Miko Fogarty. Photo by Andrew Ross, Courtesy Birmingham Royal Ballet.

"I'm Forever Grateful Towards Ballet": Miko Fogarty Opens Up About Her Decision to Stop Dancing, and Her Exciting Next Steps

Where in the world is Miko Fogarty? Just three years ago, she seemed unstoppable. After being featured in the 2011 ballet documentary First Position, she became a teenage social-media star, winning top prizes at competitions in Moscow and Varna and at Youth American Grand Prix, and dancing in galas around the world. Last most of us heard, it was 2015 and she had just joined the corps of Birmingham Royal Ballet. A year later, she dropped off the ballet radar.

Turns out Fogarty, now 21, was taking time off to reevaluate her life, including the role she wanted ballet to play in it. She is now starting her junior year as a biology major at University of California—Berkeley and is considering going to medical school. (Her brother and fellow First Position subject, 19-year-old Jules, is a junior in the Berkeley economics department.) On the side she teaches private ballet lessons and gives master classes, and is the part-time conservatory director at San Jose Dance International, a new school in the San Francisco Bay Area led by artistic director Yu Xin. We caught up with her by phone.


Last we heard, you were at Birmingham Royal Ballet. Where have you been over the last couple of years?

I've been kind of quiet on social media about what I'm up to. I hope in the future to be more open with my followers on my daily life. I'm kind of in the process. Right now I'm a premed student at Cal and I'm researching science, which is completely different from what I was doing a couple of years ago. I'm also teaching a lot. I love teaching ballet; it's definitely one of my passions.


What led you to change your path?

Even before I joined a company, I started losing the passion for dancing ballet and feeling like it wasn't the career that I imagined myself doing for much longer. Of course, I didn't open up about this on social media; I didn't want to discourage anyone else. I felt like I had achieved a lot already in ballet, and I was ready for something more to experience. After a whole year of considering it and reevaluating my choices, I decided to apply for college. I was very sure of my decision when I made it, and I have no regrets.

Where did you start your college education?

My first year was at Feather River College, which is in Quincy, California. It's a tiny school in the mountains. It was a nice break from the city life I was living and all the social media. Then I came back and took courses at Contra Costa College.

You were so young when First Position came out, and it catapulted you into the spotlight. Did you burn out? Or did ballet just run its course for you?

I don't mind having followers and posting on Instagram, and being part of First Position was absolutely an honor. That's not what made me want to change. It was ballet as a career—I was going into class and every day I was like, this is not what I want to keep doing. Even performances —when I was younger, I liked the feeling after a performance, but before and during it was kind of nerve-racking for me. It was kind of hard to enjoy; especially competitions. I thought that would change when I joined a company. It was a little better, but I didn't feel the euphoria I hoped I would feel.



You were so known for competitions and galas. I would never have suspected you were so nervous.

I performed better when I was nervous. But I don't want to be nervous all the time. And another side of ballet is always being so skinny. That was really mentally hard for me to sustain healthfully. That caused a little bit of depression for me. That was another reason I decided to do something else.

What were the positives you got from ballet?

Ballet has honestly given me so many amazing experiences. Traveling, knowing how to work hard, how to be disciplined about doing something is such a great skill to have in any field. Ballet taught me how to push myself past my comfort zone. It kept me healthy, and I got so many friends out of it. I'm forever grateful towards ballet. And it will be part of my life forever.

Tell me about San Jose Dance International.

We're still in our infancy. We're just putting together different events, such as Dancing for a Cure, which is a performance to donate to patients with cancer and their families. I recently led a (variations) workshop. It was really fun to teach variations and technique to students in the Bay Area. It's what I do on the side, I guess; right now my full focus is school and research (on brain tumors, at UC—San Francisco). I teach private lessons and occasionally master classes, and help out with SJDI.

Is there anything you want to say to other dancers who might be going through some of the same things that you've gone through?

