Teen ballet champion got his start because of schoolboy crush

February 03, 2014

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN

The teenage winner of the prestigious Prix de Lausanne admits he only started taking ballet lessons because “a girl that I used to like was doing ballet.”

Haruo Niyama, who captured the top spot, and second-place winner, Sae Maeda, were both highly appraised for their scrupulous and true-to-basics movements at the famed international competition on Feb. 1 in Lausanne, Switzerland.

A second-year student in Matsumoto Daiichi High School in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, Niyama, 17, told reporters why he started taking ballet lessons with a shy smile following the awards ceremony. But, he added, since he started at the age of 7, he has never wanted to quit.

Standing at 165 cm, Niyama has a tiny physique compared to his Western competitors. His ability to leap high by maximizing his flexibility, however, compensated for this, allowing him to express his individual style in the finals.

“I practiced the basics taught by my teacher over and over, which I think led to (winning the competition),” he said.

Niyama also expressed his deepest gratitude many times to his supportive family. His parents watched an online live broadcast of the award ceremony at their home in Matsumoto.

“The road ahead will be tough, but I want Haruo to become a mesmerizing dancer who can perform any given role,” said his mother, Akiko, 56.

Niyama said he hopes to attend a dance school in San Francisco because his role model dancer, David Hallberg, is in the United States. The top six finalists in the competition receive one-year tuition scholarships in a world-renowned dance school or dance company.

“I want to be the kind of ballet dancer who can touch the audience's heart and entertain them,” Niyama said.

Maeda, 15, is a first-year high school student in Yokohama Suiryo Senior High School in Yokohama’s Midori Ward.

“I still feel it is a mere dream, but I am very happy,” she said.

“Today I enjoyed doing my performance in my style.”

Maiko Tahara, Maeda’s homeroom teacher, said she remembers how Maeda enthusiastically wrote about her impressions of ballet stages she had seen and her ballet role models in an exchange of notes with Tahara.

“On the screen, she had a professional face. I want to send her my congratulations,” Tahara said.

Tetsuya Kumakawa, the first Japanese gold medal winner in the Prix de Lausanne in 1989, had some advice for his compatriots.

“Keeping in mind that the Prix de Lausanne is just a starting point, I hope they keep up their pursuit of being a performer in a world that has no limits,” he said.

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
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Haruo Niyama receives the gold medal at the Prix de Lausanne competition in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Feb. 1. (Hiroyuki Maegawa)

Haruo Niyama receives the gold medal at the Prix de Lausanne competition in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Feb. 1. (Hiroyuki Maegawa)

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  • Haruo Niyama receives the gold medal at the Prix de Lausanne competition in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Feb. 1. (Hiroyuki Maegawa)
  • Haruo Niyama practices at Hakucho Ballet Academy’s Matsumoto school in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, in September. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
  • Sae Maeda performs during the Prix de Lausanne competition in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Feb. 1. (Hiroyuki Maegawa)

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