Patience and perseverance serve as life's cornerstones for Cory-Jeanne Murakami Houck-Cox, director of ballet at Bay Area and Brandon School of Dance Arts. • She grew up primarily in New Mexico, but also lived in Iowa and Colorado and classifies herself as a "Rocky Mountain westerner." • Following her 27-year career in ballet, Houck-Cox met her husband, retired Army Colonel Robert Emmett Cox, Jr., through a blind date. They celebrate their 10th anniversary this August. • She occupies her personal time with her love for gardening, fulfilling her teenaged dream of sailing, and, of course, ballet performances. • Houck-Cox recently spoke to Times staff writer Paul Driscoll about how ballet became her true passion, how her mother inspired her, as well as what it's like to teach it today.
How did you fall in love with ballet?
We were living in Corning, Iowa, a very small rural town, where my Dad worked with his parents in their family business. My mother wanted us to be aware of the arts and all it had to offer. So late one evening, with hot chocolate, my mother had my brother, Kevin, and I watch a delayed broadcast of Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev performing, Sleeping Beauty. I asked her what she was wearing and what was she doing, and she replied, "That is a tutu and she is a ballerina." To which I replied, "I want that! I want the tutu … I want to be a ballerina"
Did your childhood have an impact on your decision to begin ballet and take it seriously?
I first took some ballet at age 10 or 11 in Colorado, but we lived 25 miles from Boulder, the nearest place, where I took lessons with my cousin. Then we moved to Los Alamos, N.M., and the nearest studios were in Santa Fe and Albuquerque (45 miles and 100 miles, respectively). So I had to really talk my mother into teaching ballet so I could start learning at age 12. This worked for several years. She then arranged to have New Mexico Ballet from Albuquerque perform in Los Alamos, so I could see the difference, and decide if that was what I truly desired. It was, but because I started being serious about ballet at age 14, I had enormous catching up to do. Perhaps because it seemed so out of reach between distances and age, I worked harder, and was more driven and focused to succeed.
Your Mom, Mary R. "Mariko" Murakami Houck, was also a ballerina and choreographer. How influential was she in your career?
My mother was definitely my inspiration. She was a superb artistic director and choreographer. She had been a dancer and actress. She was in The King and I, Around the World in 80 Days and Kismet. We grew in the art together. She would take and watch classes from some of the most legendary teachers/artists in the world. She was determined to keep relevant in our art. She had insight and vision and would hear a piece of music and know what she wanted to portray. She was tough, but she was neither a dance mom, nor a stage mom. Each year, both my parents would sit me down and discuss my future, the family impact and whether I could withstand the difficult road. I was blessed.
What did it mean to you to participate in the first Asian Pacific American Heritage Month Celebration?
Being of Japanese American descent, it was an honor and privilege. The ballet Winter War, spans the generations, articulating the cultural customs and traditions of honor, family and country. It brings forth the topics of the Exclusion Act, Executive Order 9066, the story of the "Lost Battalion" and the Army's most decorated units, the 442nd and 100th Battalions and their supreme sacrifices. And it is relevant to today with the blending of cultures.
Who are some of the people you've partnered with for performances?
I have partnered with Irek Mukhamedov, for his American tour, who at the time was principal artist with the Royal Ballet of London. He had defected and had been the superstar of the Bolshoi. He is now director of Slovenia Ballet Ljubljana. I also have partnered with: Alexander Lapshin, who now is co-director of Koltun Ballet; Jiang Qi, formerly of Beijing, who was principal artist with Ballet West and is now chair of dance at the University of Cincinnati; Armando Luna, principal with Atlanta Ballet, and now faculty; and Andre Reyes of San Francisco Ballet.
All five of your ballets, which were in the top 12 at the Youth American Grand Prix, were invited to the New York City finals. Talk about what that represents to you.
It is extremely gratifying. I love what I do. I love where I work and the colleagues with whom I work. To me, the success is with the students of BSDA: their hard work and dedication. And it is a great success for the studio. I am thankful to my boss, Teresa Paleveda Oscher, who allowed me to establish an environment for more serious classical ballet. The ensembles that were chosen showed the wide range of my work and that was exciting.
Does the television show Dance Moms deliver an accurate portrayal of teaching young dance students?
It is a reality show, and I have worked in many places, so I don't believe it to be an accurate portrayal However, the talent of the young dancers is very real.
What are the challenges of teaching ballet today?
The challenges of teaching ballet today are sometimes the immediate gratification and expectations of both parents and students. It takes patience and perseverance. Like any good athlete, there will be obstacles and frustrations, but with dedication, perseverance, time and talent, it will come.