Sparkling Lily Sayuri is an Insta-star among fashion-conscious dancers around the world, thanks to her trendsetting posts illustrating stylish ideas for studio attire. Her feed is simply overflowing with snapshots of beautiful outfits!
Unsurprisingly, Georgina Butler was keen to find out more about the bubbly balletomane wearing the clothes.
Lily Sayuri – ballet wear stylist, ballet teacher, photographer, cat lover and passionate supporter of people – is dancing through life with a desire to encourage everyone she encounters to appreciate their own brilliance and seize the day. Whether inspiring her internet fans to get creative with their wardrobes; nurturing adult ballet students in Japan; or championing new creatives, Lily’s upbeat enthusiasm is clear.
Lily was born and raised in Japan, where she currently lives. Her cat Blair (whose Japanese name Bucho 部長 means “Company’s Boss”) is now used to living in an apartment full of ballet clothes and ensures that he gets involved by posing in front of Lily’s camera whenever the opportunity arises!
As founder of Quatre-Quarts Ballet Company, Lily is free to indulge in her love of ballet, art and communicating wherever and whenever. At home modelling and vlogging with Bucho; teaching classes at her dance studio; or posting pictures online while out and about. The company combines her very own ballet school (exclusively for adult dancers, of all ages and abilities) and her online dance fashion store (stocking everything the well-dressed ballerina could possibly wish for).
Many people who discover you online just see the gorgeous ensembles that you post on Instagram but you are in fact a ballet teacher! When did you start dancing and what is it about ballet that has kept you hooked?
I started dance classes when I was three years old. My sister had a problem with her leg when she was a child, a hip dislocation, and her doctor recommended that she do ballet for that so then I followed her into lessons.
It just felt very natural when I started ballet. The ballet teacher was so beautiful, stylish, and also very strict. I really loved the whole experience and it was from here that I think I started thinking: “I love ballet for the dancing and its style. The costumes for shows, the ballet practice outfits. Everything”. Also, that teacher made me think all ballet teachers are beautiful!
Still, even now, I don’t know exactly what is it about ballet that I love. It is just normal to always have had ballet as something inside of me, since when I was a little ballerina. But I know I love it because when I do ballet I can be just myself and feel comfortable. When I am dancing I have a similar feeling to Billy’s “Electricity” in the movie and musical of Billy Elliot!
Was it this love of ballet and its ability to make you feel free to be yourself that motivated you to become a ballet teacher?
Well, when I was eighteen years old I was offered the chance to start teaching quite suddenly at the studio where I was dancing myself. It was very hard and difficult as my first ballet class was an adult ballet class for beginner dancers aged forty, fifty, and even sixty years old. They had no experience of ballet but I really enjoyed teaching them – even though it was a bit strange at first to be just starting out and teaching people old enough to be my mum!
I enjoyed being able to see the world of ballet through them. Before, as a dancer, I had got used to ballet being difficult, painful and hard work every day. I think I had lost some of that happiness and joy I had when I was dancing as a child. But teaching the adult ballerinas reminded me of it. I did teach children and young ballet dancers as well as my adult class but I did really love teaching the adults.
So, this experience connects to my own ballet school, Quatre-Quarts Ballet Studio, which I opened in 2004. My studio offers adult ballet classes only and it was very rare to find a ‘no kids’ studio here in Japan when I first started the business. It still is unusual!
That definitely sounds unusual. I bet it is really fulfilling to be able to help adults who have never experienced ballet before make their dancing dreams come true? And it must be heartening to know that you are offering a safe haven for older dancers who cannot imagine ever hanging up their ballet shoes?
Definitely. My students are in their twenties, thirties, forties, fifties, sixties and older! If you have experience of ballet you can go wherever you want to go to take a lesson but for an adult with no experience they have no place to go even if they are interested in learning. And even dancers with knowledge may struggle to find a studio that offers adult classes. So I wanted to help them by having a studio that is just for the adult ballet dancer.
Of course, I want them to improve their ballet technique but I also want them thinking about beauty, expressing their sense of humour, developing their interest in art. My studio aims to make students smile more and realise that they are beautiful people!
So you would agree that it is never too late to learn to dance then?
It is never too late to start, but it will be too late if you start tomorrow! I often say to my students that life is just too short.
In 2004, five months before I opened my studio, I watched the stage version of Matthew Bourne’s Nutcracker!. That made me realise that dance, including ballet, offers opportunities beyond technique. You need to have a sense of style and show emotions as well.
Most people will think that you need to have started ballet as a child. But although I do know that beginner adult ballet dancers will start from nothing when it comes to technique, they will have the feeling that you need to dance. Probably more feelings and motivation than kids, so why not have them dance? So I thought, why not start my studio?
And here you are today, twelve years later and still a proud ballet studio owner! Have you had any students go on to dance professionally?
No one has gone on to work as a dancer professionally but a few of them wanted to be teachers based at other dance studios and have succeeded. Some of them still learn at my studio when they are not teaching themselves.
