Director & FounderAyako School of Ballet
Artistic DirectorPeninsula Youth Ballet
Originally from Japan, Ayako was a principal dancer with the Tokyo City Ballet Company and the Matsuyama Ballet Company. She has studied with Sulamith Messerer, Aleksei Varlamov and Mikiko Matsuyama. Ayako has performed leading roles in Swan Lake, Cinderella, Nutcracker, Balanchine’s Serenade and many other works. Ayako has been teaching in the United States since 1976, and was ballet mistress and choreographed with Peninsula Youth Ballet before becoming Artistic Director in the fall of 1986. Ayako has choreographed full length Ballet Productions such as Giselle, Sleeping Beauty, Don Quixote, The Little Mermaid, The Little Humpback Horse, Paquita Coppelia and The Nutcracker.
Mariko Takahashi Co-owner and Choreographer
Mariko “Mari” Takahashi is a proud alumna of Ayako School of Ballet. She is currently a professional free-lance performing artist, choreographer and dance instructor. Having been contracted as a principal dancer with companies such as the Oakland Ballet (’05-’09), Peninsula Ballet Theatre (’05-’08), Menlowe Ballet (’11-current) and Moving Arts Dance (’08-current), Mari has toured, performed and taught internationally and throughout the United States. She has also performed with Diablo Ballet, Sierra Nevada Ballet and represented Smuin Ballet at student outreach programs throughout the Bay Area. Industrial credits include Siegfried & Roy’s “The Voice of Magic”, Fox TV’s “So You Think You Can Dance”, The Crucible’s “Dracul” and shows for E*Trade, RSA, and AAD. Mari has worked with choreographers such as Nikolai & Viktor Kabaniaev, Robert Sund, Donald McKayle and Scott Rink. Repertoire includes Giselle (Giselle), Don Quixote (Kitri), The Nutcracker (Sugar Plum Fairy), Sleeping Beauty (Aurora), and works by Val Caniparoli, Vaslav Nijinsky and Eugene Loring, amongst others. Mari is also a signed model with CITY Model Management and well-recognized YouTube personality. She is a graduate of Saint Mary’s College with a BFA in Performing Arts and Liberal Studies. When Mari is not pursuing dance and other artistic endeavors, she spends her time rock climbing, traveling and summitting 20,000 ft. mountain peaks around the world!
Graciela Acedo Ballet Instructor
Graciela began her training in Caracas, Venezuela where she was born and raised. She won a government scholarship to study at Boston Ballet and later was awarded another scholarship from Harkness Ballet in New York. She holds a BA in Performing Arts from Saint Mary’s College and a certificate of methodology and pedagogy of Cuban syllabus. Her first ballet company was Ballet Teresa Carreño, directed by Enrique Martinez. Where Acedo performed the classical repertoire, sharing the stage with prestigious ballet dancers such, Rudolf Nureyev, Fernando Bujones and Julio Boca.
She was a principal dancer with Ballet Nuevo Mundo de Caracas, a contemporary ballet company directed by Zhandra Rodriguez and worked with choreographers such as Judith Jamison, Ulises Dove, John Butler, Gustavo Mallajoli, Elisa Monte, Paulo Denubila, Dennis Nahat, Choo San Goh, and Donald Mackayle among others. She traveled to Europe, Asia, South America and the Caribbean. In the US Graciela performed with Oakland Ballet and has been a guest artist with many bay area dance companies.
Graciela is a faculty member of San Francisco School of the Arts (SOTA), University of San Francisco, Ayako ballet, Berkeley ballet, Diablo (pre professional intermediate program). As a main ballet teacher for the Dance Attack school she created the ballet curriculum. Former Associated Director of Western Ballet and Dance Theater of SF (Assistant director to the summer programs). She taught company class for Oakland ballet and currently for Napoles Ballet as well as being a guess teacher at America’s Ballet in FL, in Venezuela and in Costa Rica. She has been a judge for ballet competitions.
Maria LaMance Master Instructor – Modern and Ballet
A Bay Area native, Maria LaMance received her classical ballet training at the San Francisco Ballet School. As a dance major at San Francisco State University, she broadened her training in Modern Dance, anatomy, and kinesiology. Maria has performed professionally in numerous ballet, modern, and dance theater companies throughout the Bay Area including Peninsula Ballet Theatre, Dance Through Time, Huckabay McAllister Dance, and Moving Arts Dance, with whom she has recently performed principal roles on tours to Belarus, France, and Scotland. Most recently, Maria has been performing with Oakland Ballet, Run for your Life Dance Company, Art Face Performance Group and Menlowe Ballet Company.