Be true to yourself, and don't be afraid to switch careers just because you've done ballet for so long or worked so hard. If you feel like you're gonna enjoy a different kind of career, then go for it. But make sure you make your decision well enough that you know you won't regret it. You can have as much ballet as you want in your life – you can have a lot or a little bit, or somewhere in between, like I've been doing. And I want to say thank you to everyone who's been supporting me through this journey.

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Lydia Abarca Mitchell, Arthur Mitchell's First Ballerina, Builds On Her Mentor's Legacy in Atlanta

It is the urgency of going in a week or two before opening night that Lydia Abarca Mitchell loves most about coaching. But in her role as Ballethnic Dance Company's rehearsal director, she's not just getting the troupe ready for the stage. Abarca Mitchell—no relation to Arthur Mitchell—was Mitchell's first prima ballerina when he founded Dance Theatre of Harlem with Karel Shook; through her coaching, Abarca Mitchell works to pass her mentor's legacy to the next generation.

"She has the same sensibility" as Arthur Mitchell, says Ballethnic co-artistic director Nena Gilreath. "She's very direct, all about the mission and the excellence, but very caring."

Ballethnic is based in East Point, a suburban city bordering Atlanta. In a metropolitan area with a history of racism and where funding is hard-won, it is crucial for the Black-led ballet company to present polished, professional productions. "Ms. Lydia" provides the "hard last eye" before the curtain opens in front of an audience.


For more than 25 years, coaching at Ballethnic has been a lifeline back to Abarca Mitchell's days with DTH. She had a stellar career, both with the company and beyond, but left the stage at age 30 after an injury sustained performing in Dancin' on Broadway. Her husband's job transferred them to Atlanta, where she transitioned to a full-time job as a medical transcriptionist while raising a family. Now retired from her second career, Abarca Mitchell continues to forward Arthur Mitchell's legacy, not only through coaching but also by building community among DTH alumni and writing her memoirs—a fairy-tale story of a child who came from the Harlem public-housing projects and became a trailblazing Black ballerina.

Abarca Mitchell grew up during the 1950s and '60s, the oldest of seven in a tight-knit family. She always danced, taking cues from Hollywood figures until a fourth-grade teacher saw her talent and encouraged her to seek formal training. The family couldn't afford ballet lessons, but Abarca Mitchell earned a scholarship to attend The Juilliard School's Saturday youth program, and later the Harkness Ballet's professional training program. But for all of those ballet classes, Abarca Mitchell never had the opportunity to see or perform in a ballet production. She didn't understand the purpose behind ballet's tedious class exercises.

When the fast-growing Harkness Ballet moved its scholarship students to the June Taylor Studio on Broadway, Abarca Mitchell remembers hearing live drumming, clapping and laughter coming from the studio across the hall. It was a jazz class taught by Jaime Rogers, who'd played Loco in the West Side Story movie. Abarca Mitchell started sneaking into Rogers' classes.

When Harkness informed her that her scholarship was exclusively for ballet, Abarca Mitchell left the program. She saw no future for herself in the white-dominated ballet world, and focused on academics during her last two years of high school.

At 17, Abarca Mitchell met Arthur Mitchell. He had made history as the first Black principal dancer with New York City Ballet, which he had joined in 1955, and had just begun to shape what would become Dance Theatre of Harlem when he hired Abarca Mitchell in 1968. Within a month, she was back on pointe. Within two months, she was performing in Arthur Mitchell's Tones. "I didn't even know what ballet was until I was onstage," Abarca Mitchell says. "All of a sudden, it was my heart and soul."

Arthur Mitchell made sure his dancers saw NYCB perform, and subsequently brought Balanchine's Agon, Concerto Barocco and other NYCB works into the DTH repertoire. "Physically and emotionally, I felt the connection of jazz in Balanchine's choreography," Abarca Mitchell says. "His neoclassical style was just funky to me. I could totally relate."

For the first time, Abarca Mitchell danced with people who looked like her and shared the same aspirations, she says, with a leader who "saw us through his eyes of love and achievement."

