In This Together: Mimi Tompkins

Different art forms often compliment each other. For example, when an artist loses inspiration in his or her dancing, they might find in again through another means of expression like painting. I know many dancers who are multitalented, and many (like myself) who have given up training in another art form to focus intensely on ballet. I so admire dancers who keep up practice in the skills and hobbies that bring them joy and keep creativity flowing outside of the studio. Mimi is a creator of beautiful performance on stage and beautiful paintings on canvas. Here's a little peak into her world. 

Mahallia: How do you prepare yourself for a show? Any special rituals that make you feel calm and ready? Any superstitions?

Mimi: I have many pre-show rituals! I basically move into the theatre, making my dressing room as cozy as possible. I like to surround myself with familiarity, such as candles from my home, pictures, perfume, relics, etc. I prepare myself for a show by doing my hair and makeup and listening to music. If I have a lot of extra time, I enjoy reading to get out of my own head and to get inspiration in a different way. Right before I go onstage, I review the choreography. I get comfort out of repetition. I also think about what I want to bring to my performance spiritually and emotionally. I envision myself dancing the role. Finally, I never go onstage without praying and reminding myself that every opportunity I have on and off stage is a blessing. It's quite the process!

Mahallia: Favorite food?

Mimi: I'd have to say my favorite foods are avocado toast, dark chocolate, and green apples with peanut butter. Oh, and coffee!

Mahallia: Favorite fuel? 

Mimi: In addition to my favorite foods, some more of my favorite fuels are nuts and dried fruit. They give me proper energy and are nice in my stomach. 

Mahallia: You make such beautiful paintings! How do these two means of expression, ballet and painting, compliment each other? Do you get a different kind of fulfillment from making art for fun, compared to making art for a living?

Mimi: Thank you! Painting and drawing has been something I’ve done since I was very little. I've always painted just for my own artistic expression and fulfillment. I feel that my paintings and ballet compliment each other in a deep way. They are both expressions of what is inside. When making art for fun there is no pressure whatsoever. It is purely for expression. Making art for a living is fulfilling in another way. It is rising to the occasion and knowing that my work is worth something.

Mahallia: Unfortunately, self-criticism seems to be ingrained in most dancers. How do you address feelings of doubt or negativity when they come creeping in? 

Mimi: This is something I think about every day. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that doubt and negativity are inevitable for artists and that I can actually use these feelings to propel myself further. However, it is key that doubt remains a small voice in my head rather than the loudest. I tend to keep things buried within me and I have a hard time letting things go. With time and experience, I’ve learned that some things just need to be brushed off like "water off a duck's back". Some things won't help me by brewing inside. I try to carry myself with positivity because it creates the best environment for me to grow in. That being said, I definitely have moments of weakness when doubt and negativity take over, but I am fortunate to be able to express my fears with people who are my confidants and anchors. Sometimes I have to work things out internally, but it is also important to seek help or a fresh perspective when needed. 

Mahallia: Do you have a role model that you look up to? How have they influenced you on and off stage?

Mimi: I have many role models. I love to draw inspiration from my peers, mentors, and idols. My mom is the reason I am where I am today. She was a professional dancer, and having a mom who completely understands my day-to-day struggles and triumphs is something very special. I am also so fortunate to have worked with amazing artists in my life so far. One person that inspires me immensely is my director, Ib Andersen. He is incredibly passionate and seeks the best in each dancer. Working for him has forever changed me as a dancer and has expanded the way I see ballet. Sofiane Sylve is another person who I think of often when I think of what a true ballerina is. When I was younger I would watch videos of her, in awe of how magnificent dance could be. I was extremely fortunate to have been trained by her in San Francisco. She taught me that ballet is something that has to be done with your whole being. One of the greatest things I have learned from her is that dancing is a way to tell your story. Before I dance, I always ask myself, “What do I want to say today?”

Mahallia: Favorite ballet blooper?

Mimi: I’m not sure this would qualify as my “favorite” blooper. But In a recent show of The Nutcracker, during a flip from a press lift into a fish dive in the Grand Pas de Deux, I slipped out of my partners hands at over six feet in the air and fell to the floor. My partner is very strong and coordinated and we had never missed that maneuver before. I was in shock. But, I immediately stood up and carried on with more vigor than I started with. This was an important moment for me because falling is the worst thing that can happen on stage, and after that I realized that it’s not so bad. In a weird way, it has allowed me to be more courageous. Luckily, I wasn't hurt. In retrospect, I'm actually glad that it happened the way it did. 

Mahallia: What part of day-to-day ballerina life do you most enjoy?

Mimi: I most enjoy the growth. All dancers know that day-to-day life is not always as glamorous as it may seem. It can be incredibly rewarding to dance your best on stage and to get positive feedback from your audience, co-workers, and artistic staff. But, it can be very draining and taxing on your mind and body. What I ask of myself is to be better than I was yesterday, artistically and technically. I’ve learned that seeking growth keeps you hungry, which is the best thing for an artist. 

Mahallia: Do you have a go-to remedy for aches and pains?

Mimi: Hot baths and good conversations. 

Mahallia: What aspect of your own personal talent are you most grateful for? What parts of ballet do you most enjoy exploring?

Mimi: I am most grateful for my long limbs. This is something that took me a while to appreciate. I always felt that I was too tall and would let that insecurity distress me so much. My mom (who is ironically pretty short) was the one who really snapped me out of it. She said to me, “Is this something you can change? Well, embrace it. Make it your good thing rather than your bad thing.” That changed everything for me. Now I get compliments on my length and fluidity. 

Mahallia: Have you had a pivotal moment in your career? A moment when you gained fresh understanding, or something just clicked?

Mimi: Yes. For me that moment was dancing the lead in Balanchine’s Rubies. It is the hardest role I have danced to date. When I was first called to rehearse it, I was so shocked. It was my first principle role and so difficult for me in every way. I didn’t think I could do it, but I gave it my all. By the time I performed it, I realized I could do it. In that moment everything clicked. I had moved past the point of just hoping to make it through, and I could look at my dancing and think about how I wanted to shine. It reminded me of Frida Kahlo's words, “In the end, we can do much more than we think we can.”

Mahallia: Any advice you would like to give younger dancers? Any advice you still whisper to yourself on a daily basis?

Mimi: I would advise young dancers to stay humble, never stop being hungry, and be good to yourself. Don’t compare yourself to others, but don’t put the blinders on either! Draw inspiration from everyone and everything. It is so easy to get caught up in the negativity of this harsh world we live in, but choose the light and positivity. I promise you will find that it makes everything easier, and you will most definitely be happier. Never forget that each hardship and struggle will only make you stronger and add more depth to your artistry. Everyone has a different path. I remind myself every day, “Today is a gift, a chance to grow, and that’s exciting.”