Maria has instructed children, teens, and adults in ballet, modern, drama, and character dance for seven years and has directed her staging of Act I of The Nutcracker for San Jose Dance Theatre, and now, for San Jose Youth Ballet. In her teaching, Maria respects the individual anatomical and developmental capacities of every student, and emphasizes the importance of musicality and self-expression in the goal of going beyond technique to connect with the hearts of the audience.
Rika Nina Onizuka Ballet Instructor
A native of the Bay Area, Rika Nina Onizuka trained locally with Ayako Takahashi, Richard Gibson and Zory Karah. She then went on to study at the San Francisco Ballet School, and as a scholarship student at the Joffrey Ballet School and David Howard Dance Center in New York. As a founding member of Smuin Ballets SF, Ms. Onizuka danced many leading roles such as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, Miranda in The Tempest, Shinju, and many other roles created for her by Michael Smuin. Ms. Onizuka most recently danced with Ballet San Jose where she enjoyed leading roles in the Nutcracker, Who Cares?, Death and Eros, and Appalachian Spring. She also danced with the Joffrey Ballet, Ohio Ballet, and San Francisco Opera, and worked with such choreographers as Alonzo King, Donald Byrd, Laura Dean, and Donald Mckayle. She appeared in the nationally televised “Ira Gershwin at 100” at Carnegie Hall and appeared in feature films such as The Fantastiks and The Matrix Revolutions. After her ballet career, Ms. Onizuka attended Stanford University where she earned her undergraduate degree in human biology and master’s degree in Psychology. Ms. Onizuka has taught ballet throughout the Bay Area, including Western Ballet, Ballet San Jose School, and Stanford University.
Rachel Kuczynski Jazz, Contemporary and Acro Instructor
Rachel Kuczynski grew up in Northern California and started her training as a competitive gymnast and track athlete, earning statewide awards in both disciplines. She extensively studied Ballet, Jazz, Modern and Tap at the Academy of Performing Arts in her hometown of Tracy, CA. With that she has received many awards for her Jazz, Contemporary and Musical Theater pieces in multiple competitions. She went on to continue her training at California State University of Long Beach on a Track and Field scholarship, majoring in and acquiring a B.A. in Dance.
After college, she moved to New York to pursue her dance career. Rachel has also studied with the Long Beach Ballet Academy, Atlanta School of Ballet and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre. She has performed works by Martha Graham, Susan Mclain, “Gruisin Suite” by Frank Chavez,” Table of Silence” and “Requiem” by Jacqulyn Buglisi. Her most recent works include dancing and touring with The Modarts Dance Collective Company, based in New York, traveling with the off Broadway show, “Dancing Queen,” by Spirit Productions and performing in the Musical Theater piece “Love Re-routed” for the Capezio A.C.E Awards. She continues to travel in the U.S judging dance competitions and choreographing for multiple dance studios. Rachel is honored to be a part of the Ayako School of Ballet faculty!
Mariko Ishikawa Ballet and Jazz Instructor
Mariko, a San Francisco native, is an alumna of Ayako School of Ballet. She is currently performing professionally with companies such as Albany Berkshire Ballet, Mandance Company San Francisco, and Menlowe Ballet. She has also been invited to perform with Peninsula Youth Ballet, Diablo Ballet and DManagement’s “Performing in Chicago”. In the summer of 2012, Mariko competed for and won the prestigious Beach Blanket Babylon Scholarship for the Arts by the Steve Silver Foundation. Mariko received her BA in Performing Arts and Liberal Studies at Saint Mary’s College.
Karina Eimon Ballet Instructor
For the past two summers, she has participated in courses in Madrid, Zurich, and Marseille, working with faculty from the Paris Opera Ballet, Royal Ballet and other notable companies. Back in 2014, she was invited to compete in the International Ballet Competition in Jackson, Mississippi with Ayako as her coach. Aside from performing, Karina also has a huge passion for teaching. She has taught at ASB and Colorado Ballet Academy. Karina is forever grateful to Ayako for giving her a solid foundation of ballet training and performing skills. It is an honor for her to return to ASB as a guest and teacher, and she hopes to inspire younger dancers as Ayako and ASB/PYB did (and still does!) for her.
Le Mai Linh
George de la Pena