Mia Song Swartwood hovered over the Gladish Auditorium stage on pointe, adorned in vibrant plumage of gold, teal, and purple, arms stretched skyward, joyous in flight. Cast in the lead role of The Sparrow Queen, the May 10 inaugural production of Pullman’s Graham Academy of Contemporary Ballet, Swartwood embodied the free spirit that ultimately unites two estranged sisters in the ballet based on a Japanese fairy tale.
Swartwood’s own life is something of a fairy tale that began in South Korea. Left at a local Catholic Children’s Services Center in Inchon the day she was born, Swartwood was adopted a year later by Jim and Danné Swartwood of Bremerton. Danné, who danced and taught on and off for 30 years, was the first to teach Swartwood ballet at age four-and instilled in her a lifelong passion for dance.
“I always loved to dance, even before I learned ballet,” Swartwood says. “I love to move, I’m very kinetic. Dance is freedom for me.”
By age 14, Swartwood was performing in classical ballets. She has been featured in Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, Don Quixote, and Coppelia, and danced the lead in Giselle. Home-schooled in junior high and high school, she graduated with a 4.00 GPA in 2001 from Central Kitsap High School in Silverdale and transferred to Washington State University after attending Olympic Community College in Bremerton for one year.
The 21-year-old chose to attend WSU because of music faculty member Susan Chan. Swartwood, who met Chan when she was 14, is double-majoring in piano and communication and minoring in dance.
“Dr. Chan makes such beautiful music,” she says. “She knows so much about piano and music literature. She can pinpoint and tell you exactly what she wants from the student.”
Like the Sparrow Queen she portrayed, Swartwood is vivacious and giving. For a friend who was feeling down, she wrote a story, which included lyrics from “Puff the Magic Dragon,” Mary Poppins, and “I Can See Clearly Now.”
“It made him smile, which is my whole aim,” she says. “My mom told me a quote, ‘Blessed are we who can laugh at ourselves, for we shall never cease to be amused.’ I never stop laughing at myself. Laughing is contagious. If you get others to laugh, you have the whole world.”
Swartwood has the whole world, too, because of the opportunities she received from being adopted. Gratefulness is the key to everything, she says.
“I absolutely adore my family. I couldn’t have done what I do had I not been adopted.
“I’m incredibly grateful,” she says. “If I were to find my biological mother, I would only thank her for thinking of me first and giving me up instead of keeping me [in South Korea], where to be an orphan is to stay an orphan. I’m passionate about being adopted.”
Photos Robert Hubner