shanghai dancing school

“She has that ability to take your breath away at times on stage,” says artistic director Stanton Welch, who’s teaching today’s class. “That’s what you’re looking for as a choreographer and a director: somebody who has that unexplainable thing.”

For Kajiya, 31, that magic was hard earned. As a 10-year-old girl, she moved from her hometown of Nagoya, Japan, to China in 1994 to attend the Shanghai Dance School, a government-run institution where students were handpicked from countless applicants for their perfect ballet bodies—the long legs and high arches. Which was a problem for Kajiya. “I didn’t have any of that,” she says.

Yuriko Kajiya worked her way to the top of the ballet world—and is inspiring other girls to do the same