My head was saying: “You can’t keep on dancing” – Mayumi Ganley

Portrait Mayumi Ganley

My head was saying: “You can’t keep on dancing” – Mayumi Ganley

She joined the Tokyo Ballet in 1987 and became first soloist the year after. She moved to Europe – where she worked for the Deutsche Oper Berlin, The Peter Schaufuss Company and the Hannover Ballet. She continued her career offstage as a rehearsal assistant and as an Assistant to the Ballet Director for the Peter Schaufuss Ballet, the K-Ballet Company and others. Today she lives between Ulm in Germany and London where she works for the English National Ballet as a ballet mistress. Please welcome Mayumi Ganley!

Please find below the transcript of our conversation:


ballet, dancing, dancer, thought, japan, tokyo ballet, k-ballet, enb, english national ballet, ballet mistress, europe, peter schaufuss, pregnant, work, teaching, chance, stage, move, career

Mayumi Ganley, Harald Krytinar

Mayumi Ganley 00:00
I didn’t really think, okay, now it’s really, time is coming. But it’s more like I always in my head there’s like, like a one little corner My head was saying you can’t keep on bouncing. And then plus I didn’t want to keep on dancing when I look very old on today compared to others.

Harald Krytinar 00:32
Hi and welcome to the maintain years podcast. I’m Harold and I bring two stories from dances and stage artists who share their experiences about career transition. Our guest today joined the Tokyo ballet in 1987 and became a first soloist the year after. She continued to dance career in Europe, where she worked for the Deutsche Oper Berlin, the Peter Schaufuss company and the Hanover ballet. She continued her career offstage as a rehearsal assistant, and as an assistant to the ballet director for the Peter Schaufuss Ballet in Denmark, the K-Ballet company in Japan and others. Today she lives between, Ulm, in Germany and London, where she works for the English National Ballet as a ballet mistress. Please welcome Mayumi Ganley!

Mayumi Ganley 01:18
Thank you!

Harald Krytinar 01:19
It’s so wonderful to have you here. On a tip, you can spend this time together because we’ve been colleagues a long time back. And obviously we like it always easy, you lose touch and but recently, I came across again, your name actually through a shared friend Jonathan, still a pianist, actually, who works for the MB where you work today. So anyway, the loop closed in a way. But I just was so curious to actually find out a bit what happened since we last spoke. And I think there’s so much happened. So I thought it would be really interesting to share it with our listeners. And just to check in with you a bit what your experience was about, you know, being a professional dancer, and then moving into another career. Still dance-related, but on a very different daily rhythm. I’m sure. So Mayumi, I would just like to start with the first question. Maybe you can just tell me, you know, where did you first discover dance? And how did it all… How did it happen that you start to do ballet.

And that was all coming from my mother. She wanted to be a ballet…. I mean, she wanted to dance. But of course, that was like, a difficult time for everybody. So she couldn’t do it. So just all her dream came through me. And so that I was, I started ballet class because of my mother. And then at the same time, I watched my first ballet, which was Sleeping Beauty. And I do not remember, but obviously I liked it. Therefore, I’m here now.

Harald Krytinar 02:56
And how old were you? Do you remember when that all started?

Mayumi Ganley 03:00
I started when I was three years old. Yeah. But I do not remember, to be honest.

Harald Krytinar 03:09
And where did you start? What was the context with ballet classes?

Mayumi Ganley 03:13
That was just like a very local ballet school. But in Japan is like, in Japan, where I’m coming from. It’s, yeah, we don’t have a proper state ballet school, anything like that. So that was all private. And actually ballet, but it’s more like a modern ballet school like that started. And then I think as age went by my parents moved to another city. And then where I started properly classical ballet, but also private. Then from there, like, I just stayed there for a long time, until I get certain age to mean like, like, start thinking to be a professional ballet dancer.

