Hello, welcome back! This is Company Dancer, Noriko Zaragoza again.  I am going to talk a little bit about where I am originally from, why I love dancing so much, and about how food affects my life and body.

Growing Up in Japan

Noriko Zaragoza
Noriko Zaragoza

I grew up in a very strict Japanese household and my parents believed that success meant going to college, getting a degree, and working for a big corporation.  They wanted to me to make a decent amount of money in order to support myself then eventually find a husband that could take over the financial responsibilities so that I could become a full time housewife.  Somehow I ended up doing something completely opposite of their beliefs!

When I was five years old I told my parents, “I would like to be a professional ballet dancer,” and they didn’t take me seriously.  From the very beginning my parents thought I was wasting my time and I should be doing something else.  Although they did not fully support my decision to dance, they did offer me financial support that allowed me to receive formal classical ballet training.  I know that was their way of showing love but it’s a little sad to think that was the only kind of support they showed me.  I can barely remember my mom coming to my recitals and my dad would never stay for my performances.  To this day they have never seen me dance in a professional performance and whenever we talk they always want me to stop dancing and stay home to raise children.  I realized this is how it was going to be very early in life and this is why I needed to “grow up” quickly in order to become independent and support my own dream of becoming a dancer.

At the age of eight my parents decided they would continue to pay for my ballet classes but would not take extra time to drive me back and forth.  I decided I wanted to continue, so every day I took the train and bus two hours to get to my ballet school.  When I was 14 I had a life changing experience when I visited New York with my dad. I took a class at the Broadway Dance Center, and at the end of the visit I talked with one of the instructors.  I asked for her autograph, but what she gave me instead was a memo saying, “You have talent.”  I clearly remember she also said, “Don’t be afraid to visit here again.”  I still have the memo from her and look at it sometimes when I question myself or need a reminder of why I love ballet so much.

It is very difficult to say that your occupation is a “professional ballet dancer” back home in Japan, but it seems very possible here in the States.  That was one of the main reasons I came here and it was a lifelong dream of mine to become a professional dancer in the USA since that visit to New York when I was 14. I had a very busy schedule growing up and I used to dance until 11pm on top of attending regular school. I continued training in Japan up until graduating high school because I had promised my parents that I would at least get a high school diploma.

When I first came to dance in the States it was on an O1 Visa. I was not allowed to work outside of the company listed on my visa, so I would go home to Japan every summer to make money in order to support myself.  I was a good waitress and cake cutter.  It is so funny that we have jobs in Japan specifically for cutting cakes, but I was one of them and they sent me to special training to learn this skill.  I learned most of my baking skills over there and also got some ideas for cooking.

My Love of Food

My mom is a wonderful cook but she only makes Japanese food.  I learned to cook by watching her and helping her whenever I could in the kitchen. My love for food definitely comes from my parents.  My mom would always cook three meals a day no matter what and my dad maintained a really large garden on our property in Japan.   I grew up eating farm to table style and I now believe fresh organic food is so important.  I love supporting local business, such as shopping at the local farmers markets.  There is a reason quality food is slightly more expensive, and you can really tell the difference when you try it.

The Artificial Woman, January 23, 2016 - White Box Theater

The reason I am talking about food here is because I wanted everyone to know how important home cooking is to me.  I want to feed my husband safe, healthy food and we even feed our dog’s human grade organic dog food.  Home cooking is the best advice I have for all of you trying to be healthy.  How are you supposed to know what is actually in the food you eat if it is pre-made or processed?  Every once in a while it is ok, but cooking your own food is definitely the way to go.

I don’t have a specific diet that I follow.  For breakfast I eat pretty much the same thing every day.  Some kind of carb (bread, oat meal, even rice sometimes), some type of probiotic (yogurt, drinking yogurt), a little bit of fruit, coffee with milk or black tea and a few supplements such as multivitamins or Chinese herbs if I need them.

Lunchtime is tricky.  I can’t dance with a stuffed tummy, so I snack most of the time. When I am busy I don’t even have time to snack, so often I make smoothies with plant based protein powder.  My favorite is a green smoothie made with almond milk, seasonal fruits and coconut water.  Sometimes I eat apples and bananas when I don’t have a smoothie, and I love vegan health bars.  When work is done I have a light lunch.  It could be just salad with some protein in it or even a bowl of soup.

Dinnertime is the biggest meal of the day.  I always eat a full meal no matter how late.  A typical meal is rice with some kind of protein and soup, pasta with salad, and when I have time some sort of appetizer and glass of wine.

I cook pretty much every day.  Sometimes I don’t come home until 10pm but I still cook.  I do grocery shopping on Sunday night or Monday afternoon and I do food prep on Monday, which is the Company’s day off.  I love cooking and I can’t eat food that isn’t good quality.  It is my lifestyle now to cook and feed my love ones quality, healthy food.

Check back next month when I will talk about what is going on behind the scenes at the studio everyday as we prepare for the upcoming performances of The Nutcracker.