Connect
To Top

Art & Life with Noriko Zaragoza, Assistant to the Directors of San Diego Ballet

Today we’d like to introduce you to Noriko Zaragoza, Assistant to the Directors of San Diego Ballet.

Noriko, please kick things off for us by telling us about yourself and your journey so far.
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 11 pm 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 okay 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 10 pm 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.

Can you give our readers some background on your art?
I enjoy rehearsing dancers. How amazing it is to see them becoming true artists in their own way. Some need more attention, some do it naturally and some need to be pushed. I truly believe that every dancer should have their own artistic understanding and performance. Each dancer definitely grows with experience, life changes and most importantly, by keeping an open mind. It is my job to guide them so that they don’t go the wrong way, help them discover and help them get through it.

Even though I will no longer be on stage, I will always be trying hard, studying a lot with the confidence to do well. I think what I will miss the most about being on stage is the connection and energy you feel from the audience. Every performance is different and the feeling you get from the audience is very special. It is an indescribable feeling when the audience is very excited and it pushes you to perform with a special energy you never knew you had.

In your view, what is the biggest issue artists have to deal with?
Bringing my culture. Even I try not to, but my Asian mind set is always there. You know what I am talking about. 🙂

What’s the best way for someone to check out your work and provide support?
My ballet company is located at beautiful Point Loma NTC. The company has an up coming performance listed on our website: http://sandiegoballet.org/season/.

We have annual Gala coming up soon! You can chat with our beautiful talented dancers and enjoy silent auction! You can auction off my private lesson also! 🙂 http://sandiegoballet.org/events/en-pointe-gala/

I also work at Ballet school under this ballet company call San Diego School of Ballet located at same building and studios. I have my adult Beg/Int ballet class every Thursday 6:45 – 8:15 pm. Drop in welcome! 🙂 http://sandiegoballet.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Winter-2018.pdf

Contact Info:

  • Address: San Diego Ballet
    2650 Truxtun Rd #102
    San Diego, CA 92106
  • Website: http://sandiegoballet.org
  • Phone: (619) 294-7378
  • Email: noriko.zaragoza@sandiegoballet.org
  • Instagram: @missnorikozaragoza


Image Credit:

San Diego Ballet, Emily DeVito

Getting in touch: SDVoyager is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

1 Comment

  1. Chris and Tom McAlexander

    April 21, 2018 at 9:12 pm

    What a wonderful article on Noriko. I have watched her dance for many years. She always gives herself totally to each performance and has been a joy to watch. We miss seeing her perform!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More in