MOGA Conservatory of Dance’s Misa Oga on Reverse Engineering Her Classes
June 27, 2024

Ten years ago, Misa Oga embarked on a journey to create her own classical ballet school. Armed with her childhood training, a BFA in ballet pedagogy and ballet performance from the University of Utah, and an MFA in ballet from the same, she turned a 15-person summer intensive into a 100-student, award-winning school. The secret to her success? Working backward. Or in other words, reverse engineering her ballet class. “Everything in ballet should be reverse engineered from grand allégro,” she says. “If you want to do a tour jeté, you need to start with pliés at the barre. From the youngest age, I structure class intentionally so that everything translates into our larger purpose.” 

Oga spent her early dance years at a school in Northern California called Rachel’s Ballet. In junior high, she decided to take ballet more seriously when her family moved to Japan and she studied at Okawa Ballet. Two years later she returned to the States, where she trained with Russian educators—Victor and Tatiana Kasatsky at Pacific Coast Academy of Dance and, later, V&T Ballet Academy. 

After graduating high school, Oga attended the University of Utah with postgrad performance aspirations. But everything changed when she began taking pedagogy classes from her mentor Regina Zarhina. “I had a lightbulb moment,” Oga says. “I loved breaking down steps and thinking about how we can develop a dancer. That changed my trajectory.” Though she spent some time guesting, freelancing, and teaching at studios around Utah after graduation, it wasn’t long before she took the full plunge into dance education. 

In 2014, she started MOGA Conservatory of Dance in Salt Lake City, Utah. “I wanted to provide a small, student-centered environment for the community,” Oga says of her school. “Studio space opened, and the stars were aligned, and everything happened really fast, but I just went for it.” She trains dancers ages 2 to 18 and ballet to every level. Though the school is not competition-based, Oga has received the Outstanding Teacher Award at YAGP five times since 2018, and, in 2022 and 2024, she received the Outstanding Studio Award. Many of Oga’s students have gone on to attend universities in dance, and one was a finalist at Prix de Lausanne in 2022. That same student is now a member of Ballet West’s second company.

Despite all of her success, her passion for teaching is simple. She loves breaking her class down into repertoire goals and helping her dancers on their paths to achieving them. As her students reach technical goals, they inch closer and closer to their aspirations for professional performance careers. Though those goals are achieved through daily training, Oga’s focus goes beyond the studio. She’s found inspiration in Alonzo King’s words: “The qualities we admire in great dancing are the same qualities we admire in human beings: honesty, courage, fearlessness, generosity, wisdom, depth, compassion, and humanity.” “My students can learn how to be generous, hard-working people through dance,” Oga says. “My hope is that every student at MOGA learns that and can articulate that in their daily life.” 

Photo courtesy MOGA.

Daily class preparation: “I think about what I want to accomplish by the end of each class, and then set my combinations to meet that. I change the combinations each day so they learn to pick up choreography quickly, but I want each class to build toward our larger goals, so there are throughlines from one to another.”

Go-to teaching attire: “I used to wear leotards to teach, but sometimes I’m so busy that I need to go straight from meetings to teaching. I like Lululemon because I can wear their clothes all day and still look presentable.”

Favorite teaching tool: “I like to show the dancers videos of themselves so they can see their corrections. As they get older, they start to see their corrections before I point them out. It puts us on the same page, and trust is built. They can see what I’m talking about, apply it, and progress much faster. I also like to have my dancers practice learning choreography from videos, since that’s often what professional dancers in companies need to do. They watch a video, and then jump in, ready to do the steps correctly. It’s an important skill to have.”

Afternoon energy booster: “I drink orange juice or a smoothie—something high in vitamins that is refreshing and has the energy I need. I also love nuts.”

Food she can’t live without: “I love avocados!”

Beloved nondance activities: “I love spending time with my daughter. To be a good teacher and to be a good dancer, you have to have a balance. Before I had her, all I had was work, work, work. Because of her, I’m a better teacher.”

Ideal day off: “Spending time with my family, getting my nails done, taking time for myself, and going to the beach.”

Post-teaching R&R: “I like to take baths! We just got our master bath remodeled, so it is especially fun to have a new bathroom.”

Items she never leaves home without: “My laptop and my phone.”

Guilty pleasure: “Chocolate!”

How she really does it all: “I have amazing family support. My husband is great. He fills in the holes that I don’t have time for—including within my business. My sister is a tax accountant, so she helps with accounting, and my mother is really good with costumes, so she helps with that as well as some admin stuff. Family is the only way I can do any of this.” 

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