Harald Krytinar 04:12
So when you start to think about becoming a professional ballet dancer. I mean, it was very clear that the initial idea came from your mom, that she wanted you to do ballet. You started doing it, but he also seemed to enjoy it enough to continue doing it.

Mayumi Ganley 04:30

Harald Krytinar 04:31
But you also said there came a point when you wanted to become a professional dancer. So I just want to do you remember that phase when sort of it wasn’t something you decided? Was it something that was offered to you? How did you suddenly – because from going to dance a couple of times a week to wanting to become a professional – there’s a gap there? I mean, how did you close that gap?

Mayumi Ganley 04:50
It’s, um, the thing is like when I was younger, I was very competitive. So like, I wanted to be good, but the thing is like that feeling was much stronger than being a ballet dancer. Just I want to be “good”. And so when I was like sort of teenager, I was interested in other things. So ballet was not, you know, top priority. But then but still I liked it somehow. So I kept going. And then when I finished, and I graduated high school, just no more academic, high school. I didn’t know what to do. So I went to university, but then kind of dance related. So I went there, and I was in the university, studying art, and particularly dance. But then I met the one dancer who was in the school, at the university, and then he told me there’s a company audition in Japan, Tokyo ballet, company audition. Why don’t you do that? And I thought, yeah, maybe I should do. That was kind of like, the time I thought maybe that can be my thing. So I did the audition. And then I luckily, I got in. Even I did not start from the bottom, I was sort of like a one level higher. So I had a lot of chance to dance. Then from there, I started thinking, this is what I want to do.

Harald Krytinar 06:40
That sounds wonderful. There’s, there’s one element that really stuck out for me, you said: I was lucky to get in. And I didn’t even start at the bottom. So I would assume that you had a certain kind of level, you must have been quite good. But it seems you were not aware of where you were on the scale of your skill. So what do you think about that?

Mayumi Ganley 07:02
That is that I, because in Japan that time, they started a lot of competition in national competition. And then I started entering those things. But one day, I’m very good. But next day, I’m so bad. I can’t get through the second round. Oh, something like that sort of thing? Yeah, I’m up and down all the time. So I thought I would sort of good enough. But I couldn’t be so sure. I wasn’t – I didn’t have 100% confident.

Harald Krytinar 07:43
Interesting the confidence part. So once you were dancing as a professional dancer, um, how did you career develop? From the Tokyo Ballet? How did you move on from there professionally? Because you also worked in Europe after that.

Mayumi Ganley 08:01
Yes. That because talk about performed quite a lot in Europe, then I had a lot of chance to see another company in Europe. And then yeah, in Japan, you can also say, being in Tokyo ballet, dancing in Tokyo, but you can say professional because you get paid when you go on stage, but not the salary. So it’s a slightly different system, to European or, yeah, not the country. And then when I saw lots of companies in Europe, I started feeling more and more. That’s where I wanted to live, and work. And then also in Tokyo, but we had lots of chances to work with foreign teachers or choreographers or by assistant to stage some big pieces. So then I start getting that really, I want to step up, you know,

Harald Krytinar 09:11 thank you for sharing that. I think that’s wonderful. For me, it’s very, the way you describe it makes it very easy to understand how one how you added one brick after the other to develop your career. That’s how it sounds to me. It does it doesn’t seem to me that you had this laid-out plan of how it’s gonna be.

Mayumi Ganley 09:34
No, I didn’t have but one thing is apparently according to my mother, I when I was little I used to say I’m going to live in foreign countries. When I that was the only thing but nothing to do with ballet just like that was just like that was always coming out from my mouth.

Harald Krytinar 10:00
Very nice, um, eventually did move to Europe, I believe. And you did work in several companies also throughout Europe. And I wonder you mentioned also, of course, you know, like you said in other companies compared to talk about it that it’s, you can get there’s a regular salary, there’s a contract where you employed. So there’s another set-up ready to work as a professional artist. was that? What was attractive about that kind of set up for you?