In Abarca Mitchell's 30s, after a performing career that took her from DTH to the film version of The Wiz to Bob Fosse's Dancin' and beyond, her husband's job took their family to Atlanta. She soon connected with Gilreath and Waverly Lucas. The couple, also DTH alumni, were influenced by Arthur Mitchell's model when they founded Ballethnic, seeking to create access for dancers of all backgrounds to develop as classical dancers and perform a repertoire that represents the company's culturally diverse home city. Over time, Abarca Mitchell became a trusted advisor.

Abarca Mitchell goes in at least twice a year to coach Ballethnic's productions—such as Urban Nutcracker, set in Atlanta's historically Black Sweet Auburn neighborhood, and The Leopard Tale, which features the company's signature blend of classical pointe work with polyrhythmic dance forms of the African diaspora. These final rehearsals give Abarca Mitchell a way to fast-track the transfer of her mentor's values.

Two dancers in blue and black practice clothes and face masks, the woman in pointe shoes, pose together in a first arabesque tendu. Abarca Mitchell steps out of a mirrored pose as she adjusts the fingertips of the male dancer.

Lydia Abarca Mitchell works with Ballethnic's Calvin Gentry and Karla Tyson.

Courtesy Ballethnic Dance Company

She recalls that Arthur Mitchell taught his dancers to present themselves at their finest—to enter a room with their heads held high and shoulders back—and to dress, speak and walk with dignity and self-respect. He reminded them that they were pioneers and ambassadors for Blacks in ballet. As the company gained international stature—Abarca Mitchell was the first Black female ballerina to appear on the cover of Dance Magazine, in 1975—he insisted the dancers remain humble and in service to the greater mission. But he was also a taskmaster. "No nonsense, no excuses," Abarca Mitchell says. "There was no slack. If he was rehearsing something that you're not in, you'd better be on the side learning it."

"He didn't throw compliments around at all. You had to really kill yourself to get a smile from him." After a run-through, she says, "you didn't want to be singled out."

Abarca Mitchell takes a slightly different approach, though she doesn't compromise on the values her mentor instilled. When coaching large casts of all ages and different levels for Ballethnic, she has found ways to inspire people without tearing them down. She calls it a "tough love" approach.

"I've got to make them want to do it. I don't want to beat them into doing it," Abarca Mitchell says. "I tell them, 'You're here because you want to be, and because you auditioned and were accepted. Now, show me why I should keep you here.'"

"I tell them, 'I'm here to make sure you'll look good—you know: 'That looks fake. Let's make it look real. Think about what you're doing, so that it's not just a gesture.'"

Arthur Mitchell instilled this level of emotional honesty in his dancers, and it was key to the company's quick success. "We were bringing a thought forward," says Abarca Mitchell. "We were bringing a feeling forward, so that the audience could connect with us."

In addition to her position as rehearsal director for Ballethnic, Abarca Mitchell is today part of 152nd Street Black Ballet Legacy, a group of DTH alumni who seek to give voice to people responsible for the company's success in its early years. "It's incredible," she says, "how many people took something from DTH and applied it to their lives."

As Ballethnic prepares to co-host the International Association of Blacks in Dance Conference and Festival in January 2022, Abarca Mitchell hopes to help strengthen the network of dance companies associated with Ballethnic, such as Memphis' Collage Dance Collective. "The dream is for all of us to collaborate with each other," she says, "so that it becomes more normal to see a Black ballerina, so it's not just a token appearance."

Today's young dancers face different challenges from what Abarca Mitchell faced. She finds that they're more easily distracted, and sometimes act entitled, because they don't know or appreciate how hard earlier Black ballerinas like herself worked to clear a path for them. But what she's passing on will benefit them, whether they choose to pursue dance careers or become doctors, lawyers, professors or something else entirely. "The principles are the same," she says. "Work for what you want, and you will achieve it."

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