Kaori Nakamura is a disciplined woman. It’s a tricky business balancing home life, including her lively 15 month old daughter Maya, and the demanding career of a principal dancer in a major ballet company, not even to speak of taking on key roles with Whim W’Him in between Pacific Northwest Ballet reps. When I asked her recently how she manages to do it all, the answer involved a well-planned schedule and a lot of help from her husband, John Brandhagen. “He is wonderful,” she says, and—to the astonishment of Kaori’s mother in Japan—”he does everything I do for Maya, even changing diapers.”

An ordinary day in Kaori’s life starts around 7 or 7:30, when Maya awakes. Kaori feeds her, plays with her and does “whatever makes her happy.” She likes to drink apple juice while her mama has her necessary coffee. “Coffee is important to me,” she says. At 9:30 or so, after Kaori has cleaned up and vacuumed and done the laundry, the nanny comes and it’s off to PNB.

“The studio,” she says, “is my relaxed place.” One person’s relaxation is another’s exhaustion. Ever since she came to PNB in 1997 as a soloist and was promoted the next year to principal, I have noticed what a hard worker she is. Whether it’s with PNB or Whim W’Him, Kaori brings her formidable technique and strong acting skills to many kinds of roles, dancing with true dedication and a burning desire for perfection.

After company class, Kaori has rehearsals sometimes until 1:00 or 3:00 or 7:00. At home, Maya is full of energy, walking, running, reaching for everything. She’s started saying words. “I’m talking to her in Japanese, but she only says English so far. When I go home, she has new words every day. Like her mother, she also loves to dance.

I asked Kaori how being a dancing mother compares to life before her child. “It’s harder,” she says. “I don’t have time for myself.” For example, “I’m sick today. I can’t go home and sleep. I have to take care of her. And after performances…” But she smiles broadly, and adds with total conviction, “But it’s all worth it, I have to say!”

Next up: Chalnessa’s leaps into the unknown