Mayumi Ganley 10:34
First of all, you, you know, that you can lead with that salary course. Because when I was in Japan, I was also teaching a lot. Yeah, and then we have, I mean, I still got the support from my parents, because also we have to buy pointe shoes. Yes, sometimes. I was that took about I was not the company, I had to sell the tickets for performances. But that is the system that came in Japan. So that’s first of all, that’s like I, you know, I want to leave, you know, by myself with my things, which I like to do. Yeah, that’s, that’s the whole point. But then took me some years to get that point. Because, first of all, I also told artistic director in Tokyo Bella, I told him, I would like to go to Europe. But then he said, this is not the time, you should be here, another one or two. And then, you know, get the more reps than small here, then move on to Europe. And then I did that.

Harald Krytinar 12:09
Do you remember when you did then you worked as a professional dancer, you move to Europe, you worked in companies? Do you remember the point where you start to think about? You will retire from professional dancing as a full-time professional at some point? Do you remember when that thought came to your mind?

Mayumi Ganley 12:26
Um, he Yes. Yes. But uh, first, I like I have, first of all, the point, which is, okay, now, I had enough of classical ballet. And the classic robot is like, physically, it’s a little bit too demanding, so that it’s a bit too hard. So now, I can move to another company, and then do a little bit less stressful. So it’s not technical. So you have to give the full energy, but then do more making, enjoying dancing more at that point. But then, yeah, of course, when I was getting older and older than I was the oldest one in the company. And then, yeah, it’s, then I thought maybe by that time, I was married. So like, I thought when I get pregnant, I’m going to stop. Yeah. And then that actually happened.

Harald Krytinar 13:38
Work regulations for that. But I don’t mind a tour. I think it’s, it’s, it’s an interesting evolution. For me. The question is, so you did consider a new sort of laid out a bit conditions when would be the right time? I don’t know. I would like to ask you one question, if that’s not to private, but when you felt you were the oldest, how old? Were you? That would be curious just to know that.

Mayumi Ganley 14:03
It’s actually already when I was in a classical company, that was a Hanover ballet. Already, I was the oldest when I was when I left was 32. I was already oldest. Then I moved on to Denmark, to the Peter Schaufuss Ballet. That’s already when I joined that I was all of this. So I started oldest but. Sort of like, what Peter Schaufuss, director deck that he was trying to do was like so energetic – and then when you get more younger dancers. It’s very difficult keep up with them. They can do like 100 times full out, but, of course, I can’t. And so that’s the time but Still, I didn’t really think. Okay, now it’s really, time is coming. But it’s more like I always in my head, there’s like, like a one little corner, my head was saying you can’t keep on bouncing. And then plus I didn’t want to keep on dancing when I look very old on stage compared to others. That so maybe I’m like, I’m sort of like easygoing, sort of like when I face something, then I think about it. Do I really like a reset? I didn’t plan anything. Not really particular plan. But of course, there is like, I can’t keep on dancing. But then when I stopped dancing, but I didn’t know what to do.

Harald Krytinar 16:04
Do you remember when for you it was really the last performance or the last season? You remember that? When it was sort of a very clear decision from you that he said what, you know, this is it.

Mayumi Ganley 16:16
Thing is, actually, I found out in a summer holiday, I was pregnant. And I could have, you know, I could have been back dancing again after pregnancy. But yeah, I just decided to stop right there. So that’s why it’s I got all my last performance was already passed. was already done. So yeah. So

Harald Krytinar 16:49 yeah, it’s not emotional moment or anything like that. But how did you feel about the fact that you were like, Oh, my last performance has been already? You didn’t? How did you feel about that?

Mayumi Ganley 16:59
Yeah, it was just like a well, it’s it was that? Um, yeah, but it’s because yeah, having a baby is just like, such a big thing. So it’s like, yeah, I didn’t really have a time to think about or look back.

Harald Krytinar 17:19
I would like to ask you, so if that sort of evolution, you noticed that you were pregnant, you decided for yourself? You didn’t want to come back? After that? Do you remember? How did your relation with your colleagues develop?

