Ballet grad Ruiko Jacobs on gaining confidence and preparing for her next chapter

School of Dance grad Ruiko Jacobs’ life-long love of dance started in preschool during a class singing performance. “I was having fun creating my own choreography, making the audience laugh and having a great time,” she recalls. While her school principal may have been unamused, her parents recognized a passion for dance and immediately enrolled her in classes. 

That started Jacobs on her dancing journey, first at studios in her hometown of Greenville, NC, then to UNCSA, which she was first introduced to when her studio made the trip to Winston-Salem for the UNCSA Festival of Dance. Every February, from the ages of ten to 16, the Festival gave her the opportunity to take classes with UNCSA faculty, explore the campus and see the annual Winter Dance concert. “I can clearly remember the Winter Dance when I was waiting to hear back on whether or not I had been accepted as a high school senior, watching from the balcony and just thinking, ‘I want so badly to be here,’” says Jacobs. 

Ruiko Jacobs headshot

2023 School of Dance grad Ruiko Jacobs / Photo courtesy of Jacobs

Jacobs completed her high school diploma at UNCSA and chose to stay for her undergraduate degree in ballet. During those years, she has graced the stage in various roles such as Dew Drop in “Nutcracker” and in memorable pieces such as Winter Dance 2022’s “Napoli” and Winter Dance 2023’s “Serenade” as the Dark Angel. 

As she prepares to leave UNCSA, we caught up with Jacobs to learn more about her time in the School of Dance and what lessons she is taking with her as she plans to pursue her dream of being in a ballet company. 

What is a favorite performance or project you were a part of at UNCSA? Why?

I think that every performance I’ve been part of during my time here has helped me grow in a different way and I can’t pick just one. In my first year, I was in a lot of corps de ballet roles that involved things like sitting in a chair onstage. That year I was coming from my small hometown studio, where I was one of the better dancers, to UNCSA, which is a lot more rigorous and advanced. It was almost like starting from the bottom up again, which was a good learning experience and helped me get used to being onstage.  

Ruiko Jacobs

Ruiko Jacobs (center) as Dew Drop in the 2022 performance of "The Nutcracker" / Photo: Peter Mueller

“The Nutcracker” has been a really big part of my UNCSA experience. My second year was the year we created the “Nutcracker” film and I loved the opportunity to dance for a film camera. We also did an in-house live-streamed performance which meant my family in Japan got to see me dance for the first time ever. In 2021, I got to originate the role of Dew Drop. Part of that was teaching myself not to be nervous while performing on stage – especially in a role requiring solos. I think that “The Nutcracker” season helped me grow confident in myself as a dancer and artist. 

I’ve also enjoyed both Winter Dance 2022 when I was in “Napoli” and 2023 when I was in “Serenade.” “Napoli” was such a fun experience; even my dad said that was the best show he had ever seen and his only connection to ballet is me. “Serenade” was my first experience with Balanchine choreography and that was a very exciting and fun piece to be a part of. 

If you could say thank you to the people who have been most influential to you at UNCSA, who would it be? Why?

My first thank you would go to Ms. Eva Draw, who recently retired. She took me under her wing first and wanted me in her class. She retrained me in a way and worked with me to build a solid foundation. She got me really strong physically and fixed up my technique. She realized what my potential could be and really wanted to draw it out of me.

Next would be Jennet Zerbe. She has made me so strong and helped me refine my technique and artistry and grow into the dancer I am now. She is the reason I feel so confident in my dancing right now.

Without both Draw and Zerbe, I wouldn’t be who I am now. 

Do you have any plans for after graduation? 

I have one apprenticeship offer from a ballet company in the southwest. I both sent in audition reels and attended in-person auditions at companies nationwide. I was invited to audition in person for this company, I took the chance and now I have an offer. 

Don’t get frustrated if things don’t work out immediately. Everything will fall into place.

Ruiko Jacobs

What is something you wish someone had told you when you were a new student at UNCSA?

Slow and steady wins the race. Don’t expect results right away. Don’t get frustrated if things don’t work out immediately. Everything will fall into place. 

Share one of your failures or hardships during your time at UNCSA. What did you learn?

Throughout my dance career, I have struggled with a number of injuries and still am figuring out how to deal with them. I know they will stay with me throughout the rest of my time dancing, which can be hard. However, I have grown more resilient with having to struggle physically and mentally. During my injuries, I have continued to refresh my love for dance. Before I came here, any time I was injured, I would feel defeated and like I wanted to give up and stop dancing. But when I was injured at UNCSA, there was a month when I couldn’t do anything, which I hated. Every time I would watch class, I would feel like, ‘I can’t wait to get back; I want to be dancing with everyone else right now.’ It made me more open and excited to get back. 

Through my injuries here, the Wellness Center was so helpful in getting me back on my feet and better than I was before strength-wise. They also made sure I was in a good place emotionally and mentally. I know I will face similar issues down the road but I am more equipped to handle it now.  

Ruiko Jacobs in Swan Lake

Jacobs in the "Swan Lake Pas De Trois" from Winter Dance 2022 / Photo: Rosalie O'Connor

What's an opportunity you had at UNCSA that's different from other universities?

The performance opportunities are so rich at UNCSA. We are on stage very often. Having to do 13 shows of “Nutcracker” is something I’m probably not going to get to do again for a while. Also, performing with a live orchestra is so special. 

“The Nutcracker” taught me how to grow from having to do one dance so many times throughout a two-week span. I learned how to make each performance personally exciting and keep myself inspired. Also, I had to learn how to keep myself physically fit and able to keep going for two weeks. Those are all really valuable skills as I go out and pursue a professional career. 

by Melissa Upton-Julio

May 05, 2023