Ella Fukushima proves hard work isn’t that hard when you love what you’re doing
She’s got grace, poise and potential.
- Written byAmber Klinck
- Photographed byJeff Berting
The halls of the Redondo Beach Dance 1 studio echo with sounds of excitement as the students greet fellow dancer Ella Fukushima. At 14 years old, Ella is a vibrant and enthusiastic teenager with years of experience as a dancer and big dreams to turn her love for dance into a professional career.
Ella’s been dancing since she was a toddler, but it’s been during the last five years, she explains, that her practice has become more serious. “Dancing seriously to me means I knew that I wanted to be a dancer when I grew up and do it professionally. Dancing is my entire life.”
“You’re just flowing through the movements. I think that’s freedom, and I like that freedom. That’s the best part.”
Another big moment for Ella was when she was promoted to pointe. “When you see the professional dancers, they’re all on pointe when they’re performing. I’m just like them, just a little beginner.”
It’s easy to see how passionate Ella is about dancing; her enthusiasm is contagious. It’s that same enthusiasm, however, that nearly makes you forget the amount of discipline and dedication Ella has committed to her practice.
In addition to ballet, Ella studies lyrical, jazz, hip-hop, tap and contemporary. She dances six days a week, going straight from school to Dance 1 where she takes classes from 4 to 8:30 p.m. The school is typically closed on Sundays, though students are sometimes there for rehearsals.
When asked how she balances her schedule, Ella doesn’t skip a beat. “You have school and you have your friends at school, and [when you’re asked to go out] it’s hard to say no. But at the same time, if you’re doing what you love and you’re dancing, it all makes up for it.”
It helps that there’s an undeniable sense of camaraderie between the dancers at Dance 1. “My dance friends are really close friends; they’re like my second family. So when I’m at dance, I’m with my friends,” Ella says.
The entire staff at Dance 1 emphasizes this highly supportive—rather than fiercely competitive—mentality. “I know this may sound really corny,” says Dance 1 owner, artistic director and ballet principal Francesca Stern, “but I really feel blessed to be able to dance. And I think a lot of our dancers are really lucky … especially when you go around the world and see how other people are living.”
This humble appreciation merges with a sophisticated level of training, creating a learning environment that both nurtures the student’s love for dance and emphasizes the importance of hard work and discipline. Younger students are paired with older student mentors. There’s a quiet study room where the dancers work on homework in between classes. And everyone greets each other warmly and by name.
ELLA’S YEAR IN HEALTH
“I have a salad every day for lunch; normally my dad packs it. It [has] sesame oil, lettuce, spinach, carrots, and sometimes we have sunflower seeds for crunch. For breakfast my dad makes me these breakfast sandwiches [with] whole grain wheat toast, avocado and scrambled eggs.”
“Normally at home I do core exercises. There’s a seven-minute workout challenge that I sometimes do with my dad, just to get a quick warm-up.” (This is, of course, in addition to her rigorous dance schedule.)
“I love ice cream, and my favorite ice cream is from Whole Foods. It’s the Coolhaus Bananas Foster and Dulce de Leche. It’s really good, and when you open up the cap, it literally says, “You deserve it!” But you have to assess what you’ve eaten before, because if you eat unhealthy it’s going to bring you down when you dance.”
“Misty Copeland. I think she’s really inspiring because she started a little later than most dancers, but she’s still a principal dancer and she’s highly respected.”
“I always want to be more flexible. My hips are kind of tight, so I have to do more stretching. If I want to have my battements, which are like high kicks, as high as everybody else’s, I need to stretch harder and do stuff at home.”
“There are these Sophia Lucia Pirouettes in our store. It’s a split sole, so it just covers your toes so when you’re turning, your toes don’t get left behind.”