Mayumi Ganley 17:33
Um, they were very good. I mean, I somehow I could stay as you know, to keep the reps and then also teaching class for the school. And just Yeah, I was sort of a half there. And they’re all Yeah, very supportive. Yeah. It’s absolutely a fantastic time actually being pregnant.

Harald Krytinar 18:09
And it’s wonderful. So I wonder, but you also mentioned about your career development, you said you didn’t really know what to do. Was there a moment where you found more clarity where you started to get a new perspective? How did that come around?

Mayumi Ganley 18:25
That’s just like, one side of me just thinking, I wish I could start completely something completely new. But then the other side is like, What can I do? So that was the thing. And then also, I was also lucky again there, because I was not sure about it, but the being the kind of want to know, being the oldest dumpster in the company and being the chef’s valet or just because I was, Peter, thought I was good at it. I’m not sure but he gave me a lot of chance to teach. Company class and also his ballet schools class. Also, like, I could do this…. I was headmistress of the school. And then a we could report my school performances this, stuff like that. So I had a bit of training there. So that was like sort of Yeah, Peter, sort of like a guided me through that way.

Harald Krytinar 19:52
So that really opened up for you a new perspective about teaching and how to transfer knowledge and still to younger dancers, really.

Mayumi Ganley 20:02
Younger dancers, but that, but then, at the same time I thought, like is teaching the students is not my thing because I didn’t have a proper ballet education. Because I came from a Japanese private ballet school, I had never been into the like, proper ballet school. So I don’t have any particular method or anything. I can help them, uh, technically, but I can’t teach the method or anything. So there I started thinking more, you know, so companies side, to teach company.

Harald Krytinar 20:46
And how did that then develop? You worked at the ballet school eventually did I think move into the work of working with professional ballet dancers? How did that transition happen for you?

Mayumi Ganley 20:58
Um, yeah. So to say the Peter Schaufuss Ballet I taught company class. Sometimes we take a bit of rehearsal. But then, yeah, when I was pregnant, I start thinking, yes, I do need my second carrier. And then I just, I was looking the usual, like “Dance Europe”, just seeing what is out there. Then I just found the K Ballet Company which is in Japan. This is looking for the ballet mistress. So then I thought, why not? Um, that I wasn’t really expecting. But I just applied anyway. Then I started that, that’s where I started my ballet mistress carrier.

Harald Krytinar 21:58
Okay, so you moved to Japan? Again?

Mayumi Ganley 22:01
Yeah. For three years.

Harald Krytinar 22:05
For three years, you move back to Japan? Yeah. Okay. And that was not the end of the journey. What happened after that you?

Mayumi Ganley 22:14
Then I realized why I’d left Japan. The thing is that also my personality is a little bit too much in the Japanese society. And then that’s why I left Japan in the beginning. Because you can’t, but that was, you can’t say 100% what you want to say to everybody? And if you do that, everyone will hate you. And then, yeah, but anyway, I realized that I left Japan many years ago because I didn’t really fit in the Japanese society. But then back in Japan working with K-Ballet was okay. I think that position was kind of I thought position, was quite good and I could fit in. But all the commuting, and just the traveling every day. Just that was a little bit too much. It’s actually working hour is 24/7. Telephone, emails just keeps coming. 24/7. So with my daughter, I couldn’t do that. So that’s why I started looking for jobs in Europe again. Okay.

Harald Krytinar 23:55
And you did, like you said three years later, you did move back to Europe?

Mayumi Ganley 24:00

Harald Krytinar 24:00
Today you work at the English National Ballet. For you, how do you think, having moved away from the professional activity as a dancer to be now a ballet mistress, doing the rehearsals working with a company with professional dancers, how does that how do you relate to that position?

