This is the lovely Mariko. She is a kind soul, a beautiful dancer, and a passionate teacher. I am in awe of her love for and dedication to her students and desire to make sure that they are well loved and esteemed. She oozes creativity, and shines so brightly in whatever she’s doing! Enjoy her interview!
us: Mariko, tell us a little bit about yourself…
her: I’m originally from Pittsburgh. I just got married about a year and a half ago. After I graduated from Penn State, I came down here to do a post grad program and take seminary classes. Taking those seminary classes and also being immersed in a really wonderful community–as well as working at a sports ministry camp over the summers in college–really opened my eyes and my heart to want to teach–which I have been doing for the last 12 years. I’m teaching theology and Fine Arts. My core students are ninth grade but I teach ninth through twelfth grade. It’s important to me to make sure the kids know they are loved, as well as help them to realize that they can do stuff that they actually didn’t know that they could. Teaching, choreographing musicals and and working within the theater community has been a really huge joy.
us: What did you have for breakfast this morning?
her: I had sparkling water and iced coffee with almond milk.
us: Does pineapple belong on pizza?
her: Yes . . . it can. It can be on pizza.
us: Do you sleep in your socks?
her: No, heck no. Absolutely not.
us: What’s your go-to midnight snack?
her: Potato chips or french fries
us: Mountains or beach?
us: Current favorite song?
her: “Good As Hell” by Lizzo
us: Salty or sweet?
us: Pet peeve?
her: Lies/lying and people who don’t use their turn signal.
us: Room entrance song?
her: “Don’t stop believing” by Journey.
us: Favorite place you’ve traveled to?
her: I would say Okinawa. That’s where the majority of my mom’s side of family is from.
us: What’s your favorite room in your house?
her: The kitchen. I love to cook!
us: Who has been the most influential woman in your life?
her: Definitely my mom. I’m gonna cry! She gave up and sacrificed everything to marry my dad and move to a country where she knew nobody; she left everything behind. It shows so much courage and strength. And I don’t know if I could do that. But, then also thinking about everything that she has continued to sacrifice for her family. To have three children and to raise them . . . and then she entered the workforce, and was a teacher for 20 years. They started a Japanese program at our high school, and they were using video tapes. My brother would come home every day from class and ask my mom for help. So my brother was the only one in class that was doing well because he had my mom to help him. My mom went to the administration and asked how she could help the other students. She spent that whole first year just volunteering–as a teacher–and then she eventually turned it into a 20 year career. They allowed her to have full control; she wrote the entire curriculum. She saw how much my brother was struggling and was able to help him and others. She studied and then she became an American citizen. She doesn’t cease to amaze me. She’s a rock star. And she never stops being my mom–and she never will stop, regardless of how old I am.
us: What accomplishment are you most proud of?
her: Being able to choreograph shows and seeing my vision come to life on stage. Also having the people involved–whether it’s in community theater or whether it’s my students–push themselves to realize that they can do things that they didn’t think that they could and become aware of their bodies in a way that they weren’t before. There can be so much shame and embarrassment; that can happen a lot with our bodies. So, trying to push through that and have dance and movement be redemptive.
us: If you could give your younger self a single piece of advice, what would it be?
her: I would probably tell myself . . .”Your life is not going to look anything like you thought it would . . . but, you wouldn’t want to change anything.”
us: Can you tell us about a challenge that you’ve overcome?
her: I think it’s still in process. But body issues have always been very difficult for me. In particular, being half Japanese, my body does not look like a typical Japanese woman. There are definitely parts of my body that are more German than not. And growing up, and also being a dancer, I was very aware of my body type, and my size. At almost 5’3″; I’m almost the tallest female in my family. I have one cousin that’s taller than me. So when I am around my Japanese family– I’m reminded of that. Growing up and having family members and classmates, say things about your body . . . or, “you’re a dancer; why are you so fat?” type thing. I’ve struggled with an eating disorder for a very large part of my adult life. And, still working through that and experiencing times of redemption, and also times of knowing that I need to give myself grace. But I think that when it comes to overcoming that, it’s a constant process, especially with everything that we see in images or are told by society.
us: Where do you find your inspiration?
her: The friends and the community that I have. My friends, and the people that I work with, and the people I get to create with–I’m just inspired by all of them! With the most recent show that I worked on–“White Christmas,” I got to work with two of my dearest friends: Kristin Baltes and Edward Warwick-White. I’m inspired by them daily. They are both creative, but also hardworking and dedicated. I am inspired by their loving friendship. I’m really inspired by so many people in my life. It just doesn’t seem fair that I get to be surrounded by so many wonderful, creative, authentic and kind people.
us: Any embarrassing nicknames we should know about?
her: Turd Head. When I was in high school, I had really, really, really long hair. I played volleyball, and I had to pull it all up so it would stay out of the way. I would put it in a big bun, and it protruded off the back of my head, so far, because I had so much. And, one of my dear teammates used to call me “Turd Head” because of what it looked like.
us: Any hidden talents we should know about?
her: I can play the piano upside down. It’s a Japanese song my mom taught me when I was a little girl.
us: What are you most thankful for?
her: Grace. I’m thankful for grace.
us: What is your favorite thing about living in Charlottesville?
her: There’s so many things that you’re able to be exposed to, but it’s still such a small town. There’s a little bit of culture, a little bit of art, great music, nature and there’s great food. There’s so many things that you can participate in, which makes it a fun place to live. However, I will say one of the things that is tough about living in Charlottesville, though you asked what I love about it . . . is though interests can be diverse, I feel like there is a lack of like cultural diversity here, or there are definite lines about who lives where. And this is also just not in Charlottesville, but being a bi-racial person, this makes it hard–because for my whole life, I’ve felt that I don’t fit in anywhere, because I’m not white and I’m not Asian. When I’m in either realm, I’ve been treated as the other. When I’m in Japan, I’m not Japanese. But when I’m in the States, I’m not white. So it’s just this constant of, “where’s safe?” So, interest wise, living in Charlottesville is awesome, because there’s lots of diversity there . . . but culturally, it’s been hard for me here.
Thanks for sharing with us Mariko!