Some professional dancers move into choreography and teaching as a natural progression in their careers while others take an entirely different journey. Forging her path is exactly what Mari Takahashi did after she left her job with the Oakland Ballet Company behind.
She’s now one of the world’s top female gamers and is well known for her work with the YouTube channel, Smosh Games. While she’s an incredible gamer, she admits that she winds up in second place on all of those dance-related video games.
“I think I win on performance and that's what matters to me,” she laughs.
Dance Dish had the opportunity to talk with Mari about how she took the road less traveled as an artist and how her career in dance prepared her for the work she does today.
Dance Dish: Your mom was a professional dancer, so I imagine you were practically born in a dance studio?
Mari Takahashi: My mom performed with the Tokyo City Ballet and danced her whole life — it was her career. She became a choreographer and a teacher and still has a ballet school, Ayako School of Ballet, in the San Francisco Bay area. When I was born, [the dance studio] was my second home, but it was more like my first home because I spend so much time.
DD: Was your mom your first teacher or did you study with other people when you were growing up?
Mari: She was my first teacher, but I also was taught by a bunch of other people who worked in our studio or came in for a workshop — notable ones being Mikhail Tchoupakov or Michael Lowe. A lot of people came in and out, but my mom was my constant teacher.
DD: Did you cross-train in other forms of dance or were you strictly trained in ballet?
Mari: I would say [my training was] 90 percent ballet and 10 percent everything else. Ballet was always the main goal. I think I started to love contemporary at the end of high school when I was able to finally tap into my emotions and outwardly perform without feeling self-conscious.
Ballet always gives you a very safe and structured way of dancing. I think I always adhered to that and it took me a while in my dance career to kind of learn to let go, be vulnerable with my feelings and express that through dance.
DD: I know you are very athletic even outside of the dance studio. Was that something that you were allowed to explore during your ballet career?
Mari: I did absolutely nothing except for ballet. I always wanted to do karate since I was a little kid and I was told that I would develop different muscles. I wanted to be on a soccer team because I just wanted to kick things. [She laughs.]
In my mid-twenties, something clicked in one year and I just decided to go out and do stuff. I did this despite my contract and I went skiing in the Alps by myself. I started rock climbing the same year I started ice climbing and mountaineering. I even decided to go climb Mount Kilimanjaro.
DD: When did you start thinking that dance might not be the end game for your career and that you might go in a different direction?
Mari: It was 2010. I know, even as an old lady, I'll look back on it as the year that started to shake things up in my life. I don't know if I saw whatever I was doing would be as impactful as it has been. I don't think I saw it as a career shift.
As a dancer you take any side gigs that come about — modeling or in my case, being a magician's assistant or taking a gig for a YouTube channel like Smosh. That was my 2010 and it launched me on a different path that I wasn't expecting in any way, but I'm forever grateful for it.
DD: Do you miss the day-to-day of a dance career? Are you still taking classes for your health and fitness?
Mari: I do miss it, but it's bittersweet. I wouldn't say that I have an inkling of regret, but I miss it every day.
As far as taking dance now, I take ballet from time to time. Ballet is really hard. I get to approach it with a more lax view now and I get to enjoy it for myself. I feel like I get to laugh about it now and think, Man, the construct of ballet is impossible stuff. [She laughs.]
DD: How has your training set you up successfully for a career outside of dance?
Mari: I'm grateful for everything that I've learned in ballet and dance. I think it has set me up to learn to adjust and be malleable. I’ve also learned to come at every situation with humility, discipline and hard work.
DD: What's your best advice for taking that leap of faith and making that transition to a career outside of dance?
Mari: I would say that dancers can evolve, grow and learn quickly. Dancers have the discipline and all the right tools to transition into other careers. But the most important thing is to trust yourself.
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