Mayumi Ganley 24:26
Um, I think like, I can say but that I’m sort of I’m good at it, because I,… my body wasn’t really good for dancing, so I struggled a lot. And therefore I know when people have any problem, I know somehow the way to help them. So that’s, Yeah, that is my, from my dancing carrier to this part being a ballet mistress, is sort of like a really strong pack. Yeah.

Harald Krytinar 25:16
When you look back when you went for the still a professional dancer, and how did the perspective look for you looking forward? You know, how did you feel at the time about the future? But you know, you said a few times you said, You know, I didn’t quite know what to do. I was lucky. And this happened. How did you? You know, how did you look into the future at the time? Were you worried about it? Where you, you thought the right thing will come along? How did you deal with those emotional? The emotional aspect, I guess, of the development?

Mayumi Ganley 25:46
Most of the time, I think most of time, I was quite optimistic. Something will come in the end. Yeah, of course, I had a hard time as well. But somehow there is always will be okay. Just Yeah. Believe yourself sort of, like that. Yeah.

Harald Krytinar 26:17
Do you remember at the time that you had some kind of, I don’t know, Was there some kind of support? I mean, how did you manage that? Was it? You know, were you was it pretty much you with yourself? Or do you was to some kind of network of friends or family that could give you support?

Mayumi Ganley 26:33
It’s, yeah, of course, family is always support. But that’s kind of mentally. Yeah. But oh, so yeah, once I started this ballet mistress job in Europe, I met one person. But when I was looking for a job and another job, another better job to move on to. And then yeah, she had been helping here and there always. There is a chance. I mean that this company is looking for a ballet mistress. Why don’t you try. And then another company, so time to time I had this person, but most of the time, it didn’t work out well. But yeah, always her support helped me quite a lot. Of course, when I got this English National Ballet job, it’s just like, I was, okay, this is the last chance for me. I’m going to try ENB is a big name, but I just try. And then if it doesn’t happen, then it doesn’t happen. This is it. I’m gonna just change somehow ballet somewhere. I give a go. goes with your recommendation from her as well. And then I got this position.

Harald Krytinar 28:01
When you are a professional dancer, people often say I am a dancer, which means you know, the identify like with the profession, and who they are, it’s sort of one thing almost. And I just wonder if you’re, I don’t know if it was for you as well. A bit like this, that you? You felt like I’m a dancer, as like the whole of you is a dancer. Did you feel like that at the time?

Mayumi Ganley 28:23
Yes. When I was dancing? Yeah. Especially when I came to Europe. Okay. Before that. I couldn’t say that.

Harald Krytinar 28:32
And how do you think that has evolved since then, like, you are not an active dance anymore. So how do you think this kind of the, this vision of yourself or this or the way you look or consider yourself, how do you think that has evolved? do you how do you define yourself today as a retired dancer, and you’re also a ballet mistress? Or, you know, how did that evolve that self-perception?

Mayumi Ganley 28:55
It’s sometimes they I find it a little bit hard for me to understand. Because once you’re dancer, it’s like, you’re always a dancer. In your head, like, I’m sure you also have like sort of mentality being a dancer somewhere. So but now, I am not a dancer, dancers are in front of me dancing. So I have to know. I yeah. It’s very difficult but I wouldn’t say retired dancer, either. I should maybe but I don’t categorize myself a retired dancer. It is very, very difficult. And yeah, somewhere in me wants to still like you know, be a dancer because I really like the time when I was dancing, but now, I can’t do it. So very difficult. Yeah. difficult to answer, sorry.

Harald Krytinar 30:18
I can see that you’ve got, I think emotionally found if I see it correctly through the screen. But I just wonder like, you think you said you really enjoyed the time as a as an active dancer. But I wonder if also having moved out of this very strict rhythm and a very particular lifestyle that comes with it. I wonder if there are some elements actually that that you find extremely positive about not having to be in that kind of work environment anymore? Do you sometimes think, Well, I’m glad that is over, do you think or this is actually, this is much nicer. This is much nicer for me. Because I can do other you know, because you can live your life differently. Do you have sometimes those moments where you feel like, Oh, this is a very positive change that I’m experiencing today, compared to your active time as a dancer?