Quatre-Quarts Ballet Company is the combination of your ballet studio and the online ballet fashion store that you started in 2011. Why the name ‘Quatre-Quarts’?
Haha! This is the question that everyone asks! My sister named it so because ‘quatre-quarts’ is the name of a French cake, similar to a pound cake. It is a very simple recipe – a real “piece of cake” to bake! Anyone can make it but that is why it must be made very carefully so that it keeps its true flavour. It can be decorated with cream, or chocolate or fruit, or whatever you want, but it needs to be right to begin with.
I think ballet is very simple and pure just like a quatre-quarts cake but it is also important to make effort and add to the simplicity. Before I opened my studio, I did want to call it just ‘Quatre-Quarts’ as I thought that even if people did not realise it was a ballet studio I would not mind. But my students warned me that people will think “here is a cake shop” so I added the word ‘ballet’!
That is such a lovely sentiment to have behind the name. I agree with the idea of ballet technique being unassuming and flawless before we then add extravagant tricks and exquisite artistry to this purity.
I love your business cards. The illustration of you and Blair by Itsuko Kawaguchi is wonderful!
Now that you have described your Company’s name so well, I am intrigued as to how you would describe yourself?
Wow, now that is a difficult question.
Maybe I am best described like a chocolate? Like how you never know the taste until you eat it. I often have people say “you are so different to how I thought; you are so funny!”.
I don’t know if this is a good thing or a bad thing but it seems like I have a certain look and the content is sometimes different to what people were expecting?
I think that it can only be a good thing to have more about you than people might be expecting. Perhaps it is just because people are used to seeing you posing for pictures and sharing your style tips so they forget about all the experience and success you have had as a teacher and business owner.
The question that we all want an answer to is: Do you own all of the clothes that you wear in your posts and, if so, how do you manage to have storage space for them all?
Yes, all the clothing is mine and yes, this is the all-time question: “Where should I keep it?”!
I need to sort it all out and organise it but I don’t know what to do. I have a room in my apartment just for ballet outfits but they are nearly falling out of the window now!
Are your posts examples of the outfits that you wear to teach every day? They are always so well put together. Do you plan your outfits for the week in advance or just wear what you fancy when you wake up?
I pick up the outfit when I prepare for going to teach class, I don’t plan in advance. I will take pictures for social media in the morning as it is beautiful sunshine in the morning so it is good for photo-shooting.
I have a few days off in the week for store business so I am not always in ballet outfits. I just wear them when I have class.
As a bit of a nail polish fiend myself, I cannot help but admire your nails in your photographs. Do you do them yourself? I love to coordinate my nails with my outfits, do you do the same?
Thank you! I go to the nail salon (La Niege) once a month for my treat so I can’t match my outfit and nails every time. When I go to the salon I have a theme – sometimes an outfit, or a favourite painter’s art, or anything that I love – in my mind beforehand.
When I first met my manicurist almost six years ago, she was just an assistant but I thought to myself that she has ‘something’. I ‘hit the nail on the head’ with that thought as she has become a very good manicurist and she opened her own salon last year! So I’m really happy and pleased for her and want to continue to support her.
You seem very active when it comes to supporting other people in their endeavours. Is that something that you have always believed in? You are a Ballet Papier ambassador (the Japanese distributor) and are very enthusiastic about making new connections with creative people around the world (including me!).
Yes, I have always had the feeling of wanting to believe in — and support — other people. I first ‘met’ Berenice from Ballet Papier two years ago when she messaged me asking me to be a model for her collection. As I would prefer to have her products in my ballet store rather than be a model, I became the Ballet Papier Japan ambassador!
No one can do original illustrations like Ballet Papier and their style is not just about earning money. They love to support every single person that loves art and dance. This touched me and I completely agree with it.
As you already know Georgina, both Ambar and Berenice have such graceful and generous personalities so it is easy to work with them!
Other artists too, like Alice [Alice Williamson, founder of Designed by Alice], Pietro [Pietro Zambello, the designer behind Maldire Dancewear] and Alby [Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo dancer Alberto Pretto, creator of Albypretty garments]. They are people who I love and respect and want to support and work with.
Having spent this time learning more about you, Lily, I can see that you are without a doubt a supporter of emerging creatives and people with passion. What do you hope for your future?
I want to continue. I want to be a developer of the artists people don’t know yet.
I know I cannot do big things alone but if I make people smile then it makes me smile. I love those kinds of things, those moments when you just love what you are doing and who you are connecting with and supporting.
Life is not so long, I learnt that by my dad passing. Since then, I just focus on what I want, what I want to be and what I should be.
Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and experiences Lily! How lovely to discover a little more about the beautiful personality of the ballet teacher behind all those stunning outfit posts.
* The featured photographs are by Lily Sayuri. The illustration of Lily and Blair is by Itsuko Kawaguchi.
To learn more about Lily, visit the Quatre-Quarts Ballet Company website.
Georgina Butler is an editor, a dance writer and a ballet teacher.