Miki Mizutani is warming up, ready for another intense day of rehearsals with Birmingham Royal Ballet, and there’s one thing that makes her stand out from her fellow dancers – her incredible leg warmers.
The soloist, originally from Japan, loves knitting, crocheting and sewing, and proudly shows off her creations at any given chance. Today, she’s opted for homemade pink and grey striped leg warmers.
The 24-year-old digs out her knitting needles during breaks in rehearsals and puts the finishing touches to creations at home after a long day in the studio or on stage. “When I’m knitting I feel so relaxed,” Miki tells HuffPost UK. “I concentrate on doing the movement, it’s so therapeutic and it makes me feel calm.”
Miki trained at two prestigious schools – Acri-Horimoto Ballet Academy in Saitama, Japan, and the London-based English National Ballet School – but says life as a professional dancer is still more gruelling than she anticipated.
Since joining Birmingham Royal Ballet in 2012, she has had a full schedule; when the company is performing, Miki works Monday to Saturday, with six to nine performances each week. Alongside this, she does a 75min ballet class every morning, plus two-three hours of rehearsal before the show begins. Rehearsal periods aren’t much easier, with dancers spending around seven and a half hours in the studio each day, with additional training or rehabilitation on top. The fast pace is physically, as well as mentally, challenging.
“It’s much harder than I thought,” she says. “In the rehearsal period it’s really short, so you have to learn the steps really quickly, then do the performance.”
But knitting during rest periods while catching up on her favourite TV (she’s a big ‘Bake Off’ fan) helps Miki find some headspace. “It makes me concentrate on something other than dance, so it helps me find quite a good balance,” she says. “Otherwise I go home and all I think about is the steps.”
Birmingham Royal Ballet spend much of the year touring around the UK and the dancers tend to share AirBnBs wherever they visit. Miki’s easily transportable hobby is perfect for calming any pre-show nerves and she never leaves home without some wool.
“Pressure is always there,” she explains. “If you are doing soloist roles in the middle of the stage there’s pressure because you are going to be seen by everyone. But if you’re dancing at the back of the stage with the main company, there’s still pressure because you have to be together with the other dancers.”
Miki learned the basics of knitting from a friend, but has since honed her skills by watching YouTube tutorials. She finds her design inspiration online or by looking at knitted or crocheted products in shops, and has so far made clothes, a teapot cosy and crocheted scenes from her favourite films, like ‘Alice in Wonderland’. But her favourite creation to date is a baby blanket she made after one of the company’s principle dancers had a child.
“I love to see other people happy. If they like what I’ve made it makes me really happy to see them use it and enjoy it,” she says.
So, will we be seeing her masterpieces on sale any time soon?
“No, not yet,” she laughs. “One day I want to, but I feel like I’m not that good yet. I should learn properly first.”
If you ask us, she’s pretty good already.
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