Mayumi Ganley 31:07
Oh, that’s the one thing I’m sure lots of people say like this, this pandemic. And, I don’t know, as a dancer, if I could survive, or that I think that’s, I thought I was like, thank God, I wasn’t a dancer anymore. But also another time is like, when you are, you have like a very, very short time to get ready for the performance. But you somehow have to get ready. Or some very, not great environment just you have to go on stage, put the makeup on and everything and then you have to give 100% those stressing stressful situations. When I see all the dancers are facing I I can only say okay, you can do it, you can do it. Just petting them to make them convinced, but I when I see them facing that I feel Yeah. Now I’m, yeah, I’m on the better side.

Harald Krytinar 32:26
Just as you told me that story, even myself, I felt I didn’t have a particular scene in my mind. But I could just feel those moments, which you just describe the but you feel just not ready enough. But you know that there’s no choice but to do it. And, and of course, you always do it and you always get it done. And everybody does, of course, you know. But it is a very particular pressure. You know, of course, you could just turn around and say, Listen, I’m not doing this. But of course, nobody ever does that. And it creates a very, very strong pressure, of course, that you learn to deal with. But it’s it costs a lot of energy, of course to make that happen every time. Yeah. Yeah. I would like to slowly round up maybe our exchange today, which I thought was extremely insightful. And I thank you so much already for sharing such personal experiences. So as I think it’s really wonderful that that you allowed us to, to understand a bit how it worked for you. Can you think of any other experiences that are linked to your career development and evolution of your career that you think would be interesting to share or that you think would be an interesting aspect for people to realize?

Mayumi Ganley 33:43
Yeah, it’s that. Yeah. connection with people. Very important. Yeah. So now, nowadays, like social media, and then you’re actually connected with everybody. But like, I wouldn’t say a physical connection, but like, of course, a little bit deeper than just like checking Instagram or just like sending messages within Instagram, not like that. It’s a little bit deeper than that, like, humans are human even. It’s not physical. Those kinds of things are very important to get the sort of like chance to Yeah, to be in a different carrier or anything. That’s I find it’s like when I moved on, like from dancing to being a ballet mistress in Tokyo that was also that was like, there’s also connection and then When I came back from Japan to Europe also that was my friendship connected me to go to come back to Germany. And then also from in a moving company to company in Germany, as a ballet mistress. Also there was a connection. It’s like a friendship is very important.

Harald Krytinar 35:27
I can see the meaning, I mean, on a personal level, but it seemed like it was an enabler for you also to feel more connected, but also to really create things that made sense to you. Based on those friendships.

Mayumi Ganley 35:41
Yeah. Because I’m like, I’m just no one. You know, I’m like, no one, everyone. There’s no one I’m not special. So there’s just like, little push from someone can make, like, a real difference. Yeah,

Harald Krytinar 36:02
As a last question, I would like to ask you. Because you just said with a little push from someone, I mean, if just the mind game, but if you could go back in time, and you could be, you could give yourself some advice about, you know, moving on in your career, what do you think would be most helpful that you know, today that you would have loved to have somebody like yourself, tell yourself, like, those years back when it was all ahead of you?

Mayumi Ganley 36:31
Um, I, so your question is that I would tell myself, or…

Harald Krytinar 36:37 … if you could give yourself some advice, with what you know, today, what part of that knowledge, you know, would you think this would be the most helpful element actually,

Mayumi Ganley 36:48
That’s also like, in the past that I had a like when I was sort of, I faced through that difficult situation or very, when I was down, sometimes I really cut other people. And then those times I shouldn’t I just, I just hope I hadn’t done that. So that’s, that’s kind of like, you know, those times you need other people to support you. It doesn’t have to be like, proper support just being with you. It’s good enough. So that, I did.

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