, ‘This is the audition,’ and I didn't know [what she meant]. I was thinking this was the audition to the dance company itself.”  In reality, it was an audition to prove her overall dedication as a ballet dancer.

Yurino Niyama (Photo courtesy of Pacific Ballet Dance Theater)

Yurino landed the role of the Little Match Girl, embodying the lead protagonist’s youthful characteristics. With the long commute Yurino makes from Irvine to Glendale, she reflects on her hopes and dreams becoming a reality to debut on a performance of a lifetime. She is keen to inspire other young ballet dancers and dismantle unhealthy ideas of comparing bodies or skills to other dancers. Her following statement is an expression of her journey:

“If you compare how I was dancing the day before to how I am dancing right now, you will see the difference and how much I have improved. Don't compare yourself to others, because you will only be disappointed and discouraged. You are you!”

* * * * *

The Pacific Ballet Dance Theatre will present the Joys of the Season featuring selections from The Nutcracker and Little Match Girl on December 9 and 10, 2023 at the Glendale Performing Arts Center. Yurino Niyama will be featured as a ballet principal in The Little Match Girl.

For more information, please visit the Pacific Pacific Ballet Dance Theatre website. 


© 2023 Ashley Valdez

ballet Pacific Ballet Dance Theater Shin-Issei The LIttle Match Girl Yurino Niyama