Interviews

Kathy Mata on her Adult Ballet Company

Kathy Mata knows all the names of every one of her hundreds of adult ballet students - believe it or not she'll go around the room and list names off to prove it to you. Kathy, who has been teaching adult ballet students exclusively for over 30 years, has made it her life mission to bring the ballet aspirations true of adults all across the Bay Area. Kathy Mata Ballet, the adult performing group she founded 30 years ago from a community center and her San Francisco living room, performs across the city to packed audiences of seniors and people who would otherwise not have access or resources to be able to attend dance performances. I sat down with Kathy, one of my favorite teachers, to learn about how she got started and what advice she has for adult ballet dancers and aspiring adult dancers out there.

How was the idea of the Kathy Mata Ballet (KMB) born?

In 1985, after stopping dancing due to bad knees, I decided to work myself back to shape. Rehab was grueling and I was told I would have to have replacements due to damage from forcing my turnout. I avoided replacements and decided to take adult ballet classes at San Francisco Ballet to regain my stamina. The classes were canceled after some time and being unable to find a suitable studio for adults, I decided to start to teaching adults myself. I first began teaching at the Jewish Community Center. Eventually, I also converted my living room into a small studio and rented space from Carol Wei’s School of Dance in the Richmond district.

My dream was to give adults who never performed a chance to have this experience. The activities director at the Jewish Community Center said its seniors needed some entertainment and asked me if my students could perform at a lunchtime event. To this day, there are four original members of that first performance in contact with me. That is how the Kathy Mata Ballet was born. From there, we expanded to St. Anne’s home on California Street and various churches that presented art shows. Eventually, I met Alonzo King who took me into his center where I studied and taught starting in 1994.

Tell us about your first “big” performance?

We once were a part of a benefit performance to celebrate the ten year anniversary of the Alonzo King Lines Dance Center. I had to recruit adults from my classes to come participate in the performance. In the end I got 45 adults on stage performing!

Being inspired by this, I expanded our venues and the types of events we performed at, including benefits such as Dance Inspirations-A Benefit for Brain Tumor Research, which we participated in from 2007 to 2010. I decided to investigate various senior centers that had a space that was adequate to perform our larger pieces. We started to perform at the Sequoias Senior Living Facility on Geary three times a year, plus the Castro Senior Center for the Annual Holiday Show for the past ten years. I found that many senior centers had no means to go to events so they welcomed the idea of an adult ballet company coming to perform for its residents. Today, our roster is up to 30+ senior centers and living facilities with a special focus on those with limited resources. 

What is your favorite memory when looking back at past KMB performances?

I have no favorite memory other than seeing this rewarding plan I had set out to make both the dancers and seniors fulfilled. Each performance is unique and the audience is as well. I get such a high with each show!

Why do you think performance opportunities are important for adult dancers?         

Over the years I have found that adults can fulfill their dreams and expand their own talents by creating pieces and contributing creative ideas to the group. It’s not just about dancing but the all other details that go into developing the performance. Being a part of a company teaches adult dancers how a professional company is run from the administrative part, preparation with rehearsals and backstage, to the actual performance itself.

 

KMB Showcase _17-390
Kathy Mata greeting an audience member after a KMB showcase. Photo Credit: Alexis Barlett

 

How do you think KMB’s work is important for the community?

Kathy Mata Ballet plays a very important part in the community by giving performances to seniors, veterans and people with special needs, providing an experience that they will never forget. We have a growing audience and will have to add more performances next year!

2018 marks 30 years since Kathy Mata Ballet was founded. What has been the most rewarding aspect in running your company?

When I see the dancers and audience involved as a whole unit, no words can describe the joy I have. It makes me want to keep going 24/7!

What advice do you have for adult ballet dancers out there?

My advice is to follow your dream and find companies that fit your needs if you choose to perform. You can also volunteer for a company, as many of the dancers do for me, and you will learn a great deal about the world of ballet. For those of you who are active, keep pursuing it and never give up in any aspect of life!

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You can learn more about Kathy Mata’s work and her company